Doris works a minimum wage job as a messenger in Manhattan. For more than ten years she had her own route in Chelsea, just steps away from the warehouse where mostly male workers haul upwards of fifty cardboard boxes from Amazon and B&N upon aluminum dollies. Strapped to these sleighs of sorts is merchandise of any type purchased from the mega houses of modern commerce; delivered with near perfection by workers like Doris who do it for much less than what the United States Postal Service can do.
On Thursday evening, just before payday on Friday, I ran into Doris downstairs at the warehouse. It was a rare moment downstairs; the place was absolutely silent, no one had come down the hazardous stairway with overhead pipes to use the restroom, nor were any workers in red vests rummaging through one of the small wall lockers that line the damp, concrete block walls. Mario, the supervisor of timekeeping was not in his office with a big fishtank- like window glaring out at workers punching in and out upon a fingerprint time clock as if he were a shark. I usually give Mario an American Spirit menthol cigarette on Thursdays, just to ensure every moment upon my timesheet comes out to my advantage.
“I’m exhausted,” I said to Doris, breaking the relative silence of the basement—the only noise was that of a urinal that never really shuts off.
“Hell, I am too,” she replied, removing several small ziplock bags from a backpack that she uses to carry smaller packages in. “I’m about to make me a cup of coffee and go home,” she explained as she compared two bags filled with white powder. “One has sugar in it and one has cream. This here’s the cream, I can smell the vanilla. I just nuke it in that oven and drink it on my way home.”
“It helps with toothaches,” I noted, remembering my conversation with Doris Wednesday morning as we walked East down 29th Street, toward a warm, rising sun. Doris had asked me to look at her face and tell me how bad it looked.
“I see nothing wrong.”
“The hell you don’t. It’s swollen.”
“That could be a toothache,” I deducted.
“Do you think?” She asked. “I pulled the last one out myself.”
“Oh Doris, you should just go to the emergency room.”
“I can’t afford that.”
“They’ll have to provide care.”
“I know they do, but they will chase after me for ten years for that money and maybe take away my check.”
“I had a wisdom tooth pulled for only $60 in Jersey.”
“Sixty bucks? Hell, I don’t have that.”
“You seem like the type that has a big stash of money under your mattress,” I said. Doris looked at me like I was crazy. I told her about the cups of coffee I had every Friday after work at Starbucks on 34th Street last winter. I told her that when my tooth was thumpin’,I’d buy a pound of Starbucks beans and they offered a free cup of $2 of coffee with it; a luxury in this economy, where some work an entire half hour, after taxes, for such coin. “It always helped that pain in the back of my mouth. There’s no pain like it in the world, and sometimes the mere act of spoiling oneself takes away all the pain.”
“The hell there ain’t no pain like a toothache! A backache is worse. Thank God I only got a tooth ache today.” Doris noted.
I told Doris about the huge white filling that came out of my wisdom tooth after I had eaten a caramel apple last Halloween. “I didn’t think they were supposed to fill wisdom teeth. They must have did that when I was still a kid, back in the ‘70s, because I sure as shit don’t ever remember a dentist telling me he was putting a filling in my wisdom tooth. I hate these new white fillings. I saw nothing wrong with the silver ones!”
“Or gold!” Doris shouted, shaking her short, bleach blonde hair; her black features prevalent like Oprah’s, her nostrils first expanding and then the deep throat chuckle that could almost be mistaken for that of a man came roaring out despite the pain she must have been in.
“Do you know that after they pulled that wisdom tooth, they left a chunk of it behind? Weeks later, while I was making a delivery at 209 East 31’st Street, I got sick of the laceration upon the side of my tongue, so I reached in, grabbed the little fucker with my nail and yanked it right on out?”
“Oh my God, Charles! Shut up! Eww.”
That silence downstairs on Thursday was creepy—like the inside of a mouth. For a moment, I thought I heard her jaw thumping.
“You should stop at Starbucks. That’s instant coffee. It ain’t the same on a bad tooth.”
“I’ve never been into one of those places. You will have to write down, what I should order—all fancy and all…”
“You have never been to a Starbucks?” I asked in complete surprise.
“Don’t have that kind of money. But I want one of those fancy drinks one day, but I don’t know what to ask for. I ain’t gonna get just a regular coffee when I go in there.”
I wished in the silence I had an extra $3 that day.
“A caramel macchiato,” I insisted, before offering to take her with me one Friday.
Doris was nowhere around at Friday at 3:30 pm. Men in red vests were everywhere downstairs. The silence of Thursday evening in the basement of the warehouse was long gone and so was that creaking sound I swear I kept hearing– like that of a cracked tooth in need of a pair of dirty pliers.
Everyone had been paid, and it seemed we were all anxious to get home and put up our feet.
I sat outside of my favorite Starbucks sipping that free cup of coffee alone, hoping I’d see Doris in her red vest working her old route where I could get her a good cup off coffee.
Instead, I was alone with the pigeons and just sat there smoking another fifty cent cigarette, wondering how $260 will get me through another week and why it was, if I did not have a toothache, was I spending $15 for beans out of Verona?
I could simply use the microwave and carry my stash of Folgers in a zip lock bag like Doris does for pennies, and still smiles despite the pain.