Doris, a recipient of direct deposit, was fit to be tied Friday morning. Upon calling into her bank in the wee hours of the morning, just after having finished what must have been less than a shot or two of rum in a big bottle that was supposed to last all week, my friend appeared haggard, angry and ready to “bust some ass”. I said good morning to her and that’s when it all came flying out at me, as if I were some kind of therapist, just because I’m white.
“That son of a bitch!” was all she said. I didn’t even have to ask. I feared what the amount of my own paycheck might be. Following the loss of a major contract for one of our paycheck companies, the general manager “had to” cut the rate of pay for on-demand jobs. On Demand is a side of the business that Doris works like a hooker on 42nd Street. It is a service of the delivery industry that offers the picking up a package from one New York City address and delivering it to another, all within a time frame of an hour or so. Before there was e-mail, the city was filled with thousands upon thousands of messengers on bikes who did this type of service. Following September 11th, and new screenings that were put into effect along with mankind’s obsession with digital media, the job became harder and harder. One cannot chain up a bike as easily and these screenings often take upwards of twenty minutes or so. Unlike with paychecks, where couriers deliver to a certain NYC neighborhood, to the same customers on the same day of every week, on demand is a whole new game—there is always two new faces that need ass kissings, unlike with paychecks where our customers already know us. On Demand is a bitch, but Doris, being a veteran of the place, has clout. She worked closely with the dispatcher and weeded out on demand jobs that were within walking distance of the warehouse, and those jobs that tended to pay more, for whatever reason. Some on demand jobs offer just $3.00 a delivery, while others pay upwards of $20. It seemed the only logical explanation was some clients had to pay more than others. No one ever understood the reasoning behind these rates, but in any case, couriers were no longer going to receive those big jobs that Doris once hogged all for herself.
In addition to her monopoly on On- Demand, Doris has a paycheck route—an area within a ten block radius of the warehouse. Having done this job for so long, she knows how to sneak inside of NYC buildings, often using freight entrances, long before the massive 9 am rush. The black woman with bleached blonde hair has been a foot messenger for nearly a decade now. Every doorman along her route knows her well. Prior to yesterday, she was often back at the warehouse by 11:00 am, when most couriers are just getting started on their routes, further away from the area that Doris has on lock down. She was ready to take on more on-demand jobs by 11:00, which at one time, paid upwards of $15 a pop. Now Steve cut the rate and Doris was fit to be tied.
“The mother fucker put me deeper and deeper down in the hole, chop, chop, cut, cut, here and there, saving every damned dime for himself just so he can lose it on those fucking horses. I don’t know what this Walmart world is coming to. I think one day, man is going to be gone and the fucking dinosaurs are going to make a comeback” she said to me on her way out of the job at 8 am, sharply.
Often I leave with her and we smoke cigarettes together on our way to Seventh Avenue. My paycheck route is that way, just East of Doris’s. I was running late Friday morning. I had a delivery due at 7:30 am at a charity that pays a premium rate to have their check delivered by 7:30 am, but the company I work for, a non-charity, does not pay me the on demand rate for it. A mere dollar fifty is all I make. It typically comes every other Thursday, but a correction came in yesterday, or perhaps it was a bonus check that came, so I had to skip my ass on over to 11th Avenue and 26th Street just after I had seen that terrible look upon Doris’s face that I know all so well.
I still hadn’t seen Steve to get my own check. I didn’t have time to walk with Doris, knowing she likes to get a head start on the snooty people who hog elevator space along her route. I could tell she needed to get out of there before she went off on Steve’s ass.
“I don’t know how you do what you do, Doris,” I said, as she headed out the door with a Newport hanging from her lips, that despite the years and all that bad weather are still as pretty as a rose. I noticed her hair has already started to grow back in; those black roots are in demand of another bleaching. She bleached and shaved it just last week. She gave herself another make-over after suffering from a terrible cold and missing a few days of work due to a slight chill she caught back in February.
“My daughter cut my hair and cut out that cold right out of me. It feels so good,” she said the day before she bleached it again. I guess summer is coming. I wondered why she hadn’t bleached or cut it all winter, but there they were, those black roots on that blonde head again. Her hair is so short, shaved almost, yet she keeps it blonde, constantly.
“I pray a lot,” Doris remarked after I noted that I did not know how she does what she does. She held her much younger looking face and head slightly higher and smiled at me with her bad teeth. She had at least thirty pounds of paychecks hanging from her back in a backpack, and other white envelopes were stuffed in a plastic bag that she held in the hand that wasn’t going to hold the Newport Doris was just about to smoke.
Already, I knew, she had a plan to make more money somehow in the highly competitive messenger industry.