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Over the Rainbow with Brian Burns: Flicking the Bean

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 12.25.48 AM

Photo: Juliette Luchini

Hidden between boxes of eggplant in the refrigerated backroom of a New Hampshire supermarket, I spent most of last winter break testing the limits of how long my body could tolerate near-freezing temperatures. The mid-life-crisis contemporary that spewed from the cooler’s speakers could have fucked with my memory but I want to say 33 minutes was my record. By the time I walked back onto the sales floor, genetically modified mildew had coated my lungs, my fingers were gnarled into arthritic funnel cake fists and all hope of donating my sperm to Hyundai-driving lesbians was dashed.

All of which was preferred to working.

At this same store since my senior year of high school, I’d been around long enough to properly loathe the place. But, home for a month from my junior year of college, there was something extra insufferable about returning to a part-time job where I was once asked by a coworker what asparagus was.

“So, you still allowed within 100 feet of elementary schools?” asked James the maintenance man, rubbing an index finger over his upper lip and nodding in the direction of my mustache.

Coming to terms with the fact that a guy with size-17 shoes, three teeth, and gout was making fun of how I looked, I responded to him as I did to all my coworkers—nervously laughing over my shoulder while walking back into the refrigerator.

It’s not like I hated being home. The greater part of those four wintry weeks was spent with my hands tucked underneath elastic waistbands while gorging on raisin bran and Kevin Smith movies—essentially, my career objective. But I was miserable. And when I ran into the epitome of a high school acquaintance at a doctor’s office and said nothing but, “Wow, well, ya know…life goes on,” I knew, for the sake of my own wellbeing, that life had to go on somewhere else during my next break from school.

Having spent the academic year as an RA, ever perfecting the art of being a narc, I figured applying to be a housing assistant on my college campus would provide a guaranteed summer in Boston for me. Though I managed to say, “my sister got married in Las Vegas but we’re not white trash” during my interview for the position, I somehow got the job. My mom cried when I told her the news over the phone.

“Who am I gonna watch the Housewives with?” she sobbed. “Who am I gonna talk to? Your father?!”

The housing assistant job started as soon as the school year ended. In exchange for living on campus for free, I had to work at the front desk of the dorms, in the offices of residence life and in the chapel where I pulverized the bodies of homosexual alumni into sacramental wine. Nothing was all that demanding—which meant I never thought twice about going out on the nights before my early morning shifts.

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Brian,” I thought aloud on a Saturday at eight a.m., surrounded by a sea of Japanese school children, my underwear on backwards and inside out.

It was practicality, not masochism, that forced me into these morning shifts—I needed to get out early enough to make it to my other job. Working since March at a popular news site based out of Boston, I only made it into the office a day or two a week during the spring semester. But, by May, I was there Monday through Friday: consistently strolling in sweat-stained and a half-hour late.

Social news writer is my official title. So, if an inbred Pomeranian and limbless prostitute are trapped inside a Trump-bumper-stickered car and a gender nonconforming veteran shatters the windshield to rescue them, I’m the man for the job. I work with actual journalists who went to colleges that people don’t mistake for Emerson and once had the immense pleasure of hearing a conversation between coworkers that started, “Have you seen Tory Burch’s new towels? They’re amazing. Ah-mazing.” Five days a week, I got to feel like the least rich, least educated, least J. Crewian schmuck in the office. And I lived for it.

The only things New Hampshire ever had to offer during the summer were the three friends I’ve kept in touch with since high school ended and a lake usually closed to swimmers because of “duck itch” bacterial blooms. In Boston, I shared a commuting schedule with a chatty ex-heroin addict named Carrie and got a message on Tinder that read, “Hey! Are you at the Coolidge Theater to see Grey Gardens right now? My boyfriend and I just thought we saw you! Lol!” I was busy, I was moving, I was living. And, though that was me at Grey Gardens, I was bored.

“Summer is almost over (however that happened) and, needless to say, I’m pale,” I wrote in my journal, biting the tip of my pen between sentences and somehow not getting my first period. “A year ago, I would have vomited at the idea of 50 hour work weeks. But so is my reality this summer. And the reality is routine.”

I was in a Trader Joe’s when I first thought about my summer in this way. Once a week, I walked the same route through Brookline to do my grocery shopping there—a routine made slightly enjoyable by a lifelong desire to be Jewish. Sometime in late August, while waiting on the checkout line, I was watching the workers go in and out of the swinging doors leading to the backroom. For the most part, the Hawaiian shirt-clad employees came right back out with tubs of hummus and barrels of biscotti to stock. But I liked to imagine that somewhere back there was a worker killing time, counting down the minutes until he could leave and go somewhere else, anywhere else. I tried to stall as long as I could, hoping to catch a glimpse of this familiar stranger, but my cashier was working too goddamned fast.

Posted by on September 23, 2015. Filed under Over the Rainbow with Brian Burns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to Over the Rainbow with Brian Burns: Flicking the Bean

  1. Bill

    December 27, 2015 at 7:22 am

    Brian,
    I am so glad to know you and over joyed that you left NH to seek a life…and to bastardize Thoreau…
    “I went to the (city)woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front (all) only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
    Charge on dear Brian
    Warm regards,
    Yours,
    Bill