My Colleagues in the Messenger Office
The two and a half years I spent doing messenger work turned the German college professor into a Manhattan street urchin. Occasionally, I would ask myself: “So where is the life of glamor the Russian English professor had hinted at during my interview in Moscow?” Perhaps it was still to come, but I had to get through this rough stretch to get there.
And of course, the messenger job was not exactly a great platform from which to conduct intelligence work. However, hanging out with the motley crowd at the messenger office allowed me to gradually and safely integrate with American culture while avoiding probing questions by curious and more educated individuals. The messenger office was a safe haven where I was in the company of men who existed at or near the fringes of society and had no interest in finding out who you are, where you come from and where you are going.
While working at that office I had to opportunity to observe some of the most unusual types I would ever meet in my entire life. When Al was moved to the main office he was replaced by Marvin, a Vietnam veteran and ex heroin user who managed his addiction with methadone. His claim that he helped the New York mayor set up the methadone program was highly questionable. Marvin was an inveterate gambler – he played the ponies. On weekends, I would join him at the track to establish a relationship that turned out to be very helpful when I required flexibility because of demands by my undercover job.
Soon after Marvin took over the office, Gordon was replaced by Ed, a soft spoken long haired drug addicted deadhead (fan of the rock band Grateful Dead). Every Friday, soon after the paychecks arrived from the head office, nickel bags of marihuana and pills in all kinds of colors were on display on Ed’s desk. Ed himself was not a dealer, but he made sure to have an adequate supply for the following week. The other constant companion of Friday payday were lottery tickets. Folks who could least afford it, spent a significant portion of their paycheck on those tickets. The Friday afternoon conversation among the waiting messengers about what they would do with their million dollar winnings was more sad than it was comical.
The pinnacle of oddity was represented by three fellows named Ray, Eugene, and Bruce. Ray, who lasted only two months at Swift, bragged about his career as an “actor” who performed live sex acts on the stage of a burlesque theater in the sleazy red-light district on 8th Avenue. Eugene, an effeminate gay transvestite, spent many an evening picking up men willing to pay for his services. He was very high strung and once punched me in the nose without warning because “I had looked at him funny”. And finally, there was Bruce, a long haired fellow in his 20s with a hard edge to his personality. I kept my distance from him as I sensed that he might explode any minute. He once tried to cash a million-dollar corporation to corporation check, the kind we routinely carried in open envelopes. Since there was no damage done, he got away with a warning, but when security caught him trying to steal a dinosaur bone from the Museum of Natural History he was arrested, which of course spelled an end to his illustrious career with Swift.