Eventually I found a job doing “light industrial” work for a wholesale flower distributor in Southington, Connecticut called Nyren Brothers. At the time I was willing to take any job just to get out of the house. The duties involved driving a truck around the state of Connecticut delivering boxes of flowers to retail flower shops.
The first day I arrived wearing khakis and a button down shirt. I felt overdressed and out-of-place as if the people working there were judging me thinking I was a rich kid who could not handle the work. They assigned this Puerto Rican guy named Noel to train me. He was a small guy in a football jersey with dark hair and a mustache. Noel showed me a route delivering to about twenty shops. In the morning we got a list of shops that placed orders. We would have to order the shops in the order they would fall along the route then load the truck putting the boxes for the shop we would deliver to last in first and continuing in reverse order. That way the boxes we needed would be easy to get to. I sat next to him in the cab as he drove and took notes on how to get to each shop. He was a nice guy and I liked him a lot. I did not feel judged by him.
I remember getting up early in the morning before the sun rose (especially in the winter). The headlights in my rear view mirror cast this hypnotizing glare that made me feel like I was falling asleep at the wheel. It was only through sheer willpower that I stayed on the road.
After two weeks of riding with Noel I was put out on my own. I loaded the truck myself and made the deliveries. I enjoyed being out on the road by myself all day long listening to the radio. I listened to the Collin McEnroe show in the morning. At noon I listened to Rush Limbaugh and in the afternoon I listened to All Things Considered on NPR. I brought a lunch and ate while driving. Noel encouraged me to stop somewhere and relax at lunchtime and that seemed like a good idea but I never did. I took pride in my increased knowledge of the different routes in Connecticut. I also took pride in my ability to handle a truck in the snow.
Each shop had its own personality. Some owners were nice and some were snobbish. There was the beautiful Swedish woman with a small shop in Suffield. There was the run down shop in Hartford owned by an African-American guy named Jesse who we would only accept cash from. There was a shop in West Hartford where this girl took an interest in me. She would slip me notes when I made deliveries. One time she stopped by Nyren Brothers before I left on my route and put a small art project under my windshield wiper with her phone number on it. I called her but told her I had a girlfriend who at the time I thought I should be loyal to. Looking back on it, I wish I took advantage of that opportunity.
Some of the shops were in urban areas. I remember breaking off the side mirrors of cars because I drove the truck too close. That happened a couple of times but I never stopped. I feel bad about it but the job was complicated enough. One time I made a delivery to a shop in downtown Greenwich, a town famous for its wealthy residents. This one particular shop was on a street that went downhill with diagonal parking spaces on the sides. It was difficult to find a parking space near the shop most days but sometimes I got lucky. On this particular day there was a spot right in front the shop. As I pulled in, an older woman tried to pull in on my right side and my truck scraped her car. As soon as I felt contact I stopped the truck and got out to take a look. She was an aggressive type and immediately blamed me for the accident. A police officer came and looked. I remember her car was and old BMW and her bumper was held on with duct tape. The cop seemed to take her side. The woman was dressed to suggest that she was a rich person living in Greenwich even though her car was beat up.
The funny thing was that in this situation I felt like they all looked at me as the rough around the edges, ignorant, working class kid driving a truck. Back at Nyren Brothers I felt like they all looked at me like an over privileged rich kid. There was no place that I felt at home. I always felt in the wrong place with everyone judging me negatively. My intentions were always to avoid looking like the bad guy but I always felt like everyone looked at me that way. My therapist would tell me later this was the energy from my parents that I bonded to as a young child. I was wrong no matter what I did.
After a few more weeks I started working with this guy named Pokey chopping flowers in the large, refrigerated area before driving my delivery route. Flowers arrived in boxes from Holland or Venezuela or Columbia packed in ice. We would take them out, chop off the ends and put them in buckets of cold water with a powder called “Floral Life” to preserve them. In the mornings the flower shops placed their orders with the sales people who then packed boxes with the flowers Pokey and I prepared. Pokey was a talkative guy with a skin condition called Lupus that made his face red in patches. There were these flowers that emitted a strong, sweet fragrance when chopped called tuberoses. Pokey would always joke that you could fart all you wanted when you cut tuberoses. I learned the names of all the different types flowers we worked with. My cousin thought that was cool, but I thought that I really did not know anything about the flowers other than their names so it was not all that great.
Having steady work and a place to be during the day allowed my humiliation to ebb a little. I still felt humiliation anytime someone asked me what I did for a living and avoided that subject during conversations. My father would frequently ask me if I was going to look for a different job and that always made me feel anxious. Underneath I felt humiliated because I was doing manual labor as a college graduate. Further, the work did not pay me enough to move out of my parents’ house. When I was younger I always felt like there was more time to turn things around. I would not always be the last kid picked for the kickball team and things would work out for me eventually. But at this point in my life I began to panic that maybe they never would.
In the truck, listening to the radio all day I was introduced to Rush Limbaugh. I identified with what he was saying. Conservative outrage seemed to make sense to me. Liberals were to blame because the economy was not good enough for a college graduate to find decent work. It was high taxes, the entitlement state and over-regulation that did not allow businesses to thrive. This was the reason there were no good jobs for me like there were when my parents graduated from college. Liberals and political correctness were to blame.
Almost every weekend I drove up to Boston to be with my girlfriend who was still attending college. I got the idea in my head that I wanted to go to law school because she said that she wanted to do that. Also, it made sense. My father was a lawyer and I could follow in his footsteps and then he would be proud of me. I studied for the LSATs and did well on the practice exams. On the day of the test I had such a bad stomach ache that I winced in pain as I took the test. When I received my scores I did not get into any of the schools that I applied to except Loyola in New Orleans where I was wait listed. I was depressed and felt hopeless but maybe the stomach-ache were my body telling me something that my mind did not want to hear.