"This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." - Dorothy Parker


     Say you’d just gotten home from a long day.  A real long day.  You’d planned on getting up early to get some work done on a fifteen-page essay due in two days, but those plans ended when your phone’s pissy little beeping sounded three different times before your alarm went off. Only the restaurant where you worked called that early, so leaving the warmth of bed was no priority.  A twenty-minute process, minimum.
     Sitting on the side of the bed in your boxers, with sleep still stuck in the corners of your eyes and a haze in your head, you finally checked the phone. Three different numbers showed.  Three different managers from three different restaurant locations had called you: Long Beach, Huntington, and Balboa.  You knew someday you’d regret applying to a corporate chain, and now you do.  You called them back one by one and listened to their attempts to make you work when you didn’t want to and weren’t even supposed to.  In your semiconscious state, you tried as hard as you could to fight them off.

     “But, I already work tonight,” you say into the phone.  “And I’ve got shit to do.”
     “What kind of shit?” says manager number one. 
     “School shit, nothing you need to worry about.  Look, I would if I could, Amanda, but I cain’t – so I ain’t.”
     So you get out of working in Long Beach.  Balboa is no problem because you already work the night shift there, so you tell them no way.  But you’ve never had to deal with Huntington before and the gruff voice over the phone, the regional manager, throws you a curve ball. 
     “If you do this for me tonight, you can pick your schedule, all your shifts next week.” 
You don’t know how to react to this, so, though you hate working doubles, you agree to work a double shift at two different stores in two different cities.  In two different counties, really. 

     Your lunch shift at Huntington runs late because of a party of six that camps out at their table before finally dropping their Platinum Citibank, allowing you to do your checkout.  After printing up the paperwork from the new computers, you count and make little stacks of cash: twenties, tens, fives, and ones.  Then, from that, one pile for the house, one for bussers, five bucks for the cooks, and, finally, a ten, four fives, and two ones are left for you. Thirty-two bucks.  Well worth the five hours you could have spent on your dumb essay.
     You’re rushed getting to Balboa by five, flying down PCH into Newport Beach, darting between gleaming beamers and polished-rimmed benzos on the way home from the office, mid-level execs lollygagging in the way of your oxidized silver hatchback.  You park quickly, slamming the clutch in and out, into a spot on the street.      Jogging three blocks with your grease-stained black apron still on, change clinking and jingling in its large pockets about your crotch, you clock in four minutes late, rapidly tapping the light pen against the computer monitor’s puzzle of blueish numbers and codes. 
     The night shift is slow, and even though you worked a double, no one is willing to close for you and let you off an hour early.  Your customers are ten percenters all night and you walk with thirty-six bucks.  A banner night to cap a stellar afternoon.
     You finish cutting lemons and stocking the kid’s cups and import beers in the fridge, sneaking hits from the tap beers to offset your meager tips. After ten, you finally clock out and walk slouchily to your car, thinking about your stupid essay on Milton or Keats, someone dead for too long to still be writing about.  You don’t see your car where you parked it, so you figure you left it somewhere else.  But before you can turn all the way around to check out the other places you usually park, you realize that you had indeed parked it there.  Then you think that someone stole your car.  But who would steal a ’79 Ford Fiesta in Balboa?  In Newport Beach? 
     A man with a big belly walks out of and leans against the door of the liquor store in front of the spot where you’d parked.  Red neon lights flash Coors and Bud behind him.  He silently watches your plight while slowly raising and lowering a cigarette to his mouth. 
     “Did you see any cars parked here today?” you ask.
     “Yup,” he says.
     “A silver one?”
     “Yup.”  He blows out a hit.
     Silence.  Another hit exhaled.
     “Uhm, did it get abducted or something?” you ask.
     Another hit, then, “That’s a tow away zone,” he says, pointing with the cigarette between his fingers at the red hood over the meter you’d earlier fed.  You walk up and inspect it under the streetlamp.  The red hood reads, in white letters, Tow Away Zone.  You look farther down and see a tiny two-inch sign on the meter’s pole that reads, Tow Away Zone After Six P.M.
     “That’s bullshit,” you say.  “How the hell can a metered spot become a tow-away zone?  What a buncha horse . . .” 
     “It’s gonna end up costing you about 180 bucks,” says the belly guy.
     He takes another hit and exhales slowly, luxuriating in the cloud wafting from his mouth, seemingly enjoying your growing angst.  “Yup.  And it’s the weekend, so there’ll probably be an extra charge to get the driver to the lot.”
     Before he can finish, you start walking away.  Still holding the pizza-greasy apron in your left hand and mumbling to yourself, “How does a meter become a tow-away zone?”  you trek down the streets of the fru-fru beach community to Kenny’s house, a kid you work with, the only person you know who lives in the area. 

     “Hey, Kenny, I need a huge favor,” you say, catching him in his blue Ranger on the way to buy more beer for his last-minute party.  Before you know it you are on the phone, sitting on the side of Kenny’s unmade bed, writing down phone numbers on a paper towel, too many people in the living room to hear over the phone. 
     “Newport PD.”
     “Yeah, you guys towed my car.  I’d like to get it back.”
     “We what?”
     “You towed my car,” you say.  “I need it back.”
     “Hold on, let me transfer you.”  You hear music for a second, a click, then a dial-tone.
     “Damn,” you say.
     You dial again.
     “Newport PD.”
     “Yeah, I just called about my car and I got disconnected.”
     “Oh, sorry,” he grunts as if it was your fault he hung up on you.  “Lemme transfer you.”
     Muzak comes on.
     “Uhm, you guys towed my car and I want it back.”
     “You need records, who gave you this number?”
     “I was transferred.”
     “Hold on.”  Click.  Dial tone.
     “Damn,” you say again but don’t feel adequately relieved.  “Fuck,” you say louder and slam the phone down on the receiver.
     When finally reconnected, muzak comes on again on and you look around the room for something to break, at least something to throw against the wall.  But there is nothing aside from a dirty glass filled with cigarette butts.  Too much clean up involved.  After two more attempts, you’re finally connected with records and you scribble down the number for Harbor Tow while watching the black ink bleed into the fibers of the paper towel. 
     You plan it out in your head.  The first thing you have to do is go to the Police Department off Jamboree and get the release for the tow yard.  Then you have to go to Harbor Tow in Newport to get your car. 15 miles this way, 405 that way, up down PCH just to get back to where you started, minus two hundred dollars and fifteen page essay.  Still sitting on Kenny’s bed, you think cleaning up broken glass and a dozen soggy cigarette butts might just be worth it.
     You find Kenny outside on the boardwalk smoking a cigarette and talking to a cute blonde girl.  But you don’t care, so you pull him aside.
     “Kenny, you ready to go?”
     “Gimme a minute, man.  Lemme try and finish what I started over here,” he says, nodding his head back to where the girl stands, plumes of smoke sporadically rising above her head as she stands under a pocket of porch-light.
     “Come on, Kenny, the sooner we get this done the sooner you can be back.”
     “I dunno, man . . .”
     “I’ll buy you Taco Bell.”
     “Cool, let’s go.”

     When you park in the police lot, you lock your door but Kenny doesn’t.
     “Aren’t you gonna lock up?” you say.
     “If anyone has the balls to steal my truck from in front of a police station, they deserve a new ride,” he says.
     “You’ve got a point.”
     You both walk into the office and up to the Plexiglas barrier separating you from the lady cop who’s supposed to help you.  You prop your elbows against the dark formica ledge and spit out your spiel.
     “The officer with your information is on a call,” replies lady cop with a lack of inflection.  “A city emergency.  Just have a seat and we’ll call your name.”
     “The guy on the phone said that if I can make it there before midnight I’ll save fifty bucks,” you say in your best attempt at a polite voice.  “Is there any way to get this done quicker?”
     “The officer with your information is on a call, a city emergency.” She says without even looking up this time.  “Just have a seat and we’ll call your name.”
     You crane your neck and cock your head to the side to look at the office behind her.  It is completely empty, just a slew of empty desks and chairs.  You wonder who she means by we.  You then look up at Plexiglas partition and wonder if there would be any recourse if, to get her motivated, you started pounding on it with both fists as hard and as fast as you can. You stare at her as she sits there looking down, ignoring you, scratching on a pad of paper.  Her straight black hair is pulled back to a short ponytail that sways slightly about the side of her neck as she writes.  You open your mouth, but nothing comes out.  And you’re glad because you know you would have just gotten yourself another hour of waiting for the officer on duty.
     You walk back towards Kenny.  The room is splashed with the buzzing bluish hue of fluorescent lights, one long bulb louder than the rest.  A guy with light brown hair down to his shoulders is sitting on the tan burlap couch with his forehead in his hands and his elbows on his knees, his shoulder-length hair pulled behind his ears.  On the floor next to him is a blue shopping bag that reads The Gap, a burgundy sweater sleeve and one leg from a pair of jeans spilling from it.  You look to your left.  An old lady leaning on a stainless steel cane with four little rubber ended feet stands alone looking at the cream wall behind the partition.  She has an oxygen line taped under her nose and a balled up tissue in her right hand, a mini oxygen tank or something on a sling around her shoulders.  A middle-aged man with a round belly and a blue hat with #1 DAD on it writes on the ledge in front of the partition.  Right behind him is a uniform on a hanger, so you figure he’s an off-duty.
     “Ok, they are ready for you now,” says lady cop before you can sit down.  When you turn to look, you see she is talking to the old lady, who goes through a brown door with #1 DAD into the depths of the station.
     Twenty minutes pass.
     The room is quiet.  Kenny is reading Highlights for Kids.  You look at the three empty display cases – oak frames around glass. On the wall next to them is a plaque with only four copper slats on it.  The plastic faux-gold letters above read, Officer of the Month.  You look back over at lady-cop, still sitting, ponytail still wiggling, and you wonder why there are only four names on the plaque since this police station has been around longer than four months.  But you think you know the answer to that one.
     Twenty more minutes pass.
     The stillness makes your blood boil.  Nobody is doing a damn thing.  You want to scream at lady-cop to get off her ass, to call the officer on patrol at Dunkin Donuts, the cop who had the nerve to drop a red hood over your meter, and tell him to get the approval over to you so you can get on with your stupid dead-guy essay.  But, again, you resist.

     The old lady and #1 DAD eventually emerge with a skinny blonde girl who is breathing so asthmatically it makes you feel out of breath.  Her eyes are beet red and her thin blonde hair is ratted out in a few directions, quivering each time her shoulders heave up and down with her breaths. 
     You feel sorry for her and wonder what it could be that she’d be in here for.  You think of everything, assault, rape - the whole nine.  But then you figure if it was something like that she’d be in a hospital, not a holding cell.  #1 DAD turns out to be the arresting officer, and as he fills out the report you just happen to overhear them talking, but only because you’re eavesdropping.
     “Well, my first one was up in Berkley,” she says, her voice trembling as much as her thin blonde hair lick rising from the back of her head.  I’m still waiting for a court date for that one.”
     “Oh, so this isn’t your first one.”
     “No, I have another one, too.”
     “And how long ago did this take place?”
     “October.  Four months ago.”  Her head drops down to her chest.
     “Is there any way to transfer this ticket up north so she can take care of it up there?” the old lady pipes in, her raspy voice sounding like it’d been used for a cat’s scratching post.  “That’s where she lives.  She’s just visiting her boyfriend here.”  She opens her hand and extends her arm toward the guy still sitting with his forehead in his hands.  He doesn’t look up.
     “Well,” says #1 DAD, looking down at the guy on the couch.  “There might be a way, but it’s her second DUI. In six months.  I don’t know how lenient the system will be.”
     You lean over to Kenny.  “Damn, two DUI’s in six months,” you whisper. 
     “Wha?” he says, looking up from the magazine.
     You felt sorry for her until you found out she was stupid.  Then you felt sorrier for her.
     “She’s probably still faded,” you turn back and whisper to Kenny.
     “Are you kidding,” he whispers back, now avidly listening. “Talk about a buzz-kill.  She probably sobered up as soon as she saw the flashing red lights behind her.”
     “I don’t think so, or she wouldn’t be here right now.”
     “True, true.”
     You start thinking about the money you have to shell out for your car.  Then you think about the fines that she is going to have to shell out.  You’re going to be able to drive your hunk-o-shit home tonight after paying a grip.  But she is going to have to pay a bigger grip and go to meetings and go to classes and do an impression of a Cal-Trans worker on the side of the freeway for a month or two, orange jacket and all.  And she won’t even be able to drive legally for another year or so.
     “O.K., Sir, your paperwork is ready,” says lady-cop from behind the glass.  You get up as #1 DAD grabs a Polaroid from the counter and snaps a picture of the girl with asthmatic pentameter.  The flash bleaches the small waiting room, capturing the ratty-haired girl’s moment of shame.  As you sign sheets of triplicate and quadruplicate, you hear the Polaroid spit out her red-eyed, quivering-hairlicked picture.
     “You don’t pay here,” says lady-cop as you pull out your wallet.  “Just at the tow lot.”
     “Thanks,” you say and turn and nod at Kenny, letting him know it’s time to go.  
     You turn one last time and look back up at the lady cop behind the counter.  Even though she pissed you off, she suddenly looks cute sitting there in her blue uniform and you think about making a pass at her, but you decide against it.
     “C’mon, man.  Let’s go get my car and grab some tacos.”

Anthony Starros