Kristie Sharp Williams
An Unmarked Warehouse on Meridian Street
Many months ago, while perusing an online job board, I came across an interesting ad for a position at a small, local chain company. As is my habit when I find an ad that I might pursue, I first check the company website (if it is listed) and try to apply directly. This company website only had a printable application to fill out, but it did offer an email address. So, I filled it out and emailed it in.
A few days later a guy called me for an interview. I could tell he was a little older and he spoke straight to the point, save it for the interview kind of thing. He said, “I got your application. Can you come at 10 tomorrow morning?” Sure. He said they were on Meridian Street in Huntsville, “It’s just a warehouse with one door and a loading dock. There’s no markings, or names, or address numbers or anything on it. Use (this address) for your map, it’s the insurance company next door. And, just park anywhere in the gravel lot and come straight in.”
An unmarked warehouse on Meridian Street? No red flag there. I thought well, ya know, Huntsville has been doing a kind of revitalization down there. The city put up special vintage lamp posts, maybe this is in some kind of funky, hip warehouse district that the city has invested in to attract millennial start-up companies. Maybe it’s just not cool to use actual address numbers on your unmarked warehouse because, ya know, then it’s marked. So, at 10 a.m. the next day, I parked Big Sam up next to an unmarked warehouse on Meridian Street that was obviously not part of a funky, hip, and cool warehouse district… more of a scary, questionable, I’m-glad-it’s-daytime warehouse district.
There were two other cars parked up near the building and more cars parked out near the street, just inside the barbed-wire fencing. When I stepped in the door of the warehouse, I was immediately in a room that served as a foyer/breakroom combo. To my right, there was a round veneer-topped cafeteria table pushed against the wall with some printed materials on it and a microwave. Salt granules were sprinkled along one edge accented by Sweet ’N Low packets and creamer cups. Two cafeteria-style chairs sat randomly out in the room near the table, while to my left two additional chairs sat neatly next to each other against the wall beside a door opening into a dark room. In front of me on the back wall was a small glass window barrier with a half-circle cut out at the base. I walked nearer to it and saw the top of someone’s head, so I said, “Hello, I have an appointment with Mr. X.” (His name, was not actually “Mr. X,” but wouldn’t that have been funny.) She did not lift her head from her book and said, “I’ll let him know ya’here.” So, I sat down in one of the chairs against the wall, and heard the top of the head say, “He’s on 'is way. Be here in ‘bout 10 minutes.” Ok, so he’s not even here. Then I heard a familiar noise from beyond the darkened room that was now at my shoulder. Someone was puking. I sat still for a moment, making sure I was hearing what I was hearing. Yep, I’m pretty familiar with puking and that’s a lot of puking. The top of the head from behind the glass didn’t move. No one could be heard saying, “Are you ok?? Can I get you something??” Just puking. I tried to ignore it, directing my mind to a happy place when after what seemed like an eternity, Mr. X walked in the front door.
I stood up, we greeted and he directed me to follow him into the darkened room then… thankfully, turned on the light. An over-sized metal desk with a table butted up against it for extra surface space filled the room. Now, I could see that the puking was coming from behind a door to a bathroom off his office. By this time, the explosive expulsions were more like choking and coughing with lots of paper towel dispensing and water running. This was a tiny office. Whoever was puking was just steps from us on the other side of a door in a shared bathroom. Mr. X either didn’t notice because he was used to it or didn’t care what was going on behind the door because he was busy grumbling about all the papers that people seem to think belong on his desk. He opened his arms wide and just scooped up all the papers together in a disheveled heap and put them on a chair then walked around to sit on the other side of the desk. So, I took the seat nearest the door we just came in, across from him and next to the chair with the papers. He fumbled around turning his computer on, mumbling something about “this thing,” and I noticed with a side glance that the bathroom had gone quiet. Not a word from anyone about it.
As Mr. X continued getting his computer going and my application pulled up to reference, I had a chance to study him some and look around the room. He was an older guy, the comb-over type. He was tall, a bit hunched over and thin, but with a small beachball belly. He wore a turtleneck with a Bill Cosby sweater over it and a black leather Purdue jacket. He was energetic or one might say high-strung, rocking back and forth impatiently in his office chair as he moved the computer mouse around clicking and clicking. He had a grumpy demeanor with a northern accent. He spoke in short grunts laced with expletives as he complained about the computer and all the job applications he had received from people who were not qualified by any stretch. “Why is a damn junior fireman applying for this job,” he said out loud to himself. “Where in the hell did the qualifications say, ‘must be able to handle a damn water hose?’” (This was a Public Relations/Marketing type job). He looked at me, “There’s 96 of these and I’ve got to read every damn one of them.” He said the reason I am his first interview was because I sent in the application from their website, so he did not have to go through the job board account to figure out how to get in touch with me. I got the feeling that hiring (or dealing with people in general) was not his usual or preferred daily task.
The office was cluttered, although I could not pinpoint with exactly what. An insurance company picture calendar hung on a nail straight into the painted paneling, but it had not yet been turned to the new year. The short windows behind him had browned from age and slid open from the side… if they still opened at all. I noticed more Purdue items around, a plastic Indianapolis Colts cup, an odd Spiderman toy just laying on a table, not displayed, but like it was left there. Then front and center on his desk to stare at his visitor was a figurine of an old lady with droopy lady parts wearing a bikini. The dust stood undisturbed around the outer edge of his desk and I got the feeling that unless someone stacked unwanted papers in a spot somewhere, it was a spot that didn’t otherwise get touched.
With my application now in front of him, he began to talk more directly to me. “Ok, so this is what we’ve got….” I listened and noticed that he was scratching his head a lot… like a lot…. like with both hands full out. Now, I’m distracted and watch more than listen. He leans back in his chair and is scratching his cheeks… his neck…. he scratches his shoulders… (get ready)… he pulls up his sweater (turtleneck underneath) and scratches his belly and sides like a monkey. All the while he is talking to me about the job and the company. I nod as if I’m listening, but I’m thinking is this guy for real. He puts his hands in his pockets and scratches the tops of his thighs. He goes through this kind of scratching circuit - head, face, neck, shoulders, arms, torso, legs, repeat. And, these are big long purposeful scratches, not discrete, but like raking his skin all over constantly, literally as in he doesn’t let up. I now notice that the black Purdue jacket is dusted with white flecks, his pants dusted with white, his chair dusted. He talked and scratched and rocked in his chair - talked, scratched, rocked. I sat in stunned amazement that this was happening and that this was a real person. I have never spoken so little in any other interview because I was quite literally stunned and preoccupied that this was happening. It’s at this point, that I look up higher at the shelving and windowsills for cameras. The Purdue basketball valve, maybe. The oversized carnival pencil, maybe. The suspiciously awkward two-hole punch. The old woman in the bikini figurine. Could it be that she is strategically placed to mock me on multiple levels!
I chuckled a bit to myself at my situation and thought “only me.” We talked more about the company, and even though he talked in a grumpy tone, he was complimentary of the girl that was leaving and enjoyed talking about the company for which he worked. I showed him how to access the job board applications more readily from the website, and we talked about using Twitter because he liked to get Purdue sports updates.
Oh, we are not done…..
As we were wrapping up, a commotion at the front door distracted us. A woman fell coming in the front door to the foyer/breakroom combo, which was basically just behind me because I sat in front of the open door to his office. Mr. X tried to continue whatever it was he was saying to me but frowned in an apology for whatever was going on out in the foyer/breakroom combo. Then I heard what to me sounded like a Jamaican-accented man asking the woman, “Are you all right, are you ok??” And the woman was saying over and over “Ow, my leg. Ow, my knee. Why do I always do this? Ow, ow, ow,” she whined. Again the man said, “do we need to call someone??”
Now Mr. X was curious. He walked out to the foyer/breakroom combo and I followed. We three stood over this woman on the floor of the foyer/breakroom combo as she clutched her leg with one hand and held a plastic blue flower in the other, the kind you might find in an arrangement on a gravestone. The man looked at Mr. X and shrugged his shoulders. The woman winced in pain as she clutched her knee and said “Is Darlene here? Is she gettin’ her hair done? Ow, my leg, it hurts…” The man said, “Madam, this is not a hair salon, this is (and he gave the business name). There is no one here by that name.” Then he looks at me, and said, “Is she with you, are you this Darlene she speaks of?” I said, “No, no, I.. I was just here to talk to Mr. X.” Then the man said, “Well, she got out of the back of your vehicle.” What!?!?! Big Sam was being violated in the parking lot! The woman grunted as she rolled over onto all fours attempting to get up. We each awkwardly tried to offer her help, (clearly, she was a bit influenced), and as she stabilized herself on two feet she raised the flower to her nose, closed her eyes and smiled as she inhaled the sweetest aroma only a plastic flower can emit, and said, “Darlene’s got a car just like that.” Then, like a theatrical diva memorializing the closing scene of a classic play, she twirled the flower and stumbled out the front door, sauntering down the steps humming a tune as she picked at the blue plastic petals. We watched out the door as she made her way to the sidewalk and hesitated only slightly at choosing a direction in which to go.
The top of the head that was behind the glass barrier of the foyer/breakroom combo rose and leaned toward the half-circle cutout at the bottom to speak through it and said “You needa lock ya doors when ya’out here.” Mr. X said, “Druggies wander in here all the time. The good news is your office wouldn’t be here. The bad news is, it’s on Governor’s Drive!” And they all three laughed and laughed.
And, that's the way it happened, for real.