Thursday, August 08, 2013


Jim gave up trying to find work as a plumber. He was bitter and felt that a cruel joke had been played on him. The state had trained him for the job, at the same time that it was cracking down on “offenders” by passing new laws that made it impossible for him to be licensed. He did not understand it. Did the state want him to go back to prison?

He began looking for other kinds of work, but quickly discovered that his record was still an impediment. Even minimum-wage fast-food jobs were requiring background checks these days and they preferred applicants without clean records, particularly if the job involved handling cash. He managed to find a few fast-food employers who were not particular, but they had no openings at present. Not that the situation was hopeless. These were high-turnover jobs, thus there might be openings later. But he did not need a job later; he needed one now. Heather’s paycheck could not cover all their expenses—expenses that included not only next month’s rent but the balance still owed on this month’s. So far the apartment management had been patient, but he knew their patience would end if all the money was not forthcoming by January third.

It was December fifth. After a full day applying for jobs on foot (he could not use the car because Heather needed it to get to her job), he walked into a Shop-N-Go to buy a bottled water and package of peanuts.

While he was there, he found himself lingering in front of the refrigerated beer case and thought maybe he could have just one. Just to calm my nerves, he thought. Help me think straight. He was so desperate. No, he thought, I should walk out now. I shouldn’t look at this stuff. I shouldn’t even be in the same room with it. I should leave right now. I can’t be around booze. But he remained standing there in front of the case, even though it was not wise. I can’t even be around this stuff, he thought.

He didn’t know how Heather did it, serving drinks all night. She’s stronger than me, he thought. No, she’s not. Booze never was her real problem. Booze she could take or leave. It was a line of crank she couldn’t turn down. If she was serving crank all night, now that would be a problem. Then it would be her falling off the wagon now, not me.

I need a beer, he thought. Just one. Just enough to settle my nerves. No, I should leave—and to his surprise, he did leave. But he thought about the beer all the way home and wished he had one—just one—something to help him wind down from the hard discouraging day and help him think straight.

He told Heather about the episode later when she got home. He had considered not telling her. He didn’t want her to know how close he had come to falling off the wagon, lest it cause her to fall off the wagon too. But they had promised each other they would discuss these things. They didn’t have sponsors, thus were trying to be each other’s sponsor—and so far it was working. They had been clean and sober two weeks now, which for them was a success.

So he told her. They were sitting at the kitchen table. He told her what a hard day it had been trying to find work and how desperate he felt and how he almost bought a beer.

She said, “Jim, I’m going to have to take that job.”


“We don’t have any other options,” she said. “We’re going to be evicted, and you—we—can’t take this pressure. We’re going to fall off the wagon, Jim, both of us. And we’ll be evicted and this time there’s no money coming from my mother, or your brother or anybody. You know that. I’ve got to take that job, Jim.”

“You can’t.”

“I’ve got no choice. It could take you weeks to get a job and we don’t have weeks. But if I take this job, I’ll make good money. I talked to one of the girls that works there. She makes hundreds of dollars a night in tips. With money like that we can make it, Jim.”

“I don’t know, Heather.”

“Don’t cry because you’ll make me cry. And there’s no reason to cry. I can do this, okay? Believe me, I don’t want to, but I won’t have to do it forever, just till you find a job. And you’ll find one. Don’t give up.”

“I’ll keep looking.”

“Yes, and I’ll take the job. It’ll save our lives, Jim.”

“But what if CPS finds out? We’ll never get Jason back. They weren’t so hot about you working in a regular bar. But a titty bar—Christ.”

“Jim honey, we’re going to end up on the streets and if that happens we’ll never see Jason again. I’ve got to take this job. Anyway, CPS won’t find out.”

“Okay,” said Jim. Then they held each other a long time.

(To be continued)