Summer ended and I returned to SCAD. Jody postponed her New York move for a few months and came with me. So did Jarod, my old cycling buddy and roommate, and his best friend, Rodney. Lee G. came along, too.
We rented a three bedroom place in a rundown, chocolate-brown apartment building that reeked of mildew. Savannah, Georgia is home to some of the most beautiful houses in the United States, but twice now I managed to find the ugliest apartment in town.
Lee G. took a job washing dishes, which meant he ate for free provided he didn’t mind swiping untouched food from dirty plates. Jarod and Rodney found work at the Holiday Inn, where they ran into Eddie Money on a late night hunt for the ice machine. We all thought that was hysterical – a big MTV star staying at a thirty dollar a night hotel and walking around with a plastic bucket. I don’t know where the hell we thought that he was supposed to stay, maybe the Hyatt.
I wasn’t going to spend another school year eating weenie melts (grilled cheese with a sliced up hot dog) and digging through the seats of the Quincymobile for change, so I tried to hustle up a job. No local design shops were interested in my sparse portfolio of Christian summer camp t-shirt designs, so I hit the record stores.
The Record Bar in Oglethorpe Mall was the place to be. They played good music, the employees were cool, and they stocked some pretty deep catalog. The manager looked like one of the Eagles, that seventies hair and mustache vibe. I’m not sure he even looked at my application. He knew at a glance that I was too square for Record Bar.
Next up was Turtles, a freestander with a couple of locations around Savannah. Turtles was big and bright, and even though it wasn’t in a mall it was a full-blown mall record store: Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper, Genesis. No luck there, either: I was too art school for Turtles.
My only hope was Starship Records, a sixteen store Atlanta-based chain with two stores in Savannah. I walked into the smaller of the two, a shotgun shack of a store wedged between a Wal-Mart and a TCBY Yogurt on the road to Tybee Island. The counter was just to the right of the front door, and it was cluttered with incense and cheap tape deck head cleaners. Twelve-inch rap singles lined the wall to the left. Down the center of the shop ran two bins filled with LPs and long box CDs, and to the right sat a row of cassette tables covered with plexiglass.
A baby bird of a man stood behind the cassette tables like a jeweler waiting to show me a watch. His neck was long and thin, hair cropped mullet-spike short and Bandit mustache riding eastbound and down.
“Hey, do you have the new Smiths?” I said.
He pointed at me like I just hit a blackjack and said, “I got it!”
“All right!” I said.
“Have you checked out the new Midnight Oil? It’s hot!”
“All right!” I said.
“Hold on, I’ll put it on.” He flipped through a crate of 12″ singles behind the counter.
“Do you sell much Smiths and Midnight Oil? You look like you’re more of a rap business.”
He pointed at me again. “I’m in the record business. If you want it and I don’t have it I’ll get it!”
“All right!” I said. “Are you the manager?”
“I’m the district supervisor.”
“Are y’all hiring?”
“I’m looking for a manager. Mine just quit.”
“I’m your guy.”
“All right!” he said. “You have any experience?”
“I worked at Camelot for two years and was in charge of 45 orders. Looks like your big seller is 12 inches. That’s pretty much the same thing.”
“Why’d I change the music when you came in?”
“The turntable is for selling, and you knew you couldn’t sell me ‘Throw the D’.”
“What’s on the counter?”
“Cheap impulse items, and that open table of cassettes in front of it is CBS mid-lines that you get cheap because the label’s already made their money back selling those titles at full retail.”
He smiled. “What’s your name?”
“Hey, James. I’m Scott. How’s $175 a week sound?”
“All right!” I said.
“All right!” Scott said, and we shook on it. “Now I need you to watch the store for a minute because I’m here alone and I’ve had way too much coffee and I got a turtle peeking out of my ass.”
Jarod enrolled at SCAD. I introduced him to my friends, and Tuesday and he immediately took up together. When he wasn’t at school or at work he was either with Tuesday or getting high with Rodney. They came home one evening visibly shaken.
“What happened?” I asked.
“We went downtown for a nickel bag and the dude tried to sell us a bag of crumpled up oak leaves.”
“So when Rodney called him on it he pulled a gun and made us buy them.”
“Oh my God, what did you do?”
“We bought them.”
“No, I mean after that.”
“Oh. We smoked them, just in case.”
I was either at SCAD or Starship. Managing a record store turned out to be an open to close job every day: accounting for every penny, placing orders, checking in shipments, managing employees, dealing with shoplifters, keeping the in-store displays current, and selling, selling, selling to make those monthly numbers. A green ledger kept in the safe documented previous months’ history. Scott was a nice guy, but his boss demanded improvement over the same month last year, which meant that Scott demanded it of me.
Jody wasn’t thrilled. She postponed New York to hang out with me, and I was barely home. When I was I was exhausted, cranky, and buried in homework. We started arguing.
I had a rare evening off. Jody was somewhere and the guys were heading over to Tuesday’s so I tagged along. She wasn’t living in the dorms this year, but rather in a beautiful old apartment with high ceilings and hardwood floors. She decorated it tastefully with old books, a globe, and a Persian rug.
Just off the kitchen was an old iron fire escape like something out of a movie. We grabbed a jug of wine and clamored up to the roof to watch the moon rise. Within minutes Tuesday and Jarod left for a party, and Rodney went along to find a girl for the night. Lee G. was next, off to find a band playing.
So there I sat, alone on a cool tin roof, the moon climbing higher and the swampy smell of Savannah in my nostrils. Spindly palm trees rose between the buildings. I took another hit off the jug of wine. It was sweet. You know you’re somewhere good when you see palm trees.
Lying on my back, staring at the stars, taking long pulls of sweet red wine: this was how to do it. No shitty mildewed apartment, no 12 hour work days or school deadlines, no girlfriend arguments. Just clear skies and spinning stars and an empty wine jug.
I closed my eyes to stop the spinning and I was gone. I don’t know how long I was out, but instinct eventually kicked in and pulled me from the roof. My stomach didn’t want the wine anymore, but my brain was too far gone to solve the problem. A little less to drink and I may have had the sense to let it fly on the tin roof, or hurled over the side into the alley three stories below. But no, my brain insisted that vomit belonged in an approved receptacle, so it dragged my barely conscious body back down the fire escape and into Tuesday’s apartment.
I made it as far as the Persian rug before the first wave hit me. I put my hand over my mouth, but the wine came hot and fast and oozed between my fingers. My head was in the toilet before the next wave came, and for the ones after that.
The next time I awoke I was laid out on Tuesday’s couch, and the only thing that woke up was my brain. Everything else was paralyzed, even my eyelids. The front door opened and Tuesday said, “What the fuck?” Jarod and Lee G. laughed. “It’s not funny. Look what that pig did to my rug. God, it’s all over the place.”
“I’m sorry, Tuesday,” I said.
Jarod and Lee G. walked to the kitchen. “Hey, thanks for drinking all the wine,” Lee G. said.
“Does she have anything else to drink?” Jarod asked.
I said, “You know what? Fuck you guys. If you hadn’t left me alone on the roof with a jug of wine on my only night off this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Poor Jim. He thinks we like him,” Lee G. said.
“Come in here and say that, motherfucker. I’ll kick your ass.”
They both laughed.
The next morning I woke up in our mildewy apartment with those two Guinness fat guys on minibikes driving all over my head. Out in the living room Lee G. was watching The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse.
“Hey, I’m sorry about last night,” I said.
“Yeah, Tuesday is pretty pissed about her rug.”
“No, I mean for blaming you for everything and threatening to kick your ass.”
“When did you do that?”
“Last night at Tuesday’s.”
“The only thing you said last night was bwuuuuuuu,” Lee G. said, and I cleaned myself up and drove to my record store to do it all over again.