Pay day. Finally – I was pretty excited. I had my eye on a few places and different parts of town – anywhere but living with them was going to do me well. There is a feeling one has when the paycheck is about to hit your hands. For me, this time, it wasn’t even going to be a paycheck, but an envelope full of cash. Pretty close to a grand, all from selling Chimney sweeps. I took the buss over the steep hills of Fillmore all the way down to the Marina. Everything of mine was vanishing. They sold it all and wore what they couldn’t sell. If we’d been living out in the wild, I’m pretty sure they would have burnt my furniture just to keep warm. Junkies are not full of romance to me. They are not people you want to save or observe – you should get away as fast as possible before watching someone cook up in a spoon starts to become normal like lighting up a cigarette.
I made my way into the office of the Chimney sweet sales team and everyone was looking pretty sad.
“It’s pay day people, what’s up with the faces?” I asked.
One of the girls who worked the phone – a strong-faced girl from Oakland who always seemed to be tearing through a giant book and talking about school and what was ahead for her – she looked at me and shook my head.
“Not going to pay us today,” she said. “He said he’s cash light and he should have it next week. Don’t worry about it – he does this all the time.”
She went back to making calls. The other two people in there did the same, unconcerned with the lack of envelopes filled with cash waiting for them. Not me. I boiled over. My skin was about to be overtaken by the blood flying to the surface of everything.
“Where is he?” I yelled. “He out on a call?”
“Nope,” the crew cut kid who never did anything beyond average peeped. “He’s down the street at Uncle’s.”
That’s all I needed to hear. Uncle’s was a giant sports bar with girls wearing tight fitting football shirts and black stretch pants. I opened the door and saw him hunched over the bar with half of his costume on an a beer in front of him. He noticed me but didn’t pay any attention. I didn’t move at all.
“Where’s my money,” I yelled, causing most of the girls to turn their heads. “You need to pay me!”
The man didn’t move – just sipped his beer. I walked up to him slow with the intention of ripping his head off if he didn’t pay me. I’m not that violent of a man, but when someone tries to jack from me, it turned on a new part inside of me. The lack of money in my pocket reminds me a period in my childhood when we went pretty broke and we dug around for cash in order to eat something. I’m not ashamed of any of it. My mom put food on the table no doubt and we never went hungry, but money was tight and I was always reminded of that very thing. So I made sure, when it was time for me to earn, that I would do exactly that and I always got paid. Always.
I was standing over him now, the girls watching what was going to happen. The bartender, who must have known the Chimney sweeper, came over to check if he was alright. I must have looked like the mad man there, not him.
“I’m fine,” he said, waving him away and ordering me a beer. “Sit down, please. Sit down.”
“I’m not here to sit down and have a beer with you. I’m here for my money. All of it. Now.”
“You know, in life – there are so many roads we all take. You never know how it’s going to end up. I had a wife – there was a house, kids, everything you see in the movies was there- but that’s gone now. I like you. More than the rest there. Everyone else in the sales room, they don’t have what you have. How about we sit down and talk like friends. I’ve had a bad day.”
There was an envelope next to him with what looked like the return address of some lawyer. Probably his wife suing him for back payments as well.
“You think I want to sit down with you. I want my fucking money!”
“Money,” he said flatly. “Everyone wants their money. There’s more to life than that. How about we sit down and become friends.”
I bent close to his ear and made sure he felt my eyes burning into the side of his head.
“Look hear asshole, you’re to lay my cash down on the table right now or I’m going to make life real hard for you.”
I stood back for a second and looked at him. He gave the impression of some depression era hob0- dressed up in his half a costume. He looked sad and broken, but that wasn’t my concern. He was a man, and men were not supposed to break like this – not at a sports bar. Not in the Marina district.
I upped my voice. “This guy right here! This guy is stealing from us. He won’t pay what he owes. He’s a fucking bum!”
I thought it would embarrass him or shower with shame, but his mood didn’t change one bit. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wrinkled envelope full of cash and put it on the bar.
“Here, that’s all I have. Take it.”
I grabbed the envelope and opened it up, seeing that there was close to 500 in there.
“Will you sit down and have a drink now?” he said, sounding like a man on the brink and in need of a friend.
“You better come up with the rest of this,” I said, backing away and about to leave the bar. “This guy’s a bum!” was my final yell before hitting the streets again. I didn’t go back to the office or ever see that guy again. I was out of work and a little bit harder now. No more jobs like that. No more Chimney sweeps. I was short 500 dollars, but I had cash in my pocket.
I needed to get with my people and center myself.
Then, I needed another job.