by Junot Diaz
[Life at work for pool table delivery men.]
At nine Wayne picks me up at the showroom and by then I have our route planned out. The order forms tell me everything I need to know about the customers we’ll be dealing with that day. If someone is just getting a fifty-two-inch card table delivered then you know they aren’t going to give you too much of a hassle but they also aren’t going to tip. Those are your Spotswood, Sayrevlle and Perth Amboy deliveries. The pool tables go north to the rich suburbs — Livingston, Ridgewood, Bedminster.
You should see our customers. Doctors, diplomats, surgeons, presidents of universities, ladies in slacks and silk tops who sport thin watches you could trade in for a car, who wear comfortable leather shoes. Most of them prepare for us by laying down a path of yesterday’s Washington Post from the front door to the game room. I make them pick it all up. I say: Carajo, what if we slip? Do you know what two hundred pounds of slate could do to a floor? The threat of property damage puts the chop-chop in their step. The best customers leave us alone until the bill has to be signed. Every now and then we’ll be given water in paper cups. Few have offered us more, though a dentist from Ghana once gave us a six-pack of Heineken while we worked.
Sometimes the customer has to jet to the store for cat food or a newspaper while we’re in the middle of a job. I’m sure you’ll be all right, they say. They never sound too sure. Of course, I say, just show us where the silver’s at. The customers ha-ha and we ha-ha and then they agonize over leaving, linger by the front door, trying to memorize everything they own, as if they don’t know where to find us, who we work for.
Once they’re gone, I don’t have to worry about anyone bothering me. I put down the ratchet, crack my knuckles and explore, usually while Wayne is smoothing out the felt and doesn’t need help. I take cookies from the kitchen, razors from the bathroom cabinets. Some of these houses have twenty, thirty rooms. On the ride back I figure out how much loot it would take to full up all that space. I’ve been caught roaming around plenty of times but you’d be surprised how quickly someone believes you’re looking for the bathroom if you don’t jump when you’re discovered, if you just say, Hi.
After the paperwork’s been signed, I have a decision to make. If the customer has been good and tipped well, we call it even and leave. If the customer has been an ass — maybe they yelled, maybe they let their kids throw golf balls at us — I ask for the bathroom. Wayne will pretend that he hasn’t seen this before, he’ll count the drill bits while the customer (or their maid) guides the vacuum over the floor. Excuse me, I say. I let them show me the way to the bathroom (usually I already know) and once the door is shut I cram bubble bath drops into my pockets and throw fist-sized wads of toilet paper into the toilet. I take a dump if I can and leave that for them.