Morning sun creeps across the pillow, slaps my face. I wince as its glare pries my eyes open. I groan and slip from sheets drenched in obscure dreams, and into the hot water of a shower. Its spray bites like fire ants, peels away the last shreds of sleep. I drink a cup of lukewarm instant coffee, burn my toast, and rush out the door. I run three blocks to wait for the bus. It shows up ten minutes late as usual. I climb aboard, find a seat between a flasher and a bank teller, interrupting their exchange of glances and phone numbers.
A bouquet of Thunderbird wine and stale urine permeates the stagnant air. Across the aisle, a bag lady snuggles against a high-school jock; his hand boldly caresses the inside of her soiled thigh. The bus arrives at my destination and hisses to a stop. I disembark. A few steps more and I reach the store where I work.
Once inside, I turn on the bright red neon sign in the window that reads “Open.” Customers begin to flow inside and peruse racks of flesh DVDs like they are picking out a new pair of socks. Hookers that look as though they are late for class critique movies with male customers in curtain-clad video booths. An older woman, swathed in mink, examines life-like rubber toys with a squeeze and a pinch, as if checking tomatoes at a produce stand. With a coy grin, she asks if she can try them first. I politely tell her, “Sorry, Miss, that’s against store policy.” She chooses three models, adds tokens for the video booths, and pays with an American Express card.
My lunch arrives, a corned beef on rye with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, delivered from the Old German Deli next door. The vinegary flavor of the sauerkraut covers the bitter taste this job leaves in my mouth. I finish my sandwich as two women enter the store at nearly the same time. One carries an embroidered clutch, a sweater draped over her arm, and wears simple blue slacks with a flower print short-sleeve blouse. The other attracts more attention in an aqua sundress, wedge sandals and a wide-brimmed straw hat. Her finger and toenails are painted a bright rosy pink. A large tan macramé bag is slung over her shoulder. The women meet in the gay movie section. Their voices are as soft as sea foam; their cheeks flush red with lust as they explore the selections. They pay me at the counter and leave holding hands, each with an alternative choice secured under the other arm.
The sun drifts behind dirty grey buildings across the street. The hookers leave for other commitments, stuffing bills into an overflowing donation jar near the register on their way out. A red-haired girl offers me a private screening of her home movies. I decline, as I do every day, but her persistence is noteworthy. My relief arrives, a younger man who still sees humor and beauty in the grime of this scab-encrusted part of our city.
I pocket my tips and rush to the bus top. It arrives on time today. As soon as I board I see the same bag lady from this morning, now sporting a high-school varsity jacket, seated next to the same flasher. She gives him a toothless grin, passes him a brown paper bag with a bottle inside, and worms her hand into the pocket of his overcoat. He stares through me, his empty eyes like opaque glass.
The bus driver applies the air brakes and the metal beast hisses like an angry snake at my stop. I leap from the bus and run the same three blocks home. Once inside I peel off my clothes and climb back into the shower to scrub away the day’s filth, a rancid stench that seeps into my pores. Naked, I place a TV dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes in the oven, open a cold bottle of Budweiser, and relax in front of the television. Tom and Jerry is my remedy for another day’s environmental vasectomy.