It’s July in Phoenix and I am driving to work in the middle of a monsoon.
People ahead of me start pulling over to the side of the road just to be safe.
I laugh maniacally at them, calling them cowards (in my head) as I drive by.
Then I look around at the cars still moving.
I feel a strong bond with them.
We are risking death to get where we need to be.
The streets are flooding, trees are being struck down by lightning, the rain is turning to loud violent hail and the wind is blowing our cars in and out of the lanes next to us– the painted white lines drowning and barely visible.
Yet here we are, still driving.
We are brothers now.
In the shit.
There is a mutilated palm tree in the middle of the road that slows us momentarily, but we never stop.
We move, as a unit, until each of us gets to our destination.
I am needed at the world renowned Desert Palms Apartments in West Phoenix.
The manager and the entire staff (I imagine) of this esteemed establishment anxiously await my arrival.
I am to make my presence know, hand over some paperwork, then venture bravely around the apartment complex to deliver a single message to certain residents.
The message being: PAY US NOW or GET OUT.
That is my job.
I give people the news they never want to hear.
Shoot the messenger.
I’m making my final turn now, a sharp right after the gas station next to the complex.
I wave goodbye to my fellow brethren.
Desert Palms Apartments.
They all have names like this in Arizona.
And they all look the same.
So many identical buildings with so many identical people doing the same thing.
Simply trying to continue doing those things.
Breathing and living in their shitty apartment with the fancy desert name.
Until one day I show up and hand them a piece of paper that says NO.
NOT UNTIL YOU PAY US.
The leasing office is like all other leasing offices.
I hand them paperwork, they say thanks (for doing the shit we don’t want to do) and then I go knock on doors and give people bad news.
Except this time, I’m in a monsoon.
I like the rain.
It’s a good excuse to stay inside, hide from people.
But this is a monsoon.
Where shit gets real and unbreakable bonds are formed.
When I knock on doors and no one is there to receive my shitty news in person, I have to fold the shitty news like a letter and then tuck it in the door.
Desert Palms Apartments– luxurious, accommodating– has very old doors with no insulation between the wood frame and door.
No room to tuck in the shitty news.
Shoot the messenger.
So I’m trying to hold the bad news papers under my shirt so they won’t get wet and make it even more difficult to stick in the door but it’s not working.
It’s pouring and I’m sweating because it’s July in Arizona.
My shirt is soaked.
When I try to put the soggy paper in the door it just bends and crumples in my hand.
After some inspection, I find that Desert Palms Apartments–picturesque, modern– has little rectangular pieces of wood with the apartment number painted on it and nailed into the center of the door.
There is a small gap to stick the paper in.
My fellow street-warriors would be proud.
I trek through the rain, knocking on doors.
Some answer and silently take the news, expecting it.
Others yell, asking questions I don’t have the answer to.
Until finally, I am at the last door.
There is a fold out chair and an old wooden table with a big full ashtray in front.
Almost immediately an old man in just his underwear swings the door open.
He has long greasy hair and a cigarette is dangling out of his mouth.
My line: “Hello, I’m looking for (name on shitty news paper)”
“Yeah,” he says, “You got him.”
Handing him the paper: “This is from the Leasing Office.”
“Oh,” he looks down at it.
This is my cue to leave.
People that don’t expect the shitty news usually think I am in some way responsible, and therefore can do something about it.
But I can’t.
So I leave quickly as they start to read the paper.
“Hey man,” he says.
I turn around, in the midst of a storm, and say nothing.
We just stand there looking at each other for a while.
Then he takes a drag of his cigarette, exhales, and says, “You like this?”
“You know,” he says, “The monsoon and shit.”
I thought about saying, “it forges bonds far beyond friendship.”
Instead went with, “Yep.”
“Me too,” he says, and then shuts his door.
When I get back to my car I see a large broken tree branch has been blown under my car.
One half of the branch is under the car, and the other half where it broke off from the tree is sticking out a few feet.
It looks funny.
Like my car purposely fell on this tree to get back at his tree-brothers that have fallen on cars and destroyed them in the past.
As soon as I grip the branch to get it out, the wind picks up.
I sway a little, then pull.
The bark is slippery and wet and my hands slide right off, cutting them up in the process. Naturally, I rip off my shirt and wrap it around my hands for more traction.
I start pulling again.
The branch starts to move and I can feel the good residents of Desert Palms apartments looking at me.
I feel like Thor.
Shirtless with the lightning and the rain all around me.
The branch comes loose, out from under my car.
I feel like yelling, “Victory!”
I feel like yelling, “Are you not amused Desert Palms!?”
I feel like quitting this job right now in this very moment and inhabiting one of these apartments and living off the food from the gas station next door until I run out of money.
Run out of life.
You will be my grave Desert Palms.
A few days later I’m driving to Glendale to serve an Order of Protection.
A man is to meet me and hand me legal documents that I will then give to his daughter.
Something about the daughter threatening to kill him.
Something about her boyfriend, who is crazy.
I walk up and knock on the door.
The man, Doug, opens the door and invites me in.
He looks hungover and exhausted.
“You’re the process server?”
He says this like he’s disappointed.
I say, “Yup.”
“Okay then. Will you wait here,” he says, “I left it all in the other room.”
The house is dark and the smell of cat piss and dog food is strong.
Three cats are lounging around in the cluttered living room.
A little old dog with cataracts and terrible breath walks up to me.
I start petting him behind the ears.
Real petting, not that half-assed shit with just the palm.
I’m getting in there and he’s loving it.
He closes his eyes, panting and blowing that death stench right in my face.
“Here you go,” Doug says. “Katy is back here.”
He hands me the papers and then walks down the hallway.
He stops in front of a door with a poster of some rapper holding a woman’s ass in one hand and a big golden gun in the other.
He knocks, then opens the door slightly.
It’s dark and smells like wet towels and ramen.
Doug flips the light on.
“She’s in there,” he says, then walks away.
The first thing I see is a big guy with tattoos from his fingertips up to his jaw.
He is slouched, sitting on the edge of the bed looking half-asleep or high or dead.
Katy is laying next to him on the bed.
She is pale and has acne all over her face.
“Katy?” I say.
She looks at me through tiny slits, her eyes adjusting to the light.
She says, “Huh,” and I suddenly picture myself jumping on the bed, kicking the tattooed man in the ear all in one motion, then standing over her holding the papers in front of her face before topping the whole thing off by saying “served” and doing a “mic-drop” with the legal documents.
Instead: “Here you go,” I say.
I reach over and lay the papers gently in front of her.
After giving the old dog a few more scratches, this time under the chin and above his tail, I walk outside.
Doug is in the front yard smoking a cigarette.
“Hey,” he says. “Do you need a copy of that stuff?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Totally forgot. Thanks.”
“I’ll run in and grab it,” he says. “Come back in if you want?”
I walk back in and start pacing by the front door.
I look around.
After some deliberation, I decide that the couch is the main source of the piss smell.
Then I notice a bunch of photos hung up.
Most of them are of Katy.
Katy sitting in Doug’s lap.
Katy posing for her school picture.
Katy with her front teeth missing, smiling big and oblivious of the things to come.
Katy in her prom dress, arm in arm with Doug.
The frame of the prom photo says Daddy’s Little Princess.
I walk back outside and stand in the front yard, the summer heat smacking me on the back of the neck.
Doug walks out a few minutes later.
“Here you go,” he says.
He hands me the papers.
For some reason I reach out, offering a handshake.
He agrees to the offer, sticking his thick clammy dad-hand in mine.
“So,” he says. “What’s my next move?”
“What do you mean?”
“Now that the papers are served, what do I do?”
I had never been asked this before.
“I’m not sure.”
I do a fake laugh and shrug.
“Do you just want her out of your house?”
“Well,” he says. “I want to get her into rehab. But she’s… making it difficult.”
He looks like he has to sneeze.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know.”
He looks off into the distance.
Thousand yard stare.
Under his breath, he says, “I don’t know.”
“Sorry,” I repeat myself.
Then he sort of snaps out of it and does a dad-shrug and says, “Well, I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”
He does a fake laugh that puts mine to shame.
Like he’d been practicing it for years.