“The only word I can think of is ‘redneck.’”
I grew up in a loving, normal, middle class family in the South, in North Carolina. They just happened to be racist. Hearing people say racial slurs was not uncommon. I would do it myself because that’s what I was taught and learned. But as I got older and became more independent, I started to make my own choices and decisions and think that people are people—black, white, whatever. Situations of people being racist started to really annoy me and get on my nerves. I kind of wanted to get out of it, you know, and not be around it, although it was prevalent around me.
A friend of mine owned a landscaping company and I started working there, kind of as a side job while I was in college. And then eventually I stopped going to classes and started working with these guys full time. It’s pretty funny because we were all white. Most people think of landscapers as Mexicans, and that’s fairly true down in North Carolina, but we were the all-white landscaping crew, and we would go work and then play golf in the afternoon after work, and then play golf on the weekends. I worked there for a few years with them and then, well—I knew I wasn’t going to cut grass for the rest of my life so I found this other job with this construction place that put in pre-manufactured fireplaces, and did the marble and all that crap. I was making shit money, like $6/hour or something—a little less money than landscaping—because it was just something different, and I just so badly knew I would find something that I wanted to do that I wouldn’t be there long.
It was the summertime, so it was hot, and I was with this cast of characters that worked for this company. I don’t know the right word, but they weren’t the best of the best. The only word I can think of is ‘redneck.’ They were all redneck, uneducated—and I wasn’t so educated myself, I just knew better—poor white folks, ignorant to the world. Having to ride around in a truck with some of these guys and listening to them talk—their idiocy and beliefs—I just didn’t want to be there, trapped in a truck with these guys, driving to a job site to put in a fireplace or something, and just to have them tell their stories of what they did this weekend, and this and that. It was very annoying to be around these people in general—they weren’t people I wanted to live my life around. I also found the boss to be outrageous, too, because he’s running a company that is making millions of dollars, but he was just the good-ole boy guy that has no problem being a redneck. I mean, straight up, he would just call this one black guy a nigger to his face in front of everybody. That’s how bad it was. He would yell at some of these other guys too, white guys. He would just yell at people for whatever, or if they did something wrong he would just cuss them out, tell them they’re fucking idiots. He was not a very supportive boss in general, you know what I mean?
Eventually I just got so fed up with it that I started looking for other work. I got an interview at this cabling place that my brother worked at. I didn’t even call in or anything, I just didn’t show up that day because people did that a lot anyway. So I showed up the next morning and the boss was like, “Where the fuck were you yesterday?” “I went on a job interview.” “What’s the fuck’s wrong with you? Go clock the fuck out!” “All right.” So I went over grabbed the timecard, ripped it up, and threw it at him and walked out.
When I did that, he was like, “Kevin, come in here, come in here.” So he pulls me to the side and goes, “What’s wrong with you? You’re better than this. You’re better than some of these guys. I expect this from these guys but I don’t expect this from you.” I was like, “I don’t like this environment. You’re right, I am better than these guys and I don’t like being around them and I don’t need you to talk to me like this, you know?” And I just walked out.
I don’t think I’ve ever really quit a job. I’ve left jobs, but I left peacefully. Gave them my two weeks notice. That’s the only one I ever just walked out, and it really felt great for me. I don’t remember exactly, but I probably just got in my car, went to the store, probably got a case of beer, went home and drank for the rest of the day. I don’t know. That would be my best guess of what I did. I eventually moved out of North Carolina with my girlfriend and up to Boston, which is really no different. But I finally got out. I got out of the South.