Woody walked to the register to pay his check.  Gus was sitting on a stool in his usual gray pants and short sleeved shirt.

“Hey Gus, I noticed Rene didn’t show today.  Need somebody to fill in?”

“Yeah, he got drunk last night and didn’t bother to call in” he said.

“I could fill in today.”

“Okay, see Chico in the kitchen and get set up.”

    Woody pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen.  “Hola Chico” he said “I’m doing dishes today.”  He’d filled in before and knew where to find a shirt, pants and apron.  He changed out of his clothes and began setting up the dish machine.  In ten minutes he’d gotten the dishes scraped and stacked.  He filled the machine and started loading.  He hit a zone where he moved from loading and unloading.  It took a half hour to catch up with the incoming.  He took a break and watched Chico cook.  “What’s for lunch?”  “Tomato tortilla soup and roast pork with rice.”  Chico’s English was intermittent.  He turned it on when he needed but could become uniligual when it suited him.  He argued with Gus in Spanish and Gus reverted to Greek.  Both had learned enough of each other’s tongue to keep the fighting civilized. 

      The day passed and Woody got far enough ahead to take a break out back.  Lunch tapered off and pretty soon all he had to deal with were stragglers who woke up late and needed food to fight off a hangover.  Peeking out into the dining room he noticed some familiar faces.  Alkys who had a steady roof over their heads but still hung out with the hardcore drunks off the streets.  By three the night cook showed and the dishwasher followed close behind.  They were good but Chico ran the kitchen.  At the end of the shift Woody cleared the machine and turned it over to the night man.  Chico gave him two sandwiches wrapped in foil.  Gus came in and handed him a twenty.  He changed out of his whites and headed out the back door.  Gus hollered out into the parking lot “Come back tomorrow and if that bum don’t show up you got a job.”

         Woody fought the wind as he walked back to the shelter.  He thought “Screw it.  I’ll go the whole nine yards.  A hotel room tonight.”  He stopped at the package store and bought two half pints of Cedar Arms, the store brand, and a can of Coke.  He had twelve bucks left and he’d have to hurry to get a SRO.  After a few failed tries he got a room in the Armstrong, a fleabag that would eat up seven bills.  He offered to sweep floors to knock down his tab.  He found a broom and started at the eighth floor and worked his way down. The desk clerk, who gave off hostile vibes gave him five off the bill for the job.  Woody got into his room on the fifth floor and kicked back.

       He stripped down and wrapped a threadbare towel around his waist and headed for the communal shower.  He soaped up and washed the smell of food off him.  The hot water worked the knots out of his body.  He walked back to his room and lay down on the bed.  He cracked open a half pint and took a long swig.  It burned on the way down.  He looked around the room.  It was ten by ten.  Somebody he knew from a bad night at the Civic Center garage told him it used to be a whorehouse and some enterprising businessman decided it would be better as a SRO.  They didn’t spend a lot on renovation.  They weren’t looking for a high-class crowd.  The room was plain and as Woody chewed on the sandwiches he let his mind wander.  Not a good thing.  He watched a spider climb up the wall and accross the ceiling.  He took another pull off the bottle and let it work its magic.  Slowly he was getting numb and he listened to bodies staggering down the hall.  Pretty soon the liquor caught up to him and he slipped into a dreamless sleep.  That was good, sometime dreams could wake you up in a cold sweat.

(More tommorrow)