ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2001.
silent except for the sound of me taking off my jacket
november 10, 2001
This past Wednesday, November 7, I had to go to Iron Mountain.
Even though we supposedly live in an electronic age, most documents are backed-up on paper, which at this point is still the only truly reliable storage medium (I keep a hardcopy of everything I don't want to lose forever. At this point, between novels, stories, correspondence and what-not, I've got three light gray metal filing cabinets, four drawers each, stuffed to the tabs.)
Businesses obviously generate even more paperwork. The company I work for has two thousand boxes of paper stored at Iron Mountain, all of it from a company it acquired several years ago, the company I used to work for, called CENTRA.
The cost of storing these boxes, month by month, year by year, quickly gets expensive. Under United States law, most business documents have to be kept for seven years. Many of the boxes we have at Iron Mountain go back to the late eighties. We're spending thousands of dollars a year in storage fees we don't need to. These days, thousands of dollars a year suddenly mean a lot again to companies.
So I went out to Iron Mountain to see if we could eliminate some of the boxes.
As I've said here before, I have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever. If Mary and I approach the street we live on from a different direction, I don't know where to turn down. I've gotten lost in buildings, because I can't orient myself, I can't retrace a phantom of myself backwards down the hallways past the coffee stations to figure how I got where I am now, surrounded by walls plastered with Orwellian posters about the importance of teamwork, and empty cubicles, and the smell of burnt popcorn.
It's a definite disability. I've had it all my life. Whenever I go into almost any place, a business, a store, a home, I have to concentrate on landmarks (turn left at rest room, shoe display, sleeping uncle), in order to find my way out. It's an extreme inconvenience. I can't tell you how many times I've re-rewalked down a hallway, passing the same coffee-sipping people again, who this time lower their styrofoam cups from their lips even more. It's embarrassing.
When my father visited us here in Texas a couple of years ago, his friend, Kay, mentioned off-handedly that he suffered from spatial disorientation as well, so apparently it's something inheritable, like color blindness (which my dad also has but which I, fortunately, don't).
Oddly, I don't have any problem at all conceptualizing shapes. In those IQ tests where you have a three-dimensional box unfolded and laid flat, I've always scored high in determining how it would look with all the multiple flaps folded in place, ready to ship something bizarrely shaped.
The reason why I bring all this up is because Iron Mountain is located within the city of Dallas.
The idea of driving around downtown Dallas, trying to find Iron Mountain among the blue skyscrapers, was something I didn't look forward to. I didn't mind driving at all. I love driving. I get some of my best ideas driving down the highway, listening to a CD, my mind wandering to caves, gestures, turquoise bays and imaginary conversations. I also don't mind driving in heavy traffic, tall trucks on either side, or narrow city streets where you have to steer your car around cabs and back door deliveries, riding a wheel up on a rim of sidewalk.
But that's only if I know precisely where I'm going, I've been there before, and I've memorized each left and right.
For someone with no sense of direction, the worse place to be in is the center of a city, with its rush and pedestrians and one-way streets.
The one-way streets, for me, are the worse. I pass the sidestreet I want to go down because I'm stupidly in the lane farthest from it. If it were a two-way street, I could simply turn around, and reapproach. But almost all cities only have one-way streets at their center now (San Francisco is the worse), meaning you have to drive to the end of the far away block, turn left to square around, and hope that left turn doesn't end halfway through, three metal posts rising across to make it a haven for tourists and bicyclists, or even worse, that the left turn doesn't decide to disobey the grid structure, and instead curl wildly away from the city, with no exits, growing a grassy median, dumping you out somewhere near a remote highway with, across the way, a house on a hill, shutters tilting off.
Mary went on the Internet to MapQuest for me, and printed their instructions on how to get from her work, where I'd be dropping her off that morning, to Iron Mountain.
I think MapQuest is a great idea. You type in two addresses, and it tells you how to get from the first address to the second.
MapQuest works best if both addresses are out in the country, where there aren't a lot of streets.
If one of the addresses is in a city, it's not so good.
The instructions for getting from Mary's work to Iron Mountain consisted of fifteen numbered steps.
Most of them made sense.
For example, quoting from the instructions, "Turn LEFT onto N FIELD ST." That makes sense to me. When I get to North Field Street, I turn left. I'll get over in the left lane blocks before I ever approach North Field Street, and once I see the street sign for it, I'll put on my left indicator.
That was instruction number 8.
Here's instruction number 10: "N GRIFFIN ST becomes N GRIFFIN ST."
What does that mean? If it's already North Griffin Street, it really doesn't have to do anything to stay North Griffin Street, and anyway, why do I have to be informed, while cars are whizzing around me, honking, about the admirable constancy North Griffin Street has managed to maintain?
But the kicker, the fatal instruction from MapQuest, was number 13: "Turn LEFT onto WALL ST."
It seems innocuous.
When you get to Wall Street, turn left.
But there was no Wall Street.
I drove back and forth on North Griffin Street, from which I was supposed to turn left onto Wall Street, over and over again, and there was never any Wall Street for me to turn down.
What I finally realized was that North Griffin Street used to extend far longer than it currently did, and that at one time in the past, it did indeed connect with Wall Street.
By the time I realized this, sliding my finger over the multi-colored squiggles of a local Mapsco, I was an hour late, I was parked in some godforsaken dirt lot where the city was only a backdrop, and my bladder was the size of a basketball.
I finally figured out how to re-enter the city on the other side of North Griffin Street's amputation, and started cruising the streets there for the elusive Wall Street.
By now, I was in a run-down section of the city. Weeds, papers blowing down the streets, huge, windowless warehouses with lots of trucks parked at a militarily-precise slant outside. (Why is it that when we get lost in a city, we always wind up in the worse section of town, with empty shopping carts abandoned on the sidewalks, and rotting porch steps? Why can't we get lost and wind up in some arbor-shaded square, brick pavement, people sitting outside the cafes, weeping over poetry?)
Because of its name, I assumed Wall Street was a fairly thriving thoroughfare, and here I again find fault with MapQuest. The directions should have read, "Turn LEFT down WALL ST (a remarkably insignificant sidestreet with bare lawns under big trees, no people in sight, and a doorless refrigerator sitting in the middle of a driveway at the end of the first block.)"
Anyway, I finally found Iron Mountain. No one was more surprised than me.
Needless to say, but I can't resist, Iron Mountain is, in fact, not made of iron, and is, in fact, not a mountain at all. It's a one-story building running most of the length of the block. When I think of a mountain made of iron, I think of a massive fortress whose deep, secret chambers would be unshaken even under an atomic bomb. This place looked like it'd topple under the assault of a few well-aimed rocks.
I parked my car, got out, bending my knees under the pressure to pee, and marched up to the front door.
"The executive offices of Iron Mountain have moved to blah blah blah street, Irving, Texas [an hour away]. Thanks for stopping by!" Guess where I'd like to stick the enthusiasm of that exclamation point.
I banged the bell anyway, and after another bang and a few poundings, someone actually materialized through the layers of glass doors to let me in.
It turned out the executive offices had moved, but all the boxes were still stored here.
The guy who was going to supervise the production of the boxes I wanted to review was named Curtis. He seemed "on-the-ball", and immediately directed me to the men's room.
Here's the eerie thing about the facility. It was like an indoor ghost town.
Everything was dark inside. After I opened the restroom door, I had to sweep my blind hand across the walls on both sides of the opened door to find the light switch.
There was a lemon yellow hockey puck in the urinal I squared-up in front of.
The building itself, inside, was permeated with an absolutely wonderful pizza smell.
Since it was too early for lunch or break, I knew I wasn't actually smelling pizza, and in fact I was probably smelling something that it's best for me to simply associate with pizza rather than its actual source, but anyway, it was a great smell, and reminded me of the tremendous pizzas I've eaten in my life in the New York area, where there's no toppings or only one, but the tip of each triangular slice dips drippingly down under the moist weight of olive oil, fresh tomato sauce, oregano, and eatability.
I was assigned what used to be the company's conference room, a large, rectangular space with a huge, tacky table that probably, in its prime, sat thirty optimistic junior executives.
Now it was empty and silent, except for the sound of me taking off my jacket.
Curtis had already arranged for a tall, wide stack of boxes to be brought down.
I started going through the first box.
It was like going through the papers of an enormous person who was now dead.
I recognized all the names, people I worked with, clients CENTRA used to have.
Where did it all go wrong?
I wasn't going to find it here, in all these dust-topped boxes that left my fingers black-tipped, but I kept flipping through the documents anyway.
Here was a two-page letter to one of our most important clients, signed with a black-inked flourish halfway down the second page by a Vice-President who, one ordinary Monday morning six months after the date of the letter, we were told had, the night before, committed suicide. God rest his soul.
Letters from human skunks-- we should have seen the white stripe earlier, while petting them. Letters from sincere men and women who were trying to make things work out, but finally, at different times, gave up, swam off.
Letters from people who had since died, of cancer and heart attacks and strokes. "Sandy and I especially enjoyed the tour of the [blank] facility, which gave us a real insight into the dynamics of your business."
So many voices rose from these stored pages, many of them now gone, and for what? I flipped through them quietly, noting first the signatures, then reading the bravadoes. It all seemed flat. I hoped that outside this business correspondence they dug into dirt, they fucked, they sucked up a wonderfully complex sauce, licking the blackened wooden spoon, before they found that bump, that skip in the chest, that terrible uncoupling of a thought. Most of these people put in twelve hour days. For what? Their loyalty is duly noted, in the boxed papers about to be shredded.
There were two thousand boxes in all. Eleven hundred could be safely destroyed. What they contained was irrelevant, or outdated, except to me, and a few others. But we're not the ones paying the bills.
Like every other webmaster in the world, I love getting e-mail.
Here's one I received this past Thursday from a fan:
"Your restaurant reviews are way off base, pompous and extremely misguided. Please check your taste buds and get off the pedestal."
He was referring to the DALLAS RESTAURANT REVIEWS section of SENTENCE.
I wrote him back the same day:
"Thanks for writing.
"There's an almost comical insistence in your e-mail to make certain I understand that you're insulting me. I'm not only 'way off base', I'm also 'pompous', 'extremely misguided', on a pedestal, and have faulty taste buds.
"I got a good laugh out of it. Thanks.
"As I said in the introduction to my reviews, there's a need to present the experience of dining in a restaurant as it actually occurs to someone walking in off the street. To see the service, food and atmosphere as it really is, rather than as we would like to perceive it, or have been told to perceive it. The reviews I've written are honest. Because they're honest, I believe they're helpful. They point out not only places to avoid, but places that are worth visiting.
"I hope the rest of your day goes better for you."
I rarely receive negative e-mail.
I get a lot of positive e-mail, from all over the world (about half the visitors to SENTENCE are from outside the United States).
The last time I received a negative e-mail was about a year and a half ago, when an English mom wrote me to say she had been searching on the Internet for a wok, and had somehow stumbled across my site. She evidently read some of the stories here, and was distressed to think one of her daughters might be able to access this site, "without any warning."
It was clear from reading her e-mail she thought I had somehow 'fixed' the search results in the different Internet search engines around the world so that whenever someone inquired about woks, SENTENCE would show up to corrupt youngsters globally even as they stir-fried (with one hand).
I don't know why she thought this, other than that perhaps she was new to the Internet, and didn't understand how it worked. After all, it's not as if I reviewed the stats from my site and decided, "Well, I've got university professors visiting SENTENCE, and college students, and creative writing teachers and linguists and critics, and a lot of folks who use pots and pans, but I'm still not really getting the wok-using crowd. That's such a hard audience to woo, those wok-users. I'd better take over all the search engines in the world again, and make still another adjustment."
I checked my meta-tags, the coding webmasters use to list key words for search engines, such as 'fiction' and 'stories', relevant to their sites, to make sure the tags didn't read, 'wok, wok, wok, wok, wok, wok, wok.'
She seemed a sincere person to me, so I wrote her a nice letter back, apologizing that she had been exposed to my site. I do discuss cooking on this site, so I pointed out to her that perhaps SENTENCE had come up in a search for 'wok' because some of my pages discuss Oriental cooking. (One of the most popular search strings that brings people to SENTENCE is still 'baked ziti'. If you weigh more than you did a year ago, I may be partly responsible. Sorry.)
SENTENCE is controversial. I admit it. It contains a lot of language some people are offended by, such as 'fuck' and 'cock' and 'cunt', as well as ideas many people find unwholesome or troubling. I offer absolutely no apology for that whatsoever. I write what's in my head. That's banned SENTENCE from several search engines, certain Internet utilities, and a couple of webrings, but I really don't care. I'm showing you my mind. If you don't like my thoughts, scoot elsewhere.
For those of you who have kindly inquired, the tooth I had the operation on a couple of weeks ago (a bone tissue transfer) is healing nicely. It'll take about nine months before I know how successful the surgery was. To those who have asked about Father Figure, the novel is moving steadily forward towards publication. I contacted the publisher that offered me a contract for it, asking for some minor changes to the contract. Those issues should be resolved by the end of December.