I scooped the cell phone from my bag and sat back up in the driver's seat in one smooth motion. It was D...... Well, what the fuck did he want? Anything we had in the past had dried up and blown away. But I hardly had the heart or the courage to stick a fork in it. Though he grated my nerves, sometimes insulted my sensibilities and just plain got on my nerves, I had a soft spot for the guy. I really didn't see the point of taking his call. There was always the chance that whatever he had to say would completely wreck my mood and I was glum enough about work. I dropped the phone on the passenger seat. I'll call him back later, I promised to no one.
Leaving the parkway, I turned onto St. Charles Avenue. I loved the oak lined horizon. Once again, I conjured alternatives to work. I could ride the streetcar all morning smelling the smoky vapors as the electric car clattered down the track. From there I could walk the side streets of the Garden District, looking at houses, browsing little boutiques.
In the distance, I saw the campus. I focused to find a parking space. The two adjacent colleges meant that it was nearly impossible to find a space after 8:15 and it was almost 8:45. Finally I saw a spot about five blocks away from campus. It would be nine am before I made it to my desk. So what. At least I bothered to come.
All day long I processed medical records. At first, it was a relief. Such a change from my last job. The work only engaged maybe a third of my attention. The rest I could set free. Sometimes I'd listen to talk radio, sometimes I'd find an internet article I could read over my busy hands...other days I'd talk on the telephone, receiver cradled against my shoulder as I shuffled papers and filled in logs. If I wanted a change of pace, I could go to the front desk and help the harried med students or answer the phones. People had strange ideas about what a medical research center was and sometimes we got the wackiest calls. A woman called claiming to have proof her great grandfather had discovered the polio vaccine before Salk; parents would call asking how to tell if their kids had the flu or a cold. Random people would walk in looking for information about health insurance. All the medical records from the university hospital were closed; only medical personnel can access them. There were shelves and shelves of journals, these, textbooks, and other documents. The med students always wanted course materials. Trawling for old exams, I bet. They'd pore through the boxes in teams of three, looking bleary eyed and desperate. A few would come in to study and end up asleep, face flat on a cool table in the quiet reading room. Every once in a while a faculty member would host an event, but soon enough all the activity would stop. Some days would be pretty hectic, but more often than not, things were pretty quiet.
As soon as I arrive, I log on to my computer and check my email. If no one's around I read the paper online too. Then I 'll look up and see it's only ten minutes after nine. I still have seven hours to kill.