(Art by spoon+fork.)
You know you’re addicted to coffee when the first cup makes you sleepier. The second cup gets you back to where you were. The third cup gives you the gift of speech.
My caffeine habit had become an addiction, though it was born out of counteracting Howard’s weed.
But the real reason why I was drinking so much coffee, according to Howard, was that while I was in prison they were piping drugs into our drinking water to kill our sexual impulses. Otherwise we’d all end up jerking off all the time or tackling each other in the shower. Caffeine was helping to put my body chemistry back to normal.
“If you ever have to go back to jail, don’t drink the water they give you in the cup or from the sink,” Howard said. “Drink water from the toilet tank. They don’t add in anything and it’s still potable water.”
“I’m not drinking from the goddamn toilet. I’m not a dog.”
“Then tell me something. You still getting hard?”
“You want to know stories about my cock, ask your mother.”
Howard scratched at his chest.
“My mom died when I was a kid, Sean,” he said quietly. “I thought you knew.”
“I’m sorry, man. I did know.”
“That was one of the reasons why I got left back. I missed my finals that year.”
“I’m really sorry, Howard.”
“It may be best to stop talking about it now, Sean. I already know you’re sorry.”
“Howard,” I said, “you said something before about looking for a job?”
“I was saying that I know that you’re looking for another job. I can tell.” Howard was leaning against the sink, lightly squeezing a ketchup packet between his palms.
“How can you tell?” I asked. I wasn’t about to explain my midday dope-smoking sessions on the roof. Never give up a good hiding spot.
“Doesn’t make sense for a man to be eating before a lunch break,” said Howard with a smug smile on his face. I smiled back and felt like throwing the rest of my coffee at him.
“I don’t blame you at all,” he said. “Today’s work environment demands a diverse skillset. Putting this in layman’s terms, you need to work a lot of different jobs such as this before you can have a real career.”
“Where else have you worked, Howard?”
“I was a copy editor at The Beachcomber.” That was the free newspaper that came out in the summer. “I was in charge of copying movie reviews from the Internet and then formatting them into our layout. I brought over Adobe Creative Suite from my college and installed it in The Beachcomber‘s PCs. After I showed my boss how to use Photoshop and Illustrator, they fired me.”
“Well, I was glad for the journalistic experience. It’s made me a broader applicant. I’m not looking now, but it’s always nice to have. Nearly all the other jobs in Shore Points are based on services for tourists. It also looks good that I’m in a supervisory position here.”
“You’re my supervisor?”
“I am by default. I do have seniority over you. But don’t worry, I can give you a fancy title for when you apply for jobs. How about ‘Afternoon Shift Manager’?”
“Actually, that sounds pretty important. Maybe you’re onto something.”
“And when they call to confirm your position, I’ll tell them.”
I saw a group of people making their way to our shack. I gulped down the rest of the coffee, slid open the window and asked what they wanted.
Michael and Robert Conti never came around, never checked in, never called to ask why the hell Howard and I acted like we were stoned all day.
Instead, Andrea Conti came up in a beat-up former potato-chip truck on Thursdays. Through a few layers of spray-painted silver, you could still clearly see the Wise Potato Chips bag and giant logo with the raised eyebrow.
Andrea raised both eyebrows the first time she saw me. She was about half a foot shorter than me.
“Wow, how’s the weather up there, huh?” was the first thing she asked me. I looked down at Andrea and saw that her glossy black hair and sour-apple green eyes made her completely unforgettable.
“Fuck you,” I said with all sincerity and a smile. I sensed the obscene route was the way to go with her.
She smiled and went to the back of the walk-in truck to open the doors. Howard came out, wiping his hands on his apron.
“How are you, Andrea?” he asked.
“Good. Who’s the tall and foul-mouthed type?”
“That’s Sean. He’s new.”
“Oh, he’s the guy. . .”
“Hello, Andrea,” I said.
Her eyes flashed and she disappeared into the back of the truck.
“Who is she?” I asked Howard.
“That’s Michael Conti’s daughter.”
“She looks old enough.”
“Don’t even think of putting any moves on her, Sean.”
“Guys can you give me a hand in here?” Andrea called from the truck.
We unloaded supplies for the hamburger stand, boxes of frozen patties, hot dogs and buns. I checked the expiration dates.
“Hey, these hot dogs are overdue, and so are those hamburger buns!”
“What’s the big deal?” asked Andrea.
“I took a course in food safety. You can’t sell food that has expired.”
“Just wash your hands and cook the meat. Everything will be fine.”
I looked at Howard. Moving those boxes took a lot out of him and he was leaning against the prep counter, drinking a soda.
“You have to take this away,” I told her. “Or I have to throw it out.”
“Are you trying to piss off Michael?”
“I’m supposed to report something like this.”
“Look, if you didn’t have this job, Slim, your probation would be a lot harder.”
“I like ‘Slim’ better.”
We got into the back of the truck and sat on opposing humps over the back wheels. The truck bed floor was a little sticky with melted ice and blood.
“Look, Slim, these are the leftovers from the Conti Brothers restaurant in Bayonne. If they didn’t bring them here, they’d end up in the garbage. Isn’t that a waste?”
“It could make people sick.”
“The only time people get sick is when you don’t cook the meat enough. The bacteria are always there — even before the food expires — but the right amount of heat will kill them.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Course I’m right. Hey, you like the way I look?”
“What have you got down there?” Her hands were against the insides of my thighs.
“Howard,” was all I could say.
“He doesn’t know what the fuck is going on.” She unzipped my fly with one hand and spat in the other. “I bet you haven’t been with a woman in a while.”
It had been more than a year.
With the cold, professional indifference of a supermarket baker squeezing some kid’s name on a birthday cake, Andrea gave me a handjob and I came onto that scummy floor.
Abruptly, she walked up to the cab, sat down and started the engine.
“Can you shut the doors on your way out, Slim?” she asked without even looking back. I zipped up and hopped out. I barely had the doors closed when the truck took off.
“What were you doing in there?” Howard asked when I walked in, stiff-legged.
“Do not even think of hitting on her, unless you’re in the mood to sleep with the fishes. You know what I’m saying?”
I looked forward to Andrea’s weekly visits, even after she told me she lied to Howard about being Michael Conti’s daughter and was really his second wife.
(Part 7 next week.)