D.K. Wall

Author | Photographer

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The Past Will Haunt You

Do you remember your first apartment? Mom or dad no longer subsidizing your life, but the rent and utilities paid from the paychecks from your first “real” job? And that sinking realization that a paycheck doesn’t quite go as far as you think when you have to pay every single bill?

My bedroom furniture came from my old room in my parent’s house. The few dishes I had didn’t match, but frozen dinners didn’t require much. An old TV balanced on milk crates, the official decorating accessory in my era because albums fit perfectly. My stereo, my first purchase with a credit card (Sear’s) cost more than the combined furnishings of the entire apartment, not that that was a high number. The laundromat was just a short walk away, a benefit since I couldn’t afford both a stereo and a washer/dryer. The first lessons of priorities of an adult life.

My address was 1445 4th St Dr NW #33, Hickory North Carolina.

Hearing the address, some of you, being the stalkers you are, went to Google Maps and gawked at my first apartment complex, Fox Ridge. A weird name since I never saw a Fox and the complex wasn’t on a ridge.

In researching this story, I Googled my old address, too. It looks the same as I remember. Same paint job even. And I mean the exact same paint.

The Google reviews scored 1.6 out of 5 stars. The first review begins, “Horrible. Horrible. Horrible.”  They improved the place over the years.

As you typed that address into Google, you marveled at its simplicity. 1445 4th St Dr NW #33. Magical. Poetic.

The city of Hickory prides itself with the road naming convention. They have an official four-page document explaining how obvious it is, though some might suggest anything requiring four pages of explanation is not all that obvious.

For those of you not wanting to wade through four pages of “simple,” let me explain how easy it is to locate any address in Hickory by dissecting my old address:

NW – The Northwest quadrant of town. Find downtown on a map and everything northwest of that will have an address ending in NW. Therefore, I lived Northwest of downtown.

See how easy this is?

14XX – The first digits of an address indicate how far away from the center of town it is. In my case, I was 14 blocks away.

XX45 – Odd number on the left side of the street as you move away from town, even numbers on the right. Easy-peasy.

So now you know I was on the left side of the road fourteen blocks from the center of town on the northwest side of town. Feeling confident yet? Good, because it is about to get fun (and I am not making up one bit of this).

Streets run north-south. The main north-south road is Center Street. So 1st Street NW would run north from downtown one block west of Center Street, right? 2nd Street two blocks west, 3rd Street three blocks west, and, therefore, 4th Street should be four blocks west.

Avenues run east-west. Since I lived at 1445 4th Street, you would expect that I was between 14th and 15th Avenue? Right?

You would assume that. But, I lived one block west of Center Street between 13th Avenue Place NW and 15th Avenue NW.

Clear as mud, right? Prepare for your master’s degree in Hickory addresses.

See, I didn’t live on 4th Street. I lived on 4th Street Drive. The word “Drive” refers to a “curving street longer than 1,000 feet.” That differs totally from a “Lane” which would mean “a curving street shorter than 1,000 feet.” Someone in the town government is responsible for measuring the streets to make sure no shenanigans happen.

And 13th Avenue Place? Place refers to a “short streets parallel to the grid pattern or in between the regular grid streets.” Clearly not the same thing as a Lane. So 13th Avenue Place ran a few feet before becoming – wait for it – 4th Street NW – but not my 4th Street NW.

So, to clarify (as if that was possible), 4th Street Drive was between Center Street and 4th Street because 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Street did not exist in that block. Nor did 5th, because the next street to the west was 6th Street.

Give up yet? Let me give you simple directions. To get to my apartments, you start downtown on 4th Street and head north 14 blocks, ignoring the name change when the road curves and becomes 4th Street Drive. Just don’t stay on a block too long because the road becomes 2nd Street since it curved two blocks to the east.

Yes, to get to 2nd Street 15 blocks north of downtown, you should take 4th Street, not 2nd, because 2nd doesn’t connect with 2nd.

Easy, right?

And you wonder why most directions in Hickory are “Go to the gas station, turn left past the church, and then right beside the red brick house?

By now, you are wondering how in the world I could remember such a strange address.

To be honest, I don’t. I found it on a canceled check.

Yes, I found a canceled rent check from 1986. In a storage box. In a closet. In my house. For the record, this is the seventh address I have had since that old Hickory numerical mystery. I don’t remember all of those addresses, but that box made every move.

Due to some gentle reminders (aka, nagging), I cleaned out old boxes this week. Specifically, I was told the boxes were being hauled to the dump, so I had better look inside them to see what needed to salvaging. Despite the years of loyalty shown to these boxes, someone suspected the items might not hold any value. Go figure.

I argued a canceled rent check from 1986 had value. What if the apartment management company ever asked for proof of payment?

For the record, I was overruled. Shocking.

I found many additional items of tremendous historical value. For example, my first W-2 (US annual employee wage statement, for my international readers) from 1981. At the ripe old age of 16, I went to work for “the man” and received my first W-2 in the amount of $468. I don’t remember how I spent the windfall.

The W-2 was attached to my hand written tax return from that year, the first tax return I ever filed. And I have every single tax return since just in case the IRS ever comes to collect back taxes.

Before they audit, I should disclose that my first job actually started a few years earlier in Middle School – a newspaper boy complete with a bicycle and saddle bags, but that job didn’t come with a W-2. I was considered a self-employed contractor. I knocked on doors to collect the subscriptions, paid the newspaper company for the papers, delivered 7 days a week no matter what the weather, and dealt with every imaginable complaint.

Too bad newspaper carrier isn’t a common first job nowadays. You learn every facet of business, even employees if you ever want to take a vacation and have someone else deliver for you. On the bright side, my parents reported me on their tax return, so I don’t have those copies. Who needs useless clutter?

As I rooted through the piles, I found seven boxes of staples with 5,000 staples each. Those are all in my home desk now, a complement of 35,000 staples just in case there is ever a staple shortage. I suspect I will never have to buy another staple in my life.

And post-it notes. Pads and pads of post-it notes. I threatened to wallpaper a room with post-it notes, knowing I would still have a lifetime supply left over. Weirdly, my decorating suggestion was vetoed. Maybe it was that yellow color.

If a former employer tracks me down to reclaim staples or post-it notes, they should know I have documentation to support my expense reports. All of them. Every single receipt. You never know when they might want to audit me.

If they make a claim, I can pay them. In coins. From Hong Kong, Australia, Europe, Venezuela, Canada, and even the U.S. I can use vending machines in most any continent.

With those vending snacks, it is a good thing I found a reminder card for a dental appointment. From a dentist I haven’t seen in over two decades. My current dentist emails me reminders. I don’t collect those.

But I bet I can help him with his waiting room magazines. I have copies dating back to 2004. Just in case I ever need to reference them. Too bad someone doesn’t invent an online directory of every item on the internet. They could make a fortune.

Maybe I should do that, because I am quite computer literate. Have been for years. I can prove it with original floppy disks to load Lotus 1-2-3, CompuServe or DOS 3.3. You never know when one of them might make a comeback.

Admittedly, I would have to go buy a floppy disk drive, but I could connect it to a computer. I have every make and model of cable known to mankind. And many no longer known.

No worries, I can call a help desk. Using my Plantronics headset. Once I untangle the cord.

You think I should seek help. Let me find a phone number. Among the thousands of business cards stuffed in these boxes. Some are mine, from every job I have ever had. Most are from people who I did business with, connected with, or who tried to sell me something. Thousands of business cards. Most with names I don’t remember. Maybe I should mail them back to former employers, just in case they are searching for help.

You may wonder why I kept all of this stuff. I used to be a Boy Scout. Be Prepared and all of that. I can prove it, because I found my Eagle Scout Card. Signed by honorary Boy Scouts of America President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The same year I went to work for my first W-2.

The best part of going through the boxes? Photographs. Friends and family over the years. Vacations enjoyed through literal Kodak moments. Dogs of years past, still holding the ability to make me smile despite the distance of years.

Photographs, I claimed, had significant value. For once, I was not overruled.

But there was this strange person in so many photographs. He looked a lot like me, only younger with hair and a mustache.

He should try to keep those. Maybe not the mustache.

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1 thought on “The Past Will Haunt You

  1. I love all your short stories, but this one in particular hit home. I am getting ready to move and downsize – and your description of your stuff is similar to what I am going through.

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