words & polaroid // Kelly MacIntyre
My roommate steals cheese sticks from City Market and eats them before she checks out; she calls this “cheese-stickin’ it to the man”. Even though I’ve never been there to witness this act, I both believe and endorse it.
I know this is true because, first of all, she empties her pockets on the coffee table that is also my bedside table, since I sleep on the futon, and there are always a bunch of cellophane cheese stick wrapper nests next to my earplugs and last night’s earrings.
All three of us are essentially brunch broke, or beer broke, meaning we can beg, borrow or scrounge enough to afford an egg sandwich in the morning or 18-pack of something pale and cold. Our hourly salaries lie between 4 and 9 dollars per hour, not including tips, but even with those it’s still not enough for rent, hence the illegal third roommate.
I wear earplugs at night because of the beeping; the beeping is a result of our faulty smoke detector. The thing ate through a four pack of AA’s in two days, then resumed its chirping every three minutes, like some frantic, unreasonable parrot. We had to do something, so now it dangles from two sinewy little wires, its face pointed down in quiet shame.
Because of me living on the couch, the landlord and I are at awkward odds. He must know I’m sleeping there, but it has never been addressed. I feel sort of bad; he’s a nice guy, the kind of landlord that’s always around, omnipresent, always in a pocket tee with a hammer in his hand. He sees me in my pajamas at 10:30 am and coming home sweaty from a bike ride to shower.
“Hey Gary”, I say today, as though we know each other, accepting his look and awkward wave each time as a sign that everything is cool. I have a hamper full of clean laundry, and I’m making no efforts to disguise it. My roommates and I have decided that, if it comes down to it, I’ll pretend-out myself as one of the girls’ lovers. The line, as rehearsed, is a simple but dramatic aside: “Babe, don’t worry, I’ll tell him.” Right now though, I’m more concerned with painting on my war face for work tonight: slashes of winged eyeliner. If I can find some dangly earrings that won’t fall off, I’ll do those too.
It’s a dark 3:30 when I head into work at the bar. The sun is distant, diffused; the sky is an expressionless white. The air is wet but not rainy, the temperature of stainless steel. Lower Church Street is clotted with people because, regardless of the weather, it’s a fall (sorry, Autumn) weekend in Vermont, and furthermore, it’s Sunday. Actually, it’s a football Sunday.
Approaching the entrance to the bar I imagine, hopefully, that it is empty, quiet, maybe with a few families eating burgers and respectfully watching the game on TV. At the exact moment that I open the door the room roars; people rise from their stools to wobbly feet and thrust their glasses in the air, whooping, cheering, baring their teeth at the big screen projection above the liquor bottles. The girls working the shift before mine glance at me, visibly relieved, as I duck through patrons to the server station.
“How’s it going?” I try at one of them, pulling my sunglasses out of my hair as she rushes past me with a tray.
“You know,” she murmurs, and I see makeup sinking into the creases by her mouth.
At the end of the night I cash my ones for twenties and sit down for my shift drink next to the guy who murmurs. My shirt is heavy with blue cheese and fryer oil, and blisters ring on my heels through my socks. I thumb through my wallet and think reassuringly, “Only 6 more nights of this until I make rent”, and float a 10 to the sticky bar.