Jobs + Girls + Crippling Pain

More fun from the store.


December 14, 1994

Laura called and that made me happy. She’s got a boyfriend now—a devilishly handsome med student—and I was pretty sure she’d dump me but that hasn’t happened. Yet. She was eating dinner while we spoke—a bowl of rice. She’s so broke that she can’t afford proper groceries. Right after I hung up, Cindy came over. She gave me a little bamboo box that was filled with condoms. She said she’s through with men. [Note: A decision that, 20 years later, has stuck.] I don’t know why she gave them to me. She knows I don’t have anyone. Plus, she knows I hate condoms.

I lost my assignment at Sudler. I came in at 8:30 and the doors in the elevator lobby were all locked. I got tired of waiting for someone to show up and let me in so I picked the lock on the mailroom door with my pocket comb. Someone saw me coming out of the mailroom and tattled. It was a stupid thing to do. Tattle, that is. I hated it, anyway. The relationship I had with that agency is ruined, so I’m sorry about that.

I found a new assignment right away. Unemployed on Friday. Back to work on Monday. I’m at Lehman Brothers on the 4:00-midnight shift. The hours are terrible but the offices are beautiful, the people are all freaks and the pay is good. My window looks out onto the crown of the Woolworth Building. In A Farewell to Arms, Lieutenant Henry tells Catherine he’s going to bring her to New York to see the Woolworth Building. My view beyond that is the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River. It gets dark about an hour after I start work. I sit at my desk and watch the city slowly light-up.

Pete, who sits next to me, is an undersexed single male who espouses astonishingly sophomoric views about women. On the other side of me is Karen, who I’m already in love with. That didn’t take long. It never does. When she gets up from her desk, Pete always comments on her breasts—one time referring to them as “watermelons”—and makes the most bizarre claims. He said she’s a big tease who stands in front of a full-length mirror at home and practices provocative poses just to torture us. I’m tortured, alright, but I doubt she’s that calculating. My supervisor is a huge Jamaican woman who likes to mama everyone and protect us from the asshole investment bankers. I love her.

January 4, 1995


I missed a few weeks because I broke my back. I got up off the kitchen stool funny and twisted it. I went to work and the next morning I woke up paralyzed with pain. A stabbing pain like I’ve never experienced before. Unimaginable agony. I’ve lost weight because I couldn’t get out of bed to go to the kitchen for something to eat. I had to crawl on my hands and knees from room to room and wept for days. At one point, I pulled myself up on the bathroom sink and looked in the mirror. My eyes were puffy and red and my nose was running. My face was so sad and my expression so pathetic that it made me weep even harder.

I spent a lot of time on the floor self-medicating. One night, it got so bad I took several ibuprofen, drank almost an entire bottle of Champagne intended for New Year’s Eve and smoked some weed. I was completely numb. The pot made me paranoid (as usual). I was convinced that even the slightest movement would exacerbate the pain ten-fold, so I laid there on the floor like a stone for HOURS and didn’t so much as wiggle a pinky.

I finally crawled to the TV and turned on Howard Stern. He was interviewing Chuck Norris and bamboozled him. Norris was defending his TV show, Walker: Texas Ranger, against charges that it’s too violent and should be yanked off the air. While Norris argued that the accusations were wildly overblown, Stern would cut away and intersperse scenes from the show that were so horrifically violent that I started laughing and hurt my back again.

I enjoy my solitude. I’m irresponsible and immature. I’m barely employable. Nobody seems to want me, but none of that bothers me. I don’t have to make any compromises and I’m happy. But this has been a sobering episode. There was nobody around to help me. To be with me and make me some soup. I was on the floor for days and nobody knew. I was broken by the pain in my back but also by how utterly alone I was.

I’m still wearing a back brace and had to use a cane for two weeks, which was a weird experience. I’d walk down Houston and people would make room for me. I got to sit in the gimp seat on the M21 and when I dropped my newspaper, some show-off with a good back picked it up for me. I couldn’t masturbate for almost two weeks. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore so I did it while lying perfectly still. Try jacking-off without moving your body. It’s not that easy.

NYC wildlife parade. I was having my morning coffee in Bryant Park and these two guys strolled by.

This peregrine falcon alighted on a beam outside my office window on the 51st Floor. Manhattan is good to falcons. Unlimited shelter and food supplies. She was teaching her eyasses how to dive bomb for pigeons. First her, then her young one would follow. We could hear her screech.



106 thoughts on “Jobs + Girls + Crippling Pain

      • Thanks! I’m pretty sure I read at least one or two other posts of yours, but I may not have commented. (Sorry.) I have always wanted to visit NYC, but alas I’m lazy, and very comfortable in my little hovel here in Ann Arbor.

      • I’m lazy, too! I’d suggest forming a support group but I’d be too lazy to do anything beyond the idea. My niece just got a job in Ann Arbor. She’s thrilled. I have a cousin who lives there. They all say nice things about it. For real.

      • It’s a great place to live. Especially for lazy people! (It’s kind of like a big city and a small town rolled into one.) And as far as as support group for lazy people, I think that’s what the Internet is for. (And blogging.)

      • That’s a good point about the internet. I’m old enough to have been around before the internet was invented, but can’t recall if I had any kind of life. I don’t think I did. The internet gives life. That’s why it’s so popular.

      • Well I would love to have you stop by my blog sometime. From the stuff you write about, I think you would enjoy it. No pressure though. I frequently don’t bother myself with other people’s blogs. (Though sometimes I do.) 😉

  1. You don’t have to answer this (and I think I know the answer already), but do you edit your journals or are you transcribing them verbatim? About how much are you editing out or rewriting? That’s not nice of me to ask, but I thought you might share.

    It’s a cool thing you have going, with the past and present — the scene breaks between your time in the 90s and the present. I think my favorite snippet here was you wincing in pain from laughing at the TV, and the image of you crying at yourself in the mirror, I like that.

    God, I grew up with Howard Stern on the radio. I just can’t say anything nice so I won’t. Sitting here killing time because the autobahn is blocked and it’s hot and there’s no AC in the car and we’re driving to Austria, to the Alps. Packed up the back of the car, just waiting. Bye for now — until next week.

    • They are not verbatim but they are very, very close to the source. I clean up the punctuation, run-ons and spelling because I don’t want to seem like a complete ignoramus. But it’s pretty much all there.

      I didn’t realize I HAD a past until I dug these out of mothballs a couple of years ago. I thought they were empty years but they weren’t. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

      Fun, fun, fun on the Autobahn. That’s what I think of. Stop complaining about the AC, whiny American.

      • That’s cool, thanks for sharing your approach to this. Lucky, to have such good material from parts of your life probably otherwise forgotten. I have something like this from a summer I spent in the south of France, and you’ve inspired me to get it out when we’re back in the States. And you called me out on the whining, whinging…thanks for that, buddy. (And now I have Kraftwerk in my head — nice.)

      • My journals are a constant revelation to me. I have a terrible memory so everything is new. I didn’t remember Pete before reading this entry. Hell…I didn’t remember picking the lock on the mailroom door, for that matter! And you’d think something like that would stick!

      • I really wish I had kept journals through my twenties. The other day, I was thinking about old girlfriends and such (and such) and the only clear moments I have of most of them, even the really serious ones, are sexual in nature. Not the important stuff. I mean the other important stuff. Like, why the hell did they dump me? Probably I’m better off not remembering.
        Carry on, gentlemen!

      • The video quality was perfect but I was viewing it on an iPhone. As for the back, a steroid shot, heat/ice, muscle relaxant, 800mg of ibuprofen three times a day, and a narcotic of some sort would have fixed you right up. Maybe. Better than lying in the floor smoking pot.

      • It looks great on my iPhone, too. I guess that’s the trick. Make everyone read this on an iPhone.

        The journal entry went on to say my friend Cindy took me to a clinic but the doctor wouldn’t see me because I didn’t have $250 cash to pay her. It would’ve made this post too long.

  2. Crazy about your back, just by getting off a stool… but another great episode in the life. Wiggling about on the floor, drunk and stoned and medicated… there is something so absurd about that, but so plausible. I know it actually happened to you, but it just seems like a normal course of human life in some way. I don’t know if that makes me feel – oddly – less lonely, or utterly depressed.

    My son loves peregrine falcons. Fastest creatures in the world when they’re dive-bombing. Whatever they’re after has no chance.

    Anyway Mark – another great piece. I read it while eating my breakfast, I feel like dragging myself late to work today. This made it worthwhile – I sincerely mean that.

    • I don’t recall many of the details in this post but I definitely recall wrenching my back. I had to be careful for years after. That’s what these journals are good for. Filling in the details. I didn’t realize just how alone I was until I was put down with an injury.

      Seeing falcons in the city used to cause triple-takes but now it’s kind of ordinary. Falcons in Manhattan. How great is that? How great are they?

      • I wish I had kept journals… but they would have been boring.
        I really have to get my kids out there… they would love the place, for so many reasons.

      • I’ve always maintained that it’s not for everyone. You might hate it, in fact. But it’s something to see at least once in your life. Like the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas. Same argument.

      • I’ve been to NYC many times myself, and do work in the area, but my kids have never been. I think they will love it, especially the food. We shall see, hopefully in the next year or so. I even have family on Long Island!

  3. Fun post Mark – gritty diary entries, cool video (someone more creative than me could likely pout some funny voices to the critters) and wonderful pics of the falcon. Well done.

  4. Being young, hurt, alone? So scary. Of course, the flip side, being old, hurt and alone doesn’t sound any better. But I love your journal entries. And the falcon pictures.

    And I’ve been meaning to tell you this:

    A friend of my son has a summer job driving folks for a venue outside of DC. Your old classmate David Sedaris was in Adams car a week or so ago. Adam said he was wonderfully nice; friendly and quite generous. Adam didn’t read any of his stuff until afterwards. (I remember your story/comment about meeting him in the park in his elf suit).

    • Believe me, even though I was just a young sapling, I was plenty scared. Anyone who gave a damn about me was 500 miles away in Cleveland. There were no cell phones or internet then, so it was pretty rough sailing. But, yes, you’re correct. Older and alone = worse.

      Thanks for the Sedaris story. I hope I didn’t overstate my contact with him. We were classmates in a writing workshop and we spoke a few times afterwards, but we were never long-term drinking buddies. I would have liked that but he was a pretty reserved dude.

      • No, you didn’t give the impression that you were more than that. You said he was in your class, that he was clearly a standout, and that he recognized you in the park while wearing an elf suit. It just stuck in my head. And I thought you’d like to hear that he isn’t an asshole!

      • He seemed like a genuinely nice guy and the few times I met him after his success, he seemed appreciative and didn’t let it go to his head. He kept saying how lucky he was and I know it takes a certain amount of luck, but if you don’t have the talent to back-up the lucky breaks, you don’t go anywhere.

        And btw, it wasn’t a park I saw him in his elf costume. It was actually in Macy’s while he was working! Hilarious!

  5. Hey Mark! Last year there was a peregrine falcon that died from a fight with another female falcon, who lived on Terminal Tower for 12 years. It was all over the news. It had 38 babies up there with 3 different males. Their names were Ranger, Buckeye, and Boomer. Boomer was the one who took care of her the most. Yes, I know these things for some reason! Loved your story as usual. Sorry about your back! I know those injuries can stay with you for years. I thought it was funny that you used a pocket comb to pick a lock! Do you still carry a comb in your pocket, Mark? LOL

    • How awesome is it that those beautiful creatures found a way to survive after being pushed out of their natural habitats? Truth be told, living in the city is, in some ways, easier. Food everywhere! You said you know these falcon stories for a reason but stopped there. Why? Are you a bird watcher?

      I don’t remember much about my past, and that’s where these scribblings come in handy, but I remember that back injury. You’re correct. That stuff stays with you for a long, long time. It never seems to heal although I’ve been in tip-top shape for years now, thankfully.

      I found it funny that their security system was so bogus that it could be compromised with a pocket comb.

      • My kids and I followed the story, actually, for a few years. It was really sad when she died. There’s a new walking trail down in the Flats that runs along the river where you can see those falcons as well. They live under the bridges I guess. I’m going to the Indians game tonight and the fair this weekend. Demo derby final is on Sunday. My son loves that thing! I will ear an elephant ear in your honor – or take a bite of one, because they’re really bad for you…lol

      • I am so jealous that you’re going to the fair! I couldn’t go this year because of scheduling. First time I missed in a while. And the weather looks perfect. Take a look at the video clip in this post. THIS is what you’re hoping for when you go to the demo derby. It scared the heck out of my daughter. You can hear her say, “Daddy! I want to go home!” It was delightful.

        And how about that Tribe! Whooping on the pathetic Yankees. A-rod has players in scoring position last night and hits into a double play. Nothing better.

  6. Oh My God that was great!!! You got to see one on fire! I heard your daughter! I will show this to my son to get him psyched up – he’ll be hoping something like that happens!

  7. At a shade under 6’5 i have a rather intimate relationship with back pain, lower back pain in particular, i feel like i stretch a lot and the older i get the more i stretch, one of these days i’m gonna join a yoga class and scare the shit out of all the suburban soccer moms, haha… and i can solve your paranoia problems with weed my friend, courtesy of Neil Young and the web site Leafly (which is fun just to read and learn) apparently the chemical make-up of black peppercorns is very close to that of cannabis, so if you start having a bit of a paranoid freak out you can A) chew a black peppercorn, which of course sounds a bit disgusting or B) grind up some black pepper and breath in the fumes, the chemical agents in both compliment each other and the black pepper relieves the feeling of paranoia and panic sometimes associated with getting blitzed, i can vouch for it cuz last week i got a little over-zealous trying to take the edge of some (you guessed it) back pain and ground up some black pepper and after a minute or so of breathing in the fumes was back to normal and stoned… someday i’ll tell the secret of how to bring someone down off a bad trip on mushrooms… always enjoy the journals.

    • I will not access Leafy from here at work. That could ruin everything. I haven’t touched weed in many many years because all it ever did was increase my paranoia. It stopped being fun. Plus, it got bloody expensive. Your cure sounds like so much voodoo. I wonder if it would work on my chemistry?

  8. You were really on the floor for days? That sounds like one of those survival experiences injured hikers have. It’s supposed to change your whole outlook on life and make you treasure every minute or something. Your desire to masturbate was a clear sign that you were going to recover in full.

  9. You reminded me of my experience. After a few hours on the floor, I remember crawling on to the couch. I needed to piss and realized there was no way I could do it standing or sitting. My paranoia was about missing the jar. Except for the occasional roll on to my side, I spent the next two days there moving only my head and arms.

    • Hey! New guy! Welcome aboard. Thanks for taking the time. Always appreciated.

      That happened to me 20 years ago when I was a robust youth. Can you imagine if that happened to me today?! Not only am I softer and less pliable, I’m a much bigger baby now and have a lower tolerance for agony. Now, if I so much as stub my toe, I howl for days.

  10. Once again, I want to write a story about your life. It’s so lively with so many ups and downs and your characters are so rich, Mark! Whatever happened with the hot girl you worked with? And you worked at Lehman Brothers with a view? What did you do there?

    You poor, poor thing, lying on the floor, stoned and paranoid and unable to move. That doesn’t sound fun at all. I hurt my back and I keep thinking I can stretch it out. Going on over a year and it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been there on the floor, flat on my back in agony. So sorry.

    Loved the video! Can I put it on Twitter?! It’s so cool. I’ll link to your post, of course. Pretty please.

    • Do you think you could get someone interested in the film rights to this mess? I could use the money, that’s for sure. And why go through the trouble of writing my idiot life? Just hang around here and I’ll unspool it for you!

      Stoned and paranoid and lonely, don’t forget. You left out lonely. Stoned and paranoid goes away. Lonely hangs around for a while.

      OF COURSE you can Twitter that video! You can social media (is that a verb?) anything you want from this space. Link it back.

      • I’ll work on those film rights. Yeah, it would be make a fascinating film.
        Keep it up! It’s in no way an idiot life. I think what I enjoy the most is your honest voice. People can relate when you are so honest. I think we’ve all experienced loneliness on some level, but not a lot of people talk about it. Look, I was even in denial by not mentioning it and that’s definitely the worst thing about your night on the floor.
        I will tweet it then! I will social media it. Yeah, it’s a verb. Look there!

      • Are you my agent?! I have an agent! Finally!

        It’s easy to post that stuff because it’s so far in the past that it’s like I’m talking about someone else. I don’t recognize the guy in these journals. I wonder if I could talk about myself as candidly in terms of what’s happening today? Probably not!

  11. Oh man, you worked at Lehman Bros in the 90s? I bet you saw some crazy shit. When I was in college, that’s what I wanted to be – an investment banker in NYC. Then I realized New York isn’t my jam and I didn’t want to work 100+ hours every week for the rest of my life. Now I’m an accountant, which is better. Usually.

    I’ve never had any back pain issues but I did tear a tendon in my hip a few years ago. I couldn’t exercise for a month and I was grumpy as hell. I couldn’t climb stairs so I had to stand on the escalator in the DC metro – I feel like it took me twice as long to get to work. You never realize how slow those things actually are until you have to stand for the entire ride.

    • I’ve spent my entire career in Asset Management as a meat-n-potatoes graphic designer. I’ve worked at all the biggies. JP Morgan. Morgan Stanley. Etc. It’s not a very pleasant industry. They don’t really produce anything. They provide the capital for creation, but they don’t create. Some of the people are kind of mean. It’s, basically, people who just want to be around money all day. If my daughters went into Investment Banking I think I’d consider myself a failure as a parent.

      • I think my other problem with I-Banking is that it’s not even real money. They start out with $1, and put it through so many investment vehicles and tax loopholes and call it $50 by the end. My head can’t handle that kid of abstract math.

        I used to do tax returns for “high net worth individuals”, and the more I saw of their finances, the less I became impressed by their money. On average, they tended to give far less to charity, and most had defective family situations, to say the least. Mo’ money, mo’ problems, as the saying goes…

      • While at Morgan Stanley I did some design work for the high net worth guys. Then I found out there was an even higher category: ultra high net worth. Were you aware of that? How sobering. A new benchmark for my own mediocrity. Those people have lives that most can’t imagine. They never wait in emergency rooms at the hospital. They pay very little in taxes. It’s a secret society they like to keep that way. It make me ill, frankly. Maybe I’m just jealous because I’m so regular.

  12. I was going through my blogs to see which ones I could let go…then I read these diary entries, and I’ve decided to keep you, for now. Would you ever expand these entries into proper stories? They’re really charming stuff. Enough so that I would read them if you did.

    • I wish I wasn’t so damn lazy and prone to seeing failure as a foregone conclusion. I’ve got so much material here that it really could be expanded into something substantive. But it would be a tremendous amount of work and between a full time job, commuting madness and raising two daughters, I doubt I’d have the time to devote that it requires. Plus, I’m lazy. Mostly that.

      • That first sentence captures the twenties that I am living through so well. I call it my existential twenties: so full of aims but so deeply aimless. Wish I was like everyone else and decide on something rather than nothing.

        Anyway, enough about my sinful sloth.

        I’m sure you can write a novel, memoir, or biography if you set aside some time. Write something and send it to a publisher. Once they give you an advance, you can write the rest full time!

      • If you decide nothing, that’s still a decision. Your’re in a powerful and enviable position. I hope your existential twenties don’t gradually fade into your aimless thirties. Try to find a focus. Before you know it, you’ll be burdened with a family or a job or a lifestyle that needs to be supported. You’ll wake up one day and wish you’d tried a little harder. Don’t ask me how I know. Just take my word for it.

  13. I don’t think Pete and Cindy would have got on.
    You are such a lover, aren’t you…
    HA! You perfected the art of still wanking. Hilarious. Bet you couldn’t have done that after the champers and weed! Why didn’t one of these many birds come over and give you a hand? (yeah..punny)

    • I was NOT a lover. That was part of the problem. Desperate times call for desperate measures. That’s why I perfected the age-old art of self-abuse. Believe me, if I thought any of those girls were even remotely interested in getting the poison out for me, I’d have propositioned them. None were willing. I was a loser.

      I wish I could have gotten Pete and Cindy into the same room. Imagine the fireworks. YouTube worthy.

  14. I wonder if my brother-in-law was somebody who tormented you at Lehman Brothers. Probably not. Jim was in accounting, not a broker. Probably akin to asking somebody if they know somebody because they both live in Brooklyn. I’ll stop now.

    Those falcons are really cool. We have them in downtown Syracuse, too. Great camera catch, Mark.

  15. Found you from over at Samara’s! Funny, good stuff here. I didn’t realize you could post something under memoir. Do people find you in the WP Reader under “memoir”? My blog is “supposed to be part memoir, but haven’t quite gotten to that part yet. This was a very interesting read. Good writing style, humorous, a little one-on-one sex tossed in (although not very dramatic!). Very cool…

    • Welcome aboard. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Samara is the Queen Bee. Copernicuswas wrong. She’s the center of the universe.

      I don’t know how WP treats their categories. I simply created my own personal memoir category here on my site and file all these old journal dispatches under that. I’ve seen some Fresh Press posts that have been labeled as memoir, but none of my posts have ever been chosen for that distinction. Yet!

      Self-abuse is one of my oldest skills. Honed like a sharp knife.

  16. I wish I had been writing journals when I was younger, so I could find them one day and follow the progress of my life. Perhaps that is an argument for starting to keep a journal now? But, I am not swayed by that. In my small allotment of free time I would rather travel to undiscovered lands than rehash the minutiae of my days, even knowing that years from now I might be fascinated by that very same minutiae.

    • This coin has two sides. Many, many forgotten things are revealed to me. Some pleasant adventures that, were it not for these books, would’ve been lost. But these journals take me to a dark place sometimes. Some things were forgotten for a reason. They were forgotten as a defense mechanism. I spare you guys the major falls. I don’t want anyone reading that stuff. But I’m taken back and can’t wait to forget it again.

      • Good point. I hadn’t considered that aspect. But, I’m not sure it would matter all that much for me. I have a hard time forgetting the missteps I’ve made, intentional or otherwise, and most of the dark memories still haunt my present days.
        Perhaps from a detached, growth, perspective, however, it would be nice to read about the rest of “who I was” during those dark times so I can pat myself on the back for who I’ve managed to become…

      • It’s an interesting arc, that’s for sure. From there to here is a minefield.

        Forgetting is probably my #1 defense mechanism. I have little memory before age 14 or so. No joke. My broke-ass family never owned a camera, so there are no photos of me as a child. That might’ve helped stir memories.

      • Both sets of grandparents received a daily photograph of the little prince for the first two years of his life. We’ve tapered off since then, but, they still get one at least once a week.
        Poor kid.

  17. Please get your memoirs published! I love your writing, it’s honest, vivid and captures my attention immediately. If you weren’t recently Freshly Pressed, I’d recommend this post for another round.

    • Who’s my favorite reader? YOU are my favorite reader.

      Seriously, they means a lot to me. Thank you. This comment section is full of kind words but I’m so psychologically damaged that the evil voice in my head is telling me that you’re all just being charitable. Isn’t that awful? But it’s the truth. And we are all nothing short of 100% truthful to total strangers. To those near and dear to us it’s not so easy.

      What’s the cycle for getting FP’d? Annually? My one (and only) FP was in late January, I believe.

      • Believe it. You are good.

        FP doesn’t really have a cycle. Not that I know of. I’ve gone years with nothing in between FP posts. Then sometimes they FP you three times in a six month period. One thing is for certain — those WordPress gods piss me off to no end but I love them so.

  18. “She gave me a little bamboo box that was filled with condoms. She said she’s through with men.”
    I don’t know whether to shit or go blind. How mammy times have I heard this one?
    No matter….
    “I spent a lot of time on the floor self-medicating”
    To quote Jimi: ‘Scuze me while I kiss this guy, er.. sky.”
    No! I ain’t gay, but even if I wuz, would it even matter at this pint?
    Gonna have to re-read this one; it is a ‘keeper’
    May I re-blog it?
    I may catch some shit, but, you know I do not care about that.

    Shameless plug here, but I think it germane…or German…or….fuck it!
    Hey, Y’all! read my shit! It ain’t as good as all this, but it ain’t half bad.
    The author of this blog once called me out…(he remembers), and I managed to pass muster with him… Go figger…

    Here is some Jimi H for y’all:

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