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August 19, 2003  


There are times when I just can't get to sleep, and the only thing that helps is a warm cup of coffee. I have no idea why this works...but it does. It can't be hot coffee, where you have to puff-sip, puff-sip. It's needs to be right around body temperature, and the cup, too. I'll sit for a minute, letting my hands take heat from the cup, and then put the coffee down in two or three big draughts. Within a couple of minutes, everything's slowing down, drowsing...and I know it won't be long until the black velvet slides over my eyes and takes me to morning.

I'm not sure why this works. The "warm" part makes sense -- warm is comfort, and shelter, and nuzzling. But the "coffee" part...all I can figure is that the caffeine acts like that just-a-bit-too-loud ruckus coming from the kids' room that makes mom call out, "Okay, that's enough now! Go to sleep. I don't want to hear any more noise coming out of there!" The caffeine is just enough energy to snap all those restless pieces of me out of their fidgeting, and let the sleepy take over.

There are other times, when I can't really get awake. Usually the depression is like a typical schoolyard bully -- mostly bluster and taunts, but little real danger...its major impact is in its persistence, not its punch. But once in a while, the depression comes on with fists flying, a hot young boxer lookin' to make a mark. I get so beat up that I feel like even taking care of myself is out of reach; I can't even get to the ropes, let alone leave the ring.

So I go mow an old lady's yard. You're always welcome to mow an old lady's yard, and she'll thank you with tea and hard candy and whatever stories or complaints she has ready; she really appreciates the time. For me, it's a chance to call out to the boxer, and tell him, "That's enough! -- let all those fidgeting pieces wake up; they've got things to do now."

When I started installing cable, they put me in "the inner city." This was an area mostly poor, mostly black, mostly rundown. Most of the people were fine.

Every month, we'd go through a cycle of disconnecting accounts that hadn't paid in the last 90 days. These were "non-pays," except for the days you were doing them; then they called by the generic name for a disconnect, a "1070." On an average month, I'd get around 150 non-pays, and three days to get to 'em.

The routine is to go to the door, and give the customer one last chance to pay the back balance. If there's no payment at that time, then attempt to recover the cable equipment, and disconnect the account at the street. Then do the next one.

Most of the other guys had 70 or 80 non-pays each month; maybe half would be customers that had moved, or had forgotten to mail checks, or typical middle-class reasons for getting behind on a bill. In my area, it was different story. Cable was just as desirable here as anywhere else, but there wasn't quite the economic base to make it affordable. Lottsa folks in that inner city had to sweat to make that cable bill.

Which meant, for me, lottsa folks at home, waiting for me, with either arguments or cash. Arguments take time, and I had to bang out 40 or 50 of these things a day. After a few months, I learned how to make better use of my time....

Some folks are happy to pay, but you've got to get to them when they've got the money. That means dropping by the afternoon that checks come out, and holding the money until the non-pay cycle. For others, it means giving a heads-up that a 1070 is coming, and giving them time to get the cash.

This was very effective for many people, especially the hookers. Every month, I'd have to run 1070s on five or six girls who were hooking. I'd get to them all on the first morning. Knock at the door until somone get up; if they had a number on the work order, sometimes I'd call ahead. Then I'd explain what the deal was, and would it be enough time if I came back after 3 o'clock?

These girls could look so normal in the morning -- a bit grumpy, half-asleep, dressed in robes and slippers; thinking about getting back to bed, or maybe getting some coffee; yawning...but by the afternoon they had been re-captured by sex-work. Short-shorts or minidresses with grab-through tops, theatrical-grade makeup, ass-elevating heels...they would hand over tight folds of $20s; sometimes the bills were actually still sweaty. The odor of old sex sought you out like campfire smoke.

Some of the girls could smile, or jibe, or complain as they paid the money. But so many others were just knocked out on their feet -- the crack could now barely keep them awake, and the work was just paying the bills, and the sex and the tricks and the pimps and the cops and the life didn't leave much room for anything more than than getting your psychic ass kicked, in a ring whose ropes you can't even reach, let alone climb out of....

I hated non-pays. There were some good times, and some good people, but there were always those five or six girls whose hard-won sleep I would interrupt to keep their cable turned on...where were they going to find an old lady's yard to mow?