How To Forget Anything

by jkatejohnston

12 September 2013

Dear Max,

I went to the periodontist yesterday. Diagnosis: long in the tooth. I thought that only happened to horses, related to the expression about not looking a gift horse in the mouth. But it goes for people too. My gums are receding, receding, receding, bye-bye.

The office was way out in butt fuck suburbia, and I was on my bike on unfamiliar roads with no bike line and everyone trying to get to work by eight.

When I’m on my bike I hate cars. People yell out of car windows; they lean on their horns. It’s the old bully’s impulse to deliver a message to someone who can’t answer back. And I think—walk, you lazy brutes, you pigs, you sluts, walk, walk on bloody stumps if you have to, shame on you, able-bodied adults all alone in those infernal contraptions.

But when I drive alone, I don’t feel the slightest guilt. In fact I love it. I sing really loud and probably drive like crap. Usually, when I drive it’s the weekend and I have Enzo with me and I drive like a tiny tiny old Asian lady—cautious, and totally annoying to normal drivers. But when I’m alone, who cares?

All this to say, how soon we forget—in seconds!

So is it so surprising that I forgot that almost all jobs are so soul-suckingly exhausting and boring that you might as well just kill yourself? These days I have an office with a big window and a door that locks. I have a secretary. I have a paralegal. Of course I do—how would I have a clue what to do if they didn’t tell me? And my work can be pretty entertaining, and when it’s not, well, if I just gaze out the window for long stretches of time, watching the light rail trains come and go, no one even knows. (But I do work pretty hard, oh my dear California tax-payers.)

I’ve pretty much forgotten about working as a janitor at El Capitan State Beach, cleaning the bathroom and picking up off the cement floor in a hand gloved for the occasion, a log of shit. It was firm enough, thank God. Or (and this was after grad school) wiping the smeared shit off the bathroom walls of the group home because one of the ‘tards had expressed her feelings. Or, at one of my serial waitressing gigs, serving Professor Edgar Bowers.

Of course the literal shit days weren’t typical. And they did have the virtue of breaking up the tedium.

At El Cap I worked with Billy Ray—what was his last name? He taught me the language of the place. Blue Mondays, when we deep-cleaned the bathrooms with even more caustic chemicals than usual and one of them was bright blue. Cookie Bag, the paper bag filled with used tampons and maxi-pads collected from the receptacles in the women’s bathrooms. One day we were driving around in the truck emptying trash cans and he said something to the effect of: for you, this is temporary. And he didn’t have to add that for him it wasn’t.

Or back in high school when I was working as a dishwasher at the little hospital in Santa Ynez. The emergency room was across the hall from the kitchen, and one night my friend Vance was there. His parents had been in a car accident. His father was dead. His mom was in intensive care.

It turned out to be one of those felicitous deaths. His dad was old and stern and conservative—retired military. And Vance was gay and now instantly rich from a huge insurance settlement and out from under the thumb of the old man. He and his mom, a former milliner (how perfect!) went on happily together. But all that wasn’t apparent that night.

I sat with him for a long time in the hallway outside the emergency room and then finished cleaning the kitchen, ending with that huge sopping mop, the kind with the yellow bucket on wheels. Usually that job wound up around nine, but of course I finished late that night and then rode my bike home, three miles on the dark quiet road. I had lights.