Summer, 2013 / No. 30

I’d breathe in noxious emissions for hours

on the sidewalk beside the big brass doors

underneath the awning of the plush boutique hotel.

I worked with Mohammed, who always had glowing words

about his daughters. With Jeff, who represented us

to the union, and had a preternatural understanding

of each attempted dupe by management. Dave,

with whom I drank most nights. My shifts were

from three to eleven, so the street would go through

a costume change or two over the course of a day,

through two or three desires. It was my duty to be

accommodating. If you needed your car parked,

I’d park your car. Needed help with your luggage,

I’d carry your luggage. There were things I wouldn’t do,

of course; but those are better left unsaid, and besides,

were only requested intermittently: some strangeness

in the air, in a glass, in the junior suites. But the faces

on those notes would never ever change: Wilfrid Laurier,

John A. Macdonald, Queen Elizabeth II.

If we were lucky, William Lyon Mackenzie King,

or even Robert Borden, God forbid. Exhaust caused

pain in my sinuses. So did smokes on the loading

dock bridge after bringing the Benzes around.

Chit-chat with co-workers folded the hours.

Back out front I felt at home with those for whom

the shakedown was a thrill. Concocting parking scams

during the gala events, tipping off cops for a fee,

sending waves of guests to an Italian place we knew

we could eat at after punching out for free.

With Mohammed, who sent half his earnings home

to Mumbai. Jeff, who played in a band whose name

was a misspelled muscle car. Dave, who knew

where the booze flowed after the bars closed down.

I celebrate it all: sore back, hangovers, heavy stuff;

even the noxious emissions, which made sunsets stunning.

I do it to try to redeem an idea of myself. Though I failed

night after night to do anything good. To squirrel away

some of that dough for a later date. To dream. Best case

scenario on the street was a sudden summer shower:

the beautiful women of Yorkville made even more visible,

the musicians outside the Conservatory of Music

protecting violas and tubas with every free part of their body,

children splashing and running in circles while tired

commuters pushed past, shielding their heads

with the news. The air felt cleaner after, breathable,

and the street took on the glow of the lobby’s marble.

The museum was still building its Lee-Chin Crystal.

And even I knew this could not be sustained.

Nick Thran is the author of the poetry collections Earworm and Every Inadequate Name. Last updated summer, 2013.