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


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