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Story by Henry Stanton (Read author interview) June 15, 2005

I am in the potting shed destroying data on hard drives. I am doing it right. I am not merely deleting files, or scrubbing them seven times (the US government standard) with some wimpy, commercial software, but I am actually dismantling the drives and removing the platters, degaussing them with this massive, heavy black magnet and, because it is so sensually self-satisfying, I am methodically scraping them with an augur, segmenting the oxidized material into sectors that mimic the drive geometry laid down by the last format.

How cool is this! I am mesmerized by the magnet. It reminds me of the huge black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and, if you were here, I’d bury my right hand in the infinite blackness there, up to the wrist, and turn to you to say: “Something wonderful is happening.”

I have lost myself in my work. I am imbedded in my work. I am the whole work. I have found my one true vocation, and, because of the related immersion, I find I am one with the cool-on-my-palm, rumply cement walls, the beat-up, paint-spattered work bench and the row of haphazardly stacked, terracotta pots. Potting soil is sprinkled everywhere in small poignant mounds laced with glittery Mica chips. I want to break down and weep with gratitude. I love the rich slightly acrid smell of the dirt in those lovely little piles. I love the sweet and sinister fragrance of bags of chemicals tossed in the dark rear corner of the shed and the puddles of oil coagulated under the greasy lawnmowers. The puddles of oil are smooth as satin on my finger tips. The sharp mixed piquancy of the chemicals and clods of moldy grass makes my eyes want to close involuntarily, not with a flutter but with a curious, exhilarating inward squeeze, as if puckered by a sphincter, my vision constrained in from all sides.

I find the pucker is a form of focus. And when I look up and examine the environs outside the long rectangular ground level window, I see only the sand trap bordering the close side of the eighteenth green, and, for an instant, with the long thin window and the coalesced white sand, I am a German in a pill box peering out on the beaches of Normandy. The timed sprinklers oblige with sea spray that wafts in through the open hinged pane and gently tingles my Nazi automaton face. I do not even twitch. The golf course has a barren look early in the spring season. Broken sticks from the young haggard oaks have not been cleaned up. It is my responsibility to pick up the sticks, aerate the greens, spread lawn feed, clean the old grass and petroleum gunk off the mowers. I don’t like it but I have to also distribute the other treatments. I ignore the red warnings on the bags, but the crinkling of the 7-ply brown paper lining reminds me how toxic the effort is. I feel like a criminal and a cancer patient when I’m forced to do that job.

I will get to these things eventually, but I am busy now with my one true vocation scraping the data off the platters. I can forget about the avocation; it’s easy for me, because I love my real work.

I am amazed by how many people answer my ad. I have stacks of fallow hard drives stored on the shelves all over the place in here. I have a hard drive from an old Siemens 9000 series phone switch bigger than a briefcase that holds only 10mb of data arranged on display right next to a tiny credit card sized 20gb drive from a Toshiba Tecra 8200. Amazing! I put the ad in the local paper “Data Permanently Destroyed No Risk of Prosecution” and drives started appearing at the door to the shed. Customers understand from the wording of my ad that I am not judgmental. Pedophiles, Junkies, Terrorists, CEOs and all kinds of other empty suits, Knucklehead Presidents (ex and current) of the United States, all kinds of other seamy politicos, guys named Joe, – everyone has something to hide, something they would like to have wiped clean from their electronic pasts, have erased thoroughly from their permanent storage, have scraped from the archived image of who they expect themselves to be. The realization that a shadow of their indiscretions haunts them, lurks in the form of bits arranged electromagnetically on a sleek, shiny coated surface and that, because of their lack of technical acumen, they are vulnerable to any random, snickering technician, that they might suffer indiscriminate public disgrace, might even be jailed because of the sudden reappearance of that once simpering and abused IT guy. I’m not judgmental. Still, I can’t help but look down the long potholed access road, softened and shadowy at 5 am, and, because of the lingering stillness, think wistfully of all those vulnerable users with hard drives out there beyond the golf club wrought iron gates.

I can’t help but look out there into the amorphous swirling morning and have this little smile play at my thin stretched lips, involuntary, a twitch, one’s true vocation is a powerful thing. Having a special skill that you discover naturally come to in an organic way find yourself suddenly among can hand you over to power can hand you power can turn you into a powerful man a man who might even fall in love with a customer might love all of his customers like a father might even some day in the fullness of time bring you home here to a loving embrace protect you with my loving embrace.

About the Author

Henry Stanton is a writer of fiction and poetry living in Ellicott City, MD. He has recently completed his fifth book of poetry, Love and Fear, and is currently working on a book of short fiction, Cerebellum. He has published poetry in (or on) Avatar, The Maryland Poetry Review, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, The Pearl, Late Knocking, and The Baltimore City Paper, among other publications.

This story appeared in Issue Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Nine

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