I - Angel's First Car
It was 1990 when I worked with an angel. At least he looked like an angel. That blond hair. Those sparkling eyes that turned several shades to a deeper darker blue when he laughed. Pale skin, seemingly translucent so that I often thought I could see the inner mechanisms of angelicism. He was tiny. He looked about twelve but had just turned sixteen.
I tended the bar. Angel bussed the tables and swept the floor. Only an angel could be as good a sweeper as Angel was.
I have to go back to the beginning of Angel's automobile history. You know how exciting it is when a kid gets his/her first car ... it is automatically the high point of life up to that point. High ideas of freedom. Roads opening up. Freedom! Independence! So Angel bought a car last spring, some kind of third-hand Dodge, ten years old. Not the sixty-thousand dollar Acura he wanted but, still, his own car.
How proudly he led me to the window of the restaurant where we worked to point it out to me! There it shone, angle-parked across the avenue. I expressed suitable admiration, remembering my own pride in my own first car, also a Dodge, a 1932 Dodge sedan purchased in 1954 when I was fourteen, too young even to drive so that I had to have friends drive me around in it. The car cost me $75; I had saved all summer for it. I would buy a quarter's worth of gas at the filling station, which got me slightly over a gallon, and sit proudly shotgun while this or that older licensed friend chauffeured me up and down the roads of the small town I grew up in. So in love was I with my car that I slept in it for the first few August nights that I owned it.
So, after work that night when Angel showed me his car, Angel intended to set out upon his first major outing. He was going to visit a friend in a town about 30 miles north of where we were. I began to worry. All of a sudden, to me, Interstate 89 turned into a dark, foreboding, surreal stretch of mica-laced macadam, totally unsuitable as a path for an angel, moreso so late at night. And Angel was so tiny! It was a danger-laden route along which hungry wolves were baying at a full moon and just waiting for a nabbable angel to cruise by. Angel could be eaten by them, or by monsters. If Angel didn't taste just right he'd be spat out upon the rough berm. Or, as fate might have it, a giant meteor might plunge from the atmosphere and smash plum-flat both Angel and the Dodge.
I wanted Angel protected from life's harsh elements, wanted his innocence honored, wanted his ethereal beauty to be forever free of tarnish and rot.
Looking twelve, it just didn't seem right for him to be driving into the night.
Couldn't he, I wondered, visit the friend tomorrow, in daylight?
My concern was aggravated when I learned that Angel wasn't even sure how to get to the town he wanted to get to. It was straight up Interstate 89 for cripe's sake. People who are not map-oriented and those who have no sense of direction drive me nuts anyway. I learned to read a map when I was four; my older brothers and sisters, in the back seat of our 1936 Chevrolet, while en route to Mass twelve miles distant, showed me on a map how if one stayed on this Road 30 (as it was called) and kept going and going and going for hours and hours and hours, and then turned onto this road, and then onto that road, one could, after eight- or nine-hundred miles, end up in New York City.
Angel did not make it to his friend's home that night.
"I blew the engine," he reported when next I saw him. His report flooded my mind with horrible visions of a stranded angel even as he stood safely before me telling me about it. He might have had to hitch a ride and might have been picked up by a murderer.
However ... I didn't ask how he got the car towed and so forth, but he did tell me that his dad and he had since bought a new engine.
The next item I heard about Angel and his car was that he'd been in an accident in a nearby city.
"I rear-ended somebody on College Street," he reported. "I was with these three buddies just going along at the speed limit and I heard somebody holler my name and I looked over and the next thing I knew I was ramming into a car stopped ahead of me. It just happened so fast. I couldn't believe how quick it happened!"
Damage costs and details of the repairs (again by his handy father) were related. A new front axle -- "We got one at the junkyard for only seventy five dollars!" -- a new this ... a new that.
My fears that Angel was just too little to have a car were shored up with this latest report. Still I was disappointed for him when he brought to work a catalogue of mountain bicycles and showed me the six hundred dollar model he was buying now that, as he said, he was selling his car.
"Why are you selling your car?"
"It's just too expensive," he said, while not seeming flinched at all that surely no bicycle in the world was realy worth six hundred bucks.
My heart cried a little for Angel ... what a blow to his bloomable manhood to step down from cruising College Street in a car to ... yuck! ... a bicycle! Something one had to pedal, for god's sake, just as a three-year-old has to pedal a tricycle.
I anguished at what I supposed to be a loss of Angel's self-esteem, anguished at the vision of him walking the corridors of High School and being pointed out as being car-less, owning no horsepower, owning no revvable engine, having no four on the floor. Still, it didn't seem to be bothering him too much; I had to admire that he seemed to be taking it well. And I knew too that growth and manhood would eventually come to him in more subtle ways, in ways deeper than car-ownership.
So it was on the following Sunday that Mark and I had brunch with one of the waitresses, Gina, and her boyfriend Gordon, at Emma's Restaurant out on the highway. Gina was a waitress where we and Angel worked. Gordon was her betrothed; he was in the State Police Academy.
"I was so mad at Angel last night," commented Gina. "He was so stoned and when non-smoking filled up he was sitting at the bar reading Car and Driver magazine."
"Angel stoned?" I said. "Definitely not! It's not nice to even say that. Mark doesn't know how good a worker Angel is and how straight-laced he is and he might think you're serious."
"Oh, George, I am serious! You think Angel's so perfect! Get a grip! Believe me ... he was stoned!"
"Stop it! You're kidding! You're making this up! Angel's an athlete! He even has dreams of being drafted by one of the major league baseball teams. He not the kind of kid who would risk damaging his body by ... what do you mean? ... stoned on what? ... you're saying he was stoned on grass?"
Gina rolled her eyes. She turned to the future State Trooper and said, "We can tell George, can't we?"
Typically she didn't wait for Gordon to give consent or express dissent, but plunged right on.
"There's some things you need to wake up to ... Angel was D.U.I. when he had that accident on College Street ... that's why he can't have a car anymore," she said. "You fall for every single one of his stories. I don't know why he doesn't want you to know ... I guess because you guys are his bosses. He wants you to think he's what you thing he is. Believe me, he's not."
"I can't believe you," I said. I said it disbelievingly.
"George! It's time for you to start believing. It's time for you to open your eyes!"
I looked at Gordon. He seemed to be merely watching me, amused to see how I took this new assessment of Angel's character. He did not dispute what Gina was saying.
I began to believe.
"So what happened?" I asked, almost tremulously, my brain flooding anew with yet another version of horribleness. I imagined brutal city cops throwing a drunk Angel into a tank with other drunks ... scabies-ridden drunks ... low-down three-days-bearded drunks who had pissed themselves and who stank to high heaven ... horny drunks who would mistake Angel's angelic beauty for femininity and would, when the jailer's back was turned, de-flower Angel. Brutally. Without sentiment de-flower. Imagining Angel getting rear-ended was horrible, horrible.
"I don't know what's happening," Gina said in answer to my question. "I guess he has a lawyer."
We finished up. Mark and I picked up the check. Gina left an eight dollar tip. We all went out into the parking lot. Gina, Gordon, and I lit up cigarettes. Mark and I admired their brand new deep-blue Toyota Camry, just a few days old.
An argument ensued between Jody and Glen over which of them had already burned a hole in the upholstery of the driver's seat.
I thought of Angel all the way home.
I adjusted. But I was undaunted by the truth ... Angel remained an angel in my eyes, though I did maybe open my eyes a little wider from then on, wanting to see for myself if angels really do step out back and get stoned while they are at work.
II - Lap Dances
In New York City a few years back Abby, Drew and I had a motel out in Queens. Each day we took lovely Lincoln Town car rides into Manhattan. Only $30. I sat in front every time and chatted with the various drivers. I always try to sit in front and chat with the drivers when I'm in a city because they're invariably foreign and I like to ask they questions about where they're from, what is it like there, and so forth. I like to hear their stories ... and the trivia gained, such as the time a cabby in Montreal who was from Bangladesh told me with great pride that the architect who designed Sears Tower in Chicago was born in Bangladesh (Fazlur Khan also designed the John Hancock building in Boston).
On our second ride the Ecuadorian driver spoke so proudly of his daughter who, he said, was doing extremely well in school. "My Eeeenglish -- not so guda ... she'a speeka guda Eeeenglish!" He was so glad to be living in the land of opportunity, and happily foresaw his daughter with a college diploma someday. I was happy for him, proud for him.
When he dropped us off in front of our friend Ellen's apartment on St. Mark's Place I put an extra $25 with the tip and said that he was to put it into his daughter's college fund.
We thanked the man, exited the luxurious car, and pushed the doors shut. "You just paid for his next lap dance" said Drew.