Confessions of a Courier
By Eric Johnson
In this age, a person takes whatever job they can. I used to be an accountant, but then Black Tuesday happened. I had everything I wanted: A huge house, a beautiful wife, and two wonderful children. Now I am a courier in Port Reading, New Jersey. I live with three other men in a small one-bedroom apartment. To call it an apartment is a bit of a stretch, but you live where you can live. At least it had working plumbing. I lived out of my car for a short time. That car that allowed me to get a job in this horrible economy.
Being a courier is not all bad. It puts food on the table, rent in the landlord’s hands and fuel in the tank. Fuel is my lifeblood now. If I could not put fuel in the car, then I am unable to make my deliveries. If I cannot make my deliveries, then I am as unemployed as those hundreds of people just hanging around outside the Hess plant every day waiting for any job opening. I will not be one of those. I will keep my car running.
Today was a long drive. I had a pickup at the Hess plant, some chemical samples. I had to deliver them to Princeton. Now there is a place to be. Even in this depression, people go to school. The people there were… well… alive. Those unemployed zombies outside the refineries were dead. Sure, their hearts still beat, they walk around, eat food when they can get it, and everything else, but they live the lives of the dead. I knew that at any time I am only a gas tank away from being dead too.
Something seemed to happen when you crossed that county line from Middlesex into Mercer County. It is like stepping out of the depression and into the American Dream. Stores are open and have customers, yards are well maintained, and the roads are properly paved. My sore rear was very thankful for this last part.
I picked up the clipboard out of the passenger seat and checked the address. Institute of Mathematics, I get to go on the Princeton University campus today. Here the rich and smart people live and learn in a world separated from the harsh reality that plagues the rest of the nation. I long to be one of them. I knew that I neither have the money nor the smarts to ever be able to school there. It would be a good day for me. Tips are usually forthcoming during university deliveries and I will be able to take in the sights. The trees on campus are magnificent and alone are worth the visit.
The name on the package is difficult to make out. The first name looked looks Erwin. It is an odd delivery though, chemical samples going to the math department? It is not for me to contemplate such things, just deliver them.
Arriving on campus is like entering yet another world. The buildings are all very majestic and stoic. Trees are huge and sprawling, many stretching out and covering the entire street in their shade. People are everywhere. They are nicely dressed. They stand in packs talking or mill about from one building to another. The depression has not touched these people. Briefly, I feel a part of them. I have business here and thus must belong. However, that emotion is fleeting. My shirt is stained and I am four days over due for my bath.
The campus is made up of various miniature universities, each building having some specialty of learning. It takes me asking directions three times to locate the Institute of Mathematics. I park outside. There are very few cars there, everybody walks on campus.
I grab the package and head inside. Apparently a lecture just let out because the hall is filled with pandemonium. I move towards the wall to be out of the way, and to look for some kind of directory or sign that might direct me to this Erwin. Several students passing by discussing something about quantum physics bump me out of the way and into a doorway. This collision is fortunate though, the glass on the door has the names of the occupants. Here is my Erwin. His last name looked completely unpronounceable. It is German I think. I think briefly of the news I read that morning about the German Nazis. They are a horrible lot.
No one is in the office. Papers and formulas cover the walls. It all looked completely Greek to me. I had to clear a stack of papers out of the guest chair before having a seat. The hallway outside started to empty.
My patience is quickly rewarded as a man with a polka-dot bow tie and thick-lensed glasses entered with several students. He continues to talk with them as if still in class and none of them seem to notice my presence. They complete their discussion and break up shortly and only the professor remains. He turns and sees me and has a sudden surprised look on his face. It could have been the glasses though; I think they could have made anyone look surprised.
“Can I help you?” He asked politely if a little hurried.
“Delivery for Erwin.” I said holding the package aloft for his attention.
“Wha…” He starts to say, but after examining the label says, “Oh! This is from the plant over in Port Reading. I did not expect it so soon.”
Erwin takes the package and signs the clipboard I present him. The package unceremoniously disappears amongst the shelves in the office.
“Here…” The professor pats down his pockets, obviously looking for some change for a tip. My heart races for a moment, but then slows again as it appears he did not find anything.
“I seem to be short for a tip.” He says and my hopes fall.
“Wait here a moment.” Erwin states and suddenly leaves the room.
I sit there for several minutes listening to the occasional conversation in the hallway by students passing.
Something moved on the table nearby. My eavesdropping interrupted; I looked at the table and notice there was a box that is slightly shaking. I know better, and I cannot explain why I did what I did, but I get up, walk over to the box, and open it. I jump back as an orange stripped tiger tabby leaps from the box, hits the linoleum floor and runs for the office door, sliding the whole way. A mere couple of seconds later and it has vanished.
Guiltily, I quickly close the box and return to the guest chair. I know I am in huge trouble, I ponder leaving without the tip, but I need the money and they would know for sure it was I who lost the cat if I suddenly leave. I decide I have only one chance: play stupid.
A few moments later, Erwin and a student come in talking together and the professor absently hands me several coins. A quick glance and I realize it is three quarters! That is over half of my pay for this trip. I quickly and graciously thanked him and head for the door. As I turn the corner, the professor and student start to open the same box I had just opened. I step a little faster towards the hall entrance.
“Excuse me!” A German accented voice called to me.
My natural obedience to authority makes me stop in my tracks. I turn to face him.
“I’m sorry…” I start to say, but he cuts me off.
“Did you see a cat in here?” He asks.
“Yes, I had a cat in a … never mind…” and he then proceedes to ignore my existence.
“It could not have just vanished!” He exclaimes to the student with him. “Help me find it.”
I take that as my cue to leave. I make it to the front door in time to hear the student calling out to one of his friends, “Hey Marcus!” he shouts, “Come help me find Schrodinger’s Cat! It’s gone and vanished!”