WORK WAS TO START at nine a.m. But it was my first day on the job, so I wanted to arrive early, to get a feel for the protocol. At eight a.m., when I opened the door to the sterile, signless office—suite two hundred three, amid a sprawling tract of dark bronze doors and windows—the man who had interviewed me the previous week looked taken aback, almost bothered. He stood from behind his empty desk, rolled his newspaper and pushed back a shiny leather chair with the backs of his knees.
“You’re an hour early,” he squinted, “I said you’d start at nine.”
“I know. I thought I’d get here early, check out how things work,” I said, a bit nervously. “I won’t clock in till nine.”
“We don’t have time cards,” he said as he pulled his chair back to his legs and sat in one motion. “I thought I told you this job was commission only.”
“No, sir. You didn’t. You said I’d make about two hundred and forty bucks a week, depending on how many hours I worked.”
“I’m sure I mentioned it,” he said. “Anyway, there’s not much to see. The guys buy their meat, load their trucks, and head out at nine. Since your shadowing for the first week, you don’t need to be here until nine.”
“They buy their meat?” I echoed.
“Yeah, nothing leaves the warehouse for free. They buy all the meat they think they’ll unload, then whatever’s left when they’re done, we buy back. I told you all this last week.”
“I only brought enough money for lunch,” I said, still holding the office door partly open with my shoulder, half in and half out.
“Well, you probably won’t need it until next week” He said without looking. “Whoever you shadow will split whatever you guys make.”
I had been in the office once before, but something seemed different about it then. It was completely blank, not even a business card on the desk, and the halogen bulbs fizzed and sputtered as though they hadn’t been on long enough to warm up. The air was thick with the smell of cheap new carpet—synthetic and gluey.
My new boss pointed to the only other door in the room. “There’s the warehouse,” he said.
I HAD RECENTY TURNED twenty and returned to Vancouver, Washington, from a failed attempt at trade school in Phoenix. I’d had a few jobs previously—landscape maintenance for the county, delivery driver at a glass manufacturer, timber sorter at a truss company. All of them involved manual labor and a cheerful measure of solitude; all of them I got through nepotism; all of them I held for a considerable time; and all of them I left on good terms.
After moving back from Arizona, feeling rather defeated and a bit lost, it became my priority to operate solely independent of my parents. So I eschewed any chance of exploiting family connections for work, and went out searching on my own.
I wasn’t home long, when I landed an interview with Home Meat Market, a fleet of butcher shops wedged into the backs of white Nissan pick-ups. I had experience as a delivery driver, was acquainted with package handling, had a clean traffic record and a need for quick work. It seemed the perfect fit.
My dad was glad at the news, a little sullen because I didn’t seek his help, but otherwise encouraging.
“That’s pretty cool, Bill,” he said from the corner of his mouth as he smoked and rolled hotdogs across the grill on his patio, beads of sweat dotting his tan face. “What’s the job?”
When I explained that I’d be delivering frozen meat, door to door, driving across Portland in a pickup painted with a horse and buggy, the smoldering tip of his cigarette flared intensely and from his nostrils billowed heaps of smoke that clouded his face.
“Are you kidding? You can’t do that, it sounds about idiotic. I’ll make a couple calls tomorrow, I know PPG is looking for warehouse workers.”
“No, I’m serious.” His reaction pierced me like a needle, sinking my demeanor for a moment until I patched the hole. “If I get the job, I’ll get a pretty healthy discount on steaks. They sell seafood, too.”
His bushy, grey eyebrows lifted high up on his forehead, as he both doubted the legitimacy of a career in meat delivery and questioned the quality of any provisions being peddled from a late model pickup.
“I get my steaks at Butcher Boys,” he rolled his eyes. “I know where they come from, what what weighs, and the man who cut them.”
As he spoke, he jabbed a fork into one of the franks, snapping through it skin with a pop. Searing juice exploded from its wound and danced for a second on the grates before vanishing in a hiss of steam.
“Grab a bun,” he said, folding his exhausted cigarette forcefully into the giant oyster shell he used for and ashtray. “These ones are done.”
I was surprised to see, when I opened the warehouse door, no warehouse at all. It opened to a covered loading dock, about fifty feet long. Large, white freezers lined the wall facing a parking lot full of trucks, all Nissans. All of them had freezer units in their beds, and were painted on both sides to look like old-time horse drawn carriages. A man in a bloody apron covered the rear canopy doors. He held up packages wrapped in butcher’s paper, tied up with bows of twine. “Home Meat Market” was blazed in bulky, red letters across the hood and either side of the painted-on wagons.
Men shuffled around with paper coffee cups, hovering out of their mornings like complacent ghosts, smoking cigarettes, and coughing up the ones they’d had the night before. Some were loading boxes into their wagon doors, others milled about the coolers, filling out checklists on white plastic clipboards and counting money. They were paying for the meat they hoped to sell.
A short, thin, older man—maybe fifty—nudged me with his shoulder as he passed, jarring a long cylinder of ash off of the cigarette that hung from his bottom lip. Whisky fumes waved from his clothes and lingered behind him as he continued toward a truck. I turned to say excuse me, but he clipped by slickly, his smoke trailing in the breezeless summer morning, curling around his unkempt beard and stringing behind in tenuous threads that mocked his ponytail.
“Hey Dean,” the manager shouted from a slit in his office door. “You got a shadow today.”
The man with the ponytail froze briefly, then turned curtly into the smoke that trailed him and stepped to the door. He spoke quietly to the manager, glancing in my direction once or twice and finally dropping his head shoulders like a sulking child.
“Your with me, I guess,” he said as he walked past me again, letting the smoke escape his mouth as he spoke. “The truck’s all loaded up. Let’s get goin.”
Dean’s voice was tired and gritty, like the years had etched away his throat and left him only with a harsh whisper. A sandy mustache hooded his entire mouth and overlapped his beard. It bucked and shifted when he talked, but never revealed a lip. Below the bill of his greasy baseball cap he wore thick, owly glasses that disagreed with the rest of him.
Without saying anything else, Dean walked to his truck—number twenty-three—got in, lit another cigarette, then reached over and unlocked the passenger door. I got in, and lit one, too.
“You’re not supposed to smoke in here,” he said, staring straight ahead as he started up the truck. So, as I rolled down the window, I pinched the barely glowing end of the Camel between my fingers and stuck it back in the box.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t. I’m Dizzy.”
“…Are you alright? I can drive,” I said, my voice shaking just a bit.
“Fuck off” he said with a salty laugh. “Dizzy Dean, it’s my name.”
Forcing a clumsy, half-terrified smile, I introduced myself.
“Billy…I knew a Billy…small, but tough as shit.”
I wanted to badly, but couldn’t work the nerve to re-light the cigarette. So it sat cloistered in my front pocket, adding another layer to the air of stale tobacco and indistinct booze that baked inside the cab.
Dean laid his arm along the door, drumming off-beat with his fingers against the sheet metal. Muscles rose and fell like ropes in his forearms as he tapped, rippling the fading, green dagger that pointed toward his wrist. On his other arm, what looked to be a woman in a grass skirt stood among a montage of scars and freckles. Around her neck were faint smudges of red that seemed to be a lei.
Dean popped the clutch with appetite, and the meat and us squealed out the driveway and straight into the sun. The early air poured in as we gathered speed, brushing out the tired smell. It wasn’t quite eight thirty.
“We’ll drive around for an hour or so, then hit the bars, eh?”
WHEN I ARRIVED FOR the interview, there were no numbers yet on any of the offices in the complex. Chalk lines were still visible on the concrete walkway that ran the length of the building, and most of the doors had “for lease” signs in them. I tried the first door without one. Heat throbbed from the dark glass and metal as the early summer sun flamed against it, the flat steel handle burning my hand as I pulled.
Inside, a man of about forty sat behind a dark, wooden desk with chrome legs. He wore a full beard, precisely trimmed, his hair as black and shiny as an oil slick. Faint lines of sweat streaked across his teal golf polo where it had folded into his skin as he sat, and his khaki cargo shorts hung like crumpled paper over his smooth, puffed-up legs.
The interview lasted all of five minutes.
“Can you lift fifty pounds?”
“Can you drive a stick?”
“Can you pass a pee test?”
“Um, yes, sir.”
The manager explained that I would be delivering frozen meat and seafood to customers around the Portland metro area. They subscribe to a weekly service that ensures delivery on a certain day, and they request whatever they like from a rather extensive menu. A couple hundred dollars a week was the average wage for his branch, he told me. But it varied based on how many customers bought, and how much.
“Will I be selling meat, or just delivering?” I asked.
“We’ve got regular customers, but I encourage every employee to work at expanding the route. The more we sell, the more we make.”
Sales jobs were foreign and objectionable to me. Mostly, I was disgusted by my preconceptions about salesmen. The greasy hair and handshake. The big, antagonistic grin. The assertiveness. But in part I feared the work itself. There was a frankness, a necessary gregariousness that intimidated me. I asked how many stops the routes typically had, how many miles they covered, how much weight they usually carried. I asked about the attire and about truck maintenance. I deliberately used terms like drivers and deliveries, meandering well around the word sales. It was a word I did not want in the job description, especially if it was the door to door sort. So, to convince myself it wasn’t there, I tried to drive our conversation as far as I could away from it.
“If you pass the drug test, you can start Monday at nine. There’s a medical office across the street where you can take the test today. Tell them it’s for HME Incorporated and give them this form. They’ll get you going.”
He handed me the paper and nodded toward the commercial building across the street behind where I sat. A large sign with all the names of the businesses there glared back as the noon sun made waves rise from the asphalt between us. Fergessun Plumbing Supply, DeWhitt Appliance, Specialty Building NW, Concentra Urgent Care. It was midday Friday, and we needed the test results by late afternoon, so I guess it was urgent.
DEAN DROVE MUCH TOO FAST. Our truck swaggered around corners, pulling me sideways with it while the heavy canopy tried the suspension. More than once I had to wave cramps from my fingers I clutched the door so tight. The first time we stopped for a light, I pulled the extinguished Camel from its pack and smoked it in a couple gasps.
After a few minutes I noticed we were heading into a bad part of town. Graffiti dressed the bus stop kiosks, spread like ivy over liquor stores and pawn shops, and laid claim to overflowing dumpsters. There were people already, or still, staggering loosely down the sidewalks, squabbling with themselves then blurting out in laughter. A tall woman with a brown, clove cigarette and stiletto heels smiled beguilingly at me, letting the breeze take the smoke from her mouth. I gave a boyish smile back to her as I exhaled my own. Her eyes shone like pearls against her raven skin, slicing into mine and reading. When she proved to herself that I was just a child, her smile melted sympathetically.
“Not now, Billy,” Dean rasped into the windshield. “We gotta keep it clean while there’s meat back there.”
Our first delivery was at the Sandy Jug, and old dive shaped like a gallon of wine. Its dingy stucco was flaking away in places, as though someone had started peeling its giant label as they nursed from the uncorked brick mouth. It had two small windows, which were impenetrable in the light of day, and a wooden archtop door that set back far from the exterior. There were a few battered cars in the gravel parking lot.
“You twenty-one, Billy?” Dean asked as he cut the ignition.
“No, I turned twenty a few months ago.”
“Hmm…Well…?” Dean thought. “Well…I won’t be too long, it’s not real busy here. But they make a fuckin nasty screwdriver.” He clicked the key back on and turned the radio up too loud, then marched with purpose to the Jug and opened up its side.
Although I hadn’t even smelled a bag of pot in weeks, handing the warm, transparent blue cup to the Hispanic girl in the urgency clinic, my hand quivered, rippling the green-tinted urine inside. Only a few times had I submitted to drug screenings. Once, for the county job; again, as a truck driver. I passed both. Finally, before I left for Phoenix, my dad set me up with an interview at an auto glass distributor. It went well, and I was offered the job, but had to submit a urine sample that day. Three days before, during a poker game in a friend’s garage, I took part in an hours-long revel that burnt an ounce or more in the course of the night.
There was no way I could clean up in time, so I bought a bottle of Urine Trouble, “a detoxifying elixir,” from a man with long, grey hair who ran a headshop near my school. Three hours before the test, I drank it, all at once, per its instructions. When I peed as clear at tap water into the little cup, I thought certainly it was clean. It wasn’t.
The episode was doubly ruinous because my father and his reputation as a local business owner were involved. He wasn’t particularly happy with me, but mostly he just laughed. That was the last cup I had to fill.
Behind the checkout counter at Concentra Urgent Care, there was a large cooler marked BIOHAZARD. My urine joined an impressive population of others’, I signed another form or two, and then I walked back into the heat.
As I was driving home, my mom called. She was waiting to hear about the interview, and wanted me to call as soon as it was through. I wanted to tell her that I got the job, that I start Monday. But I didn’t want to jinx myself before the test results were in, so the phone rang through as I merged onto the freeway and let a Camel cool my nerves. She called once more, within minutes, but gave up short of voicemail.
A few hours later, when my phone rang again, it was HME Inc.
“Bill. It’s Mike from Home Meat Market. We’ll see you Monday, bud.”
“I’ll be there, sir,” I told him, before spreading out a lengthy sigh and peeling the cellophane off a fresh pack of cigarettes.
My mother was ecstatic when I reported the news. Her voice rose high when she got excited, and she began to ask long chains of questions without waiting for their answers.
“That’s amazing, Bill. Do you have a uniform? Where is your route? Is it the same every day? What kind of trucks will you drive? What color? Are they big? Can you drive by the house so I can see?”
“I’ll come by the house if you buy a bunch of stuff,” I cut in.
“Of course I will. Do you deliver chicken? Is it frozen?”
“Yeah, it’s all frozen. But don’t buy anything.” I said.
“Well I’m so excited!” When do you start?”
“Monday. At nine.”
“You’d better get there early. Do you have a nice shirt? Want me to buy you some?”
“Yes. No. Thanks.”
“Well, congratulations!” she said. Already her voice was settling.
I had been playing hold’em online while we talked—mostly folding, barely even watching as I did, while my mom delighted in my new occupation. Then two black cards landed. Face cards. Ace-jack, suited. Spades.
There was a raise. Two players folded, I re-raised. Then we were heads up. The flop came with two spades, one of them a king. Before me lay better than two-to-one odds at the nut flush, not to mention a two thousand, one hundred sixty-two-to-one squeak at a running royal flush. Twenty-three dollars were in the pot, nine of which I had invested.
Player one bet. I raised. He called, and the turn came red and low. He bet, but I knew he missed. Again, I raised. This time, a healthy raise, enough to stand his hair a little. He called. Red spilled on the river, too. A queen. I lit a Camel, and player one checked. With a dried up hand I pushed an oversized bet to buy the pot. Player one raised. Folding would have been a statistical mistake at that point, having bought so heavily in. In the bottom of my throat, a little ball of unjustified anger rolled as I saw his raise with nothing but my ace. He had flopped a pair of fives.
“Bill! What are you doing? Did you hear me?”
“Oh, sorry. What did you say?” I said before I tried to swallow.
“Your job,” she said impatiently. “Do you have to do any sales?”
DIZZY DEAN WAS in the Jug for about fifteen minutes before I decided to try my hand at meat peddling. A few blocks from either side of Sandy Boulevard were old, lower middle class neighborhoods, rich with Portland’s history, but only that. The large and creeky houses stood close together as the sun began to dry dew from their lawns, creating little clouds that hung low above the shaggy grass. Some were strewn with children’s bikes and water-guns, brightly colored strips of rubber shrapnel from the summer grenades.
Some had chain-link fencing with signs warning me of the dog that scowled somewhere within them. As I passed one, I let my finger run across the steel weave, sending a thread of tinny rings down the street. Dogs across the neighborhood tipped off their owners to my presence.
First, I chose a large, well-kept house, thinking perhaps its owners could better afford the luxury. There was no fence, no sign of dogs, no cars in the narrow driveway. Hoping for silence in return, I tapped the bronze knocker and stepped back from the door. A small commotion rumbled—someone’s muffled descent from upstairs. Then, a sneaky part opened in the sidelight curtain, then the door.
“Hi. Can I help you?” a middle-aged blonde woman asked, showing only a portion of her suspicious face and hiding the rest behind her heavy door.
“My name is Bill. I’m establishing a delivery route in your neighborhood,” I said.
“What are you selling?” she cut in.
“We offer home delivery of beef, chicken, turkey, pork, and seafood.” My nerves began to rustle as she peered through me, the chill of seeping sweat blowing over my back and forearms. “Our prices…” A swell of wind lifted my hair a bit as the door slammed in front of me. I didn’t even take the menu from my pocket.
I tried a few more houses, careful to keep the Jug in sight, thinking Dean might leave if I wasn’t near the truck. Those that were home never let me finish, usually stopping me just shy of actually trying to sell anything. Those that weren’t were the ones I liked most. After knocking or ringing, I didn’t wait long for a response.
Dean walked out of the giant bottle just as I was settling against the hood to smoke a cigarette.
“Got one for me?” he asked. Hints of vodka sifted through his mustache as I handed him a smoke. “No-go in there, Billy. Just a bunch of dicks. But I got a route, don’t worry. We’ll make a haul yet today.” We tore from the Jug, sending off a tail of dust and gravel as one tire spun.
“Ever go to Tommy’s Too?” he howled above the static-crackled Thorogood.
Tommy’s Too was a strip club on Foster Road whose owners couldn’t get a liquor license, so they only served beer. They were open to anyone over eighteen. Tommy’s was built so near the I-five overpass that, after about one o’clock in the afternoon, it was cast into the shadows, its flashing neon sign painting the bottom side of the freeway red and slutty. I’d been there once, I told him.
“I’ll buy you a sandwich,” Dizzy said. “You like bologna?”
When he opened the grey, steel door at Tommy’s, a ghostly redhead came skipping up and wrapped her lanky arms around Dean’s neck. “Dizzy! You’re late!” she said, then removed her teal bikini top. “Who’s the big kid?”
The place was small, and there were no tables, so we sat at the low bar that made a horseshoe around the stage. An empty chair sat between us. Dizzy rummaged through the stations on a small boom-box just below the bar, stopping when he heard Axle Rose welcoming us to the jungle. Almost involuntarily, the redheaded girl began to dance. She scaled the golden pole all the way to the high ceiling, then spun down again. Her anemic thighs let out a chirp or two as the metal skidded between them.
Dean ordered the bologna, with ketchup and mayo, from a hulking, dark-haired woman I took to be the waitress and the cook.
“Nothing for me, thanks,” I told her.
“Suit yourself, kiddo,” she said in a matronly voice. Next to me, Dean emptied a thin, translucent beer and motioned for another. He began to file through his ragged chain-drive wallet, pulling out a few dollar bills and folding them into little tents that he stood at the edge of the black, linoleum dance floor.
“If you’re gonna sit up front, you gotta pay for the show,” he said without removing his eyes from the gyrating girl. Looking around, it dawned on me why there were no tables.
Now completely nude, the redhead saw the money we’d laid out and sauntered near us to collect it. We were the only two customers Tommy’s had; it was eleven o’clock in the morning. She sat on the bar in front of Dean, sweeping his money to the floor behind her. For maybe three minutes she ground into his lap. Then she looked at my dollar. As she stood, she scooped a handful of ice from the water pitcher between Dean and I, and began using it licentiously. Enter Sandman oozed from the radio, rousing a venomous aspect all over the girl. She dropped the melty ice back into the pitcher, splashing water onto my khaki shorts in a rather inconvenient spot, then went on dancing angrily until the song was through.
While I sat, awkward and silent, Dean finished his sandwich and another beer, then he rifled again through his wallet. Empty.
“Billy, can you spot me lunch? I musta left my cash at home,” he asked. “My old lady lives close by, I’ll get you back.” So I bought the bologna, and three pints of Coors.
Dizzy’s mom lived in a tattered apartment building several miles west, down Foster. Below its covered carports, crashed-up jalopies drooled oil and gave off musty bouquets. Indistinguishable arguing drifted through the air from somewhere in the unkempt courtyard.
“Just hang here a sec,” said Dean. “I’ll be a minute.”
A minute later, he came walking fast from below the open stairwell of building B, stuffing his wallet into his jeans. He threw seven dollars on my lap and jammed the truck into reverse. The tab at Tommy’s was twenty-three.
WHEN I FIRST got back from Phoenix, I had to live with my dad in a townhouse in Vancouver, two blocks from the freeway. My mom had a large house, with plenty of room for me, but she had just remarried, and I refused to live with her and her new husband. Greg was a good man, both to me and my mom; but, still, it made me queasy to think of living with them under the same roof, cavorting like newlyweds while I slept beneath my childhood sheets.
My dad was rarely home, so I had the place to myself a lot. I’d look for jobs in the morning, listening to the traffic pile up on the freeway—pointless honking and semi’s compression brakes singing through the early air like hasty urban birds.
By the afternoon I would abandon the search and begin playing cards online. I played for hours, reading books on game theory, perusing poker forums, and smoking cigarettes while I folded. Thinking I might someday become professional, I took my game seriously. I played tight and aggressively. I played by the numbers and labored hard to ignore my gut. Had I had a larger bankroll, I could have made real money. As it was, I made enough to buy cigarettes and Slurpees.
Once my eyes began to tear, I would log off the tables and meet up with old high school friends. We played more cards, often until the morning hours. Sometimes we’d sneak onto high-class golf courses and swing at glow-in-the-dark balls until police cars flashed their spotlights through the bordering trees.
My dad never charged rent while he lived there. But, eventually, he gave me news that he was moving in with the woman he was seeing. I could stay in the townhouse, he said, but I’d have to start forking up some help. He offered his hand in finding me a job, just as he always had when I was a kid. But I was grown up now, I thought.
“No, thanks,” I told him. “I’m old enough to find steady work on my own.”
“Well, I’ll take care of rent until you do,” he offered. “But once you find a job, I need you to help. You don’t have to pay it all, just as much you can. Alright?”
“Yessir. Sounds fair to me.” Maybe I’d start running hot at the tables.
Without a college degree, I was relegated to places hot and loud—places where conveyer belts never stop unless it’s Christmas or they take a finger. Of course there was the service industry, but mine were worker’s hands already, moderately scarred and growing harsh and craggy. Sales was a last resort. Not even that. Just to think of working sales scraped my backbone like nails on a blackboard.
Another delivery job was what I wanted. A driving job—with local routes. That would be perfect. Changing scenery, just enough heavy lifting to pass as real work. The only endless line of slowly moving things to pass in front of me would be the occasional train. So it was settled, I narrowed my sights to jobs behind a steering wheel.
Newspaper ads and online classifieds offered scant prospects for a hunt with such a singular pursuit. I found myself peeling whole weeks away without so much as seeing a solitary inquiry. Then, one Monday, “Drivers wanted to establish local routes,” climbed up and out from the sleepy grids of grey text. It was one of the small spots in the paper, nearly engulfed by the swollen crowd of ads demanding experience and school-loan debt. “Experience not required,” it continued.
The phone rang at least a dozen times before a man, slightly out of breath and impatient, answered.
“Home Meat Market,” he said, his speech buffeting. Behind his voice the muffled din of industry was working. Thuds and slams and pointy whirs came through loud, so that he raised his voice above them as I asked about the job.
“It’s meat delivery,” the man said, curtly. “Can you lift fifty pounds?”
“Can you drive stick?” he asked. A starter cranked, the rhythmic warning siren of a reverse alarm wailing after it in the background.
“Yes, I can.”
“Good. You have a pen?” I spent a second rooting for one amid the dishes, books, and laundry landscaping my room, the alert still urging caution from the other end of the line.
“One two one one seven, north east Ainsworth circle,” the man rapped. “Be here noon Friday.”
“Thank you very…” I started, as a final mayday stole through the receiver. Then nothing.
My mom was excited when I told her.
“Well, good luck!” she said. “But I don’t think you’ll need it.”
PARKED IN THE SWELTERING lot of the Acropolis Steakhouse and Gentleman’s Club, its thick blue paint no longer able to hide against the wine-drunk sky as evening settled in, I thought how long it would take to ride the bus to my car, fifteen miles north on the interstate. But I didn’t know the schedule, the numbers, the routes.
Empty spaces vanished one by one in the dusk. Men in gloomy, middle-aged cars and dusty clothes slipped in through the flashy entrance while the network of incandescent bulbs that flamed within the building’s huge and ancient sign began to add a sullied light to the paling sun’s. One hour forty-four minutes I loitered in the parking lot, against the mandate of several signs, getting out to smoke and stretch my legs as Dean spent his mother’s money on alcohol, kindling quasi-sexual relationships with girls my age or younger.
Before that was Sassy’s on Belmont, another eighteen and older club that served beer and “gourmet burgers.” We sat there for just an hour, Dean nursing two Millers, me a couple Cokes. He was visibly awkward there, shifting continuously in his chair under the pulsing hip-hop music, and receiving little geniality from either of the black girls that danced roughly to it. Neither of us thought to offer them our provisions, my price list being by then a damp ball of withered paper as I wadded it nervously in my pocket.
An hour earlier, at the Boom Boom Room, I showed and older man the menu as he left the squatty, black building. He asked me politely for a cigarette, and I obliged, reminded of my own grandfather just a little. In his chivalry, he stood and smoked with me, making small talk as the stillness of the day let smoke idle in curls above his thick, grey hair.
“Home Meat Market,” he read from the truck’s pseudo wagon. ”You got some kind of freezer in there?”
“Yeah. It’s a meat delivery service. We’ll bring it right to your door—at a pretty decent price, too.”
“Boy,” he pined, “sure would be nice to hole up in that freezer on a day like this, eh? Bet you’ve got a whopper of an air conditioner in there”
I smirked to myself, “Actually, the cab doesn’t have air. Guess they needed it all for the back.”
“I’ll take a card, if you’ve got one,” he said. “It gets harder every year to lug myself around and do the errands. There’s just no fun in getting old, kiddo. Nobody wants to help you unless there’s something in it for them. Just a bad investment.”
He dropped into the seat of a long, brown sedan, sighing with its suspension.
“What are you doing at a nudie bar, anyway? Do they buy their burgers from you?” he chuckled.
“No,” I smiled. “Just taking a late lunch.”
Dean came out just as the man pulled from the driveway and into traffic, provoking a chorus of honking cars as he poked down the four lane road.
“Did you sell that old boy some steaks?” asked Dean.
“No. You have any luck inside?”
“Didn’t sell shit. But there’s some nasty ones in there, Billy. Phewy. Nasty.”
Every box of meat we packed into the truck as the sun stripped the cool from the morning air, we unloaded as the moon refunded it back. All the trucks were lined up at the open dock, soaking up the green of night, while Dean and I took inventory of the day’s demise. Every gram accounted for, he locked up the truck and the cooler.
“Well, Mondays can be rough,” He said, pulling off his cap and slicking a hand over his wispy hair before replacing it. “Not a big daytime crowd on Mondays.”
As I walked between the newly planted shrubs that edged the building, the rich perfume of cedar mulch was overwhelming. I inhaled as deeply as I could, and held it.
I spent twelve hours with a man I didn’t know a thing about, other than he held his liquor well and stole from his mother. I rode from dive to dive, taking in the debauchery whenever I could. I spent fifty dollars on cigarettes, nudity, and beer I didn’t drink. We didn’t deliver. I didn’t drive. And I tried to sell a thing or two.
“Fridays, man,” Dizzy said with fondness as he rustled for his keys in front of a newer grey compact. “The best girls dance on Fridays.
“Oh,” he interrupted himself. “You got parents, kid?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Well hit ‘em up for a sale. I bet you dad loves a good steak.”
“I’ll call him tonight, Dean.”
Traffic seemed quiet the next morning, the coffee strong. After looking through the job listings I picked up my room, then the whole apartment. For a while I sat on the concrete stoop and smoked, watching cars lurch and stop, lurch and stop. Around lunch, I called my mom and told her about my day at work. She laughed and sympathized, helped me justify quitting without notice after one day.
Then I bought into a poker tournament. I ran hot, was twice dealt aces, had three full houses, and countless pairs. I ran so hot everyone at the table was scared to show me down. In the end, all I had to do was bet every hand and drag the pot. It didn’t matter what I had. The whole game took nine hours, but I took first place. That night, I stayed in.
Instead of through job listings the next morning, I went to my dad’s office with strong coffee for each of us. I bummed a smoke and watched him rustle through the day’s work-orders. Through the open door, the smell of cedar bark rolled in like waves from the morning breeze. I inhaled them deep as I could.
“Shouldn’t you be at your new job,” he finally asked. “delivering meat?”