Just Another Day at the Office

Upon awakening was a blurred vision of orange on the

floor. It took him about ten seconds for the sight to clear

into a familiar dull Caltrans slicker. Now Elray remembered

who he was. That jacket, which he got during a brief

construction stint, was as much a part of Elray as his soul.

He wore the thin plastic in the dead of winter as well as in

the heat of summer. He loved the fuzzy pockets which seemed

to be sewn specifically to his measurements. The only time

he took it off was for sleeping which was why he lay staring

at the crumpled ball now.

Elray turned on his other side now, banging his head on

a pungent Cutty Sark bottle. Uttering an explicative, he

shoved the receptacle off the bed and looked out the window.

He never closed the shades because light did not affect his

sleep. From the position of the sun in the sky, Elray could

tell it was about ten AM. It never ceased to amaze him how

accurate this method of timekeeping was and he felt no need

for a clock in his room. Now to see which day in this

endless cycle of weeks it was, Elray had to stretch his

aching back forward in bed to see the date on the sprawled

out Racing Form, which he was always able to get at 5:00 pm

the day before. Ah, Monday. That meant tomorrow and the

next he would have off. His mouth salivated at the thought

of his weekly trip to Sizzler's $6.99 steak and all-you-can-

eat shrimp being only one day away. It was nice to eat real

food once a week but Elray really didn't mind the other days

at all. Booze and cornuts was enough to get through the

week. And his Sizzler runs lasted a couple of days because

he always asked for a doggie bag for the steak immediately

(the steak is not all you can eat, you see) to save room for

more shrimp. That, plus the makeshift pouch Elray had sewn

inside his faithful jacket that could procure about 43

shrimp, allowed him to eat until he couldn't bear to any

longer while obtaining provisions for the days ahead.

As Elray got out of bed, his feet crushed some plastic

cornut wrappers. His place was a mess, but he hardly noticed

it as his eyes were still half-closed. His work attire was

conveniently already on, so he just had to stumble to the

sink and stick his head under the running faucet, thus waking

him up and allowing him to comb his hair all in one step.

With Elray's $30 a week hotel room not having an unshattered

mirror, he went over to the old Sony Trinitron and was able

to comb his greasy hair in the reflection. Getting his

wrinkled jacket on, Elray left the building to start his day.

Walking to work, Elray reflected on the same thing he

did every day for the past five years-- His remarkably

perfect arrangement. His job selling the Daily Racing Form

at Golden Gate Fields suited him to a T. Not only did he

get free copies of the form and free admission to the track,

he was still able to collect welfare as he was paid in cash--

$21 (tax-free) a day for three hours work. Elray continued

his jaunt, heading down the lengthy connecting road along the

ocean that linked the cheap parking with the entrance gates.

The intermingling smells of horse manure and rotten fish

entered his nostrils, disrupting his cheerful thoughts, and

suddenly depressing him. Damn, that really smells nasty.

But this rare bout of depression lasted only a few seconds as

Elray passed a shuttle stop and caught a whiff of stale

urine. The scent prompted Elray to consider himself lucky as

èÑåÑ had a private, albeit clogged, toilet to use. Elray

skipped the rest of the way to the gates of the track, light

as air.

Elray arrived at his station at 10:30 A.M., an hour and

forty-five minutes before the first post. This was necessary

to cater to the "dailies" who came to the track every day and

liked to study the past performances extensively. He stepped

up on the platform behind which lay 300 racing forms, priced

at $3.10 including sales tax. While business was slow, Elray

started grouping his change into 90 cent batches to

facilitate those who had only bills. All this because

California had to be the only damn state in the nation to tax

newspapers. It pissed Elray off. Then he remembered two

things. First, that it was the state that was enabling him

to lead this luxurious life and, second, that the Racing Form

guys kept all the tax money so in effect, the sales tax

helped Elray command a higher salary and get better benefits

from the state. Life was wonderful once you really thought

about things.

At 1:30, Elray closed up the stand and took the unsold

copies and money to the main Form distribution point on the

mezzanine level. The guy there gave him 21 dollars out of

the till and dismissed Elray ungraciously. Now Elray had

some entertainment money. There were still six races left so

he could bet five dollars a race and hopefully win some cash.

He sat down with the other spectators and started to study

his copy of the Form. He saw two teenagers, sitting below

him arguing about whether to wheel an exacta or not. Fools.

The thought entered his mind to advise the youths as he would

have done at another time, but he was too weary to care after

a hard day of work and decided to let them squander whatever

Mom had given them. What were they doing out of school,

anyways? Back to business. There were ten horses in this

race, so Elray had a lot of work to do. He looked up at the

tote board and saw a large percentage of the money bet on the

"3" horse. He looked at this horse's past performances and

saw that the horse had placed well in three consecutive grade

III races. This was the obvious sure bet to win but the

payoff would be worth barely the price of a small bag of

cornuts, and not even Barbecue flavor at that. Elray craved

the exacta. He needed the second place horse but there was

only 3 minutes until posttime. So, without sufficient time

to scientifically pick the second horse, Elray knew he would

have to invoke his personal "numerical order" theory. He'd

been at many tracks around the country and it never ceased to

amaze him how often the top two finishers of a race were in

order such as 5-4 or 1-2. Elray wasn't sure why this

happened, some mathematical crap no doubt, so without further

consultation of the Racing Form, he went to the betting

window and got a $5 3-2 exacta and a 3-4 exacta, both boxed.

He always boxed. Elray had seen once-great men fall apart by

failing to box. This being done, all that was left was his

customary trip to the bathroom. He felt no need to watch the

race. He noticed that lately, the excitement he'd use to

feel watching the horses sprint down the stretch had

disappeared and now all he cared about was the result. He

took his time taking care of business and washing his hands

and face carefully. He had to take full advantage of the

soap as he was out of it at home. All they had here was that

crappy powder soap they used to use in his school days, but

it was better that none. When he came out, Elray looked up

at the tote board. The finish was 2-4-5; 3 had come in

fourth. He looked down, his eyes fixated on the near

infinite scraps of losing tickets ripped to shreds on the

ground. Briefly, there was anguish and clenching his fists,

his overgrown fingernails nearly punctured the skin. If only

he hadn't been so cheap and splurged for the baseball box of

2-3-4, he would be getting $50.50! Maybe a corollary was

need for his theory. With this, apathy quickly returned.

This scenario had occurred to him many times in his life and

he'd learn to accept it. Regrets are not healthy. Elray no

longer felt in the mood to study the numerous bits of data

required to pick the next winning horses. The mob was

running it, so what good did it do anyway? He found a much

better bet at the Jockey Club with a shot glass.

After the last race, Elray left with the spectators and

staggered towards his residence. On his way out the gate he

saw a family leaving with two little kids about 4 years old.

The kids were fighting and screaming about some imaginary

stuffed animal and whose he was. "Damn kids", thought Elray,

"Thank God those brats aren't around to bug me." That thought

gave Elray the strength to make it home. That and Sizzler.