JUST ANOTHER DAY (nearly 2 pages)
There I was, standing beneath a freeway overpass with people in the passing cars looking at me as they went by. I looked down at my clothing and I was fully dressed. Casual trousers, a plaid short sleeved shirt and jogging shoes. So, why were they staring? For that matter, why was I here? I just couldn’t put my finger on the answers. But my surroundings seemed familiar as I walked along the street. Farther up, near the traffic signal, was a street sign and, sure enough, I was in Berkeley. Hadn’t been here for years, it seemed.
When I checked my pockets, I found only loose change and a wallet that had no cash. My first thought was that I had to have a job. Walking along the street, I came to a group standing just off the sidewalk in sort of a small parking area beside a large two story building. Someone said, “Hi”, so I wandered over to talk to them and ask about work. One fellow suggested that I join them after their coffee break and he’d show me what to do. He seemed to think that, if I just worked there awhile, when they became aware of me, they’d just hire me because I already knew the job. This seemed a bit pushy, but I needed work, so I went in with them.
The work was just sorting through lost luggage to find the name of the owner, so it could be returned. Not even a job I’d ever heard of before, but sure easy to pick up on.
When it came time for a lunch break, I decided to walk the nearby streets to familiarize myself with my surroundings. I had no lunch to eat, anyway. The area seemed like somewhere I had been before even though no one building was really familiar. Well, if I wanted to make a job for myself, I’d better get back.
As the afternoon wore on, I picked up a few tricks that made the work go faster and I had developed quite a pile of luggage with tags identifying them listing names and addresses. I kept feeling this one woman looking at me, but she only smiled quietly whenever I looked up. Never said anything to me. So, I let that ride.
On the next coffee break, I found they had a pot on in a small lunch room off the main work area. No one asked me to contribute, so I poured a cup and left my change in my pocket. As I was adding sugar to my coffee, I felt someone looking again. I suddenly realized I was putting in the fourth spoon of sugar and looked to see who had seen this. There she was again. This time she remarked. “You must really like sweet coffee.” I went over and sat near her while sipping the brew. I thought it was time I introduced myself to someone in this group and her looks told me she might at least have an ear I could bend. I was out of my element here and could use a friend.
“My name’s Todd and it’s my first day here. Actually, I’m only hoping to get hired. I’m just working to show them I can do the job. I need to find out who the boss is, so I can talk to him and see about getting on the payroll. I saw you catch me putting in all that sugar. The truth is, I’m hungry and broke. Sugar just seemed appealing. Keep up the strength or something like that.”
Here I was, jabbering away and I hadn’t even asked her name. before I could ask, she was asking me whether I lived nearby.
“I don’t seem to have a place to stay right now. But, if I get work, I’ll be looking for a room.”
She looked somewhat nervous, as if she were shy in saying it, as she told me about a place I might stay. “You could always stay where I do. They could use a little help sometimes and that could earn you a room for the night.”
I asked, “What sort of place is it? An apartment building? Do they need help with cleanup and repairs?”
She said, sort of shyly, “Well, it’s one of those—you know—a place where you can stay with a lady—uh—Well, surely you’ve been in one before, haven’t you?”
All I could do was stare. It appeared this average looking young woman was trying to tell me that she stayed in a whorehouse. To my eye, she didn’t have the looks to be a hooker. She wasn’t unattractive, it was true. Pleasing, really. But, she somehow didn’t fill the bill in my mind as a hooker. I could only think I must have misunderstood. I didn’t want to further embarrass her, but surely I had read her wrong and should ask for a clearer description of where she stayed.
I said, “This place would have room for me?” and she said, “Sure, they have lots of rooms”.
Well, how to put it more clearly? “Would the manager be willing to put me up for just a night?”
She suggested, “Why don’t you try it one night and see how you like it. You might not like the duties. Or, you might decide you like the fringe benefits. I might even have some time to spend with you if it’s a quiet night.”
Well, I didn’t know how to pursue this further. I surely did seem to need a place to stay and, just as surely, I must be misinterpreting her responses. So, I thanked her and we went back to work sorting luggage.
When the boss came around at closing time and saw me, he walked over to where I’d been working and looked me over for a bit. “Who are you? I don’t remember putting you on the payroll.”
The young lady came to my rescue by saying, “He needed a job and Ralph told him to work today and, if he did well, you might hire him. He has done a good job and learned fast. Here comes Ralph and he can tell you about it.”
Ralph seemed to carry some weight with the boss and , after he had recommended me, I found myself hired. He even managed to get me a small cash advance. I’d eat tonight! After I thanked Ralph and gave the boss my name, I assured him that tomorrow I’d be able to give him a address. As I walked along San Pablo Avenue with Pam (I’d finally heard her name), I began to get my bearings. I’d been here before for some reason or other. Had driven down this street. I couldn’t seem to get a clear vision of a car or any details, but I did know I’d been here.
It was only about four blocks and up a side street a ways to where Pam lived. When we arrived, she introduced me to this real seedy looking old gal and told her I needed a place to stay. That seemed to go easily and I was told I wouldn’t be bothered unless someone became unruly. If this occurred, I’d be asked to send them on their way. When Pam showed me the room, it turned out to be just that. A room with a bed, a dresser and a strong hasp on the door inside and out. She said if I stayed and wanted it, she’d loan me a padlock.
That night, not long after I dropped off to sleep, sure enough, I was roused and asked to assist a fellow to the street. He didn’t seem to want to go when they had asked him and was raising quite a disturbance. In the hallway were several women watching me as I passed them. I guess they wondered if I would be up to the job. I also could see now, beyond any doubt, this was a whorehouse. One offered, as I passed, to keep me company for awhile after I had finished this little chore. Well, at least this offered me a place to stay. And, quite a bit more if I wanted, it seemed.
When I reached the lobby area where the landlady waited, I saw a fellow standing with her and with his back to me. This must be the one she wanted to leave. When she saw me, she pointed to him and said, “Would you please escort this gentleman to his car?”
And, I finally had a look at his face. What a shock! It was Palmer from down the street! Palmer looked at me as if seeing a ghost and blurted, “I don’t know what you’re doing here, Todd. But, I won’t tell your wife if you don’t tell mine.”
And, it all suddenly came back to me. I had run out of gas on the freeway and had begun walking to a service station for a can of gas. I had heard the crunch of gravel under tires and looked back to see that a car had veered and was coming right where I walked. I jumped aside. Or, did the car hit me enough to knock me out? A blank. And, here I am now! Was that only this morning? I needed to get home. Then I knew—I had a home, I had a job, I had a wife, I had two kids. I was Todd Haskell, owner of Haskell Iron Works. Blanks were rapidly filling in. I asked Palmer for a ride home. We agreed this had never happened. Although I couldn’t begin to explain this day to myself, I knew my wife would be expecting an explanation for my missing hours. And, I’d better come up with something good. Definitely, I should not mention to her that I had spent the early evening hours at a cat house.
Well, at least I had learned a few tricks of sorting luggage.
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