I did not invent time travel. I did not create a vessel in which I may be allowed to watch Washington cross the Delaware or see whether there was a second shooter on the Grassy Knoll. I am not a physicist versed in String Theory or relativity or a mad scientist with plans of world domination. I am the researcher; an outsider looking in. I did not invent time travel, but I did manage to perfect it. Well, sort of. H.G. Wells gave us the ability to imagine what it would take to travel through time. Einstein gave it a name. But I used neither a machine nor a German accent to get to when I was going.
Time is inert. No matter how much I attempt to change it, somehow alter the past it will never move. I have worked in retail for half my life. While I find the prospect of working in retail for the rest of my life repugnant and ludicrous, it does not explain why I’ve worked in retail for so long. If I do and did not like working in various jobs in the service industry, then why on Earth am I still doing it? I could, and did, ask my fellow and former co-workers why do I work in retail. Then I realized that they could not answer that question for me, that at the end of the day it was only I who could but how? How could I interview myself when I already knew the answers? There in lies the rub. I had to travel to place and time from memory to memory and ask.
In this paper, I will utilize the “The Autobiographical Process” by Jerome Bruner, “Researching People: The Collaborative Listener” by Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater and Bonnie S. Sunstein and a few interviews conducted by myself to myself but by an older me to a younger me. The title of this paper is a song by Nine Inch Nails; the title is befitting of the subject matter at hand. Because of a strong ethical code built up over two decades, I cannot allow myself to lie about the interviews regardless with whom I have interviewed. It is because of an extremely unique memory it is possible to allow myself to travel within my mind to when I was seventeen, twenty-five and twenty-eight; all years spent working in one form of retail or another. It is by these guidelines I tell my tales of travel. It is by these guidelines that I may be able to answer the question, “Why do I work in retail?”
It is July 5th, 2002. I am an incoming junior in high school and seventeen years old. From where I stand and what I could see, I am sitting alone on a stage with a cigarette dangling from my mouth and thinking about nothing in particular. When I was seventeen, I worked at a place called Seven Falls in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It’s a tourist attraction deep within a canyon; the main attraction is a waterfall that falls seven different times in rapid succession. As a tourist, it’s a beautiful landmark of nature. As an employee, big deal. It’s cool the first time you see it but after a summer and a half, you become immune to its beauty.
There were storm clouds on the mountains. By dark, it began to rain. As the only male working that night, I was given the task to making sure no one attempted to climb the stairs that ran adjacent to the waterfall. Water makes stairs slippery, apparently. I set up an old metal folding chair under the one place where no rain fell; a performance stage intended for a small group of Native Americans to perform upon for the tourists. The night darkened well before its time and the heaven’s opened. I had little less than two hours by myself. It was dark, muggy and wet and I was on my last few cigarettes. I was alone and wondering to myself why in the hell was I there, babysitting steps when there was no one except employees in the canyon? So I approached.
My mind is a chaotic flux of wind blowing and lightning striking and ruining the meticulous order of papers (memories), as my mind often works. Attention deficit hyperactive disorder and the superhuman inability to forget to remember. With my distinct memory I am able to erect and construct the world as I remember it, emotions, distinct smells and all. In this world as I know, I walked through the rain with nary a drop touching me. I could feel my old emotions wash over me as I approached myself sitting alone on that stage. He was no more surprised to see me as I him. We both knew why I was there. It’s a funny thing to interview someone you’ve known for so long; you can skip the formalities and dive straight in. But I know me, who I was and knew that closed-ended questions would not yield the result I want; open-ended would be the answer (Chiseri-Strater, Sunstein 221-22).
Why do you work here, at Seven Falls of all places, I asked.
They were hiring. Plus, it was a seven-minute drive from home.
We could, and often did, roll out of bed and be at work before we were late.
Do you like working here, I queried.
Yeah, sure. I like working here. All my friends are here.
And I added to my youngest self’s consternation, but the pay is terrible.
This was the time when the Colorado minimum wage was on par with the rest of the nation. $5.15 an hour. Because this was my second summer, I got a quarter bump.
Look around you, my youngest self said as he outstretched his arms and cigarette ash falling onto his blue Seven Falls polo. I’m getting paid to literally sit here and smoke cigarettes.
I was a precocious, lazy little shit. I smiled and thanked myself for taking the time. We did not pay rent and we did not pay for food. All the money that we made, the $5.40 an hour, was all ours to take and blow on whatever we wanted. I didn’t have the heart to tell him what was to come. In the next year would be one of the most difficult in our short lives. And even if I did tell him, it wouldn’t have mattered. The smell of rain was sharp on my nose as I approached the first exit and through the second entrance.
It is September 30th, 2010 and I am in a bar. No surprise there; my alcohol tolerance rivaled that of Russian, German and Irish drinking champions. I have been four years sober; the twenty-five-year-old me is far from that. We are at the Fat Tire Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, and I am drinking with my freshly minted 21-year-old girlfriend. It is cause for celebration. So many years together and all those years, she had been drinking underage. Now it was official, and we drank and were to be merry. Eventually engaged. She was a love of my life. Between my third and fourth craft beers that I could still taste on my taste buds even now in the present, I approached.
It was a rare day off for the two of us. We could never coordinate schedules to spend little more than the night and early morning together. Months of planning brought us to this time, this place and this level of happiness I swore I could never top so long as I was with her. By now I was working from RadioShack in Colorado Springs after having been fired from Seven Falls to working part-time at the Best Buy in Fort Collins. I had the electronics background, I was a shoe-in, my slightly younger self answered when asked by me the question. The girlfriend took a job as a receptionist at a doctor’s office where the affair with a doctor began, but that hadn’t happened yet.
With the sheer volume of money, we were raking in we had to hire a second butler just to scoop up all the hundred dollar bills swirling around in our McMansion. That was sarcasm, by the way. We were at Fat Tire because it was free beer day and together, we had maybe $30 in our respective accounts to last us the next four days. We were constantly penniless but today we were drunk and we were happy.
I want to move up in management, I blurted out. Best Buy has a great management program; they don’t even need a college degree to move up!
And there it was. Several years out of high school, spinning our collective wheels and circling around the one thing we both knew where we would eventually end up. Broke, broken up and listless, soon to be partying with manic cross-dressers seeking to heal a shattered soul (Pavlick, In Fortune and Men’s Eyes). The world faded from inebriation to darkness and on to nothing.
It is December 23rd, 2013 and I have just heard earth-shattering news. I am working part-time at Target before transitioning to work for Samsung and at 2.75 times the pay of Target. I am looking at my transcripts from Front Range Community College in complete and total disbelief. Three classes were attempted that fall semester: Spanish 2, Intro to Chemistry and the worst subject on the face of this tiny, blue marble. College algebra. I had gotten a 57% on the final. I needed a bare-bones minimum 70% in order to graduate and transfer to the University of Colorado in Boulder. I was sure that I bombed the class, that I ruined my chances of getting into the college of my dreams. Then one night out with my friends, I decided to check my transcript online. Spanish 2: B+ 88.4%. Chemistry: C+ 79.1%. College Algebra. Holy. Shit. C- 70.1%. I fainted. Legit fainted. My friend’s mom is a nurse and had smelling salts in her purse for such a situation; a grown man fainting after seeing his college algebra grades must be a common occurrence in her line of work.
After I was revived, I asked my questions.
Will you stay with Samsung?
Yes, I will because it’s damn good money. I can pay for my books. I can pay for my classes without using loans now.
My rebuttle. But what of the school load in addition to working 40 hours a week?
I’ll think of something, the young me responded.
We would think of something and nearly drove ourselves back to to the Jägermeister bottle we had been so fond of. We resisted the temptation. My young self was going to graduate with an associate’s and attend the school of our dreams for a bachelor’s then on to law school to get one of those degrees and then become a politician and save the world! If only my young self knew what would happen in that span of two and a half years. I didn’t have the heart to tell him. It would all come crashing down on his head; I still have the deep scar on my forehead to prove it.
Through the final memory I retrieved the truth I knew I had and shared. Jimmy, Jim and James all had answered some questions the same way. Money and people. We all knew we weren’t talking about the tourists, the restaurant connoisseurs or the customers that frequented all the different stores and businesses we worked in. It was the money that got us there; it was the people that got us to stay. As the researcher of this project, I am able to determine that while the money did get us there, it is the people that makes work bearable. But even though people make work bearable, they don’t pay our bills or our rent. So we move on. We moved up. Being an outsider all our lives, we are easily integrated as quickly as we would leave. Observation data could be simply condensed to a single sentence about all retail: every day is exactly the same; nothing ever changes, it’s always the same.
These are not random assemblages of memory cobbled together. These were key turning points in my life. They are three moments that are a culmination of a thousand moments leading up to and the aftermath they created. I hesitate to refer to these moments as demons. Even in a thousand moments, there were some good ones too. I realized that in the process of chasing down these memories to answer one question led to more questions. This is not a sustainable event that I can continue to create. My memories are exceptionally powerful and bring forth emotion. To say this paper has inspired would be an understatement. I believe I have the unique opportunity to create a new means of travel writing. It would be a twist on the concept of memory implantation from Total Recall.
In medias res. It is Latin for “in the middle of things.” Within my story I gave you but a glimpse into my past; information you may have not known had I not told you. These are my memories that which I have chosen to share. But I did not share all the details, i.e. how I came to be at Seven Falls, a craft beer brewery or fainting in front of a nurse. I am able to visit any location of any time at my leisure. This provides a powerful means of ‘travel’ but not everyone will have the luxury of delving deep within their mind. As children, we have little to no choice of where or how we are expected to travel. We are the constant companion of our parents/loved ones/others whether we like it or not. What I am to suggest is to write a list of the most iconic, most enjoyable or unpleasant locations of your childhood and why. Then travel to those locations. Write about it. Share what you want but be sure that the information shared does not necessarily cross a comfort threshold but at least pushes you close to the edge. I will attempt this idea upon completion of this spring semester; this attempt shall be called, “Hello, and goodbye.” It will be about my travels as a child and my revisiting the places I believe are pivotal to my development in adolescence and in adulthood. I am a companion of both travel and time. May you come with me and I may stand beside you in time.