Bless This Mess

Fond recollections of a low-rent existence

| May / June 2006

In the fall of 1991, I moved into my new place in DeKalb, Illinois. I lived alone on the second floor of an old blue house, out by the railroad yards and the water tower, on the edge of town.

I was working at a place called Creative Calligraphy, an operation that manufactured those 'country craft'-type gewgaws. Their best-selling items were framed calligraphic prints of sayings like 'A House Is Not a Home Without a Meow' and 'Bless This Mess.' I worked in the warehouse, unloading trucks, assembling frames, and running a machine that cleaned the glass used to make the framed pictures. It was maddening, repetitive work. To keep our sanity we blasted rock music over the incessant blare of the machine and 'sang' along at the top of our lungs. Van Halen I, the first Traveling Wilburys album, News of the World by Queen.

I liked the people I worked with. There was Gary Whitehair, a crazy brilliant writer/madman who hoped someday to complete his great novel Brain Fever; Josh, the owner's son who overcame that stigma to become 'one of the guys'; Al, a gentle-spirited and quiet-spoken former National Guardsman; Ed, the hard-drinking, always-smiling bodybuilder; Joe G., who got laid off from his job making screwdrivers across the street and brought to the warehouse his love of Bart Simpson and hair metal; Billy Bob, the country boy who loved his girlfriend and his flatbed pickup; and Jim Mack, the psychedelic local guitar hero and general lunatic. We were a sorry bunch of suckers, a ragtag band of misfits and losers, but I think we knew from the start that we were all brothers, connected by the madness of our mind-numbing manual labor, by the dead ends we all woke up each morning looking down. We ate toaster pastries all day long and debated our sorry lives, this sorry world.

So I worked this crazy job and tried to get by. I was making my comics at night and on weekends, trying to figure out my life.

I'd come home from work, park in the alley, and come up the back stairs to my apartment. The apartment was huge and cheap, windows everywhere and wide-open dusty floors.

Cooking dinner meant opening a can of refried beans onto a tortilla and microwaving them one after the other. I put preshredded cheddar cheese on them and, when I was fancy, some lettuce. I ate them with tortilla chips and generic cola. They were damned good.