The Gig Economy

Polacek was late. Walking in, he signaled to the waiter and ordered two glasses of the house red. He sat down and told the waiter he could take away the glass of white I had been drinking. “Rot-gut” he said.

He looked at the menu. “Sorry I’m late.” His class had run over; a graduate seminar in ethical issues in public health policy. Teachers College. He’s department head so he sets his own schedule and runs late if he wants to.

“You get my message?”

No, I told him. I had been on the C train up from Chelsea.

“That shit C train again. You should have taken the 1 or the 2. Anyway, you gotta get out of Baruch. They’ll kill you there. I’ll get you something uptown. Call me.”

I teach in the morning and have office hours until three two days a week. I write in the evenings.

I pick up extra work doing freelance writing. Polacek had given me the data set and key points for a paper he wanted to publish. The efficacy of mandatory directly observed therapy for TB in Medicaid patients was a hot issue and he’d surely get a publication out of it.

I had the rough outline I wrote in my bag. I wrote up a cost estimate. A ten-page research paper like this with references could get me forty-five hundred. Graphs and tables could run another fifteen hundred.

Gennaro’s was on Amsterdam. We were at a table in the back, near the kitchen. Sinatra was on an endless loop.

Polacek said, “I tell you we’re putting in a pool? Not big, it’s for the kids and Marion’s mother says it could up the resale value by five percent. Maybe more.”

As he’s talking, I was thinking, I wouldn’t live in New Jersey if you paid me by the hour in gold bouillon and gave me a Maserati Ghibli. And threw in a sunroof, a cabin cruiser, a four-car garage, and a lifetime supply of Scotts Weed and Feed. I asked him if he got Ben Cooper to be a co-author with him.

“Nah, not yet. I’m working on him but he wants his name first. I’m not giving him that. He’ll take third or nothing. I don’t need him. He’s done nothing in ten years.”

“So,” he said “you like this place? Lee Ann got the reservations for us.”

The restaurant was as empty as a box of Oreos Double Stuff after a rainy weekend. “Lee Ann?”

“My secretary.”

“Nice,” I said. He smiled. I asked him when I could start writing.

“Maybe soon,” he said.

The smell of garlic and the clatter of plates came through the kitchen doors when they swung open.

“How soon is soon?” I asked.

He smiled again and looked as if he needed to think a moment. I gave it to him.

He said, “To tell you the truth, I hate to say this but one of the graduate students is going to take a try at it. She started a week ago. A good kid. You know how it is.”

I looked away, out the window. A bus heading up into Harlem stopped on the corner. The hydraulic mechanism whined as the passengers stepped out onto the curb. A grad student? This is total bullshit. I put time into this. This was promised to me. He’s screwing me over. He didn’t even look at what I wrote!

He nudged his plate aside. Half a plate of cold white pasta and green peas was left, slick with oil. He leaned forward holding his tie against his chest, away from the soiled tablecloth, and took a sip from his glass.

“Can I tell you something,” he said. ‘In absolute confidence, yes?”

I agreed. He raised his eyes to me.

“It’s about Lee Ann. I’m having an affair with her. I know this is kind of unprofessional and, God, I feel like a shit. It’s only been six months, no more than seven. Nobody knows. My God, she is amazing. Absolutely. I’ve never been so crazy about anyone in my life. You saw her. Am I right? Amazing, right? It’s got to stop, I know. I just don’t know what to do. I’ve got a family. A good job…a great job. I think Marion suspects something’s up. It will kill her, I know, but Christ!” he said.

I started to say something. Something in the way of an understanding I didn’t feel.

He waved me off. “No, no,” he said, “I’ll figure it out.”

He pressed his fingers hard into his forehead. He turned his eyes out toward the front window. A stream of people walked by in the bright sun, glancing at their reflections as they passed.

“That’s it,” he said, looking back toward me, smoothing a palm over his neat brown hair; adjusting the knot of his yellow tie. “Well, it feels good to get that out.”

He stood up. “So,” he said. “How’s that for a bit of male self-disclosing behavior?”

I said nothing. I didn’t move.

“Hey, hey, stop,” he said, reaching for his wallet while looking out toward the window again. “Your money’s no good here. I’ll get this one.”

And then he left.

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