This was a piece I did a few years ago. It was meant to accompany a post on the Portland Blog, but something came up. I figured I’d re-post the UPS post because there is snow on the ground. Also, Alissa and I were going through clothes I never wear and we came across a pair of my jeans from UPS. She took a picture. It is below.
I used to work nights at UPS as a package handler. As my distance from the job has grown, my recollections have developed a nostalgic patina. How wonderful to have worked such a terrible job. Every night I left my apartment at 10:15. At 10:25 I pulled into the parking lot, shut off my car and savored the last few moments of stillness. UPS machinery is hard on clothing, and the crowds that entered the hub every night exhibited a type of fashion that is generally reserved for the menacing extras in zombie movies. Patches on patches. Ripped sleeves. Pant legs nearly shorn off. Back pockets peeling off. Our clothes bore the signs of remarkable violence.
Every night we shuffled from our cars to the guardhouse, showed our IDs, and waited for the largish security woman to look up from her book and nod us through. She had an insatiable appetite for lurid romance novels with titles like Voo Doo It Like That: A Scandalous Tale of Urban Desire and Sensuous Vampiric Adventure. We continued to the “Hub” amidst grumblings as predictable as an Episcopalian liturgy.
“How you doing?”
“Great, till I came here.”
“I hear that.”
“Two more days.”
“Yeah. You double today?”
“No, but I hear Twilight got ransacked.”
“That’s what I hear.”
“Two more days.”
“I hear that.”
The inside of the “Hub” was as drab and boring as a bucket of oatmeal. The memories of my time there have lost their particularity, but for one.
One night I left my apartment the regular way, arrived the regular way, showed my ID in the regular way, and entered the building in the regular way. But when I turned the corner, what had for nine months been a concrete floor, cinder block wall, and metal chute, was magically transformed. The forms were still there, but they were now beautifully soft and white. Someone during the twilight shift knocked a fire extinguisher from its hooks. It fell, bounced off the bay platform, hit the ground, and exploded. The blast covered the chute, the bottom of the conveyor belt, and about twenty feet of the floor in what looked like freshly fallen snow. I must have come very soon after the extinguisher burst, for there were no footprints. The scene was almost overpowering. I stood in my tattered clothes holding my water jug and everything old was new again.
Fitzgerald, I think, once mentioned that in life every person searches for reincarnations of a former aesthetic experience. The writer or painter tries to approximate some moment in their life when they had very real contact with awe. Isn’t it strange that while those moments are widely incommunicable, sometimes a few particles can make the journey from one person to another? So far as I can tell the sensation works best when we feel a rapid flicker between the familiar and the unfamiliar. At any rate, I think that at its best literature, or maybe art in general, can take something quite ordinary, concrete, and dull, and blast it with a spectacular whiteness so that we can see the thing again for the first time.