A Story of Dance
By Lee Morgan
I think a lot of people misunderstand the term “broke.”
Sometimes I hear people talk about how broke they are and then, in the same sentence, talk about how they are taking their girlfriend out to dinner that night. I always want to grab them by the arm and say, “I thought you said you were broke?”
But of course I don’t do that. How inappropriate.
But when I say I’m broke, which is most of the time these days, I mean it. Today I’m broke. It is one of those days when I am just thankful that I paid off my car years ago and that it still runs pretty good. Looking over at the Ziplock baggie full of change in the passenger’s seat of my convertible 1987 Chrysler LeBaron I realize that today I will eat lunch. I don’t get to do that everyday. I also know, quickly doing a count of the change in the bag –- the silver, not the pennies – that I can get two chicken sandwiches and a large soda from the value menu at the drive-thru and still have enough to buy the paper out of the box out front.
I always get the paper. When you no longer have cell phone service because it has been shut off and there is no Internet available outside of the public library, you want to get the paper. It’s not only for the crosswords or to keep up with what the normal world is doing. It’s for the help wanted ads. There are fewer ads than there once were. Nowadays most folks put those ads online only. But the newspaper still has some local jobs in there, and I apply for them all. Not that I’ve had any luck lately.
Nobody wants a college graduate with 15 years of management experience for an entry-level job. They assume you’ll quit when something better comes along. They’d be right if there was anything better. But right now I’d take a job cleaning toilets for minimum wage.
As for the better jobs, which are rare to say the least, you have to be so specialized that unless you majored in coffee shop management in college you can’t get a job managing a coffee shop. Apparently it was not so niche-specific in 1997. I know it wasn’t. A management degree could get you a job managing any kind of business usually. But those days are gone, unless you know somebody on the inside… and I don’t know many people.
Fresh out of college with a degree in business management 15 years ago I went to work as the assistant manager of Dan’s Radio World. I’m not sure why.
That’s a lie. I know exactly why. Two reasons.
They offered me more money than anyone else did at the time and the general manager was a smoking hot redhead named Samantha. When she offered me the job I had visions of sleeping my way to the top.
“Do me again, baby,” she’d say. “Do me again and I’ll get you another $3 per hour and a 401(k).”
Of course that never happened.
In fact, she never even flirted with me. Not surprising. When you are 5-foot-5 and 300 pounds with a natural white man’s ‘fro akin to John C. Reilly’s you don’t typically attract the babes. But good God, what a babe she was.
The actual reason she was hiring an assistant was because she already had plans to take a position in Louisville where Dan Murphy, the namesake of said Radio World, was opening a new store. The Nashville store had been wildly successful and he wanted Samantha’s face in the commercials and in the store when it opened in six months. That was just enough time to get me up to speed so that I could run the whole outfit in her absence. And that is exactly what I did.
We had record profits the first year I was at the helm and my salary climbed a bit higher until I was making what now seems to be a “whopping” $36,000 per year.
It may not sound like a lot to the fella taking his girlfriend out to dinner tonight that I mentioned earlier, but considering it is April and I’ve only made about a thousand bucks all year, it seems like a fortune.
The shitty economy finally took its toll on the business and cutbacks started about two years ago. It was shortly after that when Dan stepped back in from his semi-retired lifestyle and started running the store again. My salary had to go, and he offered me a severance package if I’d quit. I did, thinking I’d get another job without a problem. I agreed to quit the job for an under the table cash payoff of $2500. Big mistake. It ended up being impossible for me to draw unemployment when I couldn’t find work. And the search continues.
Since then I have lost all the perks of normal life. The cell phone went first; then the Internet service, then the water, electricity and finally the apartment. All I had left was the LeBaron and about $300 cash.
My parents wanted to help and said I could move in with them. That really wasn’t a great situation. They have a very small, no tiny, place.
In addition, my parents were living on Social Security only and were in no position to help me financially.
Still, after a month of hopping from couch to couch at friends houses I began to feel like a burden. I made an arrangement with my parents so that I would have a place to stay at night without intruding on their space. They insisted I sleep on the couch, but I refused.
There is an old shed out behind their house that used to serve as lawnmower storage and such. I tidied it up and made my own little efficiency out of it. I still go inside for the bathroom and shower and things like that, but I stay out of their way and sleep in the shed. It works out fine. It’s amazing what you can get used to.
Even with all of that in place, life was still rough. I had run out of cash and was down to a quarter tank of gasoline in the LeBaron when I first had the thought of how to scrape by until something good happened. And I was convinced it would eventually.
I had just left another of the countless interviews I’d been on where the hiring manager told me he was “reluctant to hire such an overqualified candidate.” It was interview-talk for, “get lost you fat bastard.”
I pulled over in the nearly empty parking lot in front of a Kmart and rested my head on the steering wheel until the tears came. And they continued to come for a long time.
Then a song came on the radio that, for some reason, just made me want to move.
I haven’t told you about the stereo system in the LeBaron.
As the general manager of Dan’s Radio World, I got all the stereo gear I wanted at wholesale prices. It was a steal. I had a system in my car that was easily worth three times what the car was. If I dropped the top on the convertible and cranked up a tune on this system, you could hear it in perfect quality from a mile away at least.
I had recently thought about selling off the equipment, likely at such a discount that it’d make my wholesale price seem expensive. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but when you go to bed hungry at night something’s gotta give – and I like to eat.
So, this song comes on as I’m resting my head on the steering wheel in Kmart parking lot on the south side of Nashville.
She want that lovey-dovey (lovey-dovey)
That Kiss-kiss (kiss-kiss)
In her mind she fantasize,
Bout Getting wit’ me.
They hatin’ on me
They wanna diss this (kiss kiss)
Cause she mine and so fine
And thick as can be…
I wasn’t a big Chris Brown or T-Pain fan by any stretch of the imagination, but for some reason the song made me feel better and I began bobbing my head. By the time the second chorus had rolled around I had the volume high and the top down. I was beginning to draw harsh looks from the passersby on the road who could easily hear my stereo blasting.
I suppose something snapped in me, perhaps from all the stress of the job search, homelessness and lack of basic essentials. The only thing that felt good was to dance.
I jumped out of the car and started doing exactly that.
I had never been one for exhibitionist behavior. Quite the contrary in fact. I was a shy guy for the most part, and very self-conscious about my appearance. So for me to be in the middle of a parking lot grooving to “Kiss-Kiss” for an audience of hundreds passing by was very out of character. I guess I had finally lost my mind.
But it is in the strangest ways that survival works out. If I hadn’t danced that day, I may not be sitting here in the drive-thru about to eat a chicken sandwich.
(TO BE CONTINUED?)