Philip Kobylarz - Non-Fiction
The Brotherhood of Delivery Boys
by Philip Kobylarz
Maybe the past is the one form of entertainment we posses at all times. Stopped, as I am now, on the 405 freeway, a line of traffic forms thick lanes going both ways of endless bright shiny cars, a crappy am/fm radio the kind that has pre-set vending machine buttons you press in playing whatever it can barely pick-up. Oldies stations, classic rock, and because there is a spirit of goodness in this life: NPR.
Inside this large white eighties era van, a thin haze of ultra-light menthol smoke seeps then rolls out the window. Afterwards, fingers full of breath mints and gum. We’re caught in traffic again. At least we’re getting paid for it. Ten whole bucks an hour.
In ill repair, carpet faded orange, dashboard cracked, rarely cleaned or maintained, registration run out, the van is who we are. The van is our link to greater society. The van is an accident waiting to happen. We are delivery boys.
The other half of the existential furniture delivery team, the most rational job a writer can take in So Cal, is Guy. An apt name for a hyperactive ever so mildly retarded you can’t really tell but assume he’s a lunatic kind of guy. Born and raised in Westminster, which he pronounces “west-minister”, Guy is every blind date’s nightmare.
Stocky. Six feet tall. Crew cut. Tongue piercing that went askew. Doc Martens worn at all times, even with shorts. A sex drive that all co-workers at one time or another will obtain some insight into. A family background one could only assume included abuse either from one or both of his parents, so many which were step- that his fragmented narrative is hard to follow.
Guy, the chief furniture deliverer slash furniture mover slash pillow stocker slash talkative nutcase slash loser with never enough to do to keep him busy. This was to be a mere part-time gig because he was attending plumber school. He found that their high rate of pay and the use of a company vehicle, not to mention the dreamy possibility of entering peoples’ kitchens and talking with ladies of clogged pipes, to be the most economically romantic pursuit this life had to offer.
Driving around Southern California highways with Guy pounding as hard as he could the dashboard to make the radio play louder and clearer, then being stuck in traffic was for him a temptation to discuss among nothing else, because when he spoke his sentences half-finished and never fully amounted in thoughts, yet details, details, details he spurted about his momentous sex life.
And that wasn’t good enough entertainment, oh no. He’d have to find out just a little bit about your own, too. He’d tell you more things than you would ever want or need to know about his girlfriend. Even in a salacious mood, you’d be bored or utterly grossed out. Sometimes what he said, and even sometimes sketched out on a torn piece of paper bag, was so believably unbelievable, it would ruin your lunch. So just to get his prying mind off your back, in return, you’d make up stories about your own prowess and invent scenarios first encountered in now vintage pornographic movies.
The more you made up, the more lurid details, the faster Guy drove. He’d slam the dash in jubilation, he’d spit out the window and miss, he’d grab his hair and move it forward/backward on his tingly scalp, he’d make proto-gratification noises, he’d stomp his booted feet on the van’s rusting through floor, he’d make crazy faces to himself in the rear-view mirror. He'd grab you– your arm or neck– and lay on you a big old boy bonding hug.
The day we were out on a delivery and just for a while stopped by his apartment so that he could make a couple of sandwiches (white bread + sliced meat from little packages), he offered a beer if you’d listen to the message on his answering machine. It was of his girlfriend crying, then bitching him out, then crying again, then screaming. Two more of her selfsame messages, then later, his mother being vocal about the quality of his girlfriend, then herself crying too. Guy needed advice. He didn’t know what to do. Seems as though his grandfather died leaving him a large chunk of inheritance money. Seems that, at about the same time, his girlfriend began talking marriage. Seems that a feud had started fueled by greed.
The way they solved, or extenuated, the problem was to appear together on a nationally syndicated talk show and discuss the bad feelings girlfriend had for mom and mom had for son and girlfriend. The only one who never got to say much was Guy himself. Being very near illiterate, he couldn’t muster up the courage to speak on national t.v. He just sat there, looking as if it all were really real, thinking to himself “I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to pee my shorts.” Oh, and, “Look at all the chicks in the crowd.”
It was his fifteen minutes and a few seconds of it were mine just for knowing him because t.v. and the inheritance changed him. He made good with his life, fished the very expensive plumbing school hours he was behind, became a real live plumber, and quit the piddley delivery boy gig. He shaved the sides of his head for a new look and we haven’t heard the personal tick of a disclaimer he used for every weird or perverse thing he said, spoken so fast that it sounded like a cricket going mad: “jess kee-ing (just kidding). It was the slogan of his life.
How many coastal mansions did we visit with views of the ocean and of the muddy brown hills of Laguna rumpling behind. The gigantic family rooms and dens that smelled of graham crackers and cat pee. The home theaters that took up entire walls. Its décor of roccoco accumulation. And never not once did we get a tip.
Not never, not once did the rich, plastic-titted, bleached out hair, diet supplemented, Gucci-wearing women offer us a dime for hauling in their couches and love seats in the burning hot sun while we made sure and extra careful that we didn’t nick a wall or take out all together a faux Ming dynasty vase.
And let it be said that we did deliver the finest classically-styled, heavy as hell, furniture there is on the market. We’re not talking futons here. There is little gratitude extended to the lonely, down and out service class.
Their disdain for our lowly yet necessary presences was reflected in our feelings of “wouldn’t-it-be-easy-to-murder-these-people-and-get-off-with-a-large-chunk-of-their-richesse?”. And I don’t think they put it past us for a second.
Daniel, our boss was a late forties something man who started the business of selling furniture and fabrics off his daddy’s money. Of Jewish and homosexual persuasions, Daniel played his stereotypes well. At all times, he was flustered and effeminate and a penny-pincher. He’d do anything to save a buck, including acting as a delivery partner to save money on hiring another dreg of society. He’d do things like have inventory-taking parties during which he himself would chow on a huge tine of caramel corn. For his employees, he’d order the butt-cheapest pizza from a crappy strip mall establishment and he’d personally make sure that we all got at least two slices.
When matters went awry, money problems or a leaky roof, he’d bitch and wine like a woman perfecting PMS into the art of getting what he wanted done because it was too painful for anyone else to listen to his voice and look at his big fat baby face contort and grumble. But his defining feature was that on rough days, day chock full of tension and stress (pretty much everyday for him), he smelled deeply of infant diaper rash ointment.
The only manner in which Daniel was overt about his inclination, apart from his voice and demeanor and way he moved his hands when he spoke (as if they were seal’s flippers), was the not even soft porn male body building magazines he kept on the floor of his gigantic SUV.
Because business was doing well and rich people, of which there is an abnormal amount in So Cal, desired to accumulate an indefinite amount of hideous furniture for which they had picked out the colors and patterns (you see it was like a craft or hobby– it was the art of purchase). It became necessary to hire another delivery boy serf.
Daniel tried to give a break to an injured Mexican kid who couldn’t speak a word of English. He needed some aggressive convincing that any partner of mine had to be a body I could communicate with, as a way of staying sane while being locked in a demeaning job, I couldn’t simply fill those lonely driving hours with the static of the crappily working a.m. radio. No matter how down and out the job was, the delivery guys could bitch about it and laugh at themselves and how stupid is this thing called life. This was essential for our psychology and for the health of our customers.
Daniel needed to be backed into a corner. His was done by shouting at him while introducing a touch, a dash, a tad of aggression to which he’d completely collapse after a hissy fit in which he promised not to ever collapse or give in. Batting his eyes and clinching his tomato red face like some icky male recreation of Betty Boop, he’d say. “Okay. This is what I can do.”
It was an event-less Wednesday morning that Ryan knocked on the warehouse door of the fabric and furniture building. He was tall, baseball capped, and black. Why Daniel hired him, no one knows. Probably it was because he Ryan was a nice guy. He had a wife and four kids in Long Beach. He’d been laid off from an airplane part producer, hence his desperate state. It never was his dream to work an anonymous building that was a gigantic shoe box strewn two blacks from the 405 freeway, in an unknown sub city of Los Angeles inaptly named Fountain Valley.
There was no valley, no fountain. Nope, it wasn’t his life’s goal to stand in a garage entrance to a lifeless, cream-colored airplane hanger and stare out into asphalt and a slim row of trees, some of them pine, and wait for furniture neither of us could afford arrive in crates we had to undo while listening to whatever barely palatable music we could find on the dial of Guy’s unclaimed portable stereo (only one speaker working).
We kept each other sane. Somehow. Lunches we’d take in the parked van, with its side door open, it’s crappy radio playing, us sprawled out on its dirty carpeted floor. Ryan would always have a cup of microwaved Chinese noodles, maybe an apple, never anything to drink. He never wanted a share of my better lunch that included maybe potatoes and green beans, or ravioli in a thick tomato sauce with onions and shreds of carrot, just because we was that way. “Sure smells good,” he’d say.
And the times I made him, absolutely made him eat a portion of what I was eating, by exiting the van, getting him a chinette plate, and divvying up my lunch into two, those moments or that one time, I can’t really be sure, I did become my mother.
Once, out on a delivery he was driving, he decided we’d veer out of the way a bit and kill some time by visiting his house. It was a nice little place tucked into an anonymous neighborhood of homes. Its interior sported glorious paneling, a gigantic t.v., some furniture that would have given Daniel a heart attack, his lovely wife and a bunch of kids. On the coffee table in front of the large screen t.v. there was a big old jar full of candy. Lots of red jellybeans.
One of the little kids came up to me and asked me if I wanted some. “Only the reds” I said.
His daughter in that mad house of boys was about thirteen or so and was making herself busy by cleaning up I the kitchen, wiping down the table with a white cloth, and trying her best not to stare at me, inobviously. Ryan sat on the eighties-era fabric flannel sofa and lit up that t.v. screen with thousands of different pictures all in stereo, really loud. He channel surfed a big wave of boredom that his life must have been, the same portion all our lives provide us with attempts, however futile they are, to defeat.
The walls were covered with paneling. His wife asked if I needed anything. All I could think of, having a mouthful of cherry Sourballs, was water. She was slim, well-dressed, and she smelled good. It was like everyone as chez Ryan’s had their place in society and when a visitor visited they would assume their hosting positions. We, working but not working, sat there and kicked back. He watched t.v., I watched the household dynamic. I wondered, with four kids, how could they have any private time. I finished my water and at the last sip, Ryan clipped off the set. We said our goodbyes and were out the door. At least we hadn’t had to touch any furniture at this stop. Ryan drove the van in satisfied silence. Proud.