| Building at 123 West Jackson Avenue in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA,
photographed in 1976. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As mentioned in my most recent post at Tossing It Out, one of the books that I read over the summer months was The Third Strike by Jerry Gray. This is the second time that I've read this book which has been in my possession for over 40 years now. There's a story behind this book. I've decided to share that story here today at Wrote By Rote.
By 1973 I had been working at Acme Premium Supply Company in Knoxville, Tennessee for a couple of years. Acme was a wholesale carnival supply company dealing in plush toys, carnival glass, and all of the other prize items given to winners of carnival games. It was a quirky business that provided me with the flexibility of work hours during the school year and the opportunity to work as much as I wanted during the summer months.
During the first half of the 70's I was attending the University of Tennessee full time most of the year. In the peak carnival season of the summer months I worked full time at Acme with all of the overtime they had available and there was plenty to be had. Due to the seasonal nature of the business there were periods when there would be work lulls and the warehouse would operate with minimal staff. Since I was a favored employee who could be depended upon to be reliable, the company would keep me on duty even if there wasn't much to be done as far as the daily sales and shipping operations.
There were always the maintenance duties of cleaning, organizing warehouse spaces, and restocking where merchandise had dwindled to low numbers. So even if there were few customer sales or ingoing and outgoing truck traffic, there was always something to be done. Some days I worked at a more leisurely pace because speed wasn't essential to get things done.
When the main warehouse was overly stocked to the point there was no more room to safely store merchandise, we kept some of that overstock in a Jackson Avenue warehouse nearly two blocks away. This extra space was in an old building that was one of many that filled an entire block. Most of the buildings were empty and most likely condemned for use. Apparently the building we used had been deemed usable, but it was not in the best shape. My guess is that these buildings dated back to the early part of the 1900's or perhaps even earlier.
Occasionally when I found myself working alone in this old building, I would explore the upper floors. Nothing above the first floor was in use since it was not practical, and possibly not safe, to use those spaces. There was an old freight elevator, but it seemed not to be operational. There was an eeriness in those empty dank upper floors. The hollow cavernous space echoed as I walked through it.
At the back side of the building were a few tall windows that overlooked the railroad tracks and beyond to East Knoxville. I was drawn to the windows for the view as I would ponder my thoughts, worries, and dreams. This lonely place was the ideal spot for contemplation though more than once I contemplated the possibility that the building I was in could collapse with me in it.
During one of my early explorations when I was drawn to the back windows, I noticed a small book on the window sill. Judging from the amount of dust that had settled upon the book it appeared to have been there a very long time. After dusting off the cover I examined the book.
The compact book with a green hard cover had "The Third Strike by Jerry Gray" printed in gold letters. The book only had sixty pages. The chapter titles intrigued me. Titles like "Rain in the Bowery", "Battle of the Bottles", and "Climbing the Heights of Darkness" piqued my curiosity. Six short chapters was the extent of the book.
Taking the book home with me I read it that night. The writing was quite good--poetic prose with a somberness that made me even more curious about the book and why it was in that old warehouse. The story of Jerry Gray lingered in my thoughts. I decided that one day I would write a story or perhaps a novel about a character inspired by this "Jerry Gray" even though there was little more that I knew of him than what was written in this book.
My guess is that this book was a publication that may have been intended for free distribution to those suffering from alcohol dependency. The story is about one man's struggle with alcoholism until he eventually loses the battle. There are moments of deep introspection, revelation, but ultimately hopelessness for the author who exhorts others to heed his warnings and take charge of their own addictions.
Since the area where Acme Premium Supply was located was an area frequented by winos and homeless alcoholics, my supposition would be that one of these poor souls who sometimes had found refuge in the building our company was now using for extra storage had been given the book at an AA meeting or by some party wishing to help inspire someone who was in the depths. If this scenario were the case, it was probably something that had happened years prior to my finding the book. The warehouse had probably been abandoned for several years before Acme started using it.
Eventually after many moves and over a decade of living on the road, my found copy of The Third Strike became lost in all my stuff that had been in storage at my parents house. The memory of the book stayed with me over the years and often came to my mind. After I moved to where I now live I would sometimes look through boxes that were still packed to try and find this book. Finally, this year before taking my vacation trip, I found the book. It was time for another read through of this book that had haunted me for so many years.
The Third Strike was the first of the books I read this summer. It was still as good as I remembered it being. The small volume now resides on my bookshelf where I will undoubtedly pick it up now and then to drink in the beauty of the words. Too bad that this "Jerry Gray"--a pseudonym as revealed in the Foreword--wasn't writing more and drinking less. That is, if this author story is actually true. It really doesn't matter who wrote the book. A good book is a good book. I almost wish this one were longer. Or if the person who did write it wrote other similarly well written books that I could be directed to. Maybe I'll never really know. Or maybe one of you reading this knows something about this book, this author, or anyone affiliated with either.
Do you ever explore old abandoned buildings? Have you ever found an abandoned book that influenced you in a big way? Do you have any ideas or knowledge about Jerry Gray, The Third Strike, or Starr Daily?