June 10, 2008

Harvest Moon

At fourteen, I started my first job. That is if you don’t include all of the holes I dug and rocks I rolled in the backyard of my childhood home in Highland Lakes. My employer was a local market that everyone in our little town called the general store, with no capitals, as if the familiarity of the old green floored place depended on it. The owners were a home grown family that had been there for just about as long as folks were setting their Sunfish in the cool mountain lakes that lent our town its name.

My position as stock clerk covered all of the menial tasks you can imagine. Most of them were jobs that boys my age hated, and to be sure I hated a few, but the more I look back on those days the more I realize that many of the duties I performed colored a good deal of the work I have done since. To this day I can remember Mr. Dupont the senior, not the title eschewing son Ron, explaining to me that when you are wrapping lettuce in heated cellophane it’s best to finish each stage—rinse, chop stalk, remove browning leaves, wrap—separately, and then complete the entire process. I have even called on this maxim when guiding employees at J Crew though the rigors of setting up table after table of new clothing.

I also credit the joy I get from a sparkling white sink and toilet to the Monday and Wednesday mornings I spent cleaning the store’s two small bathrooms. And I will never forget the way in which we broke down all of the boxes and cartons that the beer came in. Stacking two cardboard trays together and breaking each corner is ideal; one at a time is too inefficient and three at a time is just too difficult.

All of this reminiscing about that old job is yet another roundabout segue to an Unfinished Dad post. I used to work every other Sunday morning at the then unheard of hour of 8 a.m. The store opened at 10, but we had to go in early on Sundays so that we could assemble the papers. Who knew that the paper didn’t arrive at the vendors all put together? The first time I had to slide each interior section into the main page I was baffled—Sports, Comics, Business, Style, Travel, Magazine.

Those early Sunday mornings shaped more for my future likes than just about anything else that preceded them. They showed me just how good fresh bagels could be; still hot enough to melt the giant pats of butter I spread on them. They showed me the joy of quiet, solitary work, long before most people start their days. I wouldn’t love William Safire and the New York Times magazine if they hadn’t piqued my curiosity while I was stuffing them. Those mornings with ink all over my hands even got a restless kid out of going to church every week. But more than anything, I credit Sundays at the general store, and Ron’s affinity for classic rock, with my love of Neil Young.

For years after leaving my position as stock boy (clerk sounded so stuffy) I would hum the tune of Harvest Moon, not even knowing who sang it. Ron wasn’t much of a talker and it never crossed my mind to ask him the names of the artists we listened to. So for years I had Neil Young in my head, not even knowing that a catalog spanning five decades and over thirty albums was out there waiting for my discovery. The advent of the internet re-ignited my love. I was able to find Harvest Moon while wasting time perusing tracks at a future job that taught me nothing valuable other than the things I hated about myself.

Before you listen to Harvest Moon in the player to your right, take a minute to play I’m Coming Back by Steve Gallo, or as I like to call him, Phoebe Gallo. He happens to be my little brother-in-law, though the current version isn’t so little. Now he is a dedicated musician and writer who, depite his age, often acts as a sounding board for me and part time musical guide. He is barely recognizable as the kid with the poofy little crew cut, Big Dogs tees, and chubby cheeks anymore. To me he will always be the boy who was red with embarrassment when I got the staff at Outback to sing Happy Birthday, dear Phoebe on his 11th Birthday.


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