Cautious Your Asks
It wasn’t 117 that day. Not 120, as had seen earlier, but hot. Hot and uphill.
Afternoon. Punishing blue. Steeply inclined yuppified hills over Menifee. I was one month in, driving a 16-foot van stamped “Prime.”
Had left LAX-9, an Amazon cross-dock, because of the noise level jarring my nerves jagged. One of the noisiest in the nation, was told. Clanking conveyors overhead, west to east across the ceiling, in from Long Beach Harbor, out and throughout our insatiable nation. Seven months building walls out of boxes in semi-trailers bound for other warehouses. They call that job fluid. Someone once asked why, and I said it was because climbing ladders with heavy boxes in metal trailers parked in the Southern California sun, we be melty.
Then three months driving pit. Powered industrial trucks. And I studied hard the ways of the Amazon interview. Applied for the shifter position, they call it. Most call yard dog. Hooking up trailers from trucks. In and out dock doors.
In the quiet outside.
But when they called for interviews, they called men. Men from inbound manual throw. Men from manual palletize. Not me, although I was driving a double-pallet center-rider, more in line with the experience needed for backing trailers into docks, but no account. So, I gave notice. Took a job driving a van for a third-party delivery.
But on September 20, 2020, it wasn’t 120, as I had seen. Mid-90s. On inclines. The crispy clean were outside minding towheaded toddlers. Not on their green lawns in the low desert, but frolicking concrete cul-de-sacs on top of hills.
So, I parked the Mercedes-Sprinter-Amazon-Dark-Grey-7769-painted van a safe distance and bounded out the door, as well as one can bound in one’s mid-fifties, clad in my thankful- happy-to-have-a-job-of-any-kind-with-health-insurance-and-living-in-California-rather-than- hustling-adjunct-gigs-that-paid-the-same-without-and-living-in-St.-Louis and sticky polyester uniform and slid the side door open. Lifted a box of what seemed might be luxurious shampoo, conditioner, soothing shower gels and lotions. Heavy.
Seemed might be luxury. Definitely heavy.
Instantly, the hill looked steeper. The van was three-quarters full of packages still, suddenly cognized. Intrusively, I remembered my age and its increasing by the hour. And it dawned, likely nine hours more before home and showered.
Adjusted again the happy-thankful-polyester I wore and chin-upped. Two steps, I got, ‘til again I spotted the empty space in front of their house. Uphill. With heavy.
One man broke away from his quaffed wife porched alongside the neighbor lady wife watching progeny and wave-beckoned a whitened beaming contrasting his deeply tanned welcome my way.
I closed my eyes and thought, God, get me out of this job, straightened my ill- fitting synthetic Pollyanna and again, headed.
As I struggled to put on my facemask, while carrying his wobbly box, he told me there was no need, since he didn’t believe in the virus. I replied that that wouldn’t make any difference, because I could get fired whether or not he believed, from not wearing it, if he turned me in.
Then I stopped short again.
“Hey. You could turn me in. Then I could get fired!”
After the sun went, the pace was the same but that numbing monotony of unendingness that comes from an Amazon related job deadened my suffering. I lifted a light package in gratitude of it and headed to another home on another cul-de-sac atop another hill, walked on the sidewalk along a green lawn, through an arch of tall stucco wall and into a dark but somehow subtly glittering and quietly chiming desert garden that struck me mystic.
Neon has never seemed lovely to me before, but here, cursive words in blue, be still and know I am God, blew coolness.
Floated along untroubled hours until some later in a streetlight-less, dusty, rusty chain- linked nearby neighborhood with hills so steep at times feared flipping that van backwards I misjudged how many steps were left of someone’s unlit stairs while bustling off their porch.
Fell hard, twisting. Fractured. Pulled. Torn.
Hobbled on one leg the eight or so remaining deliveries before my deadline. Pressed the worst of my injuries into the accelerator for 45 minutes back to the shop. Crawled my studio the next two days. Not returned since. Got out of that job. So far, provided for. K lent me a grand. Keep getting offers for credit cards and increases. Prayer answered. Limping.
Ranney Campbell is from St. Louis, Missouri, but lives in Southern California with hopes for New Mexico. Her chapbook, Pimp, is published by Arroyo Seco Press and other work has appeared in Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Hummingbird: Magazine of the Short Poem, Third Wednesday, ONE ART, Storm Cellar (forthcoming), and elsewhere.