"How you doing?" says Carver, my manager, a short guy with a sarcastic sense of humor that can get really old when it's not funny, which is most of the time.
I'm built like a bus driver big around the middle with a bad back, an occupational hazard of sitting in one place for 8 hours a day. Exercise? Eating right? It sounds good on paper. "Just fine."
"How's the back?" I was out for a few days last month for physical therapy. I'm still taking a shitload of drugs for pain, supposed to gradually cut down the dosage. I don't know what the hell the doctor gave me. He said there could be side effects. Great. The company bought me this ergonomic chair so they don't have an OSHA lawsuit on their hands. But I appreciate it, anyway.
"You look like a big hen sitting in that chair. Don't hatch any eggs," says Carver.
Real wise guy. The only difference between the two of us is that we're just located at different places on the same hell hole, that's all.
Now the room is glowing with computer screens, the hum of our voices talking over a Blue Tooth. This is my favorite time when I'm center stage with the video of buses coming over the Bay Bridge, the whole Bay Area scaled down to bus routes and traffic patterns, as they turn different colors to indicate what's happening. Captain Kirk never had it so good. My cell phone vibrates on my belt, but I don't answer. I'll see who called later. Right now the light is shifting toward dusk. For the first time since I got back to work, I'm starting to relax.
I rub my scalp. There's an annoying bump on my head, a cyst. I forgot to ask the doctors to look at it when I was in the hospital.
"Stop." I hear a small squeaky voice.
"Who's that?" I speak into my Blue Tooth. "What's your route and block number?"
"It's me, doofus." something that my sister's six year old kid would say. "Up here."
"You gotta be kidding."
"I tired of hanging here by myself. You should pay me more attention."
"You can't talk. It's not possible."
"Who says I can't?"
"If you can, I think it's time for me to retire."
"Why don't you?"
"There's a thousand reasons," I say.
"Name one," says the squeak.
This little hooligan is showing no respect. "For one, no medical coverage. What am I supposed to do about my bad back?"
"Tsk, tsk. Is that all you've got? A bad back?"
The flickering light of my screen is entering an opening in my forehead between my eyebrows. Or maybe it's one of the streetlamps. I'm getting flustered. "Listen, buddy. There's something called a pension, and I won't be able to collect it for another 10 years."
"Then what are you planning to do?"
"Keep working, of course."
"Your funeral. Ever think of doing something else?" Now I hear another noise. This nut case is actually chewing gum.
I turn off the Blue Tooth, hoping that might shut him up. "I don't know what else to do," and before I can say anything else, the squeak jumps in quick. "Have you considered a career in cooking?"
"Sure. You spend hours every night preparing lunch for yourself." I guess that's true. I cook every night between the six o'clock and 10 o'clock news. But a career? The little guy's head sure is screwed on the wrong way, or whatever it is he does have. "And face it, bubba. That's what you do when you're online. Maybe you can fool Carver, but you don't fool me for a minute."
"Give it to me straight, Clyde."
"You have a lot of time on your hands."
Carver is coming toward me with another one of this dumb jokes. I go back to my screens and think that this has not been one of my best evenings.