(by Brandon Meyers and Bryan Pedas)
It finally happened. I got a job. Life as a professional writer these days is a rat race, and only the diligent and the crafty are able to dodge electrocution in the quest for a decent hunk of cheese. For me, dedication had just paid off.
I looked away from the library computer monitor to pump a celebratory fist at the ceiling. “Yes!”
The greasy, slump-shouldered guy at the station beside me took a second away from his perusal of barnyard pornography to offer an aggrieved scowl. He lifted a finger to his lips and shooshed. But, my giddiness was undeterred. I turned back to the monitor and skimmed over the acceptance letter again.
The key phrases leaped out at me from their electronic typeset: Dear Mr. Dyson… proposal sounds good… meet at 3:30 p.m… sincerely, Big J. I checked my watch and found that fortune had smiled upon me yet again. I had thirty minutes to spare, and what’s more, I was already dressed in my best suit. Perfect. I straightened my tie, logged out, and rolled my eyes at the livestock sex-offender as I left. I briefly hoped that he wasn’t a condom man and that his next girlfriend gave him a nice bovine parasite.
Unlike the public computer stations, the rest of the library was deserted. As a craftsman of the written word, maybe that should have bothered me more. But, today was not a day for gripes. Today was a payday.
“Hey, Slim. Looking sharp.” Rudy, the paunchy black security guard, looked up from his copy of The Denver Post and leaned across his desk. He tipped his hat at me and smiled. “Got a little extra swing in your step, my friend. You get laid? Man, I met this little Chinese woman who uses a pair of chopsticks to—”
Usually I’m game to listen to Rudy’s disastrous results with online dating, being as how it’s great character material, but I only had time to wave as I hustled by. “Big day, Rudy. Can’t chat now. Just landed a new client. Tell you about it tomorrow.”
His well wishes were cut short as the automatic doors chomped shut behind me. I took a deep breath and set off on foot.
I was a man of the city, and on days like today I was damn proud of that. Buses honked, pedestrians dodged vehicular manslaughter at every intersection, and pigeons shat merrily wherever they pleased. With one hand in a pocket and the other clasping a battered briefcase, I set forth into the concrete jungle, armed with a grin and the brazen confidence of the gainfully employed.
“Excuse me, mister?” This bourbon-greased slur had come from a park bench just beside the sidewalk. “Could you spare—oh hey, what’s up Slim? You got a cigarette?”
I waggled a finger at the bearded man, who, despite the summer heat, was sporting half a dozen moth-eaten coats. “I don’t smoke, Louie. You know that.” In my good cheer, I considered ruffling the drunk’s stringy hair, but saw a few of its insectile tenants hopping about and reconsidered.
“Catch you later, Louie,” I called.
My new client’s office was only six blocks away. I strolled along the bustling stretch of Broadway, making eye contact with the strangers passing me by. One of them, an attractive woman, didn’t even scowl at me. There’s something about a man in a suit that everyone appreciates. Normally I don’t bother with them. It kind of clashes with my writerly sensibilities, but if it lands me a job, well, a guy’s got to eat, right?
As I crossed the Colfax intersection, I gave a peace sign to the mustachioed man standing inside his mobile coffee cart. Carlos waved me over.
I checked my watch, argued with myself, and reluctantly approached his shiny, silver stand. The diminutive man was furiously cleaning up for the day and packing away his various instruments of mass caffeine distribution, but it seemed he still wanted to chat. What can I say? When you have a lot of friends, it’s impossible to go anywhere without running into someone you know.
“Slim!” he shouted, loudly, even though I was already close enough to smell the enchiladas he’d had for lunch on his breath. “What’s the matter con you, amigo? You don’t want to say hello? Look at you. Man, is that a snazzy suit. You getting married?”
“Thanks, Carlos. Sorry, man. I got a job, and I’m kind of in a hurry.”
His wrist flicked like lightning toward a pillar of Styrofoam and a few seconds later he presented me with a cup of steaming java.
“Oh, hey,” I said, patting my pockets. “Look, I don’t have any cash on me…”
“No, no,” he insisted, at a volume that was ear shattering. It was like Carlos wanted the whole world to hear what he had to say. “On the house. Times are hard, you know? I understand that. You come by again sometime, okay?”
“I owe you one, Carlos. Thanks!” I took the cup and hurried on my way. My day simply could not have gotten any better. The outfit was complete. I was a successful, respectable, working professional. And I certainly looked the part, bustling across town in a hurry, sipping my java. It wasn’t great—personally, I’m more of a cappuccino guy—but I wasn’t going to march back to Carlos and demand a remake of my free coffee.
A few blocks later, I tossed the now empty coffee cup into the receptacle outside of my soon-to-be employer.
“Game face,” I instructed myself, and broke out into a smile surrounded by light stubble. My razor’s been getting dull, but I’ve used that to my advantage, as I’ve heard that women love that rustic, unshaven look. “Focus, Slim.”
Strutting inside, I rested my elbows on the countertop like I owned the place.
“Slim Dyson, novelist, screenplay writer, and editor extraordinaire,” I told the man behind the counter. “Is Big J around?”
My smile was not returned, care of the huge Samoan-looking man that pointed the biggest finger I’ve ever seen at his name tag.
Big Jay, it read.
“I never would have guessed,” I told him, as I studied his planetary physique. In all fairness, looking for a name tag on his triple-XL solid-blue uniform was like looking for the head of a pushpin on the side of a two-story house, but I wasn’t going to tell my potential future employer this… nor was I going to tell this to a man the size of a two-story house, either.
“You’re here for the writing job, right?” he asked, in an eternally apathetic baritone.
“Yes, I am, and to be honest,” I explained to my new friend, who wasn’t smiling back simply because he didn’t know we were friends yet, “I was expecting someone a lot smaller. You know, to give you that hip and ironic edge, like the seven foot tall bodybuilder who calls himself ‘Tiny’ or ‘Lil Mike.’”
“Your name is Slim,” Big J noted, “and I could probably break you in half like a pencil. That’s not very ironic, either, is it?”
“I suppose it’s not,” I conceded.
He led me back to his office. Well, it wasn’t so much an office as it was a storage room filled to the ceiling with boxes—you know, that kind of room that a shady realtor might call ‘cozy.’ Other than Big J, who took up almost half of his office just by entering it, there was a smattering of cardboard boxes, a few slacking employees gathered around a watercooler, and a comically tiny desk that Big J could have worn like a knee brace. I knew better than to mention this hilarious irony, though.
“Here’s what I need from you.” Big J handed me a piece of paper. His head was scraping the ceiling, and his left elbow was pinned back into a shelf filled with half-empty boxes. “I’m not so good with grammar, and I’m not so good with words, so I need you to make it sound… I don’t know, pretty.”
Prettying up words was my job, and I told him this with great confidence as I grabbed a pen and paper from my briefcase and played a game of Tetris with the sentence he had given me. I pruned a few words here, added a few more words there, and rearranged the leftovers into the masterpiece I recited for him shortly after.
“Here at Wal-Mart, we’re trimming down prices on all of our gardening tools so your lawn doesn’t mow you down this summer.”
This was gold, literary gold. I knew it. Big J knew it. The nosy old woman at the watercooler knew it. And for the first time, Big J’s lips parted—it might not have been a smile, but it was, at the very least, an indication of satisfaction.
“I like it. Leave it on the desk. Pay is ten dollars, check.”
“Can we make it fifteen?” I asked my new pal.
“Ten,” Big J insisted, and I realized then that we probably weren’t going to be going out for beers any time soon.
He grabbed a blank check from his desk and scribbled out the amount. “Slim Dyson, right?”
“Yes,” I told him, with confidence, before watching him scrawl ‘Slim’ across the check. I quickly recanted and stopped his pen. “No, no wait,” I clarified. “I almost forgot. ‘Slim Dyson’ is just my pen name. You know, for writing.”
Big J narrowed his eyes, voided out the check, and threw it in the garbage.
“I got it off the side of a vacuum,” I boasted. “Figured it sounded a lot better than Norton Grabowski, anyway. Too ethnic, you know?”
Big J started writing another check. “Fine. Norton… Gra… Grab… how do you spell that?”
“You know, on second thought,” I told him, clasping the locks on my suitcase, “I don’t really have a bank account, so a check won’t work for me, anyway. Do you have cash?”
Five minutes later, I left Wal-Mart with two five-dollar bills, a skip in my step, and the idea that Big J wasn’t going to be asking for help with his in-store circulars anymore.
He had, however, asked me with ironic inflection (the same ironic inflection he seemed keen on leaving out of his nickname) how I was going to spend my new wealth. And I had told him. I was going to celebrate with my friends, or my ‘crew’, as we called each other. They were some hungry guys, and they were definitely going to appreciate some high quality takeout.
Now, the kid at Burger King always yells at me when I walk through the drive through—and today was no exception, of course—but I don’t care to own a car, and the lines inside were always so long. I’ve found if you stand out there long enough, though, and keep repeating your order, that the kid will eventually take it. Persistence is the key.
On my way out, I almost got hit by a rogue Honda Civic tearing through the parking lot a little too fast, but I made it out with 4 Whopper Jr’s, 4 sodas, and a dollar and 57 cents in change. Today I had certainly outdone myself.
And it showed. When I walked into the Denver Homeless Shelter, I was greeted with some serious smiles.
“Eat up, boys,” I told my friends—Stringbean Johnson, who could have rivaled Kate Moss in circumference, Riverwalk Kenny, with his lazy eyes, and Crazy Al, who was possibly, well, crazy. They thanked me, forgot their round of poker like the cards hadn’t even been dealt, and tore into those burgers like a pack of hyenas tearing into a baby gazelle. I’ll tell you, burgers were like crack to these guys. Also, it seemed that crack was like crack to these guys… but that was more of a contributing factor to them being here.
Me? I was taking my burger and soda to go—hold the crack. This future Hemingway and literary go-getter had to wash some clothes before getting back into the craft.
The Laundromat was cold, but then again, I wasn’t wearing anything. My suit—my only suit, I should mention—was tumbling in the wash with my socks and my skivvies. I found that if I didn’t wash them all at least once a day, I would start to smell like my crew. And I’d rather see them than smell them.
I glanced up. The woman at the other end of the Laundromat was staring at me. She was admiring my posture, perhaps, which I’ve always found to be impeccable, but I had no time for indulging in matters of the flesh. I crossed one bare leg over another, cradled my briefcase in my lap, and clicked my pen against that smile that just wasn’t going to leave my stubbly face, because I was already hard at work on another great writing project.
(This one's for all the starving artists out there. Even the semi-delusional ones.)
(This one's for all the starving artists out there. Even the semi-delusional ones.)
Cheers and stay classy, folks,
Music: Lana Del Rey