The young lawyer stands on the sidewalk outside the Ronald Reagan State Building on Spring Street. He hums, swings his brief case from side to side, pleased with himself, waiting for his Uber to arrive and whisk him off to the Burbank Airport. The Los Angeles afternoon sun makes his already damp dress shirt adhere to the soft contours of his torso. He’s gained another ten pounds in the last two months, the late nights at the large, San Francisco firm combined with takeout Chinese, Thai and Mexican food all taking a toll on his once lean body. But he is successful, getting top performance reviews from the partners, veiled promises of great things to come in his career. Few young associates would get the opportunity to argue an appellate case as he just did, on an important contract dispute that could make great authority if the court sides with him and issues a favorable, published opinion. Creating stare decisis, a decision that will be cited by the legal treatises, taught in law schools, relied upon by other attorneys in their briefs.
The Uber arrives and the young lawyer hops into the backseat of the odd looking car. Not a wreck, merely a dark-green, boxy, generic vehicle without a hint of personality. The driver turns to him—a woman old enough to be his grandmother—smiles and winks. The gig economy has opened up opportunities for everyone, he thinks, even for older folks on fixed incomes. He smiles back and fastens his seatbelt in time for the woman to screech away from the government building.
The young lawyer snaps open his brief case—a graduation gift from his father, a man who never finished high school but who worked several jobs to make certain his only child could go to college and then law school, something the man and his late wife never could have imagined when they surreptitiously crossed the border into the United States twenty-eight years ago, a young, brave couple who wanted to make a better life for themselves and their soon-to-be born child in this land of opportunity. Such a shame the man’s wife would not survive a brazen, selfish cancer that took her away before their son graduated from law school three years ago.
As the young lawyer riffles through his brief case, he notices the car has stopped. He looks up and sees brick walls on either side of him. An alley. The woman turns to him, winks, and holds up a finger as if to say: One moment, please. She pops the trunk, hops out, and scurries to the back of the car. The young lawyer shrugs, he has plenty of time before his flight, and resumes his riffling.
After a few minutes, the young lawyer starts to perspire. The woman probably did not leave the air conditioning on as she searched for God-knows-what in her trunk. But wait: the young lawyer hears the car’s vents going full blast but it’s hot air, not cold, pouring out. He sighs, snaps shut his brief case, and reaches for the door handle. He pulls, but nothing happens. He tries again. And again nothing. He scooches over the unusually hard, plastic seat to the other door and tries that one, but no success. The young lawyer looks for the door lock but sees smooth plastic where a latch should be. It is getting unbearably hot. He loosens his tie just as the woman slams shut the trunk.
The young lawyer’s breathing becomes labored. He turns to search for the woman. She is behind the car, looking at the young lawyer, sharpening a glistening carving knife on a black, rectangular stone. She licks her lips, smiles, winks.
Just as the young lawyer begins to lose consciousness, his mind drifts back to his first day of kindergarten. His beautiful mother walks him up to the school’s gate, his little, sweaty hand in hers. She squats, her perfume fills the air with love, and touches her anxious son’s cheek. Mi cielo, she coos, I love you. Do well and be good. Make us proud.
***[“Gig Economy” first appeared in the LARB Quarterly Review and will be featured in Daniel Olivas’s forthcoming collection, The King of Lighting Fixtures (University of Arizona Press, fall 2017).]