This is slated for the next issue of my zine. Working nights is dangerous.
Having a job that starts at 10pm is like asking for it. Yes, I deal with legions of the insane, intoxicated, and socially inept but, then again, who the hell else is up and wandering around downtown at this hour. I sigh as the first familiar faces bob out of the darkness and into my doorway. Every night is a fucking parade of lunacy. For some reason I thought that I wanted this.
The filthy businessman is the first of them to show up. He is the earliest of the late night regulars. He is covered with dirt and god knows what else and smells like the dog food factory smoke in Oakland that made me dizzy with nausea while I waited for the BART. This guy makes me think of Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon only all grown up and ripe as hell. He quietly makes twenty bucks worth of photocopies, stashes them away in his battered and filthy briefcase (which is really more like a suitcase), pays with worn out dollar bills, and disappears back out onto the dark streets. The filthy businessman isn't a problem, unlike most of the other late nighters; he is more like a mystery. I wonder who the hell this fella is. Why does he make photocopies every night? One day, I will follow him out of here just to see where he goes. Tonight, however, the flow of the insane into my workplace is steady and I'm back at the counter talking to some other maniac with nothing better to do than hang out here. Fuck. Did I mention that I asked for this shift when I applied for this job?
I had a theory for a while that it must be the bright, buzzing fluorescent lights that brings them all in, like the blanket of insects that covers the big window in front. Maybe it's the combination of the lights, the insipid (intended to be "upbeat" I imagine) Muzak, and the disinterest in confrontations of most folks that work with me that packs them in every night. I feel like the orderly - silently watching them while they loiter around and soak up their medication. It is a strange and terrible thing to watch night after night. When I'm feeling especially deprived of sleep and prone to fits of creative hallucinations I can imagine that I'm one of the surviving humans in Dawn of the Dead. I watch the zombies stagger around, inadvertently riding escalators and falling into the fountains. So far none of my regulars have tried to eat my brains so maybe everything will be all right after all.
The only thing that I can be truly certain of when I show up for work (other than hearing continuous hits from the 1970s) is that Father Fraud will show up at some point in the night. Father Fraud is like the hellish kingpin of all the annoying crazy people that I have to deal with on a regular basis—even outside of work it is impossible to escape this motherfucker. He drops in to try to sell me change or for no reason at all at least once a night. Imagine a wild-eyed, middle-aged man with a shaved head who dresses like a priest and looks like he just emerged from a six-month retreat in a coal mine. Father Fraud is all about variety. He spends most of his days standing outside various yuppie stores on the 16th St mall asking for "donations" and generally harassing people with semi-coherent pleading for money. He must have a touch of lycanthropy because he is an entirely different animal at night and a different species every night. I think that being confined indoors just reflects and concentrates his projected crazy sonar because the man is on fire the minute he steps in the door. He paces around the store like he's looking for his lost mind or sometimes really goes for it and runs laps from one end of the store to the other. There are a few observation windows between my work area and the filthy priest speedway. Sadly, I've grown accustomed to watching him streak back and forth in my peripheral vision. I think I could stick a pin in my eye and not really feel it. Usually this is just a warm up for a solo shouting match in the men's room. His fire and brimstone rantings echo off the walls and are audible even outside the store. He talks to the dial tone on the courtesy phones and talks to the ceiling. Once he just screamed, threw the telephone down, and ran out the door. It was kind of a relief.
Times grinds in its rut and more otherworldly folks drift in and out. Most of them are just weird looking customers. My favorite is the corpse-like hippie who comes in to make fliers for his vitamin company. He has all the vitality of spoiled milk. Scary. It seems like I've turned my back for ten seconds when I hear the "Good evening, sir" that is another essential element in the nightly straitjacket circus. Yes, another regular full of lunatic quirks and twitchy idiosyncrasies. It's a tiny old man who looks like life has beaten him into submission. He is one of the few that I feel some sort of empathy for. I still want to strangle him but I'd want his demise to be quicker than most of the other regulars. To understand this man's particularly maddening habits you have to imagine someone coming into your workplace (assuming that you have some kind of service job) and asking your permission in great detail before doing anything. Oh, and all of these requests are stated in the most convoluted fashion possible: "May I impose on a minute's worth of your time so that I may ask to use this establishment's bathroom?" followed by "Thank you, sir." I don't think that this man is capable of ending any thought without saying "Thank you, sir." it sounds so benign but it's fucking maddening after the twentieth time in twenty sentences in five minutes. This guy is a writer of sorts. His craft manifests itself in one-sheeters that are totally illegible and don't follow any sort of linear path. He hands them out to whoever will give him the time of day. I desperately try to be nice to this man. He's basically harmless and I have this horrible fear (especially when editing particularly out-there and rambling pieces of my own writing) that I will one day become this man. I have terrifying visions of myself at the age of 60, wandering around downtown and handing out my zine. This could be me some day. I barely roll my eyes anymore when he asks me to fax his scribbles to the White House. Takes one to know one, I guess.
I've been keeping my eye out for the new guy that all my co-workers have told me about. He likes to sneak into the men's room and vomit all over everything. How charming. I have a bottle of bleach stashed in the back room for those times when I enter the men's room to find blood and a syringe in the sink. Oh, and there was that time that I opened the bathroom door only to be greeted by a fresh turd in the middle of the floor. I wonder if was the same guy who shit his pants while I was watching. Well, at least it's a little progress.
Four AM. It's time for a visit from the fake business dude. He is the most obnoxious yet quietest of all the demented that I babysit. Decked out in the finest in easily-wrinkled and stained wear from some discount department store he ambles around the store looking for props to start up a running commentary. The reason that this fella is the fake business guy is because it's very obvious that he is probably a temp or even lower on the corporate ladder but tries very hard to project the image of a successful executive or something. It doesn't work and it makes me sad that he's trying to impress some shlub like me that runs copy machines. I call from the fax phone and make the main telephone ring as an excuse to get away from him. Eventually, he buys a box of paper clips and goes away. I understand people less and less every day. Once he had me make a color copy of a polaroid of himself.
It's morning now. Like when the sun comes out—not the morning it has been for all but two hours of my work day. It's funny because all the morning crew comes in all bright-eyed and enthusiastic to ask me how I do this every night. One of them suggested that I must be crazy to work the hours that I do. I mumble at them and go home to sleep.