Location: 40 N -80 W
Weather: 32.6 F (mean)
Author: Scalise, M.
I was twenty-one or twenty-two and maybe half way through college and had convinced myself it was my last year on earth: skipping all classes, lifeguarding, uncertified, at an indoor hotel pool in Pittsburgh, pouring all paychecks into my mouth until I was drunk. I sat daily next to a round masseuse who lived with his mother and lost every appointment when clients laid eyes on him. My boss was the uncle of someone I went to high school with. He carried a clipboard and screamed at me when I fell asleep.
I don’t remember anyone’s names. Not even the maintenance worker with a white brush moustache who helped me fix the sauna when the heater died. He was probably thirty years older than me and had a pleasantness that I mistook for friendship during a time I mistook friendship for bartered misery.
Anyways. The hotel was purchased by a larger hotel, and every employee was routed to a banquet room where we sat in folding chairs and watched a video of other hotels. People wanted to know when they would be fired. Another video played. The human resources manager—the soft woman who had hired me, someone of firm adult age—wore a wig made of plastic golden strands and a red clown nose and red cheeks and big shoes. Benign, wordless hip-hop played through a very loud set of speakers in each corner of the room, and she danced in the aisles and held a large bag which contained redeemable vouchers for hotel employees to use in order to stay in other hotels. She made her eyes big and ran in those shoes from person to person to deliver each voucher with a kind of careful stomp, and seemed not to think, like I did, that this is the worst moment of everyone’s life.
Days later, when a hot tub ran cold, I said something mean to the janitor with the brush moustache about the human resources manager with the clown shoes and big eyes. I tried, just now, to write what it was. I don’t remember. But does it matter what I said? Or what he said back? The flat tone of the words, his simmering dismissal, how we didn’t speak again, at least not in the same way, etc., etc.—little of it is new, none of it is interesting. Yet whole years peel off like this, then reappear, later, as dull knocks from a visitor on a door you mistake for your own.
I drove the same car I’d driven since I was sixteen. I parked it blocks away from the hotel, in an alley next to a factory, because we were not afforded parking passes. At the close of a ten-hour shift in that hot pool, where probably nobody swam and I read probably no books, I arrived to my car in the alley one evening to find that I’d lost the key. I emptied my backpack onto the hood, then onto the street, then scooped into all my pockets, yanked at the door handle, ID cards slid into the window creases, hammer-fisted the unshattering glass of the windows, etc., etc. The key, when I found it, had been resting in driver’s side door lock since that morning, and I didn’t see it, nobody did, and whether that happened on my first week on the job or the last I’ll never be able to say.
Mike Scalise's work has appeared in Agni, The Paris Review, Post Road, Ninth Letter, The Wall Street Journal, The Cupboard, Press Play, and a bunch of other places. He's received fellowships and scholarships from Bread Loaf, Yaddo, and was the Philip Roth Writer in Residence at Bucknell University a while back.