From Vol. 1, No. 3
“A Part of the Job” was first performed as a live CKUT broadcast during a street event on Mount Royal Boulevard.
A Part of the Job
by Ian Ferrier
I WAS STAKED OUT IN A DOORWAY near the entrance to the Astor Place subway, watching the rain fall on a pile of steaming garbage at the edge of the sidewalk.
For 36 hours it had rained and I was soaked down to the greying elastic on my threadbare gotchies, staving off hypothermia with medicinal doses of One Star.
I’d like to say I was on a case, but the detective business hadn’t been very good that year. I’d been knocked unconscious, spat on, kicked down the subway stairs. I’d been locked up, run over, dragged, tied down and held at gunpoint by twelve year olds. I’d meditated in silence as the good citizens of New York threw nickels at my hat. I didn’t have an office anymore, and what I drank, well…most people use it to start fires.
I couldn’t afford that luxury. Facts are I never did have an office. A few years back I’d burrow down to the bottom of a dumpster and catch a warm forty winks and that was a high point. True I didn’t smell much like Vogue magazine, but at least I was warm and no one stole my shoes.
Now I didn’t even have a dumpster. The dumpsters lost their glamour on that cold winter morning three years ago….. I had woken up in the darkness, wondering what time it was and why I felt seasick. Turned out I didn’t have to wonder. I was buried six feet under, on a garbage scow in the middle of the East River.
Of course I didn’t know that right away. I had my eyes closed and I was listening to the seagulls, wondering why they’d all migrated to the Lower East Side. I must have been dumped quite close to the top or I wouldn’t be here to tell you this. I had just started my isometrics when a horrible metallic
screech froze my internal organs.
Something was wrong.
There’s one sure thing about your dumpster being dragged onto a loading truck and that’s the winch. Everyone who’s anyone knows the high pitched whine of a garbage flatbed. There’s no mistaking it. Even if they’re dumping you in the hills at garbage central you still hear the motor rev as they tilt you. This time was different. Instead the screech was followed by a deep booming sound, as if someone had tolled the bell for the Last Judgement and used my brain for the clapper. I’m a quick thinker but I have to say this one threw me. They’re supposed to tow the stuff to Jersey and then ship it, and everyone trusts the Mafia to do this of course. On this particular morning they made some terrible clerical error and the bottom fell out.
I just had time to catch my breath and then I was under, tumbling in the freezing water with four thousand other garbage bags.
Ten feet down the garbage began to spread out, a continuous rain. It’s a wonderful thing the way drowning focuses the mind. You have two choices: inhale and die, or hold your breath and feel time slow down to a crawl.
I didn’t inhale. Instead I was looking fondly at the fading light from the surface and I remember wondering to myself “How many dumpsters to a garbage scow? Forty? Four hundred?” I was remembering long summer nights in Jersey and croquet at boarding school in Princeton. I almost started crying.
Deep down in the murk, the garbage was doing ballet: Some floating down, some floating up–two-thirds of an all dressed pizza hovered weightlessly before me, escorted by sundry clots of potato salad. I could tell you more about it, but this was no time for reverie. Enormous collisions were being played out in slow motion.
I loosened my tie. It was that crucial moment when buoyancy overcomes momentum, when all the garbage decides whether to keep on falling or float back up to the top and go sightseeing. I was just remarking on the point when something thumped into me from below.
It was the eight o’clock, a wooden box on the express train for the surface, and this time I didn’t hesitate. I clung to it like a midget on a raging bull.
I’ll never forget that ride. That crate was high-stepping it like an Ohio fullback, shedding tacklers, smashing through garbage like it was cheerleaders. Nothing was gonna stop this john boy. My lungs cried for oxygen, and I guess someone must have heard because a few seconds later I was fighting off seagulls and composing personal letters of thanks to the man who invented crates full of bubble plastic.
I hitched a ride on a coal barge and I was back in town by five o’clock.
I was a little shaken up.
Some people dread going to sleep, and fight it any way they can. I’m different. I never minded the sleeping part. It’s the waking up I don’t like. Day in, day out, never knowing when or where it’ll happen. I’m a little twitchy these days, but then I guess no one ever said it wasn’t going
to be dangerous.
It’s a part of the job.