The Outsider Ch. 22bycaligula97236©
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 faggot!"
"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 by Engineering."
"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 charge.
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 that.
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 out.
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 Mike Sinclair.
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 teller.
"Here. I got a phone message about an overdraft. Is there still time to fix it?"
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 deposit them?"
"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.