Doug was the weekend machinist at United Auto Stores, in the late seventies/early eighties in San Jose; he was also a law student at Santa Clara University, having begun with a degree in English from San Jose State. Doug was one of those guys who you knew was intelligent just by hearing him talk. It wasn’t what he said that was impressive; it was his voice. He had that authoritarian way of conversing which plainly said, “I am going to tell you what’s up, and if you think it’s the sky, nice try.”
The first time I ever heard that voice was one of the early days I was on the job. We had an inter-store phone line that did not require dialing. All that the guys at Store #2 on Mckee Road had to do, was hit the button one time for Story Road, three times for Almaden Blvd, and four times for Hillsdale Ave. Whoever was handiest, answered it. Trying to impress everyone during a lull, I snatched the phone after a long buzz indicated that someone wanted our attention, like ten minutes ago. The first thing I focused on was the VOICE, and then that old SBH number came at me in two five-digit increments, so fast I had only time to apply pencil to paper fast enough to get the first five, before my brain let the second half slide over the edge.
“Hey, can you hit me up with those last five digits again, please?”
There was a pregnant pause, and from the length of it, I feared the baby was ready to pop.
“One...........zero...........two..........four...........zero..........Got it?” Ice cubes over the phone.
What an arrogant jerk. “Be right back.” Shorter pause than the previous one. “Sorry-none on the shelf.”
“Hello?” I asked, into the phone. Not recognizing the voice (for the one and only time-afterwards, I was to know it in a mili-second) “Anyone there?”
“Yeah, I’m here. Let me talk to Mike.” I went to get Mike, who was in the office, and when I came back out, I had time to lift one end of the receiver off of the hook, and then the other, carefully, so that I could listen in on the conversation without anyone hearing me.
“Mike.” That voice, again.
“Doug.” Hmmm. Someone named Doug. Mike did not seem to have any trouble recognizing the voice. He also did not sound intimidated.
“Michael, who was that?” He made it sound as though I were a combination dog turd mixed with vomit. Was he that unsettled because I had asked him to repeat a stupid part number? Or did he think I was was incapable of stock-checking it?
“That? You mean the guy who put me on the phone? That was Markington Poopie; he’s been with us for a few days. Why? Did he trip over his beard?”
“Well, what’s up? Is he all right? He seemed a little slow on the uptake.”
“Yeah, he seems fine. Give him a chance.”
“Yeah, sure.” Doug may have still had a few doubts.
Like Pescalone, Doug was a hard guy to get to know. When he came back to Story Road as the revolving door did its thing, I stepped carefully around him for the longest time, though he never seemed to notice one way or another. That all changed with one casual question addressed to me, asked more out of boredom than interest just after he’d gotten off work, and filled out his time card.
“So, uh...uh...” He was looking at me, and he seemed to be talking to me, but...
“Try Mark,” I said, dryly.
“Right. So Mark, what courses are you taking at San Jose State?” Courses? Who says courses?
“I have field hockey.” I figured if he thought I was a wiener, I wasn’t going to convince him otherwise by impressing him, so I started with my PE class, more for shock value, than for any other reason.
There went another of those damn pauses. “Field hockey?”
“Yeah, Doug, you know, with the sticks and the hard ball? Me and seventeen just-out-of high school girls, and the instructor.” Since I was 22 at the time, seventeen twenty year old babes sounded about right. I groaned inwardly. Me? Did I actually use the objective case in place of the nominative? With Doug?
Doug spoke. “Okayyyyy.” He dragged that second syllable out as though it were coming out of quicksand. “Is that it?”
“”Well that’s it for PE. I’m also taking ‘Methods and Materials of Literary Research.’”
In the process of shrugging his way into his sports jacket, he turned to me with a positive gleam in his eye, and said, “With Jack Hager?” I had finally penetrated Doug’s shell-or, rather-his hide.
“That would be he.” Proper use of the nominative case, as I have already noted, was critical in Doug’s presence. Seriously.
The dude actually made eye contact with me. “Good luck with that one. He is one son of a bitch.”
I walked away to take care of Harry Siemens, a do-it-yourselfer who specialized in Chrysler products. “How’re doing, Harry?”
Harry sidled up to one of the stools out in front of the counter, easing himself up and on it, while indicating something alongside him on the floor. I looked over and saw a Chrysler products rear axel sitting there. Doug was beating a hasty retreat out the side door, but Harry nailed him.
“Got time to do one last bearing?”
“Sorry, Harry. I have to see a guy about a legal matter.” Glancing at me, Doug said, “We’ll have to save that for the regular machinist, first thing in the morning. Good-night all.” And he sailed out the side door, a pause, for once, being the last thing on his mind.