Darryl held the cup of coffee over the edge of the fire escape, eying the two taxis below. Whichever one started to move first, that’s whose barista he would become.
Jill was late for work, and the whole call taxi thing was new to her. In New York, you didn’t really call unless you were out in the burbs. Maybe you summoned a cab with a cell phone app – you could do that. But she never heard of anyone calling from lower Manhattan. Chicago would be an adjustment – you could flag a taxi in Chicago, but not this far off the brown line. Damn, there was the horn, and her hair dryer wasn’t working. How are you supposed to operate like that, when everyone in the law office has a suit worth more than your last vacation? Especially if you ever wanted to clerk your way up the ladder without sleeping with it.
Stilson didn’t drive, and he didn’t take the L. Too many cops riding the L these days and, even when he didn’t have anything to hide, he drew too much attention. Big guy with long hair and tattoos. Just stood out, and Stilson was nervous ever since he started using again. It was just a week or two. That’s all it had to be. Just a week to give him the clarity he needed for the new job. That mall they were putting up near Andersonville was pay day, and he didn’t want to f*ck it up. He heard the horn, and decided on one more hit first. He was fast, and the driver wouldn’t take off for at least two or three minutes.
Marty hadn’t wanted to work days. The pay was good at the last place, and he liked to sleep in the day. His mind was always alert at night and he had to go out, do something. He couldn’t just sit at home. Working in all that bright light, in a city that size, was just exhausting. But you took what you could get. You don’t get unemployment when you storm off the job and call your foreman a “son of a bitch” in front of the whole crew. You also didn’t get another gig in the same kind of outfit for a while. Inventory clerks got rated, and he wouldn’t rate too highly in the eyes of his ex-boss. He parked behind the other cab and gave a little wave while the lady looked back at him in the mirror. She wasn’t bad, but no. He had to focus on getting his act together in a lot of ways.
Cheryl gave the other cabbie a polite nod in the mirror. Waving might bring him up for a chat, and Cheryl didn’t like chats with other cabbies, at least not the men, and that was most of them. The other lady worked nights. Two ex-husbands and a string of ex-boyfriends had her thinking maybe it was time to consider other women. It might be easier. It probably wasn’t, from what her sister’s life was like. One girl set her car on fire when they broke. That’s Wisconsin for you. Her next Eden catalog was going to provide her new male-substitute, just like those little pink packets you put in your coffee. They weren’t great for you, as a steady diet, but they weren’t bad when you needed the jolt. She honked again. No f*cking way she was waving. Waving just meant you were desperate or vulnerable.
Darryl was fed up. The constant griping about leaving off the sprinkles, or not enough foam, or the foam being too thin, or they didn’t want whipped cream, could you remake it, because they couldn’t just spoon it off – you couldn’t have your foam touching whipped cream if you didn’t want it. It was tainted. Is this coffee fresh? Yes sir, all our coffee’s fresh. We make it every… well it doesn’t taste so fresh, and I know coffee. Sure you do. Darryl was tired, and up to his eyeballs with people. The last guy had been a cab driver who left it running at the curb and came bounding in out of breath, right past everyone. He insisted on being served immediately. What the f*ck was he thinking?
Jill had finally given up on the dryer, and did her hair in smoky tendrils of damage with the flat iron. She’d say she was trying out a new style, and then just drop it the day after, getting a dryer at Fields on the way home. Macy’s now, is what it was. Used to be Fields. She just had her key twisting the lock when the horn started sounding frantic.
Stilson almost lost track of time. Once you focused on getting fixed, you didn’t want to take your mind off it. You just didn’t. But the noise outside was his cue. Stash his kit, grab his pack, and off you go. He looked back when Mixie whined, and grabbed last night’s half eaten dinner off the counter, setting the plate on the floor. Then he went for the stairs.
Cheryl saw the door open – great – he was going to shoot the breeze, maybe try to flirt with her after all. She’d be trapped in the driver’s seat with him standing there at her window, and she knew from fighting with her last one that you don’t come out strong in that position. No, she wasn’t going to let it happen this time. She let the buckle go, grabbed the handle, and stuck her foot out of the cab. She could get in and out of them as quickly as anyone else – you learned it from grabbing bags for the airport at a busy curb in the Loop or on the Mile during rush hour. Great fare, if people were willing to sit on I-90 for half an hour or more.
Darryl decided something was missing. That’s what it was. He crawled back through the window and hurried to the fridge. You didn’t want your coffee without your condiments, after all. Half and half, and did he… yes, he even had a little shaker of cinnamon up in the cabinet. Not too much, of course. You couldn’t go having too much cinnamon. He had to walk carefully back to the window, because now the cup was to the brim.
Marty popped the trunk, and got out of the cab. He’d get his lunch out, which he’d have for breakfast, since his internal clock was so screwed up. He didn’t like keeping food in the front where it would stink up the car. He guessed people would think it was him, that he didn’t bathe or something, and that phone number for complaints was right there on the damned tag in the back seat next to his license number. You got a couple of calls to the city about passenger rights or something, and you lost that job too. That’s what happened to the last guy whose badge had been in that sleeve. No way he was screwing up yet another gig before even picking up his last check from the warehouse in South Side.
Stilson hit the sidewalk right as the pretty girl who always wore those businessy looking women’s suits was coming up from ‘One’. Man, those suits were hot. You could see a woman’s figure, but it made her look like she could keep pace with whatever you could dish out. How was he going to get her name?
Jill tried not to jump a little when the creepy guy darted out in front of her. You learned not to get jumpy. You learned not to do anything that made you seem too girly in a law office. You just didn’t get taken seriously that way. That’s why she’d cut her hair again, even shorter this time, but not too short. You still wanted to turn a head or two. F*cking hair dryer. And now the guy was looking at her all glassy eyed and shaky, like he was getting ready to drool. You didn’t make eye contact. You looked for the cab. You walked right around him to the left, since he was standing to the right.
Cheryl fiddled with her windshield wiper blade. So he wasn’t coming over to talk after all. Now what was she supposed to do? She wasn’t a limo driver. She’d look stupid leaning up against the cab door or something, like she was waiting on Paris Hilton. F*cking bimbo. Her ex thought that bitch was hot. Not brain one in her porn video making head. “She’s actually quite intelligent,” the idiot had said. If you have to say “actually”, it just isn’t so. And there the fare was at last – about time. She grabbed the driver’s door. She was *not* driving Paris Hilton.
Stilson backed over his own feet, trying to get out of her way. The girl in the suit (he thought of her as “the girl”) had done something with her hair. Stilson liked it longer, just like his own – what’s good for the gander – or something like that. But it was especially nice the way she had done something straighter with it. Jeez what a hot f*cking…
Jill sprawled on both palms, sliding on the concrete and just barely missed butting her head against the sidewalk, though pulling her head back like that so suddenly had made her teeth rattle from the fall. Was he really going to rape her right in broad daylight in front of her own building, in front of a cab? Was he insane? Not even on the Lower East Side – hell probably not even on Jamaica Boulevard…
Marty saw the woman go down and started to run to help, but he didn’t get there. The hippie looking guy did a pirouette like he was in some Disney musical in the Theater District and went face first right into the door of the other cab, slamming it closed on the driver’s fingers. He actually thought he heard the crunch, but probably not. He was just tired, and you could hear things wrong, like an address, if you didn’t keep your blood sugar up. Still, he dropped his lunch. By this time there were three people in unexpected positions. Marty almost went down too, as he stepped on his lunch bag and it gave way in a mushy slide of five day old banana and a tuna fish sandwich. He ended up kicking the mess under the cab and taking a few more steps. Which one of these daytime people did you help first?
Darryl head the noise as he climbed back out onto the landing. It was all happening at once, a cacophony of effects, like the chorus of a line of angry coffee shop customers all upset about their drink orders and slinging foam and whipped cream onto the floor while a manager yelled “Darryl get the mop!”. He spilled the coffee on his pants leg. It wasn’t hot, but he felt like he’d just pissed his pants with a warm, runny, creamy, frothy, foamy with cinnamon, fresh batch of angry piss with a sprinkle or two on top.
There was something like the sound of a purse hitting the ground – a clatter of keys, and another pair of sounds – a thud and a smack, like someone trying to shut the tail gate on a delivery truck and the load wouldn’t let it. That’s how you got your coffee – truck backed right up to the back of the store, and then you went and helped unload when you were finished with the mopping. It’s not like they air dropped it in. Is this coffee fresh? One day Darryl was definitely getting on a plane, his first, and flying out of this burb. Interspersed with these noises was that chorus of f*cking customers, only they were agitated enough to get more than rude. More than rude by a long stretch. Darryl heard “f*ck” (a woman’s voice) and while she was saying “watch where the f*ck you’re…” she heard an agonized cry and another woman yelling “f*ck – f*cking idiot…” and then a slurred, enraged male voice shouting “f*ck me!”
Darryl saw the cab driver first, as he got to his knee soaked in his own coffee. F*cking customers. The driver dropped something, and was hesitating, like he was going to run after something important, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Darryl stumbled to his feet and leaned out and to the left to see what the driver was looking at, and that’s when his feet slid on the mess he’d just made around his legs. It was like flying.
Marty never looked up. He saw a white blur the size of a baseball hit the sidewalk in front of him, shattering into glassy fragments that spread out in all directions, but he didn’t have time to wonder what it was. It was like something cut off his brain’s ability to make sense of the image, like happens in dreams sometimes if you’re strung out awake and then crash for an hour just before the dawn. He crumpled like a cardboard box when you break it down for the dumpster, with the weight crashing onto him from above like a giant stomping foot. All he could think was “son of a bitch!”
No one commented on Jill’s hair at the office. Cheryl never waved at another man. Stilson got the most amazing head rush of his life – totally worth the price of the haircut they gave him when they went to work on the damage. Marty finally got to sleep during the day. Darryl had always dreamed of flying.
F*ck your day job. If you hold onto your dreams (or at least your anger), and don’t lose your sense of balance (or even if you do), you’ll always get what you want in the end.