Chapter 22 – Extra income
When Mike went to work the following Monday, his mood had not improved
from the way he had felt over the weekend. He was very angry about what
had happened to Doña Lisette, partly because he was worried about the
effect it might have on Ruthie and her temperament, and partly because
of his concept of fairness. Ruthie was depressed and moody enough as it
was, and it was certain that thinking about her mother wasn’t going to
improve her outlook on life.
It was strange to think that just a year before his attitude about the
woman’s predicament would have been totally different. The idea of an
immigrant having her work hours cut would not have bothered him; his
response would have been “if you don’t like it, go back to Mexico.”
Well, that was a year ago. Now it was a situation that hit home because
it involved not an anonymous immigrant, but his girlfriend’s mother.
After completing his morning classes, Mike arrived at his job to find
his co-worker Sam in his usual spot in the parking garage, sitting in
the parking truck waiting for him. Right away Mike noticed that Sam was
not his usual laid-back self. Although he was doing what he could to
hide his emotions, he seemed pensive and was visibly worried.
“Are you OK, Sam?”
“Yeah…OK…but it looks like you’re gonna have to hit the ground running.
Solo for a while.”
“Management called me in. Told me that I’m way overdue to take my
vacation time…that I’ve got six weeks of use-or-lose leave built up. I
said…’it don’t bother me…I ain’t got nowhere to go’, but Don…you know,
from personnel…says: ‘Sorry Sam…it doesn’t work like that. You’ve gotta
take your time before the end of the semester, or we’ll have the
university after us. So guess what? Enjoy your vacation. We’ll see you
in six weeks’.”
“But what’s the problem? If you’ve earned your vacation, why wouldn’t
you want to take it?”
Sam paused for a moment, as though he was trying to come up with a
credible answer. “I dunno. It’s just that you get used to your
routine…and now I’ve gotta spend six weeks sitting at home looking at
the old lady and doin’ nothing. And I guess I was hoping you’d get a bit
more experience before you’d have to fly solo.”
“Sam…I’m sure I’ll be fine. Do you have a number where I can call you if
I have a question?”
“Yeah…a number…good idea.”
Sam wrote two phone numbers on the back of a ticket envelope: his house
number and “the old lady’s cellphone”.
“OK…looks like you’re it…for the next six weeks. See you at the end of
April. Good luck, and if you need anything…call me.” Sam was quiet for a
moment, and then added:
“Listen…you’re gonna figure out there’s two ways of doing things around
here. The management way and the common sense way. If you have any
questions about which is which, give me a call.”
Sam took a deep breath, shook Mike’s hand, and got into his own car.
Mike watched as he pulled out of the parking garage. He reported to the
dispatcher to pick up a radio and returned to Sam’s office to get a box
of batteries out of the refrigerator. He opened up the toolbox, and saw
his co-worker’s plastic bucket. Sam must have forgotten to take it out,
but he did remember to take out the coins from his last shift.
Mike drove out of the garage and took the pickup truck to the motorpool
to get gas. Poor Sam, he thought to himself. It was obvious he had
procrastinated taking his vacation for several years and it finally
caught up with him. If he had not known ahead of time that he was going
to be forced to take time off, there was a very good chance that he was
not prepared to live off nothing but his legitimate salary for six
weeks. Times were going to be tight at home, and he would have a hard
time explaining to the “old lady” why all of a sudden he had no money.
As Mike drove back to campus another thought occurred to him. Sam had a
much more important reason to be worried than just the sudden loss of
his extra income. Assuming Mike turned in the money from the jammed
meters instead of keeping it, every day there would be an extra five
hundred dollars from meter collections. That probably was not something
that would be noticed for a while, until the finance unit ran a
comparison. After several weeks, management would realize that with Sam
absent on vacation, meter collections were consistently up by several
hundred dollars every single day. Then what? Anyone in finance with any
brains at all would start asking questions.
Mike felt bad for Sam. He had never seen his co-worker worried before,
and seeing Sam worried was not a pleasant sight. He felt guilty because
now that Sam was not in control of the meter collections box, it was
very possible he would get in trouble. Various scenarios played out in
Mike’s mind. The most likely simply would be that Sam would be closely
watched upon getting back and would have to lay low for a while. Maybe
he’d be transferred or forced to retire. That would suck. Or maybe it
would be worse than that. If there was an investigation…would it be
possible that management, or even the police, would ask Mike what he
knew? How would he respond?
Mike pushed that thought aside and began his routine collecting money
from the meters. He vaguely hoped that he would not come across any that
were jammed. He opened up the back of each meter casing, pulled out the
canister, and dumped the coins into the metal box. The first coins made
a loud clattering noise as they hit the bare metal; rattling Mike’s
already stressed nerves.
The seventeenth meter of the day’s route was jammed. The first quarter
that had gone in fell sideways and was blocking the opening of the
canister. For two days quarters had piled on top as people continued
paying the meter but no coins could drop down. The canister was empty
and the equivalent of three rolls of quarters spilled out when Mike
opened the casing’s door. Mike picked up the coins and put them in Sam’s
bucket. He fished out more quarters from inside the casing, checked to
make sure the meter was still working, and put back the canister.
The afternoon progressed as Mike continued emptying canisters. It seemed
that, just to taunt him, more meters than usual were jammed; eighteen
altogether. Then came another taunt, from the radio station:
That ain’t working…that’s the way you do it.
Your money for nothing and your chicks for free…
When he drove out of the parking lot, Mike was so stressed that he
wasn’t watching where he was going. He nearly hit a couple of frat guys
driving an Escalade.
“HEY you stupid parking Nazi! So you want a piece of us? Come-on
“Awww…the parking Nazi is sorry!”
“Look…I wasn’t watching. I said I’m sorry. What more do you want?”
To Mike’s alarm one of the frat guys took out a pen and copied his
officer number. By regulation he had to give them his name as well.
Great. Just what he needed…to have a complaint filed against him the
first day he was out in Sam’s truck. And there was no doubt there would
be a complaint filed, because those guys hated Mike and would be more
than happy to do something that would get him in trouble.
There was nothing more for him to do but finish the meter collections
and turn in the money. Just as he was about to head back to the parking
garage, Mike heard his radio beep.
“Officer # 36, this is Officer # 06. Where are you right now?”
Shit. Officer # 06 was the shift supervisor.
“Officer # 06, this is Officer # 36. I’m just finishing with the meters
“Officer # 36, this is Officer # 06. Roger that. When you get back, I
need to talk to you. Do you copy?”
“Yes, Officer # 06. I copy.”
Mike was sweating with stress and worry as he returned to the parking
garage. He knew that he faced a “talking to” by the shift supervisor.
Sure enough, as soon as he unloaded the box of coins and had it dumped
its contents into the coin counter, the receptionist told him that the
supervisor wanted to see him.
As soon as the student was in his boss’s office, the supervisor closed
the door. For the next fifteen minutes Mike withstood being yelled at
for being “an irresponsible little shit” and causing trouble for the
parking department. Of course, in their complaint, those frat guys
exaggerated what happened and stated that Officer # 036 had been rude,
unapologetic, and belligerent about his reckless driving. On top of that
they claimed that he had called them pair of “frat fags”.
What mattered to Mike’s boss was not the truth, but the fact that one of
his employees had been careless with university equipment and exposed
the department to a complaint. It did not matter that Mike had earned a
huge amount of money for the department for all his hard work ticketing,
nor did it matter that from the very beginning Mike admitted that it was
he who nearly caused the accident.
After spending fifteen minutes being yelled at and threatened, Mike left
the office feeling total despair. He saw himself for what he was, an
un-respected and disposable student employee. It was obvious that
whatever he had done for the department during the previous semester had
no impact on how the managers saw him.
When he returned to Sam’s truck, he took out the box of unused batteries
to put back in the refrigerator. His eyes fell on the bucket of coins.
He had honestly forgotten about them, with all of the stress over being
reprimanded. Screw taking in the coins. He’d deal with the money
tomorrow. He took out three defective meters and put them on Sam’s desk,
ready to box up and send to the contractor for fixing. Just as he was
about to fill out the address labels, his cellphone beeped with a text
message. He looked to see what it was. More bad news, from his bank. He
had maxed out his overdraft protection and had to pay a $ 50 service
Mike stood up. Fuck the bank. Fuck the meters. Fuck this job. Fuck
Officer # 06. He picked up the phone and was just about to call his
supervisor and tell him to take his parking job and shove it, when Sam’s
words came back to his mind:
“This job’s what you make out of it. Just like any other job. It’s what
you make out of it.”
Now Mike was certain that he understood what Sam was trying to tell him.
He understood why his mentor had shown him all those places hidden
around the university, and told him all the dirt about how the campus
cops were slacking on their shifts. He also suspected that Sam had let
him seen what he was doing with his coin bucket on purpose.
This job is what I make out of it…
Mike looked around the parking garage. There was no one in sight. He
knew, because Sam had told him, that the security camera was turned to
face the main door and its range did not include the spot where the
meter truck was normally parked.
Mike looked at the bucket of quarters hidden in Sam’s toolbox. How much
money was in there? How many textbooks would it buy? How many nights out
with Ruthie? Maybe…even enough for a mortgage payment? At the very
least, there was enough money to replenish Mike’s overdraft protection
and keep him from getting hit with any further service charges.
Mike struggled with himself. He hoped that God would somehow communicate
to him, because he was about to turn his back on the values he had been
raised with. He still wanted to believe there was a place in this world
for people who were honest. There wasn’t, of course. How many times had
his father prayed, gone to church, waited patiently for guidance, or
intervention, or even simple encouragement, only to receive deafening
silence as a response? Now Mike was receiving the same response…silence.
Words could not describe what happened to Mike at that moment, as he
stood alone in the parking garage staring at a bucket of coins sitting
in a toolbox in the back of a pickup truck. He had always seen himself
as morally superior to most other people, but in an instant that ended.
There was no point in trying to be morally superior. Just like everyone
else, he had to exist within the set of circumstances life had laid out
for him. He needed to resolve his overdraft protection problem, and the
only way to do it was to help himself to that bucket of coins.
A piece of the action.
This job is what you make of it.
I’ve been played for a fool…just like everyone else…
Nervously looking around to make sure no one was watching, Mike pulled
the bucket out of the tool box and set it in the cabin on the
passenger’s side on the seat. His backpack was on the floor. He opened
it up, poured out the bucket’s contents, and with trembling hands closed
the zipper. Then he returned the bucket to the tool box. He was afraid,
having realized that it was totally stupid to have done such a thing in
the parking garage. He’d have to go to one of Sam’s hiding places for
the next bucket…and yes, there would be a next bucket…and one after
Mike knew that there was no way he dared walk out of the parking garage
with his backpack loaded down with coins. He had to take the truck back
He got on the radio:
“Dispatch, this is Officer # 036. Over…”
“Go ahead, Officer # 036.”
“I’m going over to Econ-A. I need to swap out a meter.”
Mike did drive in the direction of Econ-A, but he kept on going. He
drove to the dorm lot and parked behind his own car. He opened the trunk
and moved his backpack. There. It was done. That money now belonged to
A few minutes later Officer # 036 returned to the parking garage and
turned in his radio. He was pale and nervous. The dispatcher gave him a
strange look, as though she was fully aware of what he had just done.
Mike then called Ruthie to let her know he’d be a bit late for dinner
because he needed to run an errand at his bank. When he got there, they
were still open, but just about to close. He lugged his backpack up to a
“Here. I got a phone message about an overdraft. Is there still time to
The teller brought up Mike’s account information.
“If you can make a deposit for the full amount by close-of-business, we
can waive the fee…since it’s your first time.”
“All I’ve got is some coins…uh…out of my dad’s…uh…vending machine…can I
“Sure. They’re not wrapped?”
The teller dumped the coins into a coin counter. She handed Mike a
receipt for $ 656.25. Of that money $ 500.00 went to replenish his
overdraft protection, leaving him with a positive balance of $ 156.25.
The fifty-dollar fee was waived.
Mike was just about to leave when he realized that in the future it was
likely he would need coin wrappers. He asked for some.
“How many do you need?”
“As many as you can give me.”
The teller handed him several batches of wrappers.
At dinner Mike was content to let Ruthie talk about her modeling job and
her classes. Normally he was interested in what she had to say, but that
night he just wanted her to talk and not have to pay attention to what
she was telling him. It was not that he was tired of her. More than ever
he wanted her with him, to assure himself that his life still had some
purpose to it. But during dinner he was lost in his own thoughts.
Outwardly, the day had been a fairly ordinary one, apart from getting
reprimanded by the shift supervisor. In the morning he went to class, in
the afternoon he went to work, after work he straightened out a banking
problem, and now he was sitting with his girlfriend in the cafeteria.
And yet, the day had been one of the most important of Mike’s life, one
that changed his entire world-view. During that day, he lost a lot of
himself. No longer was he thinking about things such as Mega-Mart and
how to prevent the deterioration of the United States and bigger issues
such as the meaning of life. Instead, now that a large amount of cash
was within his reach, his thoughts were focused on paying off his credit
cards, building up his bank account, and getting the money he needed to
cover his university expenses for the next few months.
Mike had no intention of telling his girlfriend what he was doing. His
main reason was to protect her; if he were to be caught, she could not
be blamed if she didn’t know anything. Mike also knew that Ruthie would
think less of him if she knew he was supplementing his income with
stolen quarters, because in her own way she was idealistic. The squalid
detail of Mike stashing coins in his backpack was not something she
needed to know about. When he first realized what Sam was doing, he had
been tempted to share it with her and hear her thoughts on the matter,
but later on was very glad he stayed silent.
As he sat quietly, Mike realized that another thing in his life had
changed, apart from how he viewed himself. For the first time since he
met her, he was keeping an important secret from his girlfriend. He had
promised her that he would never have any secrets from her, and yet now
he had one. He felt guilty about violating that trust, even though it
would not have done either of them any good whatsoever for her to know.
The next day Mike was nervous as he spent his afternoon twisting
canisters and looking at meters. His heart jumped with both fear and
anticipation whenever he opened a meter casing and coins fell out. That
was “his” money.
When his shift was close to ending, he nervously entered the parking
office with the meter collections box on rollers. Fortunately for Mike,
the receptionists assumed that his unease resulted from being yelled at
the day before, because the story about the reprimand had made its way
around the office. With his heart pounding, Mike took Sam’s truck back
out and drove to a secluded handicap spot that was concealed behind some
bushes. He poured out the day’s coins from the jammed meters into his
backpack, drove to the dorm where his car was parked, moved his loot,
and returned to the parking garage. For the next six weeks, the trip to
the handicap spot, and then to his car, would be part of Officer # 036’s
daily routine. Within a week, whatever guilt Mike felt about taking a
backpack full of quarters as a daily perk from his job had vanished. The
only concerns he had were to avoid getting caught and to make the best
of his six weeks.
However, being the analytical person that he was, Mike thought about his
situation and tried to make sense out of what he was doing, to justify
in his own mind why he had the right to take money from his employer.
The reprimand certainly helped, because the afternoon shift supervisor
made it very clear that he held the student in low regard and that he
could be replaced at any time. If that was the way the Parking
Department was going to treat him, then they deserved to get ripped off.
Anyhow, what would they do with the money? Spend it on stupid crap like
parties for the secretaries and decorations, or for things such as
regional conferences and trips for the supervisors. As Sam would say:
“Ain’t spending it on us, that’s for sure.”
Mike knew that he was doing his partner a huge favor by following his
lead with the coin bucket. There would be no change in the daily amount
of money from meter collections during his absence, so upon getting back
Sam’s life would return to normal. Mike did resent the fact that he
would only have access to six week’s worth of money, but he had to
remind himself not to be too greedy. Just a week before, he didn’t have
access to any coins at all.
Apart from getting revenge for the reprimand and the idea he was
covering for his co-worker, the main justification running through
Mike’s mind was “this is the way my official salary ought to be”. He was
not stealing because he wanted to live a life of luxury: he was stealing
to pay off his debts and to have some money left over for the next
semester. In a fair society any salary should cover a person’s basic
expenses, and in the case of a university student, why shouldn’t a
salary cover the full cost of college? Why should Mike, or any other
student, go horribly into debt just to pay for education? Wouldn’t
society be better if jobs paid so well that when a student was working,
that effort would be sufficient to pay for the university? Other
countries paid everything for their university students…why can’t the
US? It was a pity that Mike had to put himself at personal risk, just so
he could have a decent life that by all fairness should have been a
guarantee from society to anyone willing to work.
During that first week that Sam was away, Ruthie noticed that Mike had
changed. It was hard for her to define the transformation that had taken
place in her boyfriend. It was subtle and yet for her very noticeable.
In some ways he was slightly more relaxed, but in other ways his
personality seemed to have hardened. It was almost as though he had
gotten older. He was more willing to take the initiative during their
time together, including what happened during their time together in
bed. He seemed less interested in the political topics that had
fascinated him since she had met him, and he even skipped the weekly
meeting of the Davenport chapter of the Danubian Solidarity Committee.
He seemed less bitter about his life and less resentful over what had
happened to his parents. During the entire week she did not hear a
single rant against Mega-Town Associates, nor any comments about the
spoiled “beautiful crowd”; the elite students who drove around campus
thinking the world owed them deference. The only thing she could guess
was that perhaps Mike’s father had found a solution to his problems,
although her instincts told her that was not likely. It had to be
She did observe something very strange whenever they went out; starting
on the Friday night after Sam went on vacation. Mike took her to Santa
Cruz for dinner, to a nice restaurant where the bill was $ 80. He was
not bothered in the least by the cost. He surprised the waitress by
handing her eight rolls of quarters. He left a roll of quarters on the
table as a tip. When they stopped for gas, he handed over another three
rolls of quarters. They stopped at a couple of used book stores, and he
bought her several books with yet more quarters. She hugged him in
gratitude, but was curious to know why he had so many quarters. He
responded with a lie, claiming that he had saved all his coins when he
was in high school and was now spending them.
Ruthie was more conflicted than ever about her relationship with Mike.
There was not a chance she would leave him, because he provided her with
the only companionship she had in her life. He was always there for her:
to take her out, to calm her down when she had an anxiety attack, to
escort her around campus, and most importantly as someone to talk to. If
she was away from him for too long, she felt lonely and unprotected,
because she did not have anyone else to keep her company.
So…what was the problem? She had a hard time figuring that out. As she
sat in Dr. Hartman’s office, she tried to work out her feelings towards
her boyfriend. She did not love him romantically. There was not a hint
of sexual attraction. She had no idea what she wanted from him for the
future; even the thought of any future at all made her cringe. Dr.
Hartman speculated that Ruthie did love Mike, but in a platonic or
family way, similar to the feelings she might have had for her cousins
Gerardo and Rosa, only more intense. She wanted Mike as a big brother,
not as a romantic partner.
Ruthie considered that suggestion. A big brother. She had never had a
big brother; the closest to that was her cousin Gerardo.
As her confidence in Dr. Hartman increased, Ruthie was able to talk more
openly about her problems with Mike and sex. She told the counselor
about the first time she tricked him into settling for a simple hand-job
instead of allowing him to enter her:
“I kinda played a little trick on Mike...sort of a naughty one. We got
cleaned up and I told him I'd give him a massage and got him worked
up...but I had my usual thing about having sex with him, so I sat next
to him and kept touching him...and got him to come...I knew that he
wanted to have sex, but I managed to get out of it. I made sure I got it
all before I stopped massaging him...”
Ruthie noticed that Dr. Hartman was smiling slightly. She continued:
“It was a disgusting mess all over his stomach... I kinda said ‘oops’,
but I was giggling because it was what I wanted to do...”
“Oops, like you didn't mean to bring him?”
“Yes, Dr. Hartman...like...oh too bad...sort of...I mean, I don't feel
bad about it because I did get him to come...it’s just I got out of
having sex. I'd like to do that more often. But looking at all that
semen all over his stomach was kinda gross.”
“You shouldn’t worry about that. Most men aren't all that picky about
how it happens. I'm sure he was just fine with it.”
“He sort of is...worried about it, I mean...he likes to come inside me.”
“Which is not your favorite activity...”
“No. So I got out of it. Yay!”
“And yet, he got to come... so it really was a win/win.”
“I ‘spose that's true Dr. Hartman, it's not like he was mad at me or
anything. The only thing...was that seeing all that semen on him was a
gross-out for me. He let me clean him up with a towel, which I was
“That was nice…so he didn’t want you to...”
“I couldn't have done that. At the very beginning of our sex I told him
I can't do oral. I'm grossed out by the thought of a penis in my mouth.”
“Well, does he accept that, or does he sometimes bring it up?”
“He accepts it. As I mentioned a while back, I told him that I have
sensitivity problems in my vagina and he will have to understand it's
something I can't help. If he were different, I know he would have left
me over the sex issue, but that is not a central part of our
relationship. We're both very lonely, and we're together out of
“Remember what I said a while ago. There are worse things to base a
relationship on than a need for companionship.”
“I realize something though. In some ways I’m with him like I am with my
mom. With her it's religion. With him it's sex. I submit to doing things
that are not in my nature to just get by.”
“Once you graduate and find a job, you'll be able to be yourself more.
Just hang in there!”
“That seems so far off, Dr. Hartman. So far...Anyhow...what am I gonna
do with Mike? I can't marry him. I don't want kids. Right now the sex
issue is something I deal with maybe twice a week...to have to do that
every night? I couldn't.”
The counselor nodded.
“I don't know, Dr. Hartman. He's already talking...like where would I
like to live in the future, what kind of house would I like, that sort
of thing. And he mentioned kids. I didn't say anything but the very
thought of that makes me cringe. So I get nervous...I get these anxiety
attacks. But the problem I have is that I'm real scared of being alone.”