I remember working at a temporary labor staffing agency, back in 2008, just to make ends meet after I dropped out from the UW. My main assignment came in the form of a graveyard shift, sweeping away peanut shells and detritus using a gas-powered leaf blower at Safeco field after Mariners games in Seattle.
The work was terribly underpaid and mind numbingly simple, but it gave me peace. It got my family off my back because suffering from existential depression wasn’t an excuse to not work. It let me stay awake all night, which I did anyway, which was by design because I avoided seeing people at all costs. Seeing people smiling and going about their days, which could only remind me of how little desire I had to do anything with my life other than avoid people, avoid conversations about my past and my present, my future and my fall from grace.
The sound of dozens of leaf blowers running simultaneously as we crawled down the bleachers of the stadium one section at a time, blowing away the discarded remains of capitalism and American privilege. We were all poor folks, black and brown folks, mostly. The wide-open spaces, the repetitive motion of the leaf blower nozzle being moved side to side, the vibrations of the engine forcing you to keep your jaws wired shut for fear of losing any fillings. The crisp night time air, the chilly fog that only the pacific northwest produces so consistently. The smell of the Puget sound enveloping you as the high tide washes back in to shore a few hundred meters away.
Poor folks, cleaning up the mess of rich folks at a stadium that we couldn’t afford a ticket to enter during daylight hours. Working ten hours in the dead of night and getting paid the price of admission for one person, not including food or beverages. Catching the metro route 120 home as the sun rises over the horizon, heating up leftover hamburger helper for dinner at breakfast time. Letting the sounds of the projects rising to tackle another day drift you off to sleep.
It was the absolute bare minimum for a working age adult in the United States of America, but it was more than I could ever ask for at the time. It met my needs, it let me walk the night without a care in the world. The Talib Kweli and Styles P albums playing on repeat inside my earbuds, underneath my ear protectors. Outside of that, the incessant whine of 10,000 leaf blowers competing to drown each other out. Just past that, the city of Seattle was asleep. The crackheads jostling and finessing each other for hits, the heroin junkies leaning, strung out on the corner of 3rd & Pine like some overpriced art installation pieces. Like weeping willow trees, overburdened with hundreds of years of strange fruit, until they could no longer stand straight.