by Sue William Silverman

[     ]

I was between husbands, living on a shoestring. By day, I dazed through secretarial temp jobs at various oil companies averaging five dollars an hour. By night, I worked at Disc Records in Almeda Mall earning four bucks an hour.

[     ]

After my day job I slogged through rush-hour heading south on the Gulf Freeway in my green un-air-conditioned VW beetle, inhaling exhaust, grit, diesel, and minor regret. 

After the cold downtown office buildings, my body felt shocked by the swamp of a late-afternoon Houston.

[     ]

I didn’t turn on the car’s Blaupunkt because the record store would be blasting its musical sales pitch all night long.

[     ]

The loudest sounds in the oil companies were the clacking of IBM Selectric typewriters and ringing phones. But the deep-pile corporate carpeting muted even that noise.

At the smaller companies, which only needed receptionist services, the phones barely rang. Otherwise bored, I read Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.

[     ]

Not that I wanted to remember my own past. Not that I even understood it. One day, it seemed, I was living with my husband, the next day, I wasn’t. True, we’d each had affairs, but there were no fights, no repercussions. 

I simply packed a white canvas Navy jacket, mini-skirts, halter tops, and sandals, leaving behind gold-plated flatware, a marble table from Portugal, a hand-crafted couch, photographs, crystal candlesticks, woven rugs, sheets, pillows, all the wedding presents, and a husband.

[      ]

I moved into a furnished efficiency, a place containing other people’s memories. Just as well. Let those memories float, undisturbed, on closet floors and under beds. Soon, I figured, my own memories would join them—operating here on the philosophy “out of sight out of mind.” A good slogan for a moving company: If you want to forget…

[     ]

Not that I needed a moving company. My belongings fit into my VW.

[     ]

Not that I needed a husband I never knew, would never know, either. I never learned how to penetrate his silent, immobile, immutable exterior to reach what, if anything, dwelled within.

Certainly as much my own failing as his.

[     ]

Now I traveled from the whispery silence of oil companies to the pulse of the record store, where customers ask where to find this, this, and that.

[     ]

At Almeda Mall I re-entered the arctic-conditioned chill of pretend-Houston.

I passed Foley’s with its peacock-blue awnings and a plastic azalea replacing the apostrophe in the name.

[     ]

Disc Records was tucked between the Piccadilly Cafeteria and the Gold Mine Arcade. My feet felt the throb of bass before I heard Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf, the Bee Gees, Donna Summer. 

Records were alphabetically arranged by genre in giant bins: Classical, Rock and Roll, Motown, R&B, Classic Rock, Reggae, Country-Western, Folk, Big Band, Gospel, Easy Listening.

No cross-over. Not possible to meld drums with zithers, say. It was a library: each category in its own space. No surprises. You wouldn’t suddenly find the Village People in Easy Listening or Dvořák in Disco.

[     ]

The arrangement of albums was more dependable than people. Even myself. In which category would I put myself? “Adulterer”? “Divorcée”? “Existential Crisis”? “Loser”? I felt like Eleanor Rigby, as if all those lonely people sprang to life (or death or limbo) in Houston, Texas.

[     ]

Sometimes, at the oil companies, I’d be given an adding machine and long rows of numbers to add or subtract or multiply or divide. Pages of meaningless numbers. Was I calculating gallons of oil? The price of crude? The salaries of CEOs minus the wages of temp workers until they equaled greed?

Yet I felt a certain satisfaction when I finished, when each column was neat, accurate, precise. 

Which made me feel I myself was less than neat, accurate, precise.

[     ]

At the end of the evening in the record store, albums were strewn everywhere. Before we could clock-out, all had to be re-binned so the morning crew would find a well-ordered store: neat, accurate, precise.

[     ]

My marriage had been so well-ordered we could ignore each other altogether. He lived in one bin, I another. Rarely, did our off-key or divergent hearts cross over into the other’s bin.

[     ]

Sometimes customers slid unpurchased records into the wrong category, so every week we flipped through every bin to see whether, for example, Beethoven found himself beside Loretta Lynn, a bad match, or Queen beside Perry Como, a worse match.

(David Bowie and Bing Crosby did record a Christmas song together, which was a hit, but that was only a single.)

[     ]

Sometimes, out of low-grade despair, I deliberately misshelved albums, slipping, say, an Easy Listening album (“25 Romantic Songs to Fall in Love”) beside Steppenwolf’s self-titled debut featuring their successful single “Born to be Wild.”

I threw in Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” for good measure.

[     ]

I didn’t know if I was looking for romance or if I was born to be wild. Or neither. 

Or both.

Definitely, I was a stranger to myself every night.

[     ]

At the record store I was given a half-hour off for dinner, unpaid. To save money, I brought from home a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and a banana. I found a small bench in the Pineapple Fountain court after begging a glass of water from Piccadilly’s. Now, the background music was an indistinguishable din of voices, footsteps, the rustle of shopping bags, the tinkling of the fountain. And Muzak.

Children tossed coins into the water. Periodically a child tumbled in, causing parents to shriek.

I heard no one and everyone. Nothing and everything.

[     ]

At a nearby bench an elderly couple silently ate a French Poodle Supreme—hot dogs and French fries—from Le Petit.

I pretended I was part of an elderly couple who had survived the decades. Who had an uninterrupted history with memories.

[     ]

I had an interrupted history with porous vectors, memories floating through me…or, at times, lingering long enough to remind me I had no one with whom to eat a French Poodle Supreme.

[     ]

For months it never occurred to me to seek a better job. Before I married and moved to Texas I worked on Capitol Hill in DC. Those skills didn’t seem to translate to Texas. Or I couldn’t understand the drawl—or myself—to figure out how to find a bin where I belonged.

[     ]

Years later, with a different husband, living in a different state, I applied to a program to get a Master’s Degree in Social Work. Miraculously, given my spectacular lack of qualifications, I was accepted. But still not knowing my own bin—I’d merely substituted one lost-cause marriage for another—I was only smart enough to know I couldn’t help anyone else find their bin, either.

I tossed the acceptance letter.

[     ]

At night, back in my efficiency, I listened to my neighbors through thin walls. In truth, I was disappointed by the lack of drama: no shouting, no throwing of pots and pans, no crying children. It’s as if the heavy Houston air scented with crude floating up from refineries in Texas City flattened everyone’s spirit in this end-of-the-road apartment complex.

[     ]

Other nights, unable to sleep, I drove Houston’s interstates and freeways, around the loop, past the Astrodome and Astroworld, Meyerland Plaza, Finger’s Furniture, Wyatt’s Cafeteria, Hobby Airport, Shepherd’s Drive-in, past exits for the Katy Freeway, Almeda-Genoa, Buffalo Bayou, League City, the NASA Space Center, heading south toward the Causeway and Galveston Island where my ex-husband still lived. 

I followed taillights, blasted past headlights, driving inside the outside lines—or was it outside the inside lines—but stuck in a liminal space.

[     ]

Sometimes I thought about living in the Almeda Mall, which sold everything to eat, drink, wear, want. Banks, travel agents, guns and ammo, stationery, pipes, hairdressers and barbers, candy, movies, tickets to concerts, ice cream, books, nuts, drapery cleaning. 

Everything for a life but not a life itself.

[     ]

Foley’s plastic Aztec sun decoration resplendently shone down on all.

[     ]

One of the oil companies offered me a permanent job for $6.50 an hour. But permanent is permanent. I turned it down.

[     ]

At Christmas, the oil companies were less busy—had less need for temp help—while the record store asked if I could work longer hours.

Fake trees were decorated with bulbs, tinsel, and lights. Christmas carols usurped Aerosmith. The manager asked us to wear cheery red. I clipped on a red plastic carnation to adorn my hair.

[     ]

Santa Claus arrived by helicopter, landing in the giant parking lot outside Foley’s.

[     ]

I still ate lunch by the Pineapple Fountain watching couples and families weighted with fancy wrapped packages. I refused to think of their houses scented with apple pies and cinnamon candles.

I bought no presents and received none.

[     ]

No Christmas bonus. Not even a ham.

[     ]

On Christmas Eve, after I closed up the store, I paused in the deserted corridor. Displays, now unlit, shadowed the windows. Green and silver garlands still swayed in processed air.

At Easter, plastic bunnies would fill the windows.

At Halloween…

For Valentine’s Day….

For the Fourth of July…

Everything looked the same; everything appeared different. 

[     ]

These corridors themselves were a liminal space—like my marriage—or my life—where no connections—no exits/entrances—existed.

I wasn’t moving forward or backward.

Every minute repeated itself.

It was like hallways of hospitals or airports at three o’clock in the morning.

All I heard was static.


Sue William Silverman

Sue William Silverman is an award-winning author of seven works of creative nonfiction and poetry. Her most recent book, How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences, won the gold star in Foreword Reviews Indie Book of the Year Award as well as the 2021 Clara Johnson Award for Women’s Literature, sponsored by The Jane’s Story Press Foundation. Other nonfiction books include Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, which was made into a Lifetime TV movie; Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, which won the AWP Award; The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew; and Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir. She teaches in the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

SLAG GLASS CITY • Volume 8 • October 2022
Header Image by Matt Wiebe.