I got a job at the Home Depot when I was twenty years old. It was summer break from the University of No Hope and I had just gotten my first apartment with Joe. We had two other roommates, but they decided not to move in until two weeks before the fall semester began. One of the roommates, Karl, was bringing the majority of the apartment’s furnishings. His contribution was to be a couch, a dining room table, chair for the table, a t.v., a t.v. stand, a computer desk, and an assortment of lamps. Joe brought dishes and silverware. Rupert was bringing bed furnishing for himself and kitchen pots and pans and other gadgetry. I brought a rug, one my mom didn’t want anymore.
The first day Joe and I moved in, the apartment was bare. When we had finished moving in, it was still bare with the exception of the pink rug my mother had given me. We laid it in the living room which was also the dining room which also bled into the kitchen. Once we had gotten our clothes and computers (which we set up on the floor) in the apartment, Joe and I decided we needed at least one chair. Two would be preferable.
I had quite my last job because it would have been an hour long commute to work at the coffee shop. I was low on cash, so buying nice wooden wingbacks was out of the question.
“Let’s get some garden chairs from Home Depot,” I said.
“Sounds like a good plan,” Joe agreed. “We could throw them away once the real furniture gets here.”
The Home Depot was only a fifteen minute drive from our apartment, and summer was everywhere. We honked the horn and whistled at girls out in flip flops and short skirts. College campuses have always been infested with them.
“What are you going to do for work?” Joe asked once we had run out of females to ogle.
I lit a cigarette, took a drag, and stuck my head out of the open window to exhale. “I dunno,” I said to Joe. “I was thinking of putting an application in at Domino’s pizza. Maybe make pizzas or something.”
“Sounds like a shit job,” Joe said.
“Probably is,” I agreed.
A song by the Eels came on the radio. Joe and I started singing along with the refrain of “Goddamn right, it’s a beautiful day.”
The white plastic garden chairs were stacked beside the sliding door entrance to the Home Depot. They were priced at one dollar a piece, and I am pretty sure they were made in China. Joe and I grabbed three, in case any one visited. As we walked towards the checkout, I noticed a large sign asking for applications. The Home Depot was hiring.
Come work for a team with great benefits, great pay, and a great attitude. Drug tests mandatory.
Why not, I thought to myself. As Joe went and paid for the chairs, I ran over to a job kiosk. It asked the basic information for employment, and ended with a ten question personality test. The majority of questions were concerned with how often I stole from former employers.
Joe and I decided to drive by the beach on the way back to the apartment. Joe asked if I could drive, so we could have a burn run. He never enjoyed driving while elevated. I agreed and turned the car down route 1-a, as Joe tried to roll a joint. After going through half a pack of zigzags, I pulled a bowl out from my back pack in the back seat. The two of us cruised down the winding rocky coast of Rye, New Hampshire. We put on more Eels and sang along to A Daisy through Concrete, and Flyswatter, before we parked the car and stepped outside to feel the Atlantic Ocean’s breeze.
“What are you going to do about the drug test?” Joe asked. “You’re obviously going to fail it.”
“They’ve got system cleaners I can buy,” I said. “I’ll stop by a nutrition store if I get a call back from them.”
“Think they’ll call?” Joe asked.
“I dunno,” I replied. “They may be looking for people with experience in construction, but I’ve always been a retail whore. Still, I do need to find something to pay the bills.”
Joe and I took a half an hour walk down the beach, climbing the rocky outcrops that jutted up every fifty yards or so. When we got back in the car, Joe asked if I could still drive. He wanted to smoke some more herb, and I was down. We took the back roads home, and arrived back at our new apartment an hour after leaving the beach.
As we walked through the front door, carrying the garden chairs, my phone rang. I dropped my chair trying to answer.
“Hello, this is Susan from the Home Depot,” a woman’s voice cordially stated.
“Hi,” I replied. “I’m James Force.”
“Mr. Force we just reviewed your application for employment with the Home Depot and we’d like to bring you in for an interview.”
“Sounds great,” I said, surprised with speed of their response. “When’s good for you?”
“Can you make it to an interview at four-thirty today?”
I pulled my cell phone away from my ear to check the time.
“That’s in twenty minutes,” I said.
“We can do it tomorrow if you’d like.”
I thought about it for a fraction of a second. “No, today’s fine. I may be a minute or two late depending on traffic.”
“That’s quite alright. Just ask for me, when you get to the store.”
“Can do, Susan,” I said before hanging up the phone. I turned to Joe, “I’ll be back I said.”
“Are you still high?” he asked.
“Oh yeah,” I responded.
The interview went well, and I was offered a job at the illustrious Home Depot. The catch was the mandatory drug test. On the way back to the apartment I picked up a seven hour system cleaning formula. According to the packaging, if I followed the directions to the T, I would have no problem passing ninety-nine percent of all tests out there. It cost me fifty dollars, I had been hoping it was cheaper.
Three days later I drove down to a testing office, stood in a bathroom stall, minus a door, with a nurse staring at me. I tried to play it cool and ended up pissing on my hand.
Four more days passed before I got the call back from Home Depot. My test had come back clean, and I was to start work in the upcoming weekend. I had to take two days of orientation, but I would be compensated for my time at my hourly wage, ten dollars per hour. I thanked them for the job, hung up, and finished the bowl I had been smoking when they called.
I was in my second month at the Home Depot, it was seven in the morning, and I was cleaning up the first aisle of the store. Few customers were shopping, and I was half asleep after partying the night before until four a.m. As I walked by a steel rack of heavy duty garden tools, I noticed a single hoe precariously balanced. I felt a gust of wind could knock it off the shelf. I walked over to correct the issue and was rewarded by my hand clumsily knocking the handle of a pick axe. It fell and slowly rotated like a windmill as it plummeted the five feet to the concrete floor. My foot got in the way. With the sound of a goose feather pillow being punched, the pickaxe hit the top of my foot, near my big toe, and stood like a monument.
It took me five seconds to lean over and pull the tool out. In my dazed state, I was unsure what action to take, so I walked out side behind the garden area. I pulled my shoe off and stared at my white sock as it slowly became red. Shit, I thought. I put on my shoe.
I went looking for the manager of the garden department, limping as I searched the outside garden area, then the inside. The store manager, Richard, saw me limping and raised a questioning brow. I waved good morning to him and turned down the first aisle I saw. I had a fearful suspicion that any work related accidents came attached to a mandatory drug test. I knew I could buy another system cleaner, but was afraid they might ship me to a doctor’s office, and have me take the test before I had a chance to run to a nutrition store. My second concern was the fact that a coworker had given me some pharmaceuticals to try, and try I had. I didn’t particularly care for them, but I figured the Home Depot would.
After thirty minutes of hobbling around the floor, I gave up looking for my manager. I went behind the garden area and pulled my shoe off. My sock was nearly completely red, and I decided to yank it off as well. I stared at the wound from the pickaxe. It looked like a midget’s menstruating vagina, sans a tampon. Shit, I thought again. It was at this point with my bloody foot hanging out in the open air when Howard, the horticulturalist, saw me.
Howard was a nice guy, but he looked like what Jerry Garcia would have been if he had never picked up a guitar, just an aging hippie. He ran his hand over his gray peppered beard and stared at my foot. “Looks like a bleeding pussy,” he said.
“Do we have any first aid stuff?” I asked.
“Sure, I’ll take ya there,” he offered.
I put on my sock and shoe and followed him up to the break room. It was empty at this time of the morning. Howard walked over to the cabinets that ran along the far wall. He opened a few of them until he came across the first aid kit. He was sweating from the early morning heat in the outside garden area, and as he set the box of bandages down beside me, he wiped the sweat off of his wrinkled forehead. He pulled his hat off and his wet, grey hair was flattened against his skull.
“That isn’t so bad,” he told me. He sat across from me, opened up the first aid box, and waited patiently for me to take off my shoe and sock. “You won’t lose your foot or anything over it,” he said.
“I hope not,” I said. The thought hadn’t crossed my mind.
“Probably want to get a tetanus shot, no telling what they coat tools with these days. Still isn’t bad though.”
I leaned back and Howard started cleaning the wound. My mind wandered, and I thought about when I could swing by the university clinic to get a tetanus shot. I had narrowed it down to either Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week, when I realized Howard was talking. He never looked at me as he spoke, so I doubted he was talking to me, but there was no one else in the room.
“No way they’d take your leg for this,” he said. “Worst comes to worse maybe they take a toe or two, and you don’t need all of them. They don’t look broken though, so I doubt they’d even cut one of them off. ‘Course there’s always an off chance. Not a bad one though. I seen worse.”
I stopped thinking about my clinic appointment.
“I seen a man who got his abdomen ripped open by a mortar. Definitely worse. Yup, intestines spilling all over the ground, poor guy kept screaming. Me and another private had to hold him down to keep him from trying to run away, thought he’d step on his own tubes. Course he passed out after few minutes. I had to piss on his wound to keep his insides from drying out. Never had better aim in my life, just kept pissing up and down his insides. Kept him alive ‘til the medic could get to him. Kept him from dying out there. Yup. I’ve seen worse.” Howard stopped talking and I realized he had finished bandaging my foot. It looked like a doctor had done it. He looked directly into my eyes. “You’ll be fine,” he said.
I let Howard stand up and walk out of the break room ahead of me. I gave him a five minute head start before I limped my way down to the sales floor. I ran into the garden department manager as I stepped into the first aisle. He was an even five feet tall, and moonlighted as a K-9 officer for a local police department.
“What the hell you limpin’ for?” he asked in his gravely voice.
“Pick axe,” I replied. “Nothin’ serious. Howard helped me clean it up.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me when it happened? We gotta fill out a claims report on it.”
“I looked for you,” I lied. “I couldn’t find you. Howard noticed and helped me out.”
“Howard that goddamn hippie. Probably got peace and love in your blood,” he gave a smoker’s cackle at the joke. I tried to join in, but it just didn’t feel right. “Well come on, ya sunnuvabitch let’s go have smoke.” He turned and started walking to the back exit. “You still shoulda told me.”
“Where were you?”
“Out back in the squad car. Some asshole led a couple of my boys on a car chase and got away.”
“You were monitoring the police scanner out back?”
“Not just monitoring, I gave ‘em a dirt path shortcut to catch the bastard.”
“Right,” I said, limping my way behind him.
He turned to look at me. “You’re walking like a pussy.”
“Could be worse,” I said.