Dirty White Collar by David LaBounty
Tire salesman. That’s what I am. A tire salesman store manager writer novelist poet husband father American dreamer.And no, when I was a kid, I didn’t want to grow up and sell tires. I was a bright-eyed boy with good grades who asked a lot of questions and read a lot (okay, I was really a know-it-all but that doesn’t matter). I wanted to be a lawyer or a stuntman. In fifth grade I decided I was going to go to Harvard and go to law school just like this TV show called the Paper Chase that I watched with devotion every week.
I made it to Harvard once, when I was in my mid-twenties, I walked through the campus with no money in my pockets and the dream long extinguished.
Anyway, my parents divorced and there were second marriages and the family moved. Michigan, Illinois and small-town Minnesota. In Minnesota I decided to become a writer, a journalist maybe and I had a path set but that path changed when I left my mom and step-dad and moved back to Michigan to live with my father in suburban Detroit before my junior year in high school. I had to make a new set of friends and adjust to big city living. In Minnesota I was the kid with a big mouth who played basketball and argued with the teachers and got elected to student council. In Detroit I was just a kid with messy hair and thick glasses who was too shy to try out for the basketball team and became nothing special at all. I had to make a new set of friends. I discovered beer and pot and rock and roll and MTV. My grades went in the shitter, college wasn’t an option, not with a 1.9 GPA and my father didn’t offer to pay for any further education.
I still wanted to be a writer, so I joined the navy, you know, for the travel and experience and then I was going to go to college on the G.I. Bill and become a journalist and then a novelist and then I would become rich and famous and bang beautiful women.
And the navy did give me experience. I made a few road trips across the eastern seaboard because of the navy and wound up being stationed in Scotland for about half of my enlistment. I lived off base in a seaside village called Montrose. I had a Fiat. I drank in pubs and lifted weights and read Anna Karenina and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Life was fun and I had a plan. I left the navy after four years and moved back to Detroit with my father and step-mother and got a job at a car wash and enrolled in the local community college and the plan was in action.
And I almost executed my plan perfectly except I never did bang any beautiful women, that and I quit college after a year and a half, after all, Hemmingway didn’t go to college, Faulkner didn’t go to college but Stephen King did and he really didn’t have to.
So, I quit college, my dad said okay, time to move out then. I was going to move to Ireland with a friend from high school, another literary drinking smoking dreamer type. We were going to be ex-pats and drink in pubs and live on the street. I spent seven hundred bucks on a one-way ticket and a week before I was supposed to leave I chickened out (my friend did go and no one has seen him since, and that was 1991).
So I went to Winnemucca, Nevada instead where a navy buddy of mine I kept in touch with was working in a gold mine, making good money and I said what-the-hell. I hopped in my ‘83 Pontiac 6000 with no power steering and headed west with my biceps strained and bulging. I got a job in the gold mine, first on the blast team and later in the shop as a mechanic. I bought an electric typewriter at a local pawn shop and my buddy and I rented a cinder-block house with lead paint and a swamp cooler. I drank a lot of beer and wrote short stories. I sent them out, and they always came back with no thank you’s and almosts. The local paper ran an ad for a sports writer. I like and liked sports. I answered the ad. I went on an interview after my shift from the mine and I was nervous so I drank four glasses of Stoli that I kept in the freezer (I was mimicking my father). I went to the interview drunk with five sticks of Big Red in my mouth and wearing my best button-down shirt. I was interviewed by the publisher of the paper, a twenty-something thin lady with migraines who was the daughter of the owners. She had been to college and I told her I hadn’t. I told her I wanted to write and we talked about writing and reading and somehow I mentioned the name Wallace Stegner, one of the great writers of the contemporary American west. She was shocked that I knew who Wallace Stegner was.
So she hired me.
Eight bucks an hour and I was a journalist. I got a desk with a stapler and paper clips and a clunky computer. I had a phone with my own extension and I was twenty-five years old. My family back home was happy for me, glad I had started “to find my path”.
But there was a problem. Winnemucca was and probably still is a transient mining town, dudes from all over the western half of the country came looking for work (few lunatics from east of Salt Lake actually made the journey, I was an enigma). There were no single girls my age there and I thought if I was going to become this great man then I needed a great women.
So I hooked up long-distance with a girl I knew in the navy. She was stationed in the Washington D.C. area. I flew out to visit her and we got married.
Yes, it was that simple and stupid.
I left the job at the paper and moved to Maryland. I tried to get a job as a journalist but this was Washington Post and Baltimore Sun country. I couldn’t drink and Wallace Stegner my way through an interview so I wound up getting a job at the base garage because of my “mechanical” experience at the mine. I bullshitted my way through that job well enough, and they made me a supervisor.
But my groundless marriage was a train wreck, so after about a year of mutual agony I moved back to Michigan with my tail between my legs (and now I was driving a 1973 Oldsmobile Omega and the year was 1995). I moved back home. Got a job with a tire store and bullshitted my way through the ranks and became a manager. I met and fell in love with my current wife and it’s been mostly good and a decade-long. We have two kids and pose for pictures.
And I’ve still managed drink beer and write, there are two novels and a shitload of poems that no one reads. And I was ashamed of my tire job for the longest time but I’ve made it my strength. Tire sales is no different than any kind of sales job, be it cars or televisions or shoes, you still have to deal with people, and people, when you are trying to sell them something always drop bits of their soul on the floor.
And I’ve been lucky enough to pick them up.