• Prose

Anthony Martello - The Put-Back

Craig wakes up at 6:15 am to continue his technical treadmill of life. He carefully picks up his thick glasses, puts them on his narrow face, and rests them on his astute ears. His ears appear larger than average because of his short square salt and pepper cut. He reaches into his closet and chooses a beige, plaid collar shirt. He methodically dresses and marches into the kitchen to pour himself a cup of coffee for the road. He fills the silver and black thermos style mug and climbs into his white 2019 Toyota Prius hybrid. He drives to the highway 85 entrance and waits patiently in the single file line to get on the highway. His average wait per day is about 25 minutes. While in line, Craig reflects back to a comment his coworker, John said the week earlier,

"Craig, all you have to do is just risk it and drive in the carpool lane, there isn't enough California Highway Patrol to catch everyone and your odds are low that you will get caught and if they do get you - just pay the ticket. It's only $490 for greater peace of mind."

Craig tried not to cringe when John would rant on and on about his daily survival tactics. John is married with 2 kids and always talks his way out of trouble. John brags that he has been driving in the carpool lane for ten years and hasn’t been caught. He estimates that he’s saved about 1500 hours of time sitting in traffic in the last ten years. Craig would never take this risk. He was too calculated and careful to risk ruining his reputation and face the overwhelming embarrassment of getting a traffic ticket. Finally, Craig makes it to the main highway and glances at his Apple Watch. It shows that it took him 32 minutes to get on today.

While at work, Craig chats with John before their Quality meeting. John asks,

“Craig, how long did it take you to get in today?”

Craig sighs and responds, “an hour and 10 minutes. It took me 32 minutes to get on the highway today.” John laughs. “Dude, you need some excitement in your life. Have you ever had sushi?” Craig shook his head side to side, “No, it isn’t safe. I don’t eat raw fish!”

John laughs again and insists, “meet me in the parking lot today at 11:45 am, I am taking you to sushi for lunch.” Craig, feeling the pressure agrees, “Ok, but no raw fish.”

Lunchtime rolls around, and the guys meet in the parking lot near John’s silver Lexus CT200h. Craig slides into John’s car and instantly notices more space and style than his simple white Prius. John encourages Craig, “Kick back and enjoy the ride, we need to unplug from the project for an hour and decompress. You know, creativity only comes with clarity, and we haven’t had a second for ourselves to relax. Even Quality Engineers need some creative space once in a while.”

Craig replies, “Ok, I just don’t want to be late”

The coworkers pull up to Sushi Float, a local restaurant. John directs them over to the corner of the circular float. There are multiple sushi boats floating around the moat. They are linked together and have a variety of raw and cooked sushi assorted on them. John enlightens Craig, "These are rainbow rolls and have ahi, which is raw but there are others with cooked fish like the Unagi one with eel floating by."

John reaches out and grabs a rainbow roll tray with the raw ahi. Craig spots a boat approaching that has 2 round fried and battered golf ball sized appetizers. He reaches out and grabs it feeling more secure about the deep-fried morsels. John educates Craig, “Nice, you picked the fish balls!” Craig’s eyes widen and his face tightens with fear. He anxiously returns the tray back on another sushi boat floating by. Craig comments further, “Dude, you did a Put-Back, you’re not supposed to put a tray back once you take it off the boat, Shhh, don’t say anything or we will have to pay for it.” Craig still stunned replied, “I didn’t know they had fish testicles here. I can’t eat those.” John let out a big laugh. “They’re not really fish testicles. Fish don’t have testicles; they are just called that. They are balls of rice cooked in deep fried batter.”

The coworkers choose a few more trays and enjoy the rest of their meal. As they get up to leave, an attractive woman slides over and surprisingly introduces herself to Craig, “you are brave, I have never seen that pulled off. Here is my number. Call me.”





Anthony P. Martello is currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University. Before this, he worked as a healthcare business executive, promoting medical devices to hospitals and served as an expert witness for the U.S. Dept. of Justice on the topic of patient safety devices.

He writes poetry and short stories as his hobby. He was homeschooled in Kauai and spent many years surfing Hawaii and the California coast. He earned a Biology (Pre-Med) Bachelors degree and a double minor in English & Psychology at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1998. Much of his inspiration in writing stems from his struggle with two different forms of arthritis and overcoming both of them in different ways. He is a surfer, a writer, and a dedicated family man with a wife and two daughters.

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