The Night Guy Series
Part 2 - The Dumbwaiter
reported for work as usual that New Year's Eve, arriving just before
ten p.m., ready to begin my routine and with no idea that the coming
night would differ in any way from any that had preceded it. As was
my habit upon arrival, I set out to survey the grounds in order to get a feel for what
members might be getting a jump on their resolutions
with a late night nautilus circuit, lap swim, or game of
racquetball. I dropped my books behind the front desk, set out a
pile of fresh towels, locked up any drawers containing valuables and headed to my locker where
I pulled on a sweatshirt and wedged a large chaw of plug into my cheek.
Grabbing a tennis ball can to spit in, I wandered
out into the night air.
I walked along the nets of the acres of tennis courts where I
would pick up any forgotten articles and turn off any last lights
and then took a slow, leisurely stroll along the running track that
follows the Rillito River or more accurately, its wash bed, since
such waterways in the desert are thirsty 99 percent of the time. It
was a cold, crisp, desert night with the stars mostly visible even
over the city lights and I poked along, breathing the air and
spitting tobacco juice on the cinders. I took my time checking the
utility gates, maintenance shed, and basketball and volleyball
courts before heading back towards the pool and outdoor hot tubs.
As I approached the main building, I could see telltale blue ripples
reflecting off the walls and wondered if someone was indeed swimming
laps or if my old friends the toads had braved the cold to come out
for New Year's and once again needed rescuing from a chlorinated
shriveling. When I got to the pools edge however, I could see it was
just a surprised rat who had made a wrong turn.
During the past summer, I had been constantly amazed as the same
toads hopped into the same pool night after night after night. I
couldn't help feeling sorry for them because the only reason they
were coming up out of the wash in the first place was on account of
these huge bug lights the groundskeepers had hung from the verandas.
They would gather about below them in the cool hours of each night
and gorge themselves on the insect carcasses that rained down. When
it had first started to get colder, they had become even more
numerous I suppose to fuel up for some amphibious hibernation scheme
they had going.
These bug lights, installed for the first time that summer to appease
tennis players who had been complaining that cicadas and moths the size of cans of
tuna would often dive out of the night sky during crucial points, were located
across the pool from the wash and, the toads, being toads, didn't
seem to have it in their brains to recall that the last time they
hopped into the pool and swam across it, they ended up banging their
noses on the other side until somebody, almost always me, came
along, scooped them up with a leaf skimmer, and deposited them at
the smorgasbord. By the time morning arrived and us creatures of the
night sought nothing more than a cool hole in which to hunker down
and wait out the day, I would be squinting through my morning rounds
and the same toads, now visibly fatter, would be back in the pool,
snouts dully thumping into the opposite edge. Too tired at this
point to initiate any creative conditioning programs, I would simply
lift them out and point them towards the wash so we could all take
our drooping asses off to bed.
As I observed them during our nightly dealings, I quickly determined
that they had lost all natural sense of themselves and had become
lazy gluttons, filled with indignance and a beady eyed, reptilian logy that was unsettling to observe. I continued to rescue them
however since I saw budget for no alternative that didn't involve
disposing of their waterlogged and overfed bodies at the end of my
shift. If god takes care of drunks and small children I guess they
were the drunks and I was their god.
As I recalled summer nights spent, relaxing by the pool in a chaise
lounge, spitting plug on the grass, and listening to the
crunching as they ate, it suddenly occurred to me that their lives,
that had seemed so mundane and worthless, were actually not unlike
my own. The only difference was that they had needed me to lift them
out of the pool and I wondered for a prescient moment who held the
leaf skimmer over my life, and why whoever it was, was leaving me in
the pool so long. What would happen to the toads the next summer if
I grew tired of treading water. pulled myself out of the pool and
headed on down the road? What if I
simply went under and drowned?
Called out of reverie and into action by a burst of the rat's
agitated splashing, I retrieved the leaf skimmer, deposited the exhausted
rodent on the cool deck and watched as he or she shivered spasmodically and
went skittering away. I guessed that any night guy, would act as I had
given the alternatives. It suddenly seemed like the perfect time to
seek out Dirty Harry.
Dirty Harry was the club's night janitor and, in what can be seen as
additionally symptomatic of my condition at the time, served as one
of my few links to the outside, non-fictional world. It being a
major holiday eve and being familiar with Harry's habit of
overstuffing himself to celebrate even the most minor of occasions, I
wasn't sure if he had even been able to waddle into work but I found
him in his traditional, non-holiday position, snoring and obesely
asleep in a makeshift laundry room nest fashioned of the same towels
unsuspecting members would be using to pad and preen with a few hours
I stood over him for a moment regarding him fondly and appreciating
him for what he was, a huge, lurching swiller of rotgut who sucked
and chewed cigars and held his sides when he laughed, which
was pretty often since he was constantly inebriated and a happy
drunk. He kept an unmarked gallon jug of alcohol in his locker which
he would use to fill cups throughout the night and, often times,
bring up to the deck where it would rest on his lap as he sat pontificating about
things great and small. His jug, he often explained, was as dear to
him as a baby's blanket and made him more mirthful by the mouthful.
I also remember him well on this particular night because he
clutched a bamboo fishing pole to his heaving chest as he slept.
"Hey Harry," I said, poking his stinky, rubber boot with a
junior tennis racket I had found on one of the courts. "Hey
Harry, You gonna sleep into next year?"
"Whaaaa the Hell?" he finally growled after much prodding.
"Who's that? Goddamn it Nate, I thought you was my ex-wife for
He sat up and rubbed his hirsute belly vigorously which was exposed
because his shirt had rolled all the way up to the Zeke patch,
loosely sewed over his udderous left breast. He owned a multitude of
generic work shirts all with different names other that Harry sewn
on them that he hoped might steer any complaints elsewhere even
though he was the only night janitor and not likely to be mistaken for any
other person that had ever come into the club.
Done tending to his belly, he suddenly started grunting and held out
a finger for me to pull while he leaned to one side and let loose a
reverberant, oily fart, unmuffled by the towels and uncontained by
underwear. I can report the latter fact unfortunately, because I was
positioned just aft of Harry's generous stern and couldn't help
notice, as he assumed that plumber's pose, that he wasn't wearing
"Happy New Year's to you too." I said, looking quickly
"Damn L-triptophan," he said scratching again like an
allergic baboon. "I had left over turkey over to my sisters
today and its left me tired and gaseous."
"What's this about it being the New Year already anyway? That
can't be right. We ain't had nothin to drink for one thing and for
another I swore we was gonna go fishin over the holidays. And we
ain't done nothing but work."
"Well, I see you got your pole there." I said. "You
should have been with me a few minutes ago. You could have fished a
rat out of the pool for me."
"Rat's. Why would I want to fish for them? They do half the work
for me around here eatin up all the crumbs and popcorn. It was
probably one of the guys I brought in with me a few months ago. Did
I ever spin ya that tale?"
"I don't think so. I probably would've remembered that one."
"Yeah. It was a brilliant move by me I have to say. I let about five of them
loose a while back to help with the cleaning. And when the time is
right, I'll report finding a big ol' rat harborage to Crabbe letting
her know of course that I also run a pest control business during
the day. Can't you see her wrinkled face when she hears she got
harborage. Besides I can catch those fat suckers with my hands.
Don't need no pole. I'm
going fer the big game this time and you're comin with me Nate.
It'll be a chance for you to finally do some work around here
instead of just sittin on your ass readin all the time."
Against my better judgment, I let myself be drawn into Harry's wake
as he hitched up his pants and lumbered off in the direction of the
front desk, wondering what he had in mind but carrying an unusual
and cavalier feeling that had been fermenting within me at least
since I articulated the whole leaf skimmer thing and probably even a
little before that. Of course he wanted to stop by his locker on the way to
fill a big plastic cup with ice and rotgut and as always he offered
me some. This time I let him fill me a small Styrofoam cup full.
I had tried drinking with him a few times in the past and it hadn't
worked out so well as Harry, who lived in the camper perched on the back of
his pick up, could finish cleaning in a few hours, be drunk as a
sweat smelling skunk, and go stumbling out to sleep it off in the
parking lot while I attempted to greet members and deal with the
Crabbe in the morning. On this night however, as Harry held his cup
to the heavens, clapped me on the shoulder, and boomed "Here's
to us night guys Nate. Come on in 1986 you bastard, we's ready for
you", I found myself choking down a unhealthy sized mouthful.
"Now this here's the plan," said Harry, after we had made
our way to the front lobby and checked the video monitors to make
sure no one had come in and lurked somewhere on the grounds.
"You post yourself by the front door, keep watch on the parking
lot, and stamp your feet if anyone is coming. I'll do the
I had no idea what he was thinking of but figured that he maybe he
was planning to practice his aim by hooking towels out of the bin or something.
Suddenly, he ambled across the lobby to the Pro Shop door and wedged
his flabby arms through the metal grating of the gate. Then, using
his pole to flip on a light switch and before it really dawned on me
what his intensions were, he began flicking the rod into the room
and in no time, had reeled in a pile of expensive sweaters, tennis
rackets, women's swim suits, golf shirts, and sun visors.
"What the fuck are you thinking?" I gasped, as soon as I
had stopped laughing. "How am I gonna explain that I was
sitting here all night and didn't notice somebody trolling for
merchandise right in front of me. They'll have to assume I did it
Harry, still beaming at the fruits of his pinpoint aim, threw an arm
around me, almost choked me by suddenly scratching his chin, and said,
"Don't worry Nate, odds are they won't even notice."
"Not notice? There must be 1000 dollars worth of....."
"Nate, Nate. Listen to me will ya. Today is the first of the
month not to mention the year right? That can only mean that someone
had to do inventory recently and won't be doing it for another month
or more than likely another year the way things get done around here. By then
there'll have been millions of things that could have happened to
the stuff. And you and I will be long down the road."
"We were here last year."
"Never the less."
I must not have looked convinced and he continued.
"Besides Nate, you know how we feel about what we're being paid
around here. Goddamn it, we ain't even bein paid time and a half for
holidays. And what benefits do we get? Free club membership? What
the hell good is that to a fat old outta shape bastard like me? This
is just another episode of wage adjustment with our year end bonus
thrown in. Now settle down why don'tcha and check if there ain't
somethin that suits ya in that pile. And look through the door and
see if there's something else ya might want. Just say the word and
ol Harry'll reel it in like a goddamn Colorado river carp."
Harry picked up his cup of rotgut from the floor, again held it
aloft and added in a thunderous voice, "Step on up here 1986 ya
som'bitch. We're gettin good and ready to give ya an ass whoopin."
I drained my cup and looked worriedly back at the pile.
"Well at least let's get this stuff out of sight somewhere.
What the hell are you going to do with it anyway. None of the
clothes could possibly fit you and I've never heard you mention
playing any tennis."
"I'll probably mail some of it up to Utah to my little Missy
and take the rest to the swap meet if you don't want it. I told you
she'll be leavin her husband soon didn't I?"
I'd heard all about her of course during our two years together and
would have suspected she was entirely a figment of Harry's sotted
imagination had he not shown me some of her perfumed letters which
well written in a flowery hand. I suppose he could have had someone else write
them for him but it seemed likely that if that were the case he would be pursuing the actual
writer instead of some mythical married girl from Utah.
"Leaving him again?" I said. "I'm getting tired of
this story. The only way she's going anywhere is if you drive your
camper up there and get her."
"Nope. I'm just bidin my time," he said, grinning like a
lothario at happy hour instead of a sweating, three hundred pound
baldster with a fishing pole. "Ol' Harry's doin fine right now
just playing the field. Come on, let's stash this stuff in the
locker room. Fishin always makes me thirsty."
we had grabbed his jug and were sitting up on
the deck with me spitting and him smoking, stamping
our feet to keep warm and hoping to see shooting
stars. The rotgut was going quickly to my head and I made the mistake of wishing out
loud that I had a beer. Harry seemed surprised.
"So you don't like my Gumka?" he said, pretending to
sound hurt and flicking a cigar butt behind him onto the roof.
Gumka. That's what I'm callin this refined and aged mix we're drinking
of, well what the hell is it, I lose track. It's mostly gin I guess, but with rum and vodka mixed in.
And I do believe I detect a touch of that Jagermiester I spruced it up with a few weeks back."
"It taste's like lighter
fluid," I said, fighting down another sip. "If only
the Quik Mart still sold beer at this hour. I'm tellin you I'd run get a
quart of Coors or something."
"You drink that
surprised at you Nate. Why support those communists? Nothing
but a bunch of
union busting Rocky Mountain Krauts. What's wrong with
good ol' American Bud anyway?"
"Are you trying to tell me
that the Busch family is measurably more ethical and American
than the Coor's family?"
"You're goddamn right I
am. That's Adolph Coors at the helm you know. Where have you
heard that name before? Adolph? And besides, look at a
Bud can sometime and you'll see red, white, and blue. Coors
comes shrouded in yellow and khaki. Bud is as American as it
gets little buddy."
I scratched my head at this
latest outburst which came from a man who I happened to know
never paid his taxes or voted and had been kicked out of the
army for picketing the Vietnam war from inside Vietnam."
"Well, for one thing, it's Bud-Weiser remember and weiser
sounds pretty damn foreign to me. How can you love America so much
when you hate your own government? You're one big
"Aaaaah Bullcrap," Harry said, dismissing me with a shower
of cigar ash from a newly lit stogie. "I love America because I
can hate the government. Anyway, if it's beer you want there's
plenty of it right here. We're sitting on the deck of the goddamn
club lounge ain't we."
"And just how do you propose we get into the club lounge?"
I asked warily. "It's locked up from all sides and if you think
I'm going to sit here while you break a window and watch you cast
inside for bottles you're drunker than usual. That'd be my ass for
"Just come with me," Harry said, struggling to his feet
and careening towards the stairs. "I've been plotting my way
inside this bastard for a long time but couldn't do it alone and
always figured you to be too straight an arrow to give me a hand. At
least until tonight."
So I fell in behind Harry's swaying form once again as he led me
back downstairs to the outside window of the snack bar where he used
his pen knife to trip a latch. He then had me climb through and
barked directions as I groped my way around to the side door of the
restaurant. When my hand found the lock, I took a deep breath, slid
back the bolt and let him in. Once inside, he was as stealthful as a
Hippo creeping through dark by ways and nooks until he located a
sliding panel that separated the bus station from the kitchen which
he then pried back with a disappointing snap. Again I shimmied
through and unlocked a door. We did all this by the flickering of a
lighter since the fluorescent kitchen lights would have flooded
through the windows, illuminated the entire spa area and had us on
display like neon tetras if anyone were to come in. Soon after much
crashing of pans, we stood in the center of the kitchen with me
holding the lighter while Harry fixed himself a sandwich. With the
bar still directly above us, I was confused as to our next move.
"I thought we were getting beer," I said nervously,
whispering for some reason. "I hope we didn't go through all
this just so you could chef yourself up a big hogie. What's the
plan? Do they store beer in a cooler down here or something?"
"Just relax there little man. And keep the light steady will ya?
I can't tell if this is tartar sauce or mayonnaise. Damn it! Now
that I smell it I think it might be yogurt. Who the hell runs this
kitchen anyway? They need a new labeling system down here. Maybe
I'll drop a note in the suggestion box if I think of it. Say, don't
let me hog all the room here. Go ahead and fix you up one of these
"No thanks," I said. "In fact I think I'm going to
head back out to the front desk to see if anyone's come in."
"Now don't go getting all ancy. And bring that lighter over so
I can find the cooking alcohol. They always keep liquor around
kitchens, you know, for flash frying stuff. Ol' Harry's seen his
time behind the line you know. Here it is, sure enough, ol' Jack
Daniels himself. Take a pull why don't you. Ya seem a little
I wet my lips with the whiskey but it didn't help any and I was
about to bail out all together just as Harry unveiled his plan.
"Ya see Nate, come on over here," he said with a mouthful
of triple decker as he led the way over towards the dishwasher's
station. "Now if you want that beer listen close and I'll tell
you how to get it. I can't show you cuz I'm too fat but I can tell
"Well, what are you waiting for? Let's hear it then."
"We'll send you right up the dumbwaiter."
"What?" I said, my mouth dropping open.
"Oh yes," Harry said, pushing a button that opened the
creaking doors. "It'll be no sweat. You can just hunker right
down in here, take a smooth little elevator joy ride, and out you'll
pop right behind the bar. I'll cram a couple of them jugs in with you, and
when you get up there you can fill them up with whatever beer you
feel like drinkin. And if you think of it, you could grab me
somethin off the top shelf."
I didn't like the idea a bit but Harry was determined that I drink
with him so after much bickering, I let him convince me to contort
into a fetal ball around three large glass bottles and held my breath as he
sent me lurching up the stinking shaft. When the dumbwaiter stopped
at the top however, a small flaw in Harry's plan became evident. It
seems that you can call or send the machine from either end, but
someone needs to be stationed at the destination to open the door
when it gets there. Cramped in the pitch black with visions of the
morning bartender suffering a heart attack when she discovered my
suffocated corpse, I fought off waves of panic and rotgut nausea
long enough to bang and shout as loud as I could. After what seemed
like an interminable amount of time, I felt myself dropping jerkily
"How the.... What in the shit... the good jesus of the.. is
the.... How did you expect me to get out once I got up there?"
I stammered furiously. "Goddammit. I don't think that thing is
meant to hold my weight."
"What happened," Harry said blithely, helping me to my
feet and swaggering back to the stove where something sizzled on the
grill. Where's your beer?"
"I said I couldn't get out of the damn thing." I was
preparing to let myself out of the kitchen. "And how are you
going to clean up the mess you've made. How are they not gonna know
that someone was in here screwing around?" He began to explain
but I interrupted him. "You're meat is on fire."
A feeling of doom was starting to wash over me.
"Nate, Nate. You have got to settle down my man?" Just
calm yourself a minute." Harry was prying the flaming meat from
the grill, and threw it in the sink as he burned his fingers which
he sucked on as he tried to console me. "Now what is the
"The problem is that there was no way to get out of that
dumbwaiter once I went up the shaft. That's one problem at
"Well now let's see here," said Harry, returning to the
sink to rinse his meat under a faucet and then throwing it back on
the grill. Looking like Chef Prudomme in the blue glow of the gas
jets he said, "How about if we prop the door open with a hunk
"Yeah. Look Nate I think that'll work. Then when you get up there, you
just reach out and push the open button. And there you are."
I jumped on a counter and started to climb back out the way I'd come
in but I stopped mid-straddle when I realized that Harry couldn't
follow me and would have to go out the door which would then be left
unlocked. He had me trapped and knew it as he helped me off the
counter and handed me the Jack.
"Come along now Nate. It was because you had to have beer that
we got into this whole mess remember. Now just hop in there one more
time and I'll send you on up and you can fill them jugs. Meanwhile,
I'll melt some nice butter on this fillet here, slap it on a bun or
something and we'll be sitten back on the deck in no time drinkin,
eatin a mignon burger and havin us a legitimate New Year's
celebration. Now get back in there and I'll wedge in a slab of
cheese or somethin so the door won't close."
It took a couple of tries until he finally found an egg beater that
wouldn't be knocked out on the way up and finally I debouched behind
the bar, and rolled out onto the mat in a heap. I got the jugs
filled quickly mixing indiscriminately from all taps, sent the load of beer
down and rattled the
doors and shouted so Harry would send for me and I could follow them down on the next trip. When I was safely back in the
kitchen we tried to make sure the grill was pretty clean and all the
walk-in coolers were closed. I was sure we had betrayed ourselves
somehow but was so anxious to be out of there that I didn't really
care. We locked everything back up and were soon back on the deck
again as Harry had promised, with our feet up on a table, drinking
and watching as the ripples chronicled the fate of another rat.
"Here's to ya Nate, Harry said, switching a sinewy wad of steak
to the other cheek and raising his Gumka. "You did a damn fine
job in there and under all sorts of pressure too. All sorts of
pressure. I think when your night watchman days are behind you, you
could do yourself proud as a cat burglar or cop."
"I'm not sure about that," I said, noticing that I felt
decidedly loopy. "We're bound to be caught for this."
"Ah horseshit," Harry said, finally giving up on the hunk
of meat, spitting it on the deck, taking a shriveled cigar from his
shirt pocket, and holding the lighter to it until it flamed.
"The morning guy's will stumble in half asleep and hung over
and if they notice anything at all they'll just think the night guys
are shafting them again. That's how this world works Nate. Everybody
is sure they're getting shafted by somebody else and nobody'll
suspect us because they don't even know we exist. We got nothin to
worry about 'cept that this ceegar is just too foul to be worthy of a
celebration like this. Damn it but I'm am gonna have to have some after
dinner tobacky. You got any of that spitten stuff with ya."
He flicked the cigar over the rail, caught the pouch I tossed him,
and packed an ample wad in his cheek. We leaned back to drink and
spit and he talked of his brief stay in Vietnam and things related.
I soon realized that I must have consumed nearly a gallon of beer.
"It's sure startin out as a nice sunrise," I said, nodding
groggily towards the orange glow that was rising up over the pool to
the west. "Boy time really flies when your involved in these
capers. I'm starting to really see the wisdom in some of this wage
adjustment stuff. I should have listened to you earlier on but what
the hell was I supposed to..... ya no something Harry it really
doesn't seem late enough to be early mornin already."
Harry took the time to spit a long stream on the deck and fold his
hands across his majestic belly before announcing calmly, "I
think you might be right Nate, that don't really smell like no sunrise to me. I do
believe some bodies snuck in on us and lit something afire."
I bolted up, rushed to the rail and looked down to see Harry's cigar
caught in the edge of the awning below. A large crescent shaped hole
had formed with a smoldering ring of fire burning at it's edge. The
air was foul with incinerated rubber.
"Jesus Christ you're burning the place down!" I flapped my
arm and ran around trying to clear my head and find a hose but Harry
was all business. Before I even sensed what was happening, he had
charged to the edge of the rail and dumped his jug over
the edge. The awning exploded into blue flame."