Paulie Floyd is fucking pissed.
The phone rings and he snatches it up.
“Good luck getting home,” he singsongs before slamming it on the cradle, shouting, “Cocksucker!”
Our dispatcher hammers a fist on his desk when the phone rings anew.
“God, fuck,” he curses and then answers, “Good luck getting home!”
Again he slams the phone down.
As each shift ends, we flutter for the taxi shack to count our earnings, fork over the boss’s cut and figure out tips against expenses—meanwhile telling tales of the night, all at once chirping like birds on speed. War stories, as with herpes, want to be exchanged as soon and often as possible.
Phone rings and Paulie Floyd sighs extra loudly, getting us to shush.
“Good luck getting home!” Then he slams down the phone.
I ask him, “What’s with the chip on your bitch-ass shoulders?”
Paulie spins in his captain’s chair to stick out both hands as if weighing irreducible matters.
“Over here I got Jonah Lake being a dickweed and over here I got #69 being his abnormally despondent, self-crucified self.”
If Paulie Floyd is our little shit of a brother all-grown-up then Jonah Lake is our littlest shit of a brother whom everybody ignores. Or so Jonah complains.
“You know what that little dickweed did? Captain Jerry okayed an IOU from that pill-eater over on Glendale. And the IOU, of course, doesn’t pay. So when Jonah comes to relieve me next morning, I show him Jerry’s IOU and the memo I wrote about it, and he just sits there ignoring me, won’t even acknowledge I’m in the room, the passive little bitch.
“Then you know what he does? He tosses my note and the original IOU with all the contact info in the trash and that puts me in the goddamned dumpster digging through dogshit and whatelse trying to get #17 paid.”
Paulie is a walking hemorrhoid, a cyst swelling for the lancet. His anger likewise swells enormous, a fury weird and elemental as if he’s been tapped into by a darkness from beyond the stars. He gets this way and we give him wide berth like he’s a pregnant lady shooting dope.
“I’m going to kill him. Really—he wants to be passive aggressive? He’s going to see me go active aggressive, you motherfuckers watch.”
The phone chirps, Paulie growls at it and the phone quits and doesn’t ring again. I’m impressed.
“And #69, he’s still got a red ass from me parking him last week, that thorny bitch, cry-babying, otherwise content to sit in his own shit stinking—that obstinate teenage fuck.”
The phone rings and Paulie spins ‘round in his captain’s chair.
Then for a long time he just stares at the ringing phone.
“You going to answer that?”
When he does, Paulie singsongs, “Good luck getting home!” Then he slams the phone down.
“More weed, less meth,” I tell Paulie. “Whatever you need, or don’t. Have you tried the orange coffee?”
“Fuck you with a rope.”
“Really man, you need to chill out before you stroke out.”
Shoving out from his desk, Paulie stomps outside to light a cigarette which, by apparent devilry, triggers the phone to ringing and in turn provokes from him an exasperation of profanity. This specific chain of events repeats often enough that his motions have become a fluid yoga—rising, exiting, lighting, hearing phone then screaming, wheeling around for the helm but not before pinning cigarette between building and downspout where two others already burn unattended.
I’ve wondered, would not the whole world collapse if the phone didn’t ring when Paulie lights his cigarettes?
“Good luck getting home!”
I ask him: “So why do you keep telling the phones to fuck off?”
“This d-bag wanted a taxi to the strip club at 5 a.m., I told him the place is closed but he jumped in a gypsy cab anyway. Why not?
“Thirty minutes later, he calls to demand that I turn around and come back to the strip club, ‘They’re closed,’ he informs me. So I explain I’m a dispatcher not a taxi driver. ‘But I left my phone and wallet in your cab.’ So I tell him he didn’t ride in our cab, and he calls me a goddamned liar, shrieking like a kid, ‘You fucker, you idiot liar, you turn around right now.’”
Phone rings, he answers, “Good luck getting home!”
Now I get it.
Paulie dials back through the call log.
“This son-bitch is my last 70 calls. The first hour of this was funny.”
This is when #69 arrives to check out and I perk up, hoping to see Paulie’s sparks fly.
“Good luck getting home!”
“Hey man,” #69 says to Paulie. “I want to apologize. My girl kicked me out last week and I don’t know if you knew. For a week I’ve been sleeping in my car.”
Paulie Floyd softens like butter in the microwave.
“Aw jeez, pal. You know I love you, man.”
He even stands up and throws his arms around #69, asking, “You need a couple of bucks?”
“We all good.”
Phone rings, Paulie answers with super-cheer, “Good luck getting home!”
#69 asks me: “What’s that all about?”
“Don’t even ask,” I tell him. “Nothing to see here.”
One of us has had the foresight to buy a twelver of PBR and we drink the sun coming up on us, telling war stories and waiting for Paulie to be relieved so we can all get Sunday breakfast. We’re there when Jonah Lake shows up and I follow him into the office for another shot at seeing Paulie’s sparks fly.
Jonah points at the ringing phone, “You aren’t going to answer that?”
Paulie instead rises from the helm and leaves the shack, finally pacified.
Vic Pasternak has been driving a taxi in Illinois City, Ohio, for over a decade, ruining his chances for a solid career and shortening his lifespan. He enjoys fishing, preying, chainsawing and long walks alone.