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OCTOBER 1, 2010 7:24AM

The Warehouse

Rate: 67 Flag

No one believes me when I tell them I do not know what my father did for a living. In elementary school I had a friend whose dad was a doctor. I had a friend whose father was the conductor of the Philharmonic orchestra in our city. My mother pushed me to be friends with both those girls.  I think she hoped it would raise our status by association. 

My father was rarely home. His business trips took him away for indefinite periods of time leaving my mother with bills to pay and no money to pay them.  I knew that she asked my grandfather for money which couldn't have been an easy thing to do. My grandfather was not the type of man to say I told you so, but his eyes were sad when he handed my mother money to pay for groceries and to keep the bill collectors away for another week.

If there had been a "Take Your Daughter to Work" day in the '60's. I would have ended up in an old warehouse. A small, tool filled warehouse that smelled like old tires. My father had a desk and a swivel chair in the corner of the room but it was piled high with junk.

 Instead of saying he was going to work or going to the warehouse, my father would say, I'm going down to "S"street.

66 "S"Street was in the black neighborhood. My father, a white man, never seemed to have any problems with them and they never seemed to have a problem with him. 

The people my father had problems with were the people who wanted their money. One afternoon when I was seven my mother opened the front door to some men who needed to see my father about "business."        

 My husband is out of town, she told them, glancing nervously at her company. I quickly offered the ladies in the dining room more cake and coffee so they would not be so intent on the conversation in the hallway. I felt sorry for my mother. I knew she was ashamed and embarrassed in front of the women. These women knew where their husbands were and what they did for a living.

When my father returned from that particular trip he brought me a present. While he and my mother argued over unpaid bills and strange looking men at the front door, I played listlessly with a doll dressed in a Japanese kimono. She was almost my height.  I remember not wanting her in my room.

I always hoped my father would start doing a real dad job.  I wanted him to have an office in one of the tall sleek buildings downtown. With elevators and secretaries.  Not a sliding wooden door with rows of padlocks and the number "66" painted on the front. 

The few times I was there,  I pretended the warehouse was a fun place as I spun around in the dusty swirly chair. I did my best to make beautiful stories in my head about the dismal surroundings.

Until the day my father threatened to kill a man with an ax and my uncle begged on his knees for my father to let the man go.

No one died that day in the warehouse.

Forty years later I live near a restaurant with a wood burning oven. Outside my bedroom window I can hear the chop, chop, chop of the ax as they split the wood for tomorrow's pizza.

I shut my window and turn up the volume on the television until they are done. 



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Ohh I love this. I love (and write) memory-pieces and this one's as poignant as it gets, Joan R.
The tension pulses chord by cord in every sentence of this memoir. For another terrific read I thank you, Joan. I've felt that strain and I know my daughter has too...not about her dad's job but about his terrible temper and way of erupting in on with the volume way up. Well captured and deeply felt writing.
This was wonderfully wrought - I felt it all, and it wasn't comfortable. I was struck by the wrong-ness of everything from your mother's suffering to the big doll you didn't want in your room. What did he do?!
Such stressful impositions - the men, the women, the doll and such impossible need - "normalcy", money, standing. I can't imagine how hard all of that must have been for a small girl, but all the beautiful stories in the world can't make up for the truth. I guess you remember that everytime they chop the wood. I can smell it and the old tires, too.

The image of the doors is so, so strong. I have a good friend who is a photographer and her passion is old doors. She carts families all over through allies and into remote farmland so they can pose in front of these old things and the results are always gorgeous. I had never thought of what happened behind those doors, though ... what hearts were broken or healed on their insides. You've given me a new perspective. I'll never look at them the same way again.
So mysterious and scary...I've never thought of the sound of an axe as scary until I read this/
The address, 66 S Street. By its very nature a compressed identity. So like your father and, in the slipstream you.

I'd of hated that Japanese doll too...garish and shiny and not at all you.

You writing is spellbinding here.
Joanie, you're back! This piece is quintessential Joan H. Your story turned into a feature film in my head. And man can I relate to your feelings about an ax. Mine is a sledgehammer.

Wow, what a powerful retelling of this event.
Yikes. What a jar. Sounds do the same for me...right back to the moment. Great memory post.
Wow, Joan . . .there are so many little "tells" about each person in the story, in terms of what they're like. Having read about your parents on other posts, this gives additional backstory on them, as well. And you, young Joan . . . I find myself just wanting to pick that little girl up and hug her tight.
How sad that childhood experiences could lead you to hate something as innocuous as a number. The sorrow in this piece is palpable, and the details tell the story. Heartfelt and profoundly moving.
This was awesome for so many reasons. Surprised there wasn't another 6 added to that door. Nice for a weekend EP.
I too wanted a father with a normal job, wearing nice clean clothes, went to an office or a store or did something I could be proud of, someone who made enough money to feed us. our dad was a terrible burden, a shame to us kids.

this was very powerful joan. and you're such a good writer. I wish I could have been there to be your friend.
Excellent and congrats on the EP
rated with hugs
Joan, you always manage to cultivate such magic with your words....and nudge a small tear from my eyes. Once again, this is superb and such a clear window into a childhood cluttered with misgivings and curiosity.
In all of these painful stories about your childhood, there is an unseen happy ending: that the little girl in the story became a powerful writer. Every time I go to read one of your pieces, I start with the bar set incredibly high and you keep raising it.
Powerful writing. After I read it I involuntarily exhaled. I guess I was holding my breath.
elegant. You make me see and feel it.
Joan~those rabbits you keep pulling out of your hat are breeding like, well, rabbits! You evoke this so well. I didn't have a father. Interesting how we work with what we have, or don't have.
God, you are good at this sort of thing, Joan. "Memoir" I guess would be the word, but that feels as if it demeans this piece
Excellent piece, Joan. You have much talent.
I knew what my father did for a living, but it didn't make some of his behavior any more forgivable. I understand this on a very deep level. Well written. Again.
Joan, this is intriguing and so well written and I want to know more. Your ending was compelling.
So many have already commented and, of course, have outdone anything I could say thrice over. So I'll just add that you've produced a classic film noir for my imagination, Joan. At any moment I expected Bogie or Sydney Greenstreet to step through the door. It would have been delicious except that I knew also you were there, feeling sad, uneasy and, at least that one time, terrified.
I hear so many pieces here and I hear the sound of the ax.
Memories are so powerful and yours was visceral and scary as all get out. Very well written story and remembrance of the image a father can leave in our minds.
A lot of adults didn't have the parents they deserved.

I am amazed how well some people do filling the holes and figuring things out for themselves.

I'm guessing that your dad either ran a "chop shop" to take apart stolen cars or was a "fence" for stolen goods.
My dad was a backup singer for Martha Reeves. He was a Vandella.
Wow. This gives me chills up and down my spine. did you ever find out what he did or do you not want to know? Everythign about this tells the story well, loved the detail about the creepy doll. I am continually amazed at your ability to tell a great story in a few well-chosen words. This will haunt me for days. Congratulatinos on the well-deserved EP. Peace.
The ending is chilling.

You capture the sense of vagueness and confusion and fear surrounding your father. I'm still not sure exactly what your father did for a living... but I am anxious for you as a little girl.
This is an amazing story, Joan.
amazing writing here. i feel as if i am a shadow watching as things unfold. (r)
Very well done. Sad and strange in a way - makes me think of John Irving. I think you chose a very interesting ending, too. How many of us close the window to the chopping, in one way or another? Thanks for a really intriguing read.
As all others have said - amazing story - amazing writing. I can relate from my childhood - to the "men at the front door" and having to ask relatives for money to pay the bills.
You & I sure have some common experiences...

I agree with Bonnie--you need an agent. Are you thinking of a book? I would love to see you on the best seller list!
I've no words, Joanie.
Thank you for writing this.
A sound ,a smell, memory is a complicated thing. Thanks for sharing.r
Joanie, you are the master of the "memory piece", as Jonathan put it. Whoever coined the phrase "less is more" was clearly speaking of you. I know I must have said something like this before, but it bears repeating.

I was there with you, in the emotional space of your childhood I love when that happens.
Every time you write about your father I feel the sadness. So sorry.
Thanks Joan.
You amaze me.
joan, your voice gets clearer and sharper with each post. this is so full of that point of view. if i were a better writer, i'd write a better comment.
@Everyone, thank you so much for reading and commenting. I appreciate it so much...
Joan, you are such an excellent writer! You give us an entire world in a few paragraphs! all with "characters" & mystery & intriguing details.
Joan this is simply amazing. Prose that is pure poetry. I am reading it Sat morning and it will haunt me all day and all weekend. You are a superb writer and congrats on the well deserved EP
Oh my. Well written, as usual. I'd be a little scared of my father if I had been you.
This is so strange, and so strangely touching. I Rated it without commenting the first time I read it, because it left me without words. I came back to read it again, and feel much the same. I'm left staring into the distance, talking to myself, saying, "Damn!"
Some memories are hard to forget and remember. Expressive writing.
"...sliding wooden doors with rows of padlocks and the number 66 painted on front"

What was that?
This is excellent Joan! Another piece of you to treasure and a little girl to hold to me.
The narrative here made me tense up, and relax...knowing you're okay now. It also made me remember how my son told his teacher that his dad "opened doors" for a living. He actually worked in an office behind a lab, behind a fabrication shop, behind security doors -- hence, when my husband came to lead us back to his work area, he opened a LOT Of doors!
this may be my favorite of all your essays, joan. it's simply incredible writing. wow.
In the 50's and 60's my old man filled out forms for the New York Life Insurance Company at night and went to a real estate office a few times a week where I guess he sat around smoking, reading newspapers and waiting for the phone to ring. I'd stop by and say hi if I was downtown fooling around.
I've heard from more than one friend that they had no idea all of what their fathers were into (me included). I hope my daughter never says this one day. Very interesting.
Great piece! Really enjoy your writing.
My goodness, such a sadly awkward time of it he left you and your mom with. And what a truly unique thing it is not to be able to point to one's father's employment knowingly.
But your writing transported me to a different time. I felt like I was there for the cake and coffee you offered your guests as a foil for the front door puzzlement. I can see you twirling in his seeps into your brain while you read it and becomes real. Just gorgeously done.
You'd hate living here where we chop wood to heat our house.
My dad did medical research in a lab, then was editor of Street Rod magazine, then was an amatuer race car driver, then owned and operated a print shop, then converted computer data between formats, then taught people how to not pay federal taxes, then takes and sells bird photos, and registers churches who refuse to submit to government oversight in 501 status. He also designed the for dryers.
Interesting imagery here - but glad you are with us now. JJS.
Riveting piece, Joan. Very well-written and a compelling read. The ending is spot-on perfect.
Unbreakable, I am so glad to see you.