Friday, August 24, 2007

You Have No Friends- Part II

Hell, this one had me in stitches.
Recently at the behest of a friend I loaded some work onto a fiction/article sharing website. Their tag is-
“Where Knowledge Rules”.
I should’ve known better right there. But, well, sometimes I just can't gauge the level of true excellence or at least true knowledge.
To my subsequent regret, I loaded a few stories on their site in what I considered to be the appropriate categories.
The Editors considered differently and unceremoniously bounced my shit out after just a very few days running. Not being terrifically interested in their site I didn’t realize until a week later when I happened to click their channel.
Can you grasp that? I got kicked out of a FREE article sharing site where NO ONE gets paid to contribute because my “Knowledge” apparently did NOT rule, at least not sufficiently for those Good People and scholarly fellows.

I think I can safely say that I’ve never been more proud of myself. I felt like an Outlaw/Outcast/Misfit who’s unfit to play with the Nice Kids. I had elan. I was wicked. My beer was extra delicious on that particular evening.

But if you have a minute to amuse yourself then check this “dangerous” bit of my imagination out. I guess I just need another Judge. This is one of the pieces that it would appear was just too raw for their wide open pages but please remember-


You’ve been warned.

Folding Money

It was a shit day all around. One for the books. It started off sometime around noon with my head split into a hundred different chunks of pain, possibly having everything to do with the 11 beers and generous amount of whiskey I’d sipped the night before. I knew the number was eleven because I subtracted the one bottle I had left in my fridge from the twelve I’d bought the previous day. Since I’d spent the evening alone, the math was not difficult. The empties strewn around the vicinity of my garbage can were further damning evidence but I wasn’t yet ready to count all of those, the subtraction being infinitely easier than the addition in my critical condition.

The harsh light pouring through my apartment windows was scorching my eyes and they felt like desert sand. You know it’s difficult to enjoy the sun shining when you feel you need assistance to make it to the toilet. I’d been in rare joyous form the evening previous as I’d got into the drink and indulged myself with sad music and happy fantasies but that memory was distant and worthless as I sat down on the bowl to collect my remaining cool and dump the excess poison. After I was drained I burned a book of matches to beat back the wretchedness of my bowels then hit the shower and stood under the steamy water for as long as I could take it.

It helped a little.

After I toweled off I felt slightly better than the putrid paralyzed wreck I was before I’d washed and dried. Now I was only a slightly paralyzed wreck, almost but not quite prepared to face a cruel world but as soon as I threw on some clean clothes and spiffed up I could’ve passed for a sharp dude, at least on the outside, I thought. The inside was all crippling hangover and shaky nerves. It was a nasty business I felt sure I could successfully conceal from the general population and I was determined to do exactly that.

The entire process of this clever deception had, unfortunately for me, taken just a little bit too long. One glance at the clock told me that I was not going to make it to the slave in time. No possible way. When your gig starts at two-o-clock in the afternoon and you still can’t make it there on time it’s pretty tough to come up with a reasonable explanation so I decided to treat myself to a good breakfast and roll into work a little later when all the action would be starting and in so doing, hopefully, skip the explanation process altogether.

In my agony this idea seemed a stroke of genius.

After bacon, eggs and hot coffee I felt so topnotch I was pretty sure everyone on the job would see it my way. It is shocking to admit but this was not the case.

For some odd reason I keep thinking that if a man has his nose to the old grindstone for 8 or 9 years at the same salt mine then somewhere along the line he’s gonna get a little slack cut his way. I’d been busting my nuts in the same train station for all of those 9 years and I can tell you that slack, at least on that day, was not being handed out to this employee.

I was a redcap. That’s what they call us when they call us.

“Hey Redcap, I need some help with my suitcase!”
“Yo! Redcap! Where’s track 18?”
“Hey Redcap, I got a load of bags up on the street, can you gimme a hand?”
“Redcap! Can I have a ride, I can’t make it to my train.”

After the request I make my decision. If you got some of that green paper in your hand when you ask your question then you can call me Johnny-on-the-spot. I’m your MAN. If all you got is the question then things are a bit different.

“Yea....Well... You see the thing is.. Is I’m kinda busy right now..... And..... Um......”

And it goes on like that until they come across with the cash. Usually it doesn’t take very long at all for their sweaty travel panic to set in and subsequently see things my way. In that respect you could say I sell confidence. I know the ins and outs and can get you where you got to go with minimum hassle and maximum haste, I know it and make sure you know it. Maybe the uniform helps a bit; jittery types are always reassured by a man in uniform, no matter how ratty the rank. The good news is that the requests for assistance are endless, nonstop and it puts me firmly in the driver’s seat.
If they fail to produce the requisite gratuity then it’s,

“Gosh, sorry but I’m terribly busy right now, maybe I can get back in ten minutes.”

Then I show them my heels. It’s a big station so you can pick and choose your opportunities. As all the older Redcaps say,

“It’s a beautiful thing.”

What isn’t so sweet at all, however, is the supervising office types hawking your every move, waiting for a chance to make a name for themselves by bringing some enterprising hustler down. Or maybe The Honcho just wants to bust your balls with some bullshit time wasting assignment assisting some helpless ticket holding victim with his wheelchair or taking care of somebody else’s senile grandmother or maybe riding herd on a boatload of screaming welfare rug rats without a dime between them while said Honcho kicks back and sucks down coffee and doughnuts and yaks on the phone, hiding in their office, having done their duty by offering your services to the downtrodden.
Those supervisors are good for that. It’s amazing how saintly so many of them are when they don’t have to get off their fat asses to pull the weight, but you know it really takes the fun out of the job.
And upon my tardy arrival I found out I had the all time loser Honcho hanging over my shoulder. She was my sworn enemy who’d been out to get me ever since she tried, but failed miserably, to have me fired three years previous. Her superiors had kicked her around a few departments since her aborted attempt at my scalp (the complex routine of the dismissal process had cost the company not a little bit of money, certainly more than she was worth, and they wanted to make that point clear to her) and now she was back and nursing her grudge like a fat baby with a big bottle.

Sometimes it seemed to me that the railroad was where bitter old angry people (especially women) like elephants, go to die. Felson was a horrible lonely woman of maybe 50 who could’ve easily passed for 60. Her job was her life. There was no husband, no kids, no boyfriend, no prospects and she was none too easy on the eyes. If she wasn’t a lesbian she should’ve been. She had a face that was sliding into the grave at a frightening rate of speed but however fast it was, it wasn’t fast enough for me, that day or any other.

I arrived on the floor in my semi-paralyzed state just as our rush hour was jumping off, trains going in and out every few minutes and commuters running around by the thousands, vast herds, everybody desperately heading somewhere, fast. I’d managed to avoid Felson at the time clock and for the first two hours I slipped out of her claws every chance I got and I had plenty of chances. She’d been yapping at me on the radio (we all carried our own radios but hardly anyone ever used them) to do this or that but I was hustling and too busy with passengers to respond. Every once in a while I’d yell frantically into my handset,

“Sorry, I’m with a passenger right now… got five minutes to make the train….BREAKING UP….”
Then I’d key it up next to the nearest roaring engine, which always ended the attempted conversation promptly.

Then things slowed down a bit and I ran right out of luck.

First chance I got to break I lit a square and chilled outside on one of the platforms, the first time I’d stopped for a blow in over two hours. Felson crept up on me when my back was turned and I never saw it coming.

“Walter, there’s a wheelchair lift on 352 coming in. I need you to take care of it. You better get going, it should be in in five minutes.”
I ditched the smoke.

Lifts involved dragging a cumbersome stainless-steel mechanical Rube Goldberg gadget about the size of a large cow down the platform maybe fifty yards, maybe more, then hand cranking some fat-ass in a wheelchair into or out of the doorway of the train, of course first you had to find the lift and that was a ball buster in itself as the labyrinth of tracks ran a mile on either side of the station and the lift could be anywhere. The lifts themselves were absolutely backbreaking, usually a big fat zero and a particularly loathed assignment universally dodged by all. They were so profoundly hated by every Redcap that in order to get them accomplished in any timely manner at all, the supervisors had to specifically assign one certain unlucky redcap to handle them each day.

And it was not my day. A fact I wanted to make clear to her.

“I’d like to help but I think that’s Rudy’s assignment today. Ms. Felson.” I cut as much sarcasm into the remark as I could manage, accenting the “Ms.”
She looked constipated, old and mean all at the same time, she always looked like that.
“Well he’s busy. Now I’m giving you a direct order.. So get moving. Now!”

Felson glared at me as if she wanted to fight about it, mean little marble eyes almost swallowed by saggy decrepit flesh. If she were a man I would’ve invited her to take her best shot but seeing how she was a type of a woman, sort of, I wasn’t holding any cards.

“O-Kee-Doke. I’ll get right on it.”

I grinned my sweetest grin and she looked pissed that I didn’t want to argue but I walked away fast before things escalated, groping the fat wad of cash in my pocket that I’d managed to accumulate in my two hours on the clock. The wad made it pretty easy to walk away. I had three hours to go to the end of the shift and I was already thinking about my first cold one, to hell with old skull face.

The day collapsed right there.

It turned out there were three lifts on 352 and by the time I was done a half hour later I was drenched in sweat, head to toe. Needless to say the lifts were freebies. They almost always were. I met Rudy on the way back in, he was drinking a cold pop and talking to Felson, they were both chilling, getting all cozy at one of the boarding gates.
Rudy was in his fifties but not the ugliest guy on the RR, sort of in the salt and pepper Latin Matinee Idol mold, and there were rumors that he had a little monkey business going on with Felson. If he did whatever she was paying him wasn’t enough. Turns out Rudy was asking for permission to leave early and she granted it. I picked up his slack. Then two other Redcaps pulled the plug and Felson made sure I got their slack as well. My gal.
The next two hours Felson was attached to me like a pit bull on a poodle.
I was starving, thirsty and weak but she never stopped coming with her long list of orders, barking at me nonstop over the radio,

“Redcap Rangel, come in.”
“Redcap Rangel, I need you at the north concourse for passenger assistance.”
“Recap Rangel report to ticket window fourteen immediately.”
“Redcap Rangel needed in the south boarding lounge for wheelchair assistance.”
“Redcap assistance to Canal St. immediately,”
“Come in Redcap Rangel?”

At the end of the two hours I was wrung out and my legs were lead. She’d had me bouncing like a pinball all over the station and now my tank was below empty, I was running on fumes. The alcohol had poured out and nothing else had gone in to replace it.
Then she left early herself, a minor miracle. Maybe Old Rudy was going to slide her some pipe on the sly, God bless him. I started praying that perhaps some nice truck driver might manage to smash his rig head-on into her car on her way home. It was a happy thought.

I had exactly one hour to go until it was my time to skate, sixty short minutes. I was thinking- Maybe I can make it!

Late in the evening the station slows all the way down and it’s an entirely different atmosphere from the rush hour circus madness. It’s sedate, almost soothing. It has an Art Gallery feel to it but instead of leisurely gazing at art, Redcaps get to leisurely search for cash. With skull face gone it wasn’t bad at all. I was the last Redcap left on the floor for one train coming in and one going out, the rest of the time was my own. Since I was the last one standing I had my pick of “people movers”, little go- karts we used that could carry up to four passengers (or two fat ones) and haul their bags behind it in a conveniently attached baggage cart. It was a lot easier then the running, lugging and schlepping I’d been doing for the last four hours. All I had to do now was load, unload, and drive. Sweet.

I was determined to go the distance and dreaming dreams of fat green rolls of throwaway cash and drinks on the house served by Big Titty Girls with friendly smiles all around.

The outgoing was first up and a real pain in the ass. Boatloads of losers with no money and lots of problems, I took care of all of them, sweating all the way. After I dropped the last bag into the car I jumped off, the train pulled and I counted the loot. I must’ve put a dozen people on that train and I couldn’t calculate how many bags.
I had four singles in my hand.
I didn’t have time to bitch because just as I stuffed that pitiful sum in my pocket the inbound came smoking around the corner, riding the brakes into a hard stop. I had to jump but it was my last train of the night and I didn’t mind. C’mon baby.
The train was a big one that was coming from the coast, two engines, two sleeping cars, 3 coaches, baggage car and diner-it was six hours late, there were bound to be plenty of happy travelers on it but it was no time to worry, I had to hit the gas just to make it to the last car before it stopped. I made it. I figured I’d scoop up as many people as I could on my way in and go back out if, and only if, it was absolutely necessary.

Then I caught a bit of a break.

The train was light, not too many passengers and since it was the last one in nobody was making any connections, everyone on it was either at the end of their line or would be spending the night in a hotel. That was good for me because it meant mostly quick easy trips to the cab stand for people whose pockets were full of cab voucher cash for rides to their hotel with everything comped by Uncle Sam and the RR .
I made three trips back and forth in twenty seven minutes, the money was good.

On the last comeback I had two winners with me when I passed a couple of old white men who were easing very slowly down the platform, they were the last ones left out there. One had a cane and was moving even slower than the other. They had one suitcase a piece. I had room for both of them so what the hell, I thought.

“Gentlemen, can I offer you a ride somewhere?”

They both looked up at me and smiled.

“No, No. We got it. Just taking our time is all.”
“Yea, we’re alright. We’ll make out O.K.”

I noticed they both had WWII veteran caps covering their white hair. One of the caps had the name of a battleship on it. They were both large men, one a little more so than the other and one, the smaller with the cane, had a kind of prosthetic leg and foot. I noticed the leg when I looked back at them as I drove past, you could see the metal part of the leg sticking out where his pants rode up a little too high. They both waved as I passed.

I dropped the winners I had at the cabstand and pocketed my swag making me well and truly done with ten fat minutes to spare.

Ten leisurely minutes until I hit the clock.
Ten minutes to freedom.
Ten minutes to that cold frosty cure for the aches and pains.
I could almost taste it already but I figured I had time for the old guys so I swung my ride around and headed back.

They’d made it off the platform to a bench and were sitting back, chatting, taking a break. It seemed to me like a good idea.

“Gentlemen, I’m back. Now what can I do for ya’?”
“Hey what’s your name kid?” The bigger one said.
“It’s o.k. with me if you call me Walter, sir, everybody else does.”
“Alright Walter. Hey listen. How do we get to this passenger service office?” It was the smaller, “We gotta cash in this voucher they give us and get us a hotel room. We’re gonna take the train to Philly tomorrow.”
“Well sir…. It’s your lucky day because I’m here to take you there gentlemen. It’s what they pay me for. So whattya say? Why walk when we can ride… That’s my motto.” I made a magician’s wave of my hand over the seats of the mover. It did the trick.
“O.K. Walter, O.K.” They both made a move for their suitcases.
“Gentlemen, I gotcha covered.” I scooped up the bags before they got their hands on them and piled them on my cart. They laughed a little as they sat down on the car seats.
“You’re alright Walter.”
“Nothing to it, gentlemen. Ain’t nothin’ to it.”

The bigger guy was Don and the other Tommy. He looked like a Tommy too, not a Tom at all. His eyes were bright blue and full of the boy he must’ve one day been.
He and Don were both easygoing and cool considering that it was almost midnight in a strange city where they hadn’t expected to end up and didn’t have a room to end up in yet they didn’t seem the least bit concerned about anything. They said they were on their way to a reunion of WWII vets that weekend in Philly.

“Not too many of us left there, brother.” Don said proudly.

They both had a resigned chuckle at that. It was one funny line but I didn’t think it was my place to laugh so I didn’t.

“Well hey, Don, Tommy….. I sure would like to thank you men for showing up over there and taking care of business.” I meant it too. Tommy spoke up.

“Yea... Well...... We didn’t have too much of a choice one way or the other.”

They both roared at that one. Doubling over. I busted a grin myself, had to.

When we pulled up to the glassed enclosed office the only person left working was a black lady of a certain age named Alice and she was closing up the shop, everyone else had gone home. Alice was a sweet, slender, tiny boned woman who didn’t like to take any shit from anybody and, consequently, was rarely trifled with. I always did my best to stay on her good side, which was very damn good. I left Don and Tommy on the car and walked in.

“Hey sexy lady. I got the last two guests of the night out there and then we can both go home. Can you take care of them?”

Alice was already peering suspiciously at those old white guys while I was talking.

“What they need baby?”
“Cab fare and hotel..... They’re both alright.”

She was the only one who could take care of the problem and we both knew it, but she didn’t have to, and we both knew that as well. If anything went wrong for any passengers off the late train Felson would catch the hell for cutting out early. For me it was win/win then Alice made her mind up quick.

“Bring ‘em on in here.”

I brought Don in to talk with Alice while Tommy waited on the mover. In about ten seconds Don had Alice cackling like an old hen and batting her eyes like a virgin. He didn’t need my help so I went back out and sat down with Tommy.

“Hey Walter, we ain’t holding you up are we? Hell, we can make it to a cab alright from here.”
“Naw... This here’s my last job of the night and I’m determined to do it, and like I said… there ain’t nothin’ to it.”
He was good company so we got to talking.

They’d first met on a hospital boat ride back home from Europe; they’d both been wounded and were taking the slow boat home. Turned out they lived not too far from one another and someway or another managed to stay in touch through all the years, talking and meeting on a regular basis. They’d also managed to get a group of their old unit together for yearly reunions and they were meeting in Philly for this one. I got the idea that the boat ride back had been some moment in both their lives.
Tommy had lost the leg in France when he got blown into a ditch by what he guessed was a mortar round. He’d laid in the ditch all night long half submerged in water, too wounded to move and too afraid to call out for help because the Germans were close and in a foul temper at the time. In the morning some G.I.’s found him and got him out of there but his leg was far too damaged by then and the doctors took it just above the knee. I asked him how old he was at the time.

“’Bout eighteen.” He said. Matter of fact.

When I was eighteen I was getting drunk on weekends and trying desperately to get laid to no great success.

“It was a terrible time, back then. Terrible.”

It was all he was going to say about it and his eyes told me enough and more than I wanted to know.

He’d been through a few different prosthetics since that day and the most recent one they gave him had held up until six years previous, he explained, but then his remaining limb had gotten infected, requiring more surgery, and he had to have the prosthetic replaced again in a VA hospital.

“But they give me a pretty good one this time. I can get around real nice. Watch this!”
Then he popped up on his feet and did a happy little jig, hopping on one leg, then the other. He kicked out the fake leg so I could see it. His eyes were burning bright.
“See....See.... Works pretty good, don’t it?”

Then he sat down satisfied that he’d made his point. I told him that was a pretty fancy jig.
“Yea, I’m making it O.K. for my age.” He was sporting a great joyous grin and surely must’ve been one handsome devil at eighteen.
Just then I saw Don through the glass windows of the office shaking hands with Alice, she was smiling shyly like he was asking her for a date to the prom and maybe he was because Alice was not the type to smile for no good reason.

He walked out to us and announced,
“All set.” They both sat down.
“I’ll be back in two shakes gentlemen, and then I’ll get you that cab.”

I ran into the office as they leaned into each other with cool easy smiles they must’ve been wearing for decades and had certainly earned.

“Hey beautiful, I’m just gonna ride them to a cab and I’ll be back in a flash. Can you wait to let me back in so I can punch out?”

The last person out of the office locked it and Alice was the only one with keys. She was officially done for the night and had no need to stay.

“No problem baby, I’ll be here.”
“Let’s you and me go get a beverage afterwards…..whattya say sexy, I’m buying?”
“I say Ima’ go home and have my own drink in front of my own television next to my own bed. So hurry your skinny ass back here before I change my mind.”
“You got it, lady.” I dashed.

It didn’t take more than five minutes to get them a cab. I threw their bags in the trunk and we all stood there awkwardly, me more so than them.

“Thanks Walter, let me give you a little something.” It was Don.
“No sir. That was on the house and thank you for riding with me.”
“C’mon Walter, take a little something.” Tommy this time.

Man, those guys didn’t owe nobody nothing.

“Gentlemen, it was my pleasure. Thanks anyway, but I gotta go.”

They both looked about to wrestle me to the ground and force the money on me so I hopped onto my car and pulled away, I stopped and waved as I yelled.
“Thanks again for everything.” What else can you say?
They were getting into their cab.
“Alright Walter, we’ll see you.”

When I got back to the office Alice let me in and I punched out quick. The station was peaceful, quiet and dark. I asked her if I could walk her to her car and she said O.K. so I did. We made it in no time and she waved as she pulled away, smiling.
I turned towards home and thought, that was one for the books alright. Tomorrow wasn’t looking too bad.



Warlock33 said...

I used to love to read when I was younger. I was this sponge when it came to books. Sadly, I haven't read an actual book in probably 5 years, but I do remember what a good book would do for me as a would take me to a place I had never been...had me seeing things in my minds eye, that I had never seen... took me on a journey, that I had never just took me on a journey...thank you.

mrmook said...

pleasure was mine.....
and you're most welcome.