Four Ways of Looking at a Wheel
It’s Thursday night so I’m bout to spring this place, start my weekend. I’ve been working at Giorno’s two weeks now. My mom made me get a job and made my Tío Carlos give me one. I asked if I could be a delivery guy, drive around with a plastic pizza slice on my roof, but he was like, How long you been driving, three months? and he gave me this grand tour of the dishwasher instead.
So I just been washing dishes at Giorno’s Schmorno’s. Tonight’s real slow. Only regulars come in on Thursdays. I’m chillin since the dinner rush ended, so I leave the sauce pans to soak and go out to the front. Leo’s wiping down the counter and Ignacio’s at the register. I swipe a toothpick to chew on while I check out all the fine diners. There’s a weird old woman chomping on a cold cuts sub, and a man nurse in his PJs uniform, and this couple making out in the corner over their anchovy pizza which I know has got to be cold by now.
Leo nudges me to get my dirty elbows off his sanitized counter. I’m bout to tell him where I bet he’d like me to put my dirty elbows up, when in come these cops. There’s three of them, two guys and a lady, all swaggering with their belts loaded. “Must be Thursday,” Leo says so only I can hear. He keeps wiping down the counter, straightening out the condiments rack, but I know he’s really sizing up the two guy cops. He grunts something which means Approval in Leo lingo. Then he checks out the lady cop and says, “Check out that culo.”
“Naw güey, I got a girlfriend,” I say, but Leo just laughs short and soft. I got a girlfriend, but I look over at the cop.
It’s her turn to order. Ignacio’s taking her order and I notice something weird—he’s sweating down his neck and his right foot is tapping so that his whole leg shakes.
“Ey, but Ignacio’s getting turned on!” I say, but only so Leo can hear.
“Well yeah, whaddaya expect?” But Leo’s got this look on his face like he’s remembering something and he goes back to the prep station to start on their order.
It’s Thursday, which means Jack and Andrew want to go to Giorno’s for the $5.99 special after our shift. I really don’t like Giorno’s—it reminds me of teenage summers bussing tables at Tony’s Pies. The waxy tablecloths and stained menus. It doesn’t help that I’m vegetarian and Giorno’s menu is greasy with meat. But I go, every Thursday night, because Drew’s my partner and Jack my ride home.
On the ride over from the field office Jack talks about the Walmart raids that happened this morning. “Janitors,” he says, “they got two-hundred fifty of ‘em.” He’s switching radio stations, trying to find news on which states were involved.
I’m not talking. Drew and I were on a home raid today and the same argument came up again. We had a warrant for a house with three families; the kids were at school but two of the mothers were in the house. I wanted to let the parents contact the kids first; he wanted to sort it out in detention. I won the argument this time. Later he said he’d let me. It embarrasses him to argue in front of the detainees.
Giorno’s is quiet tonight as always. That smell—warm cardboard, spent oil, waxy cheese—greets us at the door and pulls us in. Jack orders sausage and pepperoni, Drew gets a calzone. I can never decide what to order, since everything disappoints anyways. If I get a salad the guys will say I’m too pretty to diet (somehow that always fails to charm); if I get cheese I’ll feel slightly sick from the grease. Maybe a combination…
I realize I’ve stood there too long when I notice the cashier waiting for me with a pained smile. “I’m sorry,” I say in a hurry, “I’ll have a Caesar salad and garlic bread.” He hands me a number and I sit down with Andrew and Jack to wait.
It’s always Thursday night again. I wonder if Time is a wheel one week round, rolling into eternity. Every Thursday night it wobbles. I wonder who’s rolling the wheel.
I’ve been a cashier here for three years. I never mess up orders and customers enjoy my banter. Carlos started working me in the front because of my English—he couldn’t believe it was so good. I told him I went to one of those schools on the frontera where they’d bus us in for the day. This week he said he wished they had a program that went the other way, so he could send his nephew to it.
At 9:05 they come in, like I knew they would. The two men, then the woman. They’re not in full uniform, but I know how they dress for a raid. I was eating lunch in another restaurant when they’d come in for the staff. I finished my sandwich, chewed carefully, then walked out the door. When I’d gotten a block away, I vomited.
Now the three of them are standing before me, looking over my head at the menu. I wait. I wonder what Fear is. Is it something the fearful create, or something the feared radiate?
I breathe in, out. When the two men order I look them in the eye, hand them their receipt, ask if they want drinks. This is how it goes every week, and every week they are polite and take their water cups from my hand and I tell them to enjoy their meal.
But the woman—she’s still standing there with her chin resting on her fist, frowning. She’s not looking at the menu anymore—she’s staring at me. Not in the eye: she’s looking somewhere at my chest and I know she’s thinking. I feel Time pick me up in its spokes and fling me, into her thoughts and all the way home. Hacia México, hacia todo lo que huí. For the first time in a long while, I let Fear take over my feet and palms. But I keep smiling and waiting, waiting until she looks me in the eye.
It is Thursday, nine at night, in the American city. Behind their iron shutters, the dark storefronts appear abandoned. The homeless turn the sidewalks into concrete cots. Lone pedestrians stride past enclosed in beanies and fretful reveries. But over on Fifth and Washington, Giorno’s is still open, doors til eleven, delivery til two.
Only a few of its plastic chairs are occupied: one by an old woman muttering to herself as she eats a sub and watches the late night news, two by a couple in matching fatigues and tattoo sleeves sharing the corner table, and one by a nurse still in his scrubs, sipping a soda.
Three immigration agents walk in, order, sit down. The prep cook tosses salad; the chef bakes bread, pizza, one calzone; the cashier calls their number. The agents talk about baseball and weekend shifts, they bus their table, and they leave.