“Come to the movies with me.”

See, that’s the thing:  It’s the lever on a Rube Goldberg machine, and you have to see the lever, pull the lever, and then not catch the cat before it eats the mouse six steps later. 

“No money.”  I was between jobs, between lovers, between misery and apathy.  I didn’t really want to move at all. “No interest, sorry.”

See? There’s me missing a lever.  But:

“Free tickets.  Come on, we’re doing drinks at Uncle Jim Hartes’ afterwards, and I owe you a few.”

Or was that the lever?  Three years before, I’d bought Aleien drinks in the midst of a particularly bad everything.  I’d forgotten.  Aleien remembers.  Aleien always remembers debts, always pays debts. 

“All right. Movies, sure, but just because you’re buying the drinks.”

Just like that, I was out of the house.  Apartment, hole in the wall, really, for the first time in two weeks.  I even stopped to shower first. 

The night was bright, the movie was awful, and three hours later, I was downing my sixth drink with Aleien, who downs whisky and Coke like a dying horse at a desert oasis. 

I was feeling, not exactly generous, but expansive, so I paid for the seventh round and slipped the bartender my last five-spot with the payment. 

He raised his eyebrow at me and I pushed it a little closer to him. 

Somewhere in his mind, maybe, a lever turned.  The cat dropped on a mouse and the platform dropped, and one silver ball rolled down a chute.

“We gotta get you a proper job,” Aleien slurred.  “You’re fun when you’re out.  You’re fun when you’re happy.”

I wanted to say something snippy, touchy, about being sorry I was an inconvenience.  Instead I just patted Aleien’s back and asked the bartender for some water.  Aleien can drink like nobody’s business, but without water, morning-after Aleien is a misery for everyone.

The bartender slipped me a phone number with the water. 

“Call that number tomorrow.  Ask for... here.”  He scribbled a name on the napkin, and then another one.  “Ask for Tony, tell her Leslie sent you.  It’s hard work and all, but it pays well, and there’s plenty of room for advancement.” 

That’s the thing.  It’s never a door, not really.  That’s ‘cause you’re staring at the door.  It’s closed, it’s locked. And you’re trapped. 

It’s a lever.  And seventeen steps and seven drinks down the line, a ball-bearing tips over a rod which hits a wheel which coils up a rope which, finally, just when you’ve started to think you’re locked in forever, opens a window. 

But first you have to pull the lever.

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