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This neighborhood where I work is not the safest. For years I was only allowed to work day shifts because of the clientele and local riff-raff that likes to hang out in the vicinity at night. At the moment, I am watching a patrol car through a 18″x18″ glass portal in the front door. The car is parked across the street in a neighborhood that is renowned for drug dealers and other shady business practices. In these houses, the lights are never turned on. In these houses, people are always coming and going.
We used to have this employee, his name was Doug. Doug used to ask for paycheck advances and he would run across the street on a break. No one really assumed too much when Doug started losing weight. One day I heard Doug was arrested for possession of crack. I was disappointed. He was so nice to my mother and I. He went to jail for a short time, and while he was there he would call occasionally, or sent holiday cards that he made himself. In jail, they pulled all his teeth because they had decayed and rotted almost to nothing. They gave him fake teeth to wear. Without them it was just gums and a long snaggletooth or two.
When he was released he was given his old job back and everyone kept a very close watch on him for a while. He was on probation and had to take weekly or monthly drug tests, I don’t remember which.
Doug stopped showing up to meet with his probation officer, and it wasn’t long until he was back in jail. This time it was a much longer sentence, but he continued to call and send season’s greetings. When he asked for money everyone tried to help. The next time he was released the people here kept a closer eye on him than ever. He was not allowed to take out advances on his paycheck. He was not given money if he asked. He was not allowed to leave on any breaks. Over time, as he appeared to be gaining weight and looking healthy, the rules became relaxed. Doug would ask to do odd jobs and was paid in cash for little errands or chores. He started taking lunch breaks again, or running more errands that took him away from the friendly confides of his work space. After a few months he started losing weight again.
Sometimes I would show up for my shift, and Doug would be sitting outside on the bench smoking menthols and nodding off. I’d call him inside and he’d sit on the couches and chat a little with me or the customers. He’d say the boss wanted him to run an errand, and leave for a short while. When he came back he was a different person. I wanted to sound an alarm, but I didn’t have to. Everyone was convinced he was stealing. They had video footage of it. I wasn’t here the day he was fired, but from what I heard it was very emotional.
When I’m driving up and down this street, and I see a figure hunched over walking along the sidewalk, I think for a second it might be Doug. When I see the men and women running in and out of the houses across the street on this inclement winter day, I wonder where he is and whether or not my mother is going to receive another Christmas card from the state penitentiary any time soon.
It is a miserable day, not quite bone chilling enough to yearn for depthless piping hot elixirs in Styrofoam cups, but not quite sunny enough to forget that it is indeed winter. Tomorrow I will swallow my pride (and wallet) and go look for a winter coat. This dressing in multiple layers thing is more uncomfortable than it is protective against the elements that are conspiring to keep my immune system down. Sure, now it’s just a nuisance to be constantly shivering, but in a week or two when I’m holed up in bed with scalding hot nostrils and teary eyes, I’ll curse my smug approach to the cold season.
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