Lubbock, After the Cotton Gin

December 27, 2011


There is no romance in traveling by bus. It only seems that way from outside. Because inside, you can smell the chemical toilet.

After getting fired after two and a half weeks at the cotton gin, I boarded a Greyhound to Lubbock Texas to drink away the pittance I’d made at the cotton gin, which was still quite a bit more than I’d seen in some time.

I went to Lubbock hoping that my friends would tell me not to go to basic training. And maybe that the girl I’d been in love with who’d since hooked up with my college roommate would dump him and beg me to stay. Or at least have sex with me.

I got fired from the cotton gin because I had an hour and a half to kill between unloading cotton trailers, and so I walked back over to the small house I was staying in with a family I knew from home, a family that had vouched for me coming and working at this cotton gin. It was a whole extended family staying in this house, an uncle with a dookie chain with a solid gold Jesus on the cross the size of a GI Joe action figure, which he wore outside his shirt (it only recently occurred to me that it might not have been solid gold, but rather plated), a grandfather with fingernails like pistachio shells, like Louis Armstrong’s fingernails, and Bron to Died scrawled in bluish tattoo on his forearm (I could only guess it was a shitty translation of Born to Die), and various cousins and aunts, three or four generations of people living in this house next to the cotton gin, doing various jobs at the cotton gin on rotating twelve hour, six day a week shifts: driving trucks, running various pieces of industrial-era equipment inside the gin.

Me, I got stuck on The Sucker, this hinged sheet metal contraption that vacuumed the cotton out of the trailers, this monstrosity with all the flexibility of medieval plate armor. There were three of us, and vacuuming the cotton out of the trailer took one man about forty-five minutes. You got to rest while the other two men took their turns wrestling with The Sucker.

What I told my friends in Lubbock when I got there was that this was a story of economic disparity. I asked the guys to wake me up when my turn came, but they had a friend who also wanted on at the gin. The gin was the only job in any direction for about a hundred miles (this much was mostly true). And thus they didn’t wake me up because they wanted me to get fired so their friend could take the job. And here, with some magnanimity, I would explain that it wasn’t particularly dickish on their part, because who was I, some white kid, to come in and take this job? The people who lived in the small houses near the gin had to work for the owner of the fields to keep living in their houses. Outside of an overseer or a company store, it could easily be Grapes of Wrath or Gone With the Wind.

The truth, though, is that maybe I didn’t even tell them, those guys working The Sucker with me. I think that we may have either smoked or drank something that conspired with the heat and the humidity and my total lack of work ethic to make me decide that rather than dozing on cotton bales right beside the gin, I’d walk fifty yards to where I had a bed. Just to rest my eyes for a bit. During basic training, I had plenty of opportunity to review my actions in Lubbock after The Gin-two and a half weeks that I wore like a medal of valor in Lubbock, where I’d previously swaggered around after having hitchhiked once across half of west Texas before calling a friend’s dad to come get me.

Lubbock, the place of scenes made and the fabrications fabricated.

After basic training, I picked up a copy of On the Road. And it made me feel stupid and guilty all over again.

Mostly because in addition to everything else, I wasn’t even original in my stupidity.


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