After thinking
not too much
or too long,
I knew I needed
to get a job.

Mike said so, too,
but mostly
so he could buy pot
and get his parents
off his back
after quitting school.

“You can finally pay
for some shit,” he said.

I told him
that wasn’t fair.
He said I didn’t know
what fair was.

“Just get a job,” he said.
“Quit complaining.”

The next day,
I went to campus
to check out jobs
on a bulletin board.
I called about one.
A woman answered.
She talked loud and fast.
She said her name
was Dr. Ann Benson.

“I pay $2.65 an hour,” she said.
“Can you work 30 hours a week?”

I told her I could.

“Good,” she said.
“Can you start tomorrow?”

I told her yes.

“OK then,” she said.
“Come to the
Sociology Building.
Third floor.
9 a.m.”

Mike didn’t get home
until after dinner.
I told him I got a job.

“What the hell
will you be doing?”

I said I’d be
coding surveys
of people living
in the projects.

“That’s bullshit,” he said.
“No wonder they
pay minimum wage.”

I went to bed
and did some math.
I figured I could
save a little,
not tell him,
hide it somewhere,
maybe move.
I tore up my notes
before he stumbled to bed.

Mike was sleeping
when I went to work
the next morning.
When I got there,
Dr. Benson was
reading the paper
and a guy named Jack
with thick hair
and a beard
was sitting at a long table.
I sat down next to him
and she gave us
stacks of surveys,
Scantron Sheets,
and pencils.

“Put a 2 next to every ‘no’ answer,” she said.
“And a 1 next to every ‘yes’ answer.”

Jack asked about
the ‘don’t know’ responses.

“Those get a 0,” she said.
“When you’re done,
transfer all those numbers
to these sheets,
like you’re filling in
bubbles on a test.”

Jack was faster,
but I caught up.
When we finished a stack,
Dr. Benson brought us more.
we’d lean back in our chairs
and talk a little,
not much,
but just enough
to like one another
and joke about
being bored.

“Who’s that?”

I pointed to
a framed faded picture
of an overweight teen
Jack kept
on the worktable.

“That’s me,” he said.
“When I was fat.”

Jack smoothed his belly.
He stroked his beard.

“I used to weigh 300 pounds,” he said.
“All I did was read comics.
And listen to the radio.
I never want to be fat again.”

We went back to coding.
He jiggled his leg
and looked at me sideways,
humming along
to the radio.

“Come on,” he said.
“Let’s dance.”

He jumped up
and sashayed backwards,
swaying his hips.
He flipped his bangs
and took my hand,
whispering a song
about piña coladas
and wanting to escape.