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.