Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tkhine in Av

A hummingbird drinks
red salvia
as sparrows flit
from their high-wire act
into a robe of trees.

Cats sit
like redwood burls at the end
of my couch.
The long yawning prepares for night.

Daylight shows up.
Fog lifts
summer peacock
feathers fan green and blue
over the water

routine throws a switch
and I'm back.

Sometimes I wish
I could shake out politics and money
from the daily wash.

A fistful of licorice twists
a pot of purple basil.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tkhine in Tammuz

"Of all our feelings the only one which really doesn't belong to us is hope. Hope belongs to life, it's life itself defending itself," Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch

A sprig of snipped wire falls at my feet.
My neighbor recites a litany of her past dogs.

There is a tight black place behind my eyelids.
I have a crazy longing for a cigarette.

In summer, Big Sur never sleeps.
A franchise of fire marks up the sky.

My lover is gone for six days a week.
He warned me about that.

I didn't listen, protected
in his arms from my alarm clock.

Why worry about something
when it doesn't rest upon the mantlepiece?

Better to take things as they come.
As time shortens, pine needles scratch at the air.

Only sing to me, Shekhinah.
Your Love pools in my heart.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


A job where I made a ton of money? I wish it had been different. But that's water under the toll booth now.

My father thought work was supposed to be meaningful, a mechanic who wanted machines not to just operate safely, but well. Pops liked to fiddle around with things, could spend an entire weekend getting the rear view mirror of his Chevy set at the right angle so he'd always be able to spot a police car behind him.

On principle, he didn't believe in paying parking tickets, and so his car was always in danger of being towed. He thought it was outrageous that he had to feed the meter. "It's another tax," he said. "Everyone's got their damn hands in my damn pockets," and he'd start tossing forks at the dart board that hung outside the kitchen.

My sister, Cindy and I would just giggle, not sure what else to do. Sometimes we'd come home and ask, "Where's dad?"

My mother would say, "He's at the tow yard." I'm not sure when he figured out that it cost more money to get his Chevy at of the yard than it was to pay the meter. But then he stopped coming home for totally different reasons.

I didn't understand it all, and I'm not making excuses for him either. The parking meters were only part of it.

A piece of him fell away each time he had to say "yes" just to please a person above him who didn't care or know anything about the hum of metal. Like I said, he loved machines, and couldn’t work for anyone who didn't feel the same way. He got fired from job after job until he decided to keep his mouth wired shut. Then another piece of him fell away.

My mother watched his happen. She knew there was nothing she could do. "If he wants to act like a fool that's none of my business," she'd say to me as I helped her carry the clothes back into the house from the outside washing machine. "And I'd be a fool to try and change his stripes."

But she wasn't as understanding when he came home past our bed time. I could hear them arguing from my room. "At the tow yard tonight, Sid?" They both knew he wasn't at the tow yard, at least not the way she meant, since he had paid a shit load of money to clear his record of parking tickets so that every cop on the beat wouldn't threaten him with revoking his license.

"I was down there giving some old engines a look. Said they might pay me for fixing them up. The old man down there sells used cars on the side" That was the story. But after my mother didn't see money coming home, she began to get suspicious. He didn't want to compromise for her either, couldn't do that one-man one-woman thing.

After awhile, they just stopped talking, one of the reasons I've never wanted to get married. I take after my father, probably why I understand him so well, at least that's what Cindy says. But he did teach me something about compromise.

The kicker is that the longer I work in Central Dispatch, the more I've come to see how all the people working around me made the same compromise. We're here to pay our bills, even if it started as something else at first.

Some days I look at them, my co-workers who ask me how I am in the morning and tell me good-night before I walk out the door, and I don't like them. Because they help me to see who and what I've become.

"Hump day," says Danila.

"Two more to go," I answer. We do the math in the elevator, in the parking lot, at our desks.

"Doing anything this weekend?" he asks.

"May go to my sister's,"

"C'mon, man. Why don't you come over the house and we'll watch the game together?"

"Next weekend," I promise him again. One of these days I really will go to Danila's . Right now, I'm still figuring things out.

I watch management practice a pagan religion of who is the King of the Hill. The King answers to the Board of Directors. Lines of loyalty radiate from there. It's only partly about work.

I know how my father must've felt. Each day I slough off another part of myself. One day I say something to the sheriff that I know is incorrect because I'm covering for a supervisor who didn't fill out his paperwork correctly. Another time, I don't respond right away when a driver radios me for help because I can't quickly pinpoint his call. It's a slow erosion. The next day I try to do better. All I have to measure myself against is the work and for that I am grateful.

So when Carter comes up to me and asks, "Henry, can you do a shift this weekend?" I don't resent him. He knows I don't have family and like coming in to make a few extra bucks

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Goat and a Slinky

My avatar, the LeftOver Chef is in the house tonight.

You gotta know what to do with leftovers, otherwise that get pushed further back into the refrigerator until they disappear into mold workings. Cans of garbanzo beans. Old spaghetti. Grated cheese. Or chicken from last weekend. Freezing? I'm not a big fan. My mission is to enter the kitchens of online households everywhere. Give me a bunch of leftovers and I guarantee to make a tasty meal.

Watch as the LeftOver Chef performs kitchen surgery on yesterday's dinner. Nothing in my grocery bag. Nothing up my sleeve. No casseroles cooking in the oven. How will you recognize me onscreen? I have a full head of black hair streaked silver in front, and a handlebar mustache. My secret word is "passelhump" and my weapon is in turning over burgers. I can to wipe out my enemies in a single flip.

I travel seeking out nasty refrigerators throughout the Web, not exactly the Web, but in the pages of Second Story, my home away from home, my vacation spot that costs nothing but a yearly subscription.

I didn't just get here. At first, I wasn't sure who I wanted to be. There was a virtual closet of wigs, shirts, shoes, even belt buckles. Of course, I wanted to be a man. That part was easy. The question was, what kind of man? And I don't mean tall, medium, or short either.

I started off as the Animator. He was a fun guy. My secret weapon was that I could animate other avatars coming at me with full guns bloated. Then I could zap! Turn them into a dancing tie wrench, or Robin Williams, or Joe Bazooka. After I turned this guy with biceps that had Popeye's DNA written all over them into a squeaking mouse, I felt that I'd reached the zenith of my powers.

So I turned in the Animator guy's password at the programmer's chop house, and went searching for another character. A car with five superjets? I'm not mechanically inclined. Some guys love to tinker, but not me. A regular guy in a suit and tie. Duh. That's who I get to be most of the time. So I lurked around as a nobody, checking out the action.

Some wild parties up on Hunts Point Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard. A lot of smooth lines drove around that corner, which is when one decked out babe pushed a bag into my hand and said, "hold this for me." It's the kind of thing airport security warns you about. "Please inform security if you see an unattended bag, blah, blah, blah." But this was no bomb or bag of weed. It was a container of milk, a can of tuna, cheddar cheese and chips. And only a message at the bottom which read: "You're trapped in a well with a goat and a slinky. Describe how you escape."

The solution was simple. First, I had to make friends with the goat. So I fed him the paper bag. It was a big paper bag. Then I used a temporary password for the Animator whom I'd already retired but who still had one last good round, and used that time to turn myself into a half-pint person, stepped on the goat's back as he was finishing the last remaining shreds of the paper bag, jumped on the slinky, slamming it with all my weight, which propelled me from the goat's hairy back up to the ledge of the well. There I hung. Having hooked my foot around the slinky, I grabbed it, wrapped the wire with one hand around a rock, while I held on to the ledge with my other hand, and finally pulled myself up.

The goat was still at the bottom of the well with the rest of my groceries. Not wanting to seem ungrateful to he who had provided my means of support but with no further powers of the Animator at my command, I searched the landscape for a large bucket with a good rope that I managed to secure around the girth of the goat and hauled him and my groceries into the light of Thursday. I had one minute remaining and none too soon before the Animator avatar expired. I was no longer a half-pinter, but felt like a beer anyway. I retired to the nearby pub.

After I sipped my beer down to a foam mustache, it was time to get busy. With no paper bag, I stuffed my groceries beneath my windbreaker and searched for a kitchen in Second Story. Now there are different organizing principles around the place. I didn't want to search by country. Just by room. I selected "kitchen" from a drop-down list. There I was in this kitchen with granite this and and gleaming stainless steel that like some realtor had staged the place and forgotten to cart home the goodies.

I made myself at home and started cooking. Milk, tuna, cheddar cheese and chips? They don't call me a bachelor for nothing. I knew exactly what to do. I looked in the pantry and found flour. There was a stick of butter chilling in the refrigerator.

I made a tuna casserole, crumbled some of the chips over the top and circled the rest around the platter. Then all these people started showing up in the kitchen, nodding and smiling at me, talking in different languages. I didn't know what the hell they were saying, except I figured it had to do something with the food, because they were all pointing at the center of the table. So then I said the word, "passelhump." It just seemed like the right thing to do. Everyone sat down. They waiting for me to sit down also before we began to eat.

I always knew work had to be fun.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Me & My Blue Tooth

"How you doing?" says Carver, my manager, a short guy with a sarcastic sense of humor that can get really old when it's not funny, which is most of the time.

I'm built like a bus driver big around the middle with a bad back, an occupational hazard of sitting in one place for 8 hours a day. Exercise? Eating right? It sounds good on paper. "Just fine."

"How's the back?" I was out for a few days last month for physical therapy. I'm still taking a shitload of drugs for pain, supposed to gradually cut down the dosage. I don't know what the hell the doctor gave me. He said there could be side effects. Great. The company bought me this ergonomic chair so they don't have an OSHA lawsuit on their hands. But I appreciate it, anyway.

"You look like a big hen sitting in that chair. Don't hatch any eggs," says Carver.

Real wise guy. The only difference between the two of us is that we're just located at different places on the same hell hole, that's all.

Now the room is glowing with computer screens, the hum of our voices talking over a Blue Tooth. This is my favorite time when I'm center stage with the video of buses coming over the Bay Bridge, the whole Bay Area scaled down to bus routes and traffic patterns, as they turn different colors to indicate what's happening. Captain Kirk never had it so good. My cell phone vibrates on my belt, but I don't answer. I'll see who called later. Right now the light is shifting toward dusk. For the first time since I got back to work, I'm starting to relax.

I rub my scalp. There's an annoying bump on my head, a cyst. I forgot to ask the doctors to look at it when I was in the hospital.

"Stop." I hear a small squeaky voice.

"Who's that?" I speak into my Blue Tooth. "What's your route and block number?"

"It's me, doofus." something that my sister's six year old kid would say. "Up here."

"You gotta be kidding."

"I tired of hanging here by myself. You should pay me more attention."

"You can't talk. It's not possible."

"Who says I can't?"

"If you can, I think it's time for me to retire."

"Why don't you?"

"There's a thousand reasons," I say.

"Name one," says the squeak.

This little hooligan is showing no respect. "For one, no medical coverage. What am I supposed to do about my bad back?"

"Tsk, tsk. Is that all you've got? A bad back?"

The flickering light of my screen is entering an opening in my forehead between my eyebrows. Or maybe it's one of the streetlamps. I'm getting flustered. "Listen, buddy. There's something called a pension, and I won't be able to collect it for another 10 years."

"Then what are you planning to do?"

"Keep working, of course."

"Your funeral. Ever think of doing something else?" Now I hear another noise. This nut case is actually chewing gum.

I turn off the Blue Tooth, hoping that might shut him up. "I don't know what else to do," and before I can say anything else, the squeak jumps in quick. "Have you considered a career in cooking?"


"Sure. You spend hours every night preparing lunch for yourself." I guess that's true. I cook every night between the six o'clock and 10 o'clock news. But a career? The little guy's head sure is screwed on the wrong way, or whatever it is he does have. "And face it, bubba. That's what you do when you're online. Maybe you can fool Carver, but you don't fool me for a minute."

"Give it to me straight, Clyde."

"You have a lot of time on your hands."

Carver is coming toward me with another one of this dumb jokes. I go back to my screens and think that this has not been one of my best evenings.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Summer is a Sunshine Sandwich

It's hump day and I'm sitting on the camel's back. July 4th is coming up for a long weekend. I might go to the big barbeque with my sister's family about an hour away from me in Vallejo. But if I go, I face the interrogation.

"Henry," my sister always says in that annoying authoritative way that older sisters have, convinced that she knows how to live my life better than I do. Sometimes I think she's right, but I'd never in a million years give her satisfaction of saying so. "Why don't you get married? You're getting too old to be living on your own. A person needs company." She and her husband look up at each other, their eyes meeting over their salad bowls. They've been married for more than 20 years and actually like each other.

Cindy's a former programmer who's now a librarian in the local school district and Ron worked his way up from a grocery clerk to becoming the manager of a chain of small specialty grocery stores.

"I have to meet somebody first," I hedge, something which I think should be obvious to most people. But Cindy isn't most people. She sits up straight in her chair, and focuses her green eyes right where she knows I can't hide. "What about that woman you met online that you were telling me about?"

I should've never said a thing. "What about her?" I say, and stuff a large piece of lettuce into my mouth. Between cholesterol and high blood pressure, we don't eat much meat anymore.

"We went out for coffee."

"That's it? For coffee?"

"I had a regular and she had a soy latte. I knew right away that it wouldn't work."

"How can you say that?" She looks at Ron for spousal support.

Ron ducks back down in the salad. I owe him a game of Gin Rummy. "Don't get me involved," he says. "I know how the two of you can be."

So I tell Cindy that we drank coffee, talked for an hour, and then decided to leave. She worked at the university in the Graduate School of Business Administration and wasn't my type. I'm sure I wasn't hers. Gucci bag, red nails, blonde streaked brown hair with two college degrees. She told me about her divorce and kayaking. Kayaks on the estuary every weekend and documents different kinds of birds, part of a wetland restoration program. Cindy ohhs and ahhs, and thinks that's really cool. Maybe I'd like to come along some time, blah, blah, blah. What was I going to say? Tell her I don't go yakking on the very first date? Seriously, she just didn't stop talking, overly nervous. I close down when I'm nervous. Cindy thinks I should give it a try, call up the yakker. I think Cindy is full of shit.

I think I'm a late bloomer, or maybe I bloomed too early. I don't know anymore. Never got married because I was too busy figuring things out. Now I'm not too sure what I figured. All I know is that things are the way they are, so why change them? I've got a job, a pension which not a lot of people can say these days. Cindy also thinks I'm full of shit. So now we're even.

It's time for me to go back to my apartment. I wish I had more friends.

Danila is my friend. We've been working next to each other for the last year. He offers me a can of Coke. "Yeah, thanks man." I pop the top and take a swig, glad to have something in my stomach. We work the same shift starting at 4:30pm. Danila came over to this country three years ago from Romania and has a degree in electrical engineering but can't get a job in his field because he doesn't have the right degrees. He's happy to work the swing shift and do electrical jobs on the weekend for some contractor friend.

"You want chips?" he pushes a bag toward me. Cheetos. I like anything with cheese.

"Thanks, man. I owe you."

"Nothing," says Danila who wears a watch embedded with dark red stones. He says they're garnets. He says he got it in Romania many years ago. "A few more hours," he says. It's been slow tonight."

I hate it when it's slow. Better when there are accidents, or when the drivers call in about some problem on their route. That way, the shift doesn't just drag. I'm sitting here monitoring screen displays. I surf the Internet whenever I can. The company has pornography sites blocked. Too bad. Not that I'd expect anything different. "Greg says that we may have to work a double-shift tomorrow night because one of the regular guys are out sick."

"No can do, man. I need to bring my car in to the shop tomorrow." I really know that Danila has a special evening planned for his wife's birthday."

"No sweat," I say. "I can do it."

"Say. What are you doing for the July 4th weekend? Want to come by and cook up a few sausages?" Danila wasn't a big man on the barbeque, but he liked sausages, special ones that he ordered from somewhere back east.

"Thanks, man. I don't think so."

"You got plans?"

"Yeah," I say. "My sister's invited me over."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A & E and the Story of Retirement

Work came into being when Eve plucked the apple from Tree, and God showed Adam and Eve where to find the time clock. Of course, each tradition tells a different version of that ground-breaking event, however some kind of tree be it ash, banyon, or tamarind usually figures into the recitation. But as human beings rarely agree on anything, every tradition would like to believe that their version is the absolute right one. As far as I'm concerned this makes as much sense as arguing over operating systems because when you come right down to it, all systems are buggy. It's just that some systems are more venerable to hackers.

So the question is—do I expect to be lounging around in my flannel pagodas sipping Bloody Marys on a deck in 10 years? You bet your red socks I do. It's called Retirement, a subject on which I've been known to religiously expound especially on the way up the elevator on any Monday morning. So after Adam and Eve got expelled from the garden, there was no more low-hanging fruit to pick from the Tree. Anyhow, there was no need to pick because they'd already figured out that they weren't going to live in a perfect world.

In this imperfect world as soon as they touched a branch, berries no longer grew from a bush, and when they picked an orange and placed it on the ground inside a leaf, they could no longer count upon the naranjo to spontaneously peel and dissolve into juice with pulp like from the finest Maui resort. The fact is they were hungry and unless they could figure out a way to fill their stomachs, hunger would come knocking upon their door. Work was no longer a concept. It had suddenly become all but too real. Fast forward past Cain and Abel, which for Adam and Eve meant more work.

Did they have a great role model here? It's not that I'm trying to be critical. Just look at the facts. You might disagree with me, but the Bible isn't exactly a handbook for new parents. God got ticked off about the whole Tree thing and told A & E where to go. There was nothing pretty about it. Abel keeps sheep, Cain tills the soil until he goes East of Eden, and A & E earn their daily bread with a lot of ritual sacrifice to fill up the down time.

So finally one day Eve sits down on a rock near their 3-bedroom, no bath house and looks at her reflection in a pool of sweet water. "Uggh!" She traces her finger across the wrinkles of her brow, cups her breasts with her hands and lets them parachute back down again. She looks a mess, plus there's that pain in her right finger joint that might be arthritis and there's no Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. "Adam," she says. "Where are you? We need to talk."

Adam comes hobbling out of the house and hitches up his pants. He was taking a nice snooze on the bedroom mat and isn't pleased that Eve has awakened him. Adam has reached the ripe age where he understands that not everything needs to be done immediately. He wishes it hadn't taken him so long to come to that fragile realization, but nonetheless, is glad that he finally gets it. Maybe he wouldn't have been so quick to eat the apple, at least told Eve that he needed to sleep on it before making a decision. But after 30 years, that's all water under the big rock, which is where Eve is standing motioning to him. Does he love her? Of course he does.

”What took you so long?"

He bends down and splashes water in his face from the pool. "I was sleeping. What did you want to talk about?"

She motions for him to sit down on the rock. "I'm tired, Adam. Look at me. Once my face was smooth like polished marble. Now it's filled with so many wrinkles, I could plant seeds inside its furrows."

"You will always be beautiful to me, Eve."

"Don't be a fool," she says, brushing away his hand from her shoulder. "What I'm trying to say is that I'm tired and I can't keep going like this. And look at you." She motions to the body that could once hold its own on Muscle Beach without steroids. "You cough more during the night than you sleep. And you're always falling asleep during the day."

"So what are you saying?"

"I think we should stop working."

"Stop working?" Adam looks around and lowers his voice. "But you know we can't."

"Give me one good reason why not."

He looks at her dumbfounded. "Surely you remember the Apple thing. We'd be putting our lives in jeopardy."

But Eve is the materialist. With three babies and no help, she's had to be. "I say we should stop working. My fingers hurt all the time from weaving and baking. We've saved enough all these years."

"I'm not so sure," says Adam, who is suddenly warming up to Eve's idea, but is trying to not let it show. After all, he's not able to run to the next mountain anymore, and certainly not to where the pomegranate trees grow. He used to be able to do that in a half day and now it takes him several. He's tired also.

"I can't keep living like this." Eve is excited now, splashing her foot in the water. "After Cain and Abel and then Seth, I need a break." And then she says something truly amazing. "Adam, we both deserve it."

A sense of entitlement had never occurred to him. He thought they'd both lost any privilege they once enjoyed. What a novel idea. Adam pulls himself up from his seat and once again hitches up his pants. "Let's talk about this in the morning," he says. "I need to sleep on it."

Adam is pleased that he’s figured out a way to finish his nap.

He lies back down on the mat and falls asleep. Then he dreams of Eve proffering the Apple and his thinking, “Why the heck not?” But everything caves in and God starts to hurl thunderbolts and chase them away saying a bunch of mean things just because they were covered up with that year’s pick of banana leaves. Sure, it was a long time ago, but here was Adam having a flashback.

Still, he had to admit her idea did have some merit. Stop working. Get up every morning and listen to the birds singing without digging in the potato patch. He remembered how Eve had figured out a way to dry their food by leaving it in the sun for a few days on the big rock. And he had stored away strips of meat in the smokehouse on several threads of sinew. He thought about it some more. They’d eat through their provisions within six months flat.

But Eve had a good idea. She wasn’t the only one who was tired of doing the same thing every day, and he longed to travel before his hide permanently dried up like one of the hairy oxen around the place. God had never actually put a ban on broadening horizons, at least He hadn’t said anything about visiting rights. Just the messy stuff about sweat and toil and pain. He woke up refreshed from his nap, again threw water on his face, said a few ritual prayers, and sought out Eve’s whereabouts.

She was sitting outside the kitchen running her fingers through her hair. It used to be long and black, but now was speckled white like his. “I need a comb,” she said. “Since I lost my old fish bone, it's always knotty.”

He sits down on the ground next to her and takes her hand. “You’re right.”

“After 40 years, now you're agreeing with me?”

“Not about your hair,” he says realizing his faux pas. We need a break. Maybe we can’t stop working because it’s been decreed by you-know-who, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us slowing down. Maybe for three or four months,” he calculated, thinking they had just about enough food stored up for that amount of time. "Then let's take it from there."

Adam was glad he had slept on it. Eve was pleased she’d suggested the idea to him.
Little did they know what they were contributing to future generations of human beings.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Midnight at the Oasis

I spend 75 percent of my time on the phone with two 15 minute breaks when I fly to New York to meet a guy who doesn't know me from Madame Tussuad's.

"Where the hell did you come from?" He's walking in the theater district around 47th Street pulling a shopping cart that's filled with a bunch of stuffed plastic bags. "I'm in a hurry," he says.

"I have as much right to the street as you do," I tell him. He's grinding the wheels into my ankle. What an idiot. I give the cart a kick. There's plenty of room to go around.

"Ill show you who has to slow down." He hooks his leg behind my knee. But before he can, I spin away and land on the other side of him, near the curb.

"Stupid motherfucker," he says in an accent that could be Eastern European, maybe Romanian, and keeps pulling the cart along the pavement, waiting at the crosswalk. It's around 5pm and the temperature is a dropping fist. I don't have gloves and my hands are cold.

Now we're both there waiting for the light to turn green. All the yellow taxis are speeding by. After all, it is New Years Eve. "What you got in that cart?" I'm half hoping for gloves. Mine are in the car.

He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and stares at me with brown eyes, not too sure if he wants to answer. His hair is also brown. His olive complexion is overgrown with stubble.

"You stupid, man."

"Henry," I say and offer my hand. At that moment, the light turns green and he barrels across the street, a few taxis are still trying to edge their way over the white line to make a photo finish. I have no idea why I'm following him, except that I have nothing better to do. Shoving my hands deep inside my windbreaker are not keeping them warm. Waves of people are hurrying by, women in high heels with cleavage and rhinestones, men in suits, perfume and cologne mix and freeze into slush. There are enough kids on skateboards and people in jeans and t-shirts to fill up a baseball stadium.

He parts the crowd behind his wheels. I'm the first one there following behind him.

"Julio," I say. "Wait up!"

"My name's not Julio," he turns around and looks at me over his shoulder. "Scum bag."

Whatever did I do to deserve such endearment? Cars are honking and there's the general din of people shouting with cell phones ringing from a hundred different top ten lists. We pass a few Greek restaurants and I smell gyros and grilled onions. I'm beginning to lose him, but now I have to keep up, just to see if I can. "Wait up! Hey, shopping cart! You! Me Henry! It's New Years, man. Bad luck to start off with bad vibes." And just like that he turns around and grabs me by my wrist and pulls me along side him with a few people jumping away like they don't want to be contaminated.

"Danila!" This time he extends his hand. "Hurry your feet."

"Where we going?"

"To the restaurant," he says. "I cook tonight. It's a big party." Danila thumps the side of the shopping cart. "This way. We're almost there." And he turns the corner on two wheels to a rundown looking restaurant called the Oasis on 8th Avenue with a striped white and green awning. "In here?"

"You got gloves? My hands are freezing"

He pulls me inside. "It's warm."

It was warm alright. Two other men and woman were standing behind a chopping block and looking up at us holding steel knives. "Danila," says the woman, wiping her hands on an apron. "We thought you'd never get here."

"The streets are like subways. No room to move." He points at me. "Henry will help us. Right?" He looks at me while he removes several slabs of beef from the shopping cart and throws them on the chopping block.

Now I have a lot of experience in customer service but none in cooking. I think what the hell. I know how to make scrambled eggs, but I can see that eggs are not on the menu. The men are mixing a yellowish sauce and drizzling some over a long rectangular tray. One of them gives a few twists of a pepper mill and shoves the dish into the largest oven I've ever seen in my life.

"You!" One of them points to me. "Wash up back there. Put on this jacket and then you can work the desk." He throws a cranberry jacket at me and goes back to his cooking. Danila opens a door to the outside of the restaurant. There are several crystal chandeliers and a mosaic tile floor. I quickly count about 30 tables and a 150 seats. This is a big place.

"Where did the accident occur?" I ask in my cranberry jacket. "At the corner of MacArthur and Broadway?" I see it on my screen. I press the phone and dial for someone from the sheriff's office to arrive and make an accident report. Insurance has its demands. The dispatch desk says that they're sending out someone right now. It's probably helping to add a little spice to their evening. Mine too. Plus every accident is different. Sometimes it's the driver, sometimes something else. You never know.

We can't ask the police to do things like that because they have enough homicides in this downer to fill the front page of a newspaper. The City Manager says that they need 40 news officers just to keep current with retirements. Anyhow, the county Sheriff's Office knows how to fill out paper work as good as the next person. If I was starting out all over again, I might consider a job with the police. They get great pensions. But then I don't think I'd like the work.