Four weeks of paid-up board stretched before me like a lifetime once more. A lot could happen in that time.
And when it was up, so what? We could set off again, down the coast. See California, San Francisco, Mexico, the places I’d heard of, where things were happening.
But the day after getting the cheque from his parents, Gus went back to try for that delivery work again. Yeah.
This time he was gone all day. When he came back he had another twelve dollars and was exhausted.
“You wouldn’t think delivering flyers would be such a tough job,” he said.
But he said he was gonna keep it up, so I said I’d try again too. Couldn’t let him make all the money for us while I did nothing.
So we were back at the dock in the lane in Gastown and that Nick guy was saying, “I need a buncha ya today. Flyers again.”
When Gus was picked fourth, he jerked his head toward me and Nick said, “Yeah, you with the hair too.”
A dozen of us crammed into the back of the delivery truck, sitting on stacks of flyers for grocery stores and real estate agents. A light hung from a hook on the side wall. Man, it smelled bad in there, what with half the guys looking like they hadn’t had a bath in months. Me and Gus seemed the youngest, though it was hard to tell with some of them.
One little guy had a face like a sad monkey and grey hair hacked off a quarter inch long all over his head, showing bald spots in weird places. He pulled a crumpled tobacco package out of his vest. He had rolling papers inside the package with the tobacco. His hands shook as he rolled a cigarette. When he was done he put the papers back in the package and gave it to the guy beside him who rolled one for himself and passed the package on. The little old guy dug matches out of another pocket and lit the smokes for him and the guy beside him. Then the pack of matches followed the tobacco around the truck.
When the package got to me, I passed. I didn’t want to touch my lips to these makings that had been crunched in someone’s sweaty vest and handed around by all these filthy fingers. I knew Gus had the same hesitation but he hid it, lighting up and taking a deep drag right away. The truck filled up with smoke. It helped hide the smell of bodies.
When the truck finally stopped and the back was opened up, we were on a quiet shady street with large houses.
Nick shouted, “Two teams of two. You, you, you and you. Bring a bundle, the orange ones. Make it two each.”
Gus jumped down with three other guys and they hauled out bundles of the real estate flyers. Nick stood with them and pointed out an area on a map he had clipped to a wide board. After going through a lot of instructions, he slammed the doors shut and we went to the next drop-off.
Another four jumped off with flyers, leaving me with three guys in the truck.
At the last drop-off the rest of us got out. We were in a church parking lot. Nick came around and talked to the old guy with the sad monkey face. “Tiny, you’re in charge of this crew.”
The truck took off. Tiny picked up two bundles by the strings and started across the church lot and down the street. The rest of us did the same.
At a corner Tiny dropped his bundles on the grass beside the sidewalk. He spoke for the first time. His voice was scratchy.
“Start on these,” he nodded at some houses. “Go around the two blocks and meet back here. Me and the kid’ll do the two across the way.”
He wasn’t looking at anyone when he spoke but the other two men broke the string on a bundle, took out armfuls of flyers and went off.
Tiny took an armful too and started across the intersection. I guessed I was supposed to follow.
All he said on the other side was “You start there and we’ll meet back here. Mailboxes and door handles. Don’t leave none lying around.”
I figured he meant for me to go around one block while he did it starting on the other side of the road. With the other two doing the two blocks south of us, it was like we were tracing out a large four-leaf clover, each of us going out from the middle and ending up back there again.
I had to carry the pile of papers under one arm and use the other hand to take out each flyer, roll it against my body and wedge it into the mail slot. After a while I got the hang of it. Took me twenty minutes to get around the block and I was the first one back.
We carried the bundles two blocks further down the street. Then we did the whole cloverleaf thing again. My arm carrying the flyers got stiff and I switched sides but I found that my left hand couldn’t roll and stuff the flyers as easy as my right hand and I switched back soon as the stiffness was gone. This time, after doing my block, I didn’t have to wait for the other three to finish.
Another couple blocks and I was falling behind. Tiny kept going at the same speed. The other two slowed down but not as bad as me. Tiny never complained and we did a lot more blocks before he said it was time to get back to the pick-up point. Actually he just said “Right-o” and started back to the church parking lot. He didn’t have a watch, so I dunno how he knew when.
At the church we dropped what was left of the bundles on the gravel and sprawled on the lawn. Both my arms were sore from switching back and forth now. Black smudges ran up the sides of my shirt and pants where I’d rolled the flyers against my body.
When the truck came for us, the other teams were already inside. Gus was spread out over papers in the far end of the trailer. He saluted me.
We rode a long way, right across town it seemed, before stopping again. We got out at a variety store with a cheap lunch counter. The men filed in to eat like they knew the place. I waited by the truck for Gus who was the last out. He climbed out and stretched.
“The second day’s worse. Still sore from yesterday.”
“Wanna start a union?”
After greasy lunches we were driven a short way and dropped off in the same teams to do different neighbourhoods with grocery flyers this time. The houses and lawns were smaller, which meant we could get around them faster but the flyers were thicker, four pages, so we had to start with bigger piles to do each block. They were harder to roll up and stuff in the doors too.
Tiny had to wait for the rest of us after every block now, specially for me. I tried to hurry when I started each block but if I walked too fast I got to each door before I had the paper rolled and I had to stand there finishing it. I saw Tiny on the other side of the street, not seeming to hurry but pulling ahead of me bit by bit.
Sometimes when I got to the other side of the block where he couldn’t see me, I skipped some houses so I wouldn’t fall too far behind.
Once the other two guys got back before Tiny and were joking and giving him a hard time about being slow. But when it happened again on the next set of blocks, he said, “You’re skipping too many houses, they’ll find you out.”
As we walked to the next block, I said, “How’ll they find out, Tiny?”
“That ain’t my name.”
“Nick called you —”
“He’s a prick. They phone the houses. Random check.”
After that I never skipped more than one or two houses on a block, and only when I was getting behind.
The afternoon seemed a lot longer than the morning but at last the guy whose name wasn’t Tiny said “Right-o” and we returned to the pickup spot.
We were driven back to the dock we’d met at in the morning. Nick went in the loading door and a minute later came out with a handful of bills. We each got a ten and a two. The men hurried off with their money without speaking to each other.
“We’re rich,” I said, waving the bills at Gus.
We had beers in a stinking bar before heading back to the house. Petra was out and I fell asleep early, so I didn’t get to talk to her that night.
The next morning me and Gus were both too wiped to get up for work. I found Petra and told her about my day of hard labour and that night was the first we slept together. I told you about that already.