Tata Simonyan is playing in the restaurant. It’s the first time I’ve heard it playing anywhere since Armenia. There is an abrupt feeling of disinterest, probably caused by the lack of sleep and too much coffee. I feel irritable. I would like to walk out of here, have a cigarette and come back all over again. The deliveries have to go out; there’s no time.
I package all the orders together and bring around the van. The music in the restaurant keeps changing: Tata, Devochka, Beirut, Parisian rap. When I come back in from getting the van Tata is on again. It makes me slightly happier to hear than it did when I first came in. This is the music that I recommended. Hearing it makes me feel like I’m being listened to. I take a cup of coffee with me for the orders.
Outside, San Francisco is lapped by waves. I can see them from Broadway; I can hear them making that indolent *chok, chok, chok* sound when I do my second delivery on the Embarcadero. The sun is out. People don’t pay much attention to me during the morning route. Someone else has already arraigned, they presume. It’s easiest when I’ve been a place before. I can walk in and set everything up without exchanging a word with anyone. That’s what people seem to prefer. When you’ve got to ask questions you’re bothering people.
Park the car, sign-in at the door, take the elevator up twenty flights, set up the food in the break room. When the food is set up, I always take a second to step back and glance at it, to make sure everything is right. It looks good like this: untouched. This, rather than feeding people, seems to be the most important aspect of my job.
I make my way back out of the office building, moving quickly with a few empty bags dragging from me. I thank the receptionist. She thanks me. From the moment I enter an office, it take about 4 minutes to set up a medium-sized order. Back down on the street, I toss the empty bags in the car. The deliveries are done, but the smell of food is still strong.
The restaurant supply store is on the south end of town, in an industrial area where the streets are gravelly and worn away. At the door, I select one of the massive carts. It seems almost all of them have a defect of some kind. It’s not until the cart is weighed done with hundreds of pounds of wholesale items that the defect is noticed: an uneven wheel that makes the cart bounce, a slight bend in the frame that puts all the weight on the back while the front wheels hang two useless inches from the ground, making it almost impossible to steer. Today, I’ve got one of the bouncing carts.
The non-refrigerated parts of the store are fine. Cardboard has a soothing smell to it and there’s a cathedral silence to the place—must be the high ceilings. No matter how well I’m dressed for it, the refrigerated part is always cold. It seems like an aberration that a place inside should be so cold. It looks just like the rest of the store, only it’s cold and gruesome. There’s a big box that reads: “Special! Half-goat.” Inside the box are about seven vaguely anthromorphic forms wrapped completely in gauze. It looks like a box of child-sized mummies. A whole isle is devoted to beef. Each piece is evenly cut and wrapped in cling wrap. It looks like a wall is being built of blood and muscle. I look at the list. “5 leg meat, 1 breast halal.”
The chicken is shelved in waxed cardboard boxes. Despite the cold, some of them are very damp. The water and blood beads on top of the boxes. The beads roll off when the boxes are moved. After moving five boxes over my hands are damp. I look for the halal breast. I don’t see it. I cross the section: “thigh, leg, drumstick, wing, necks and parts,” no breasts. I find them. They’re all above me, on a shelf right over my head. I’m getting cold; I want to get them and leave this freezer. I reach up. The handle cut into the box is a little soggy. It’s hard to really get purchase with it. I pull the box over the little lip at the end of the shelf. To do this I bounce it up, ready to catch it when it comes back down on the other side of the lip.
The box comes down, half on the shelf, half off, part of it angling down to me. There is a sound like large maraca being shaken and the box begins to disgorge its contents. My arm shoots up to steady the box balancing on the edge of the shelf and moves right into the sluice of fat, ice and blood that is pouring out of the box. I try to shake the box off the shelf so it will no longer be angled down at me, but it’s stuck on the lip. There must be about five pounds of slushy blood in there. The icy part is burning my palm, my wrist. The liquid part is running down my shirt. It goes down my arm, into my armpit and drains down my side, into the waist of my pants.
When I get the box down, my hand is slippery with ice and fat and the cold blood had spread across my chest like an external circulatory system, soaking all of my undergarments. There is blood on my shoes and on my hands. I can feel it chafing my shirt against me. My arm is so soaked in blood that I have to roll up the sodden sleeve. Within seconds, my blood-wet and exposed arm is bitingly cold in the freezer room. I pick another box of chicken quickly and walk out.
I through the checkout and pay for everything still soaked with blood. There is a wash station in the parking lot and after I’ve loaded everything up I scrub from both my elbows down like a surgeon. I don’t expect that it’ll do much good because I’ve got so much blood soaked into my clothes. In the San Francisco wind, my wet clothes are already feeling cold.
I drive back across town to the restaurant. All I have to do is unload the truck, find a place to park and then I can go home and shower. On the drive, I keep my wet right arm out in the window in hopes that it will dry off a little.
The restaurant is busy as it usually is for lunch. Luckily, the lighting is dim and my clothes are dark. The blood cannot be seen. When everything from the restaurant supply store is unloaded, I check the delivery sheet. There are about six more for the day. I’ll have to be back here for the next one at three. It’s already two. I’m not going to have time to go home and take a shower. I can feel the blood beginning to dry stickily underneath my shirt. I go and wash my hands again.
There’s a park near the restaurant. I go there every day for lunch. I eat and watch the people walk by with their dogs. I know some of the dog’s names. One of them is named ‘nacho.’ I can’t hear that dog’s name without laughing. When the dogs are gone, I watch the buildings and the sun behind them. I look at the houses across from the park and wonder what they would be like to come home to.
It’s uncomfortable to be outside in the wind, but the blood seems to be drying little by little. When my lunch is finished, I’m thankful to be able to get back in the car and do some deliveries to warm myself up. After a couple more cups of coffee and a few deliveries downtown, I’ve almost forgotten about the blood.
The last delivery of the night brings me back downtown. It’s late, so there’s not too many people still out. I find a parking place right in front of the building, which is nice because the order is large. I’ve got to set everything on a cart.
The porter downstairs is a larger guy, very jovial. He talks to me, not like the 304th delivery driver he’s seen that day, but like someone he’s actually interested in. He reads the name of the restaurant off my shirt.
“What is that? Italian?”
I tell him what kind of restaurant it is.
“Ahhh. I see. Now what’s your name?”
He’s writing all this down on his sign-in sheet. I tell him my name, spelling my last name. He reads it aloud, pronouncing the double ‘L’ as though it were Spanish, the way they did sometimes in Argentina. I correct him and tell him to pronounce the ‘L’s.
“What kind of name is that, Catalan?”
I tell him what kind of name it is. Almost wishing it was Catalan just because his guess was so specific and narrow.
Upstairs, the workers of the tech. firm are forming a line while I’m setting everything up. They are all watching me, one man, set up all their food. They talk among themselves, but really they are watching, waiting for me to finish, cursing me for taking so long. When I am done, they move immediately on the food. No one thanks me. I have come and gone almost unnoticed. Back downstairs, the porter breaks off his conversation with someone to say goodnight to me. He even uses my name, glancing down to read it off of his sheet.
I park the car off the meter and take out my bags, a few of them have accumulated over the day’s work. I have to stuff the smaller bags into the larger to get them to fit. It takes me a while to get everything together. The night is quiet and I walk back to the restaurant slowly.
I can tell it’s crowded in there before I go in. The windows are slightly foggy and the yellow light inside is dimmed by the multitude of shadows darting around. A couple walks by me and I hear them quickly decide on a restaurant.
“It’s Italian and they’ve got wine,” the young man says.
“And you’ve eaten at this place before and like it?” The woman asks.
“Yeah, it’s pretty good.” And on that unenthusiastic note, they turn back up the block, most likely heading back to the restaurant they had been discussing.
Back in the restaurant, Tata Simonyan is playing again. I walk in with all my bags and a few people look up at me, then they look down again. I brought them this dinner music from the other side of the world, but they don’t know it. It’s a song about California, in the singer’s language he sings:
Bright sun, love and happiness
Buds and flowers all year
Ocean: you do a bad thing
You save us, but you won't set us free.
(Paytsar arev, sern u barin
Tsil u tsaghik amboghj tarin
Ovkyanos lav ban ches anum
Mez pahel es bats ches toghnum)