Tales From Mephitis. Chapter 19: The Wanderer

Updated on March 5, 2018
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Mr. Vanek is an Observer of the Human Condition and a Writer.

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost, The old that is strong does not wither. Deep roots are not touched by the frost…” Tolkien
“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost, The old that is strong does not wither. Deep roots are not touched by the frost…” Tolkien
“He who has few friends: This is the Wanderer....Strange lands and separation are The Wanderer’s lot.”  The I Ching, Hexagram 56
“He who has few friends: This is the Wanderer....Strange lands and separation are The Wanderer’s lot.” The I Ching, Hexagram 56

Frank had begun to cough himself now. He wore a dust mask whenever he baled, but everywhere he looked there were breathing hazards, and he couldn’t wear a mask all ten hours.

There was nothing he could do about the accumulated dust and filth of twenty years of operations, nor about the inherent dust of the paper recyclables or wood ash, but maybe there was something he could do about the flocks of winged vermin that liberally doused everything with their liquid droppings.

The problem was the pigeons were under the personal protection of Rodney and his ‘Merry Band of Animal Rights Supporters’. Even Ray tiptoed around him on this one. Once a year he did have an exterminator come in and lay poison bait out for the birds, but only when Rod was off.

Frank decided he was going to get rid of those pigeons one way or the other. The first thing he did was consult his medical books, then he typed up an official looking memo which he made copies of and faxed to all the stations.

HEALTH HAZARDS TO HUMANS FROM PIGEON INFESTATIONS.

“The inhalation of dust-laden air in areas that have an accumulation of pigeon (Columbia livia) droppings is the cause of several fungal lung diseases in humans. All are serious and some may be fatal. These diseases include:

1. Blastomycosis: Symptoms include coughs, chills, and chest pains. Causes chronic lung disease, a slow form of pneumonia, wart-like growths, shortness of breath and can lead to prostatitis (an infection of the prostate gland).

2. Organic Pneumoconiosis: Symptoms are a dry, nagging cough, repeated attacks of Bronchitis and flu-like diseases. Narrows the airways in the lungs. Untreated over a long period, any inflammation of the lungs can destroy the elastic tissue of the lungs, which is then replaced with stiff scar tissue. The result is a permanent, progressive breathlessness which can lead to potentially fatal respiratory failure and heart failure.

3. Cryptococcosis: Causes brain lesions that mimic brain tumors, can lead to Meningitis. Pigeon droppings are highly contaminated with Cryptococcus neoformans. High levels are found in pigeon roosts. Outbreaks of acute pulmonary infection have occurred among workers involved in demolishing old buildings. Some of the fungus remains viable for months. Contaminated materials are a potent source of air-borne infections. Pigeon droppings are often highly contaminated: 5x10 to the 7th power of viable organisms were found per one gram in one study.”

4. Histoplasmosis: The symptoms are cough, breathlessness, coughing of blood possible, fever, chills, weight loss. The fungus (Histoplasma capsulatum) spores are inhaled and then spread throughout the bloodstream. May be fatal. Causes calcification of the lungs.”

Frank didn’t let on that he was the author of the memo. The phones were humming the day he let it loose, and the tide began to turn as those who could read the big words described what could happen to the others.

What the f**k!? My dick could drop off!?”

“It didn’t say that!”

Bullshit it didn’t! Ya lungs can turn ta stone, ya dick drops off and ya get warts on the brain!”

“Your f**kin birds are killin us, Big Rod! It’s them or us!”

“I’ll call 911!”

F**k! What’s this warts shit!?”

“Some fungus spreads in your blood? It sounds like a f**kin Sci-fi movie!”

“They gotta go!”

“No way!”

“Hey, stupid! Listen to us! We f**kin cough all the time!”

“I say we eat em.”

“Bullsh*t!”

You eat chicken. Chickens are birds, these are birds too.”

“Yeah, but these cause disease.”

“No, they don’t! I don’t care anyway! Not on my watch.”

“I ain’t eatin them filthy f**ckin birds!”

“Let’s jest kill em! What da f*ck are we even arguing about?! Kill em!”

“You better not! I’m gonna have my peoples write letters ta everybody! You’ll see!”

Toad’s stint as foreman was winding down; Anton would be back at the end of May. He had never done much, and now he did even less. But he was thinking of the future and began dropping broad hints about maybe getting Frank transferred to Genoa too, and started reminiscing out loud in his presence about how much better Genoa was than Mephitis; how the women were prettier, and there was plenty of free beer.

It was announced in the paper in the beginning of May that all the Transfer Stations were going to start using a swipe machine for garbage drop-offs and the tickets were no longer going to be used.

A test-run would be done first at the Venice Station. This was being done due to what was seen as theft of revenue by unscrupulous employees and the public. But how a swipe machine was going to prevent employees from letting garbage be dumped free was never explained.

Frank got called in on Tuesday and he saw on the schedule that he was to work in Genoa Friday and Saturday.

“Is it just coincidence that I’m being sent there, or was the Weird One right and it does have something to do with Anton returning and Toad going back to Genoa soon?” he wondered.

Frank had heard from him that Toad indeed wanted to have him assigned to Genoa, and have Tim sent to work at Mephitis.

Rod had urged him to go over Toad and Ray’s heads and call Mitch Barrator.

“I go where I’m assigned.” He had told him. “I’m a part-timer. People are assigned where they’re needed.”

“Yeah, well, we need you here, Buddy.”

“Uh-huh. What you mean is you want me to stay here because I do all the work and you get to ‘work’ your ‘people’. Which is exactly why Toad wants me to go to Genoa. Timmer’s a lazy bastard, just like you. Toad wants someone there who’ll work so he doesn’t have to.”

“Hey, Big Rod! You gonna be workin the vegetable stand again this summer?” Little Tom called out when he came in.

“No. I can’t.”

“Why da f**ck not?”

“Della said I can’t because last year I didn’t get my work done around the trailer that she said I had ta do”

“Jesus, Big Rod! When you gonna grow some balls, fa Christ’s sake?! Show her who wears the pants in the family!”

“Uh, uh! No way! Last time you told me to do that and I did, she hit me on the head!”

Now that he had his own transportation, Frank was expected to report directly to the Genoa station. It was a duplicate of Venice in its size and layout. And, like all the stations, it had its own ethos partly derived from the clientele attracted to it and to the personality of the supervisor.

Here “The Polack”, Dougie Talewski benignly ruled. Dougie was Frank’s age, and just an inch or so shorter than him. He wasn’t fat, but he had no muscularity, just a decent beer belly, which gave credence to his legendary love of Budweiser. Like Toad and Hoppin’ John, he was reputed to down a thirty pack nightly.

His hair was obviously cut at home; what stuck out from his slightly dirty looking John Deere cap was unkempt, a slightly greasy straw-textured mop. His skin was florid under a tan and his blue eyes gleamed brightly. His teeth were strong, widely gapped, and a bright yellow. He knew his job and did it well.

“Welcome to Genoa, Frank!” He boomed, standing wide-legged in the doorway to the office, surveying his domain. He reminded Frank of the character “Edgar” from “Men in Black” after the alien had taken over his skin. His voice was coarse and authoritative.

“Home, sweet home!” He laughed loud and raspingly at his own wit. “Ya won’t have to put up here with that pervert, Rod.” His appearance sobered suddenly.

“Son of a bitch keeps trying hug me! Ugh!” He shivered. “I hate that! Calls me ‘Dad’ too. Whenever he calls here I hang up on him. Told him more than once I was gonna have him charged with sexual harassment if he didn’t knock it off...Crazy bastard just laughs that goofy laugh.”

The boys at Mephitis had taken it upon themselves to make sure Frank knew of some of Dougie’s ‘quirks’. The most important thing to know about working with him was that his daily bowel movement was like clockwork: At 8: am every morning. He also had an open-door policy while on the john; he never shut it. And if someone else beat him to the bathroom, he relieved himself into a Kitty Litter bucket inside an empty Gaylord. He’d greet anyone who saw him with a big grin, only his head being visible above the edge of the big box.

Someone from the County Offices came in once at eight o’clock and told Toad he was there to see the supervisor.

“Sure thing.” Toad told him without cracking a smile. He pointed to the office door. “Go through that door, and turn to your left. He’s right there.”

“Thank you.” The man said politely, and opened the door. Toad heard a brief commotion, and then the man burst out the door red-faced.

“You SOB!” he shouted at Toad as he rushed back to his car and drove off in an uproar.

“You know ‘Timmer’, right?” Dougie stepped aside enough to indicate the bulky figure hunched over a table, shoveling a few Egg McMuffins in his mouth with thick fingers.

“Sure. Hiya doing?”

Timmer smiled magnanimously like a cow, nodding at him, his lips and cheeks bulging with food. After a couple of massive chewing movements, he took a long, noisy swill off the coffee cup at his elbow.

“Want some McDonald’s? Fred here brings a bunch in every Saturday morning.” He indicated the middle-aged man with a huge nose and skinny legs leaning against the doorway, his slick thinning black hair combed straight back under his cap. The man nodded and smiled at Frank.

“He’s retired DPW. Got nothing better to do now than come on in with McDonald s and hang around the dumps with us.”

Frank flicked his eyes up at the one called Fred to see how he responded to such a familiar, callous remark. The man’s eyes showed nothing, his lopsided smile seemed passive.

As it was a Saturday, there was no baling to be done. All he had to do was throw garbage and help the customers with their recycling.

It was busier than Mephitis here, and though Dougie and Timmer didn’t seem to feel obligated to help the patrons, he did. It was part of the lore regarding Genoa that Dougie let certain people dump their garbage for free in exchange for beer. Frank noted that he did indeed get several cases of beer that day in a surreptitious manner and they were immediately squirreled away in his truck.

He was not so naïve as to believe these people were giving Dougie cases of Budweiser from Christian charity.

As the day progressed, Frank had to admit that the boys were right; from what he’d seen, Genoa definitely had better looking female customers. There was also a lot of elderly.

And he found that here, just like in Mephitis, Timmer only “worked with his mouth”. Here, as there, if he wasn’t sitting in the office holding court, he was leaning on something to take the weight off his bandy legs.

Little Tom had told Frank that Timmer and his wife are often seen sitting in their car in Waldbaum’s parking.

“What do you mean ‘sitting’?” he’d asked.

“Just that; sitting. Not shopping, not going to shop, not finished shopping. They just sit there not sayin a word, and watch the people come and go.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Oh, he’s a beaut, that one is. I don’t know who’s worse ta work with, him or Big Rod.” He leaned forward.

“Ya gotta hear this one. I was doin the White Truck one day, see? I goes ta Genoa, and Dougie’s got some Gaylords a books he wants me ta take, and he tells Timmer to load them on with the forklift. So I tells that dumb f**k ‘Listen: Be careful loadin that Gaylord on, because I got plastic bags of cans and bottles up front that’ll break open if ya push up against them... So, the dumb f**k nods his head, then guns the skidsteer and drove the f**kin Gaylord right into them! Then the stupid f**k looks like he can’t unnerstan why he couldn’t push it in no further. So, he backs up a bit, and guns it again, chargin into them bags! Cans an bottles are spillin all over! All that time I’m yelling ‘Stop! You stupid bastard! Stop!’

Like the other sites the County chose for these stations, it was on useless ground, not fit for any other purpose. Here, it was swampy all along one side. Ray had gotten the bright idea to use the composted septic sludge the County made to fill in that marsh.

Compost is not good fill material. It left stagnant pools of water amid the porridge-like compost, and the tomato plants that grew from seeds that survived the sewage treatment plant and the composting process grew incredibly lushly on that fertile sludge. But nobody would eat the fruit, even if they could get at them.

Timmer indicted the bog to Frank with his ox chin.

“See them puddles? Know what’s under em? Shit. People shit, that’s what. Yessir! People shit. Mosquitoes grow there. Ya know what I’m tryin ta say? Them mosquitoes from that water have got human shit in them cause they come from that water, so if they bite you, they fill you full of human sh*t. Best stay away from them. Ya know what I’m tryin ta say? Yessir. Won’t eat venison no more neither. Used ta hunt alla time, always got the biggest buck each year. No more, no sir!”

”Why’s that?”

“Why it’s that disease they got now from them ticks.”

“Lyme’s disease?”

“That’s the one! Yessir! I hear that all them deer got them ticks that are loaded with that Lime disease. So, they gotta be full of that Lime disease from them ticks, and if ya eat the venison, ya gonna get the Lime disease yaself. No sir! Ya know what I’m tryin ta say?”

Frank had the opportunity and dubious privilege of meeting Timmer’s best friend, Jim, that day. They’d been friends since childhood.

While Jim lacked Timmer’s breathtaking girth, being of average build, he matched him in an equally breathtaking lack of intellect. He stopped in t “bullsh*t”, which Timmer was all too happy to do, and introduced to Jim, who felt that if Frank was good enough to have an audience with Timmer, well, he was alright in his book as well.

He asked Timmer if they were still going trout fishing after work. A moment of absolute panic crossed Timmer’s eyes for an instant.

“Ya know? I better check in with the little woman, ya know, see if there’s sumthin she needs me ta do. Ya know what I’m tryin ta say?”

He had married a second time, and maybe was getting paid back for his treatment of his first wife, because by all accounts this one was a real virago. He had to ask permission from her to go anywhere or do anything, and that included fishing.

Jim watched Timmer roll toward the office. He turned to Frank.

“She’s a real c*nt.” He pronounced with feeling. “And ugly as sin ta boot.”

Dougie sent Timmer down to run the garbage baler. He responded the same way here as he did at Mephitis; acting as if he was being chosen because he was the BEST of the best, THE man who all depended on.

Frank went around to the pad, which was piled high with furniture, TVs, rolled up rugs, and bags of garbage. Soon the claxon sounded nine times and the ram whined hideously into life.

Frank poked the garbage in the hopper down until he heard it go into “Full Bale” mode down below. There was silence, then the whirring of baling wire. It kept on going long after it should have stopped.

Frank glanced over at Dougie who was staring intently down into the hopper, trying to see what the hell Tim from Genoa was doing. There was silence. Then the whirring began again. This repeated itself a few more times till finally Dougie had to accept that the fellow was not going to resolve this on his own.

“I can’t take it any more! What the hell is he doing down there!?” He turned and headed for the basement. “That f**kin guy would screw up a wet dream, for Christ’s sake!”

Meanwhile Hoppin’ John had arrived with the White Truck on the milk run. He hoicked his pants up over his ass, and stumped over to the hopper.

“Where’s Dougie?” He called across the pit to Frank. Frank took a forefinger and made it do a swan dive, pointing into the hopper.

“That f**kin no-good-fer-nuthin Timmer f**ked it up again?”

Frank shrugged.

Dougie came back upstairs and signaled to Frank he could start feeding the hopper again. Both he and John leaned their forearms on the kneewall and watched as Frank threw couches, chairs and console TVs in.

“Hey Frank! Wouldn’t it be easier to use the machine?” Dougie yelled over the din.

“He is the machine.” John replied.

After Frank had tossed everything in, he pounded out the signal that Timmer could shut down the baler; three heavy blows on the steel hopper chute with a baseball bat kept there for that very purpose. It was deafening.

“Why you lower’n-snakeshit…” Timmer pretended to threaten Dougie when he came up. “That load a shit was enough ta gag a maggot!”

Dougie looked at him with distain. “What are you complaining about? You know when the weather turns warmer the garbage stinks more.”

This was the last station that the infamous “Aces” worked at. Frank had heard admiring stories told about this character: Apparently a wild man with no clutch.

He defecated on a plate once, put it in the microwave and cooked it on high. The stink drove everyone out of the office for days and lingered for weeks.

Seems he had a drug problem as well, because he kept failing the “Piss Tests”, as they were called. The county finally fired him after he got a call from the Doctor telling him he’d flunked yet another one.

Aces started yelling that he was framed, that he didn’t smoke, his friends did, that’s why he tested positive.

“The only way that could happen was if your friends were Cheech and Chong and you were stuck in a phone booth with them for twenty-four hours.” The doctor retorted.

Aces flipped out and took the County Pickup and sped across the lot; then suddenly slammed it into reverse while at full speed. That gave the County mechanics a hobby for a while.

Frank heard he was now working for the Milan Water Department as a Water Quality Inspector. He made a mental note that, if in the unlikely event he found himself in Milan and thirsty…to not drink the water.

Here, as at Mephitis and Venice, large quantities of books were discarded. Whenever Frank had a free moment, he scoured the Gaylords and he always found plenty to set aside for himself. He wasn’t the only one who browsed the book bins here, but his competition was usually looking with different criteria.

More often than not, they were looking for something to either sell on E-Bay or hawk to antique dealers.

But they had no idea what they were doing. For these entrepreneurs, the bigger or older looking the book, the more they thought it was worth.

It was profoundly saddening for him to see illiterate morons being hired to clean out estates and houses of all those beautiful libraries. All those books thoughtlessly carted off to the dumps by clowns who had no idea of their intrinsic value, and who often couldn’t even read the titles.

The Genoa station was the hang-out for the local “Motor-Heads”; those men whose sole passion is for all things automotive. All day long an endless chain of them would drive in with their pride-and-joys to have them inspected and discussed by an appreciative audience.

They immediately accepted Frank as not only one of them, but for some strange reason a person to be looked up to; which puzzled him as they couldn’t have known him from Adam. And he had never been an aficionado of the internal combustion engine. For him vehicles were simply a tool. Over the years he had built up a basic working knowledge of auto mechanics, but it was nothing he did for pleasure; he’d just as soon pay a mechanic. He never even liked the smells associated with autos; the gas, oil, exhaust, even the upholstery.

An enormously fat but powerful looking young man, like an old-time Russian Olympic weight-lifter, drove in around noon in a freshly painted truck with a dump bed. Despite his formidable build, Frank read in his sausage-stuffed face a simple, good natured young man. He realized the others there were waiting for him to make the initial move for some reason.

Internally, he shrugged. “Okay, I’ll play.”

“She’s a beaut. Nice job. Yours?” He asked.

The bear beamed with pride at the comment. “Yep. Sure is.”

The others then flowed in around the truck and began admiring and praising the burly fellow’s handiwork. Frank was aware the whole time of a strong aroma of Chinese food in the air.

He knew there was one of those take-out joints about a mile away that pop up like mushrooms in small towns, but the wind was wrong and he hadn’t smelled it before now. He followed his nose several times but kept winding up back at the truck. Puzzled, he looked around for take-out boxes in the cab: Nothing.

“I keep smelling Chinese food.”

The bear grinned like a boy with a secret.

“Yep. I wanted to rust-proof the under-carriage, so I got Main Moon’s used frying oil. Check this out. I made my own spray tank.”

He showed them how he had modified an aluminum quarter keg beer keg as an oil sprayer. Then he stiffly got on his knees and pointed to the undercarriage. Frank squatted down on his haunches and peered up at the framework. It glistened with a thick layer of oil that collected along the lower sides of the carriage and lines, dripping onto the tarmac. The others all tried to lower themselves one way or another to see for themselves.

“Great idea. Mucho ecological.”

Later that afternoon a bright cherry-red “Low-Rider” came in with the deep purring of a powerful engine. The young owner showed the boys how he could raise the back end up by flipping a switch. Frank heard what sounded like an air compressor.

“You used air?”

The young man nodded.

“Watch this!”

By flipping another toggle, he raised the front end to match the back. He proceeded to play with the switches, demonstrating that he could control each wheel, raising and lowering them in any combination he pleased.

Then he got out and opened the trunk, showing him the mechanism. Frank followed the lines from the compressor to the solenoids and switches, commenting on the well laid out system.

“Hey, Frank.” Dougie sauntered over, and said without moving his mouth and keeping his back toward a truck that just pulled in: “Ever see the ‘Wolfman’?”

“’Wolfman’?” He gathered he wasn’t talking about a movie. “No.”

“Check out this guy.” He murmured and then strolled off.

Frank went over to the battered red and grey Ford Pickup. A stocky man with long, bushy gray hair surmounted with a beat-up cap had his back to him, hauling boxes toward himself. His dirty jeans hung low, exposing a bright pink ass crack.

“I’ll give you a hand.” He said.

The fellow turned toward him. The first thing that registered was his thick glasses.

He had just begun to think “So why do they call this guy…” when the man smiled. He literally had a mouth full of fangs that would have given a shark an inferiority complex. He said nothing, just grinned like a rabid wolf and took off with a box of recyclables.

Frank stared at the bed of his truck. “So what stays and what goes? It all looks like crap to me.”

“What did you think” Dougie asked, his own strong yellow teeth gleaming in a grin, after he was gone.

“Never saw anything like it. He seems like a nice enough guy. What’s his name?”

“Don’t know. ‘Wolfman’. He never says anything.” He glanced up. “Aw, Christ.” he glanced over to Tim. “Hey, Timmer. He’s back.”

Frank followed his gaze. A small Toyota SUV had parked off to the side of the yardwaste roll-off. A distinguished looking, silver-haired man got out with an air of dignity and casually walked toward the pile of metal scrap.

“Pain in the ass. He comes in eight, nine times a day and scrounges.”

He just didn’t look the type. Frank would have taken him for a politician, a lawyer maybe.

“You’re kidding. Must have a lot of time on his hands. What does he do?”

“Nothin. He scrounges. Picks up all sorts of shit, piles it in his car, takes it home, unloads it and comes back for more.”

“Is he re-selling it at yard sales?”

“Nope. He’s just nuts. Won’t talk to anyone either. Just glares at ya if ya try to talk to him.”

loading hopper.
loading hopper.
The ram at the bottom of the chute.
The ram at the bottom of the chute.
Finished bales stacked.
Finished bales stacked.

The next Friday, Dougie had Frank go down and do cardboard with Tim from Genoa.

“Sure thing, boss.” Timmer agreed amiably. “Just as soon’s I finish breakfast.”

“Ya never finish. All ya do is eat.”

“Why, you…” Timmer swung his massive head from side to side. He stayed right there till he finished his breakfast sandwich and slurped down his coffee.

“Okay, boss.” He waved a hand at Frank. “C’mon partner, time’s a-wastin. Let’s get some work done. No more lollygagging around for you.”

Frank had gathered over the last week or so that though Dougie might be the foreman, Timmer had set himself up a little fiefdom here, analogous to how Rod did at Mephitis. It was Timmer who decided, if not what he was going to do, how and when he was going to do it.

He made the mistake of getting behind Timmer going down the stairway. The meaty beachball descended cautiously, easing his girth down one careful step at a time, keeping his beefy hand wrapped around the rail. He figured half the morning would be gone before they reached bottom. Nor was there any way around him; what room on either side of him was further reduced by his swaying from side to side with each step.

When they finally got down, Timmer ambled right to the skidsteer and gracelessly clambered in, letting his bulk drop the last foot into the bucket seat, rocking the machine noticeably.

“How bout I drive, partner?” he rhetorically asked. It was not a question; it was a statement of a fait accompli. Without waiting for an answer, he fired up the engine, black smoke belching out the exhaust. His gut extended out over his legs to his knees.

Frank stonily grabbed a shovel, turned on the baler and mounted it, taking up his position. Leaning on the shovel, he watched Timmer maneuver into the cardboard bunker with grapples held high.

Puzzled, he wondered what Tim was intending. He soon found out. Instead of grabbing a normal mouthful of cardboard, Timmer rammed the skidsteer forward into the bunker, dropping the grapples on the pile like a lion’s jaws on a zebra. To Frank’s disbelief, he pulled out damn near half the bunker with him, turned the skidsteer around and headed blindly for the baler’s hopper.

“He’s not gonna drop that whole load in at once, is he?”

Oh, yes, he was. He raised the grapples all the way up, rolled them forward, and opened the jaws. Cardboard boxes filled, overfilled, and overflowed the hopper.

Then Timmer withdrew slightly and turned off the engine, settling back to complacently wait while Frank tried to poke the mess down into the chamber. It took a long time to get it chewed up, and when Timmer saw that Frank was gaining on it, he went back for another gargantuan load.

“Hey. Tim!” Frank pointed at the skidsteer and slashed his hand across his throat. He waited till Timmer killed the engine. “Why are you grabbing so much at once? Take smaller bites. It’ll be easier to poke and it won’t jam up like this.”

“That’s the way we do it here, partner. It’s the best way, ya know what I’m tryin ta say? It’ll all go down. Never jams on me, no sir! And watch them wires there. You’re gonna snap them. Me, I never snap a wire, no sir!”

Frank set his jaw and went at the poking with a vengeance, waiting his chance.

It came in the person of Jim, Timmer’s old buddy. He pulled his pick-up right into the building, got out and haled Timmer, who immediately killed his engine and dislodged himself from the cab. He ambled over to the truck and leaned his forearms across the hood.

“You watch them wires, now, y’hear? My name’s goin on that bale sticker, an I don’t want no one sayin Tim from Genoa makes shitty bales.”

“Me and ‘Timmer’ are going to have trouble; no doubt about it. If I’m going to have to work here all the time, him and me are going to have to come to an ‘understanding’.” He finished tying off the wires and strode over to the skidsteer. “I think it’s my turn to drive, ‘partner’.”

“Sure thing.” Timmer nodded as if it were his idea. As Frank fired up the machine, he rolled over to the baler, laboriously climbing the three steps, dragging the shovel behind him.

Frank spun the skidsteer around and drove it into the bunker. He scooped, lifted, and pushed the cardboard into an easier pile to get at, and then lunged in to grab the other half of the bunker in the jaws.

He spun it around and headed for the hopper. Timmer was leaning on the shovel deep in conversation with Jim below him on the floor. Frank saw Jim’s eyes widen when he saw the load rise up over the hopper. Timmer didn’t have a chance to swing his massive head toward him before Frank opened the jaws.

Cardboard rained down, filling the hopper and piling high above it, and raining on Timmer.

He shut off the skidsteer, leaned back, folded his heavy arms behind his head, and watched. Timmer started punching the shovel into the pile, but the cardboard was too deep to be pushed down any further. He quickly turned beet-red, and then the sweat began to pour off. After only a few moments of exertion, he stopped, exhausted, to catch his breath.

“So; what do you think? Would you like a smaller bite next grab?”

“No, no. That’s fine. Just gotta catch my breath, ya know what I’m tryin ta say?”

After a few minutes he had regained enough composure to waddle down the stairs and throw open the clean-out door. From there he began pushing and pulling the boxes down by hand until he had enough to run the ram. It took a good fifteen minutes of hard work for him to clear the hopper.

“Okay. There we go.” He panted. Frank leaned forward to fire up the skidsteer. “Sumthin must be wrong with the damn baler…Better take smaller bites.”

“Sure thing, ‘partner’.”

Timmer must have felt he had dropped somewhat in his estimation and needed to recover his good graces. Just before lunch he called Frank over. He was standing next to a stack of tires.

“What size tires you take on that wagon of yours?” he asked.

“Don’t know. Haven’t looked yet.”

“Well, it looks like yer gonna need some new skins. Front one’s mighty bald.”

“Yeah, I know. I have to save up first.”

“Well, boss, I got a set of studded snow tires someone dropped off, brand new, well, almost brand new, well, got some wear. If they fit yer wagon, they’re yours. Let’s go have a look.”

He waddled over to the van and bent over as far as he could and peered at the tires. “

Yessir. Sixteens. See? I’ve changed more tires than ya can shake a stick at. Used ta work at a tire shop. Ya know what I’m tryin ta say? Yessir. This here tells ya what type a tire it is, this number tells ya how wide it is, and that’s the one that tells ya the size.” He laboriously straightened up. “Looks like ya got yaself a set of skins, boss!”

“Well, thanks. Much appreciated.” He began to feel somewhat more benevolent toward Timmer suddenly.

In the middle of May, as expected, Frank was told he was to report to Genoa from now on; Timmer would be working Mephitis. Dougie had confided in him that Toad had told him he was going to get Ray to transfer him permanently here.

Toad told him “I’d rather have him than two twenty year olds: That man just never stops.”

He wondered how Timmer was taking the news. It certainly wasn’t fair to him; he lived less than a mile from the Genoa station.

Before he had even finished out his first day there after being transferred, Dougie told him there was a phone call for him from Ray, who in an obviously discomfited voice, apologetically told him there had been a mistake: He was now to report back to Florence permanently on Tuesday. No further explanation was given.

Frank leaned toward the idea that it had something to do with his getting the CDL permit. Perhaps they needed another driver badly. They never did replace Farmer when he retired in October; they were short a driver. At Genoa he wouldn’t ever get a chance to practice driving, so maybe he was being moved back to facilitate his getting the license. Or it may be it was that Tim from Genoa went over Ray’s head and complained to Barrator. The ‘why’ didn’t concern him; what mattered to him was that he wouldn’t have to work with Timmer daily, and he’d get a shot at that truck and the CDL.

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