James quit cold-turkey. He walked off the job three Fridays ago with two delivery jobs dispatched to him. He caught management off-guard. Customers paying upwards of $12 for same day delivery started calling the company, using their New York City attitude to spread hell over expensive cell phones upon the ears of unsuspecting dispatchers who had assumed James was still on the job and one of their slaves.
“Fuck-it. I’m not doing it,” he must have said, I imagine out on my own route, already missing my morning conversations with a man who was once a first-line draft choice for the NBA. According to James, as he explained one morning as I sorted paychecks, his career in the sport ended with a terrible leg injury, yet James still managed to walk for miles every day as a messenger. Amazing, I thought. What a man. He was probably good in the sack back in his thirties, but now there he was, 56, with a trick- knee of some sorts, one that made him a cripple to the pro’s who were responsible for drafting such men as James. His little, haphazardly cut fro and spacious teeth stained from a constant soaking in booze and marijuana smoke were not enough to make James homely looking. He has a tight body and pecks that still stand out. His sinister laugh would not stop me from going down on him although I’m just under a decade younger and rarely do men who are not as tall as I am.
He lives with a female roommate, introduced to him by the Division of Homeless services. James finally got a blow-job from her, in the shower, after taking ‘her’ out for bowling on her birthday. I didn’t have the heart to tell my co-worker he may have been blown by a transgender but didn’t want to be a square in the love triangle he found himself in. According to James, his roommate and girlfriend of a decade got along great and liked each other. James was plotting a way to get the two in bed, but the roommate was in a relationship with a girl who sometimes spent the night there. James often heard them making love and asked me how he could invite himself in. “Just crack open the door and put your dick through the crack. If they wave for you to come in, then they want you, otherwise, the lesbo will yell at you.” James laughed hard.
Management at the messenger company had a certain love for James too. Perhaps the love was due to the six years the former, almost made it to the pro’s basketball player, put in as a New York City messenger for the same company. Let’s not count the number of times he left early on Friday to go home and get drunk. There were many times on Friday I was ordered by Steve to so some on-demand jobs or get fired. I was always exhausted after finishing my conglomeration of four differnt routes on the East Side, running from 43rd all the way down to the Lower East Side where groups like Blondie got their start. James and many other “on-demand’ workers left early to hit the bottle, and there I was, a messenger for the same company, and everyone in NYC waits to the last damned minute on a Friday to send shit out.
James Clemonts finally had the balls to tell all the dispatchers and supervisors at work that he was not in the mood for another lecture and threat of termination. He simply quit without the desire to fight for unemployment insurance benefits. There was no cursing as one may expect from a senior member at NYC’s largest messenger company, who has run from every tip of the city, back and forth several times a day– all for minimum wage– for more than a half decade, even in all those snow storms.
The fact was, James was only taking home a buck seventy-five, or so, every week, ever since he was banished from delivering paychecks and forced to do what the company calls “on demand”– taking packages from one business to another on the subway or on foot, and at times when traveling west to east, upon the very slow NYC bus system. Some of these on demand jobs pay just $2.50 per delivery, while a messenger makes $1.50 a paycheck and often delivers upwards of 10 per building.
James was holding down another part-time delivery job to make up for his loss in paychecks. He delivers Nespresso boxes, some sort of gourmet coffee to residences and door men all across town. Mike Day, one of our co-workers and an ex Heroin addict (if there is such a thing) once advised James, “You can’t make any real money with them. They run you all across town.” But James didn’t listen, he took on that job and developed a certain attitude towards the company that took away his paycheck route simply because James misplaced a few packages while hung over one day.
Mike Day, another 7 year veteran of the company who delivers to the Wall Street area, pretended to be angry with his best-friend James. The two were under some sort of payday agreement, where upon receiving his paycheck on Friday mornings, James promised to head straight to the bank and hand over $40 to Day. I witnessed the bargaining every week. Mike Day often reminded James and I, and anyone else listening in, that his former best friend at the job, upon termination, left not only the messenger company, but Mike Day standing empty-handed, nearly $300 in the hole.
There were mornings when I’d chime into their negotiations like a white Al Sharpton without an evening show on MSNBC. I felt somewhat sorry for Day, who truly has recovered, but taken on a certain aura during his negotiations over coin that I can only compare to that of one of the saints, althought I must admit, I probably never met one prior to bumping into Day at the job. I could not hold my silence any longer. For more than four years I have been the white, quiet one standing next to the two– a set of ears, that cared, I suppose, to serve as the Jude Judy judicial system, presiding over their situation that never changed
“It is good that you have a friend like Mike Day. I think he is a saint, James. He never has anything bad to say to anyone, unless it’s to their face, and Mike lent me $20 last Thursday, just so I could get a few beers the day before payday. And to think he is clean and sober. Mike Day is a saint, James. He has no bad habits and always has money that he is not afraid to lend out.”
“But people take advantage of me all the time, Charles,” Mike day blasted in a deep, Southern tone. He is softspoken, but his words carry right through one.
“What do you do with all your money, anyway?” I asked Day. “You probably have it stuffed in a mattress. What happens if you die tonight and here James and I are, flat-out broke?”
“I cannot believe you said that right in front of me,” Mike Day rebuffed. I went back to sorting paychecks, feeling almost sorry, but I choose my words carefully while in the presence of those closest to what some call “A God”.
James is gone now, though, and there stands 72 year old Mike Day without his best friend in the mornings. It’s just me, an old queen, pretending to care. I told everyone this morning that I really missed James and that it was a shame that he had to quit the job after so many years working there. “You all were too hard on him,” I cried. The Black men just stared at me and waited for my next words. There were none. They all knew why he was gone.