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Tyrone lost a tooth today. He showed me the empty space.

“I need to go to the emergency room. I can’t walk around looking like this.”

“Why not? What happened?” I asked.

“It fell out today,” Tyrone shared, displaying a god-awful mouth full of semi-rotted teeth. They were all mostly still there, except to front one to my left, which seemed not all that important at all, because others had already started closing in.

I pulled out my wallet and showed Tyrone my new Obama Care insurance card that was sent to me only because Ameirhealth had updated its pharmacy services. “Look at the effective date closely. It reads ‘March 1, 2014’. I had a wisdom tooth pulled last March and didn’t even realize I had insurance at the time. I walked into that Jersey-Mendez illegal immigrant clinic and demanded that they back bill for the services I paid on a sliding scale. They wouldn’t answer my phone calls, so I had to walk into their offices in person and flash my new Obama Care card at them. It felt as though I just sneaked across a boarder or something.”

“Did they take it?”

“Of course they did. They seemed so shocked that I brought this matter to their attention. Do you have Medicaid like the Mexicans do?” I asked.

“No.. My black ass needs to get it though.”

“I don’t know if Medicaid will fix that, Tyrone. It may be considered cosmetic. I was told Medicaid pays only for preventive services.”

“This is preventive. Without that tooth I’m one ugly mother-fucker. I just want one of those teeth that clamp in. You know, they got those little metal hooks on them and you can take them out and put them in water at night.”

“Just be careful not to put it in your piss jug,” I suggested. Tyrone laughed. He informed me weeks ago that he is so old that he wakes up many times throughout the night having to pee. He keeps a piss jug next to his bed.

“I think I have that old man piss syndrome too,” I told Tyrone. “One time when I was out delivering Barnes and Noble boxes in Chelsea I had to pee so bad that I started pissing down my own leg, I picked up my clipboard and pretended to do some sort of inventory as I pissed on Bed Bath and Beyond. I helps to have a big dick.” I explained.

“You’re fucking crazy,” Tryone admitted, smiling widely and showing me his new gap that in my opinion gives the ex-con, crack dealer a certain charm.

B’s first job in life was at King’s County Psychiatric facility in Brooklyn. He worked there while still in high school. He shared many stories with me regarding what it was like working there. Despite the fact that he is a licensed undertaker, he left the field and now works at an out-patient mental health clinic in midtown Manhattan.

A new client entered the clinic on Monday. B assisted the woman with intake paperwork. They sat alone in the waiting room next to one another. Before the paperwork was complete, a case manger entered the waiting room and introduced herself to the new client whose name we shall call ‘Catrice’ due to HIPPA regulations.

Catrice, while filling-out one of many pages cried, “Ouch!”

“What’s wrong, Catrice?” The case manager asked.

“Someone hit me on the back of my head.”

B looked at the case manager and then at Catrice, whose head he saw from the corner of his eye, nudging slightly forward moments before she cried, “Ouch!”

The case manager looked at B. B, a true professional, didn’t make a face.

Last evening B couldn’t stop laughing after returning home. We sat on the bed and laughed for hours.

“I swear, I heard a slap before her head moved. It sounded just like someone getting hit on the back of the head, but no one was there but me. I’m not sure if the case manager heard it, but I sure did. Catrice was not all that upset. She acted as if she was used to it.”

After delivering 65 paychecks today, I stopped at McDonald’s at St. Mark’s Place and 1st Avenue for a dollar cup of coffee. While waiting in line for a Mexican to take my order, two Latinas from one of the islands cut the line. “This man is harassing me,” one of the young women claimed. “No, they are harassing me,” an older white gentleman who had lost his cool insisted. A Mexican lady with a fat, french-fry ass, obviously some sort of manager, spoke for a moment with the two young girls. Two teenage boys, while waiting for some sort of happy meal, jumped into the argument. One of them shouted, “Don’t worry shorty. He ain’t gonna do nothing while we’s here.”

“Go ahead, pick up that chair and hit me with it,” the  white man with grey hair shouted at the two Latinas with earphone pieces still sticking in their heavily ear- ringed ears. A women with a child were in line in front of me. “Stand over here, hon!” she instructed her bouncy, little boy. She peered over her shoulder at the white man like he had not washed his hands in the restroom with shamrock shit stains covering the toilet seat and white, tiled wall. She too was some sort of Latin.

“May I help someone?” Another Mexican lady with a Big Mac gut asked as the Mexican manager lady pretended to dial 911—“Calm down, mister,” the manager scolded in perfect English, taking sides with the other Latinas without even talking to the trembling, old white man. I thought, my God, after yet another white police officer shooting, they hate us all.

On my way out the door, I saw the fragile white man. His hands were trembling. He was writing something. I didn’t say a word to anyone. I didn’t want to instigate another Al Sharpton riot. They are all ready to hit you, then turn on their cell phone cameras, as if they are trying to set you up, like they did to that police officer dude in South Carolina

I had nothing to say. I got my coffee and ran out of there like my hair was on fire. I headed one block away to view the newly formed craters left on 2nd Avenue from the buildings that blew up last week in that awful gas explosion.

Ernest is a 300 pound foot messenger, perhaps the fattest in all of New York. Too big for a bike and just skinny enough to walk down 5th Avenue without bumping into all the well-dressed skinny white women, he makes his way across city sidewalks like a raccoon I once saw in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. He goes almost unnoticed by the affluent men and women in suits and heavy perfumes that seem to run this town. It is really men like Ernest who run the city though. Their love for White Castle cheeseburgers is the very reason White Castle is open 24 Hours. I saw Ernest inside of White Castle early one morning as I rushed down 8th Avenue just a little after six. “Holy fuck,” I mumbled as I picked up my step, pretending I did not see.

Ernest is notorious for “blowing up the spot” in the basement of the warehouse. Raphael, a tall Dominican with really pretty hair who rarely speaks a word, other than a mere whispered mumble about basketball from time to time, once addressed Ernest in front of our co-workers—

“Take care of that at home,” Raphael suggested. Everyone giggled, waving their hands in front of their faces, trying to clear the stench Ernest and White Castle.

I caught up to Ernest walking East on 29th Street later that morning. “I think this place is going under,” he said. “I had two interviews at this other place—a warehouse—they needed a fork lift operator. I thought for sure they was going to call me in, but they checked my background. Some shit that happened thirty years ago still shows up,” he informed.

“Don’t be afraid to be honest on future applications,” I suggested, “at least then you don’t get your hopes up for nothing. There are people out there that will hire you for your honesty,” I stated, but not meaning a word of it. “Things are still really bad in the job market, Ernest. Don’t believe all that shit they sell you about Wall Street, just because we have a Black president. Things were not always like this. They are either going to get better for people like you and me or the market is going to crash once and for all.”

Ernest was very silent for a few steps. He breathed heavily, as we waited for the crosswalk light to change. He said nothing, as if what I had just said was quite profound and what he had already been thinking, but moments later the light changed and Ernest burped.

Daffodils were in bloom outside of 45 Gramercy Park today. Early spring flowers that grow from bulbs catch my eye more than those reared in greenhouses and are transplanted along city sidewalks. I flicked my cigarette upon the street as I headed into the plush condo to deliver checks to the staff that work inside. The daffodils lifted my soul. I know how cold the winter was in New York. I was outside delivering in it every day.

My lover works in the neighborhood. I imagined he must have walked by these same yellow flowers. I recall the day he came home and told me that he saw pregnant Chelsea Clinton walking along the park.

“I noticed this girl across the street. She had the most beautiful coat on. You could tell it was a well made coat, not to mention the shoes she had on– it made her look just like a doll baby. But I looked at the girl’s face and thought, oh, how plain and homely looking she was. It was then I noticed she was pregnant and I thought– wow, those are nice maternity clothes. I mumbled to myself ‘I guess there’s someone out there for everyone’. It was the fact that she was pregnant that made me realize it was Chelsea Clinton. At that moment she slipped. I watched her. It freaked me the fuck out. It was Chelsea Clinton and she almost busted her ass.”

As I looked at those daffodils and my dusty, worn-out Sketcher’s, I wondered about nature and why bulbs grown in the hard cold winter are so much prettier than those reared in hot houses.

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.

James rents a room near Times Square. He shares space with what James describes as “A pretty Black girl with a slamin’ body. She sits with me on my bed in her nightgown, my God! I don’t know what to say to her, so I sent her a text thanking her. She responded, ‘You’re welcome’ and she came and sat back down on my bed and we watched a movie together.”

“What about your girlfriend?” I asked. I already knew James, my co-worker, has a girlfriend who he loves dearly, but had to move out from. “I couldn’t sand all her kids,” he explained. I laughed, realizing there is little difference between gay and straight people. I’m not out at work, but who needs to be? Especially since we all live the same dramas with different characters.

I love chatting with James at work. We share the same space in the morning. James once told African Americans at work not to work next to him because the place to his right was mine, and only Mike Day, a former heroin addict could work on his left. “We have a nice little mixed community over here. We even got white people. Don’t bring your shit over here. You’ve been sorting your paychecks in that same spot for five years now.” That was when I wanted to be friends with James. I make little conversation with others in the morning before I head out on my route. I’m not sure if it’s safe to be out at work and who really wants to be known as the fag anyway?

James is a little older that I am and has hit fifty already. His teeth are not the best but he has not a single gray hair on his head. We often laugh at our own bad teeth and how they got that way. The pretty black guys with perfect teeth don’t get our humor and must wonder why we hit it off so well. “I was eating a peanut one time and it went down a hole I have in my tooth. It hurt like hell. Thought I’d die for a minute, but I popped it out with my tongue and chewed it on the other side. The shit was good.” James told me as he imitated chomping on a peanut in his mouth. I laughed like hell.

Not knowing what advice to give to my friend James in regards to his lust for his roommate, I simply shared a story:

“When I was in the Army, I had a Black section chief,” I said to James. Mike Day looked up from a stack of checks he was sorting and peered at me over a pair of glasses from the Dollar Store and waited to hear what I had to say about my Black boss. “You’ve done everything,” James reminded me. “You was in the Army…”

“We were on a field training exercise in the woods of Germany. I hadn’t had a bath in weeks. Sgt. Grier somehow met this German chick who lived near to where we were camping. He asked me if I wanted to come with him over to her house. Hell, I needed a bath and agreed. When we got there, it turned out, they wanted me in a threesome.”

Mike Day, the old seventy-something ex-junkie blinked and pondered the meaning of why I told James that story.

“Oh, hell. I’ve had orgies,” James insisted. “Two men with one women, three woman two men; whole gangs of us just fuckin’.”

“I’ve never done anything like that,” Mike Day said.

“I couldn’t do it with them,” I explained. “I was still a virgin and didn’t want my first time to be like that. But I’ve certainly made up for lost time. It’s not the same when you are old. It’s like you’ve done everything and nothing is a thrill. It’s sometimes best to just sit next to someone on a bed.”

 “I don’t know,” James said, breaking into my story, “She gets along with my girlfriend. They are real close and stuff…”

“They’ll set you up,” I insisted. “Bitches are like that, they’ll set you up, be careful, James.”

Mike Day shook his head.

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