Tales From Mephitis. Chapter 24: Fate and the Daimon.
Hexagram 16: Six in the Second Place.
"To know the seeds, that is divine indeed....The seeds are the first imperceptible beginning of movement, the first trace of good fortune or misfortune, that shows itself. The superior man perceives the seeds and immediately takes action. He does not wait even a whole day...."
At the end of September, the County Board of Supervisors announced it was looking for a buyer for the Transfer Stations and accepting any offer. Supervisor Hal Fass pronounced God’s impending Judgement on all those who opposed the sale.
Frank had applied all over the area for work and on-line all month long. He was frustrated that he hadn’t received a single call for an interview. Holding his nose, he sent off an application for food assistance. Even though he had picked up an Utne Reader from the magazine tray with a headline article “PhDs’ on Food Stamps” that discussed how prevalent the need for food assistance was among poor-but-working professionals, it didn’t make him feel any better about it.
“Can’t BELIEVE I’ve got to do this. After all these years of making it on my own...But I’m NOT going back to the poverty of those last four years.”
He’d crunched the numbers: With unemployment insurance and one day of work a week, they could pay their taxes before the end of October, even if he couldn’t find any other work in the meanwhile. For the first time in his life, he was going to be late paying his school tax, but he would pay it.
After sixteen years working in the Solid Waste division of DPW, Little Tom Murray took a job with the Highway dept. It meant a four dollar an hour cut in pay and a loss of seniority in return for more job security. But he just couldn’t stand the anxiety anymore, feeling this time the County was really going to dump the dumps.
“What a ‘Put-up Job’.” Farina bitterly told Frank. “There was no job postings, no interviews: He just went to Barrator on Friday and says he wants ta go.”
“He knew something the others don’t.” Frank thought.
“He got a call on Tuesday and started on Thursday. That ain’t right. What about me an Hoppin’ John?”
Anton envied Little Tom his opportunity, as he saw it, to start over somewhere else. On Tom’s last day of work before starting with Highway, he asked him at the time-clock how it felt to be punching out for the last time there; was it exhilarating? Little Tom didn’t answer, he just looked sick.
As soon as Rod heard of the County’s intentions to try and sell the Stations, he immediately decided he was going to use up all the sick days and personal days he had coming to him before he lost them.
“That’s why I’m glad we unioned; we get what’s comin ta us now. They still owe us winter coats too.” His record skipped. “I’m gonna put a spiked board down, hidden like, for the little bastard to step on.”
“What are you talking about now?” Toad asked him, confused.
“I know for sure one of the neighbor’s kids in the Trailer park must be getting into my carport when I’m not there. My son warned me I’d be sued. I said: ‘How? If the kid got stuck on it, I’d just hide the board. What board? What were you doing there anyway?’
“Why dontcha just shoot him with a paint ball gun?” Hoppin’ John suggested helpfully.
“Oh, yeah! Great idea! I’ll use my pellet gun on him! I’ll shoot him right in the eye!”
“Jesus, Rod.” Toad sighed. “What’s a matter with you? Don’t go shooting some kid. You don’t even know he’s doing it.”
“I’ll shoot him right in the eye!
“You know what?” Toad said evenly. “I changed my mind. Shoot him. I wanna see you get arrested. I’ll come down to the jailhouse and laugh my ass off watchin while you gettin butt-f**ked till ya can’t walk. Asshole.” He and Hoppin’ John snorted and stumped off.
That fall they were getting a lot of landlords coming in and dumping off tenants’ belongings after they had skipped out. It was like an exodus was taking place across the county. They baled piles and piles of ruined rugs and furniture all day long.
“I had moths in my ears twice when I was a kid.” Rod suddenly said near closing time.
“What?” Frank asked, startled out of his thoughts. He’d been musing over change and human nature again.
“Moths in my ears.”
“I knew someone else who it happened to too.” Toad concurred. Frank looked at him appraisingly. He seemed to be serious. “The guy was afraid to go out because moths kept trying to get into his ears.”
“What do they look like?” Frank asked, now curious.
“They were about an inch long and had white wings.”
“Did they have a name?”
“Dunno. We just called them “Millers.” Rod told him.
“Yup. That’s what we called them too.” Toad agreed.
Anton didn’t believe the story about moths in ears when Frank related it to him on Saturday.
“That’s bullshit.” He dismissed it contemptuously.
“Is not!” Rod shouted indignantly.
“If only Rod had said that, I’d agree.” Frank conceded.
“Oooooh! Thanks a lot, buddy! Ya stabbin me! I can feel the knife in my back!”
“Shut up, Rod.” Anton snapped.
“But not only did Toad claim to know of another person,” Frank continued, “they both had a description and a local name. From that you can infer something lies behind this.
I’ve learned to be cautious about dismissing things just because I think they can’t happen. You probably don’t remember years ago when people started claiming they had seen cougars up here. Everybody pooh-poohed the stories as hysterical, on a par with flying saucers and Bigfoot. Everybody knew there were no Eastern Cougars, not since the 1700’s.
But all the old-timers swore they knew what they saw. Even Mel and I saw one in March of ’06 across from the house. In ’07 we found the tracks of two more in the snow following the stream below the house. But all the ‘experts’ said it was impossible.
Then this spring the DEC finally admits that, okay, there are cougars in the northeast. Now today in the paper there was a story about two cougar sightings in Wings Falls by the school.”
“I saw that. And Samantha said she saw a mauled dog from Venice that came in to the vets. She was there when they operated. She said he was all clawed up, and they thought it might have been a cougar.”
“No kidding? The same thing was true about even coyotes. Until recently the scientific community just wouldn’t accept the idea there were coyotes here in New York; they’d only grudgingly admit there might be some feral dogs, or maybe ‘coy-dogs’, but certainly not coyotes. Now it’s taken for granted: We have a new species of Canis latrans that may have come about by coyotes mating with Canadian Timber Wolves. Just because something isn’t within our personal expectations or experience does not mean it doesn’t exist.”
“See? What he said! He believes me!”
Frank found a book with an interesting title in the Gaylord that came in from Turin: “The Soul Code”, by James Hillman.
In the evening he picked it up, then couldn’t put it down until he was done. Hillman used Plato’s “Myth of Er” from the “Republic” as a starting point of a meditation on his “Acorn Theory”, which said that we each bring something unique into this life: We are more than just nature and nurture, genetics and environment.
That something he calls the Daimon, after the Greeks. One is assigned to each individual before birth. The Romans called it one’s Genius.
Plato said there two great cosmic forces; Nous, ‘reason’ or ‘mind’ in English, and Necessity, Anake in Greek. In the Myth of Er, Plato said each soul has a portion of fate, Moira, which belongs to that soul and only that soul specifically. “Paradeigma” was Plato’s word for the basic form of your destiny.
And each soul chooses their own lot; it is not assigned to it.
Then the soul goes before the Three Fates. The first, Lachesis, assigns a personification of that particular destiny, the Daimon, to it.
She then leads the soul before Klotho, who ratifies that destiny.
Then the Daimon led the soul to Atropos, whose name means “Un-turnable”, who made the destiny irreversible and who will snip the thread of life when the time comes.
And then without a backward glance, the soul passes beneath the throne of Ananke.
Ananke, or Necessity, has a random component; a chaos. Hillman wrote. It is a non-linear system where small changes in input lead to vast differences in outcome. Fate intervenes only at odd and unexpected moments; that is “Fate’s portion” or Moira. Otherwise it stands clear and you are on your own.
The Daimon gives a feeling of importance to occasions; a feeling of a call. We have to recognize that call as the prime fact of our existence, align our life with it, and realize everything that happens to us is necessary to it.
The Daimon is outside of ‘Time’ and prefers the knots, faults and gaps in time to exert influence. It can make you ill or help you, but it cannot abide innocence. Who your Daimon is, is visible in how you are in action. How you are is you; not what you are. ‘What” is a label.
The Greek idea of Fate was this: If something happened, they might not understand why, but it did, so it must have been necessary. The reason for what happened can only be found after it happened; Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Which in logic is a fallacy. This view wasn’t Fatalism. Fatalism abandons life, saying everything is already decided. It’s not.
Your Daimon, your fate, has force, an impetus in a certain direction, but not omnipotence. Nor is it teleologic: It does not give a preordained purpose to all; there is no master plan everything is working toward.
Frank was fascinated to read that studies have surprisingly shown that creativity as a character trait is not genetic or hereditary; whereas Traditionalism, the mentality that follows rules, obeys authorities and seeks the status quo, is.
Creative people are rare, traditionalists are legion.
By October Frank was getting really concerned. He hadn’t received a single response to all his applications; not a single call for an interview yet from anyone.
“What’s going on? I’ve got a helluva resume, I have great references. I don’t get it. The CDL has done nothing for me. I know the ‘News’ usually is out in left field as far as having a handle on how the ‘economy’ is actually doing.
I know their main concern in framing the economic news is re-assuring investors that everything’s rosy and a great time to put money in; but I’m beginning to get paranoid here. What’s wrong with me that no one wants me? Why the deafening silence? What the hell can I do different?
The Economic Opportunity Center ‘counselors’ are worthless; all they are interested in is trying to scare the kids on unemployment to make sure they’re trying to find work. For somebody like me, their only concern is that I’m filling out my job search record correctly.
What passes for coaching for interviews sounds like idealistic advice for slaves and boot-lickers. My problem is I can’t even GET an interview. They say my resume is fine, maybe tweak this or that if I get no response. Well, it’s been ‘tweaked’ to death.
Goddamn it, I’ve got to make it a year and a half before I can grab Social security like a life preserver.”
“No shit, Hoppin’ John? You evicted your sister-in-law?”
“Lazy, no good bitch. There’s nuthin wrong with her except she don’t wanna work and she weighs five hundred pounds. She’s been livin upstairs rent free for long enough. F**k it.”
“What if she says no? What are ya gonna do? Pick her up and carry her out?” Farina asked teasingly.
“I may not be able to lift her, but I can drop her!”
“The word is there is a possible buyer from Pennsylvania.” Anton reported when he came in. “And Barrator said that all the station’s heaters are to be set at forty-one degrees for the winter. Supervisors told him we’re spending too much to heat these places.”
“Forty-one degrees! I can’t work that cold! I got ‘Enflebensta’ the doctor said last year from working in the cold!” Rod began to flip out.
“You got what?”
“I think he means ‘influenza’” Anton translated.
Barrator’s edict on the thermostat setting was a declaration of war to Rod. Then and there he began a P.R. campaign to get public sympathy and phone calls on his side.
“Hi. How’s your day goin?...That’s nice. Mine’s not. The County wants us to keep the buildings at forty-one degrees this winter. We ain’t got no winter coats or gloves. I been askin for winter coats all year, it’s in the contract, but they won’t get them for us. Boots neither, but that’s not in the contract. But if we get coats we should get boots too.
Also: I get Branchyitus every year an last year I got enflebensta too. You should call your supervisor and complain. It ain’t right. They got raises and heated offices. We ain’t got a raise in three years and no coats or gloves…Call them and tell them it ain’t right. Thaaaaannnk you.”
“When I first started working here Don asked me if I minded working with a queer.” Anton confided in Frank out of the blue after lunch. “He said if I did, he’d make sure I wasn’t paired up with Little Tom, because he said Tom was gay. For the first six months I believed him. Now I think Don was gay. He got sent to a federal prison on a dope conviction and I think he got raped there, because everybody said when he got out he was different. You heard he kept offering me ten grand if I would let him ‘penetrate me anally’.”
“Well, that’s interesting. When I first started here I was sure this place was some sort of hub, a meeting place for closet gays. Except for the ‘Wiggler’; he certainly is out of the closet.”
“You know him. Comes in every Saturday morning. Bald, wears LL Bean Wellingtons.”
“It’s not that I’m a homophobe. That way I see it; live and let live. If they can find happiness; more power to them. Hell, my own son is gay. When he was in junior high he started acting really weird. I didn’t know what to make of it. Then Mel suggested I ask him if he thought he was gay. When he admitted he thought he was, the first thing I blurted out was: “Oh, thank God! I thought something was wrong with you!”
“That was an incredibly wonderful gift you gave him then.” He was quiet for a minute as if debating something. “You know; there was a homophobe who worked here who is gay….And still does work here.”
“I’d rather not say.”
“Oh, by the way. I noticed that Rod was watching when I stashed our tips. I think he saw what I was doing and where I put it, though he acted as if he wasn’t really paying attention. So, I waited till later and then moved it to the other side of the cabinet.”
“Good idea. Maybe you should consider moving them far away.”
Starting Saturday, they were informed via Barrator that, effective now, brush could no longer be dropped off free; it would cost seven stickers per level pickup truck loads.
“Why?” Frank asked, puzzled.
“Because he said so.” Anton shrugged.
“That’s just going to piss more people off and drive away more of the public. We shred that stuff up and make compost out of it that the County sells. It doesn’t make any sense to charge for it.”
“I know. But there it is.” He turned and headed for the office.
“Hey Anton! Wanna hear about this new porn site I found…”
Rod followed him at his elbow. Frank listened to them as they receded into the distance.
“No, Rod, I don’t.”
“That’s fine. You watch this woman…”
“I said I don’t want to hear it.”
“That’s fine. She was masturbationing at her desk….”
“Rod! I said no!”
“That’s fine. She don’t know there’s this camera under her desk…”
“Rod!! Jesus Christ! Get away from me!!”
“I wonder if that’s why Jack didn’t get the job even though he scored so high on the civil service exam. Ray was deliberately put in, and kept in place by Barrator to run the place down and cause it to fail.” Frank mused.
He looked down the entrance road. Slow movement on the highway had caught his eye. He waited patiently.
A lawn tractor chugged into view in the distance. A very obese young man rode it, outlandishly large for the small lawnmower. Even at that distance, Frank caught the familiar metallic blue box balanced on his fat right thigh: A thirty pack of Keystone Lite beer.
He peripherally caught sight of Rod coming back out. He waited.
“How’s your day goin, buddy? Oooooh! Mine’s not so good.”
“And why, pray tell, is that?”
“Well; my son’s wife called the cops on him, said he beat her up. IIIII don’t think so! My son said she was just bruised a little. The cops came to see him at prison.”
“Yeah. He works as a guard at the state prison. They told him if he does that one more time they were going to take all his guns away.”
“That’s right. You told me. Has a lot of guns, does he?”
“Yeah. He’s got a big thing he keeps them all in. I don’t know all the kinds he got. They can’t take his guns! That’s his rights! That’s that Obama! Tryin ta take all the guns away!...I think Rick Scrotumorum is gonna be the next president some day.”
“Rick Scrotumoma or sumthin. That guy that always talks ta me was telling me all about how bad he is, but…”
“Who was telling you?”
“You know. The bald guy that wears the boots. He hates Rick Scrotomorum, but I think he’d be lots better than Obama. Obama don’t respect our rights. Dave says some guy from New York, a gazillionaire, Donald Chump or somethin would be a great...” He looked over to the entrance gate. “Uh-oh, buddy! Here she comes! You better take off!”
“Here who comes?”
“That lady with the Betty Boop floor mats in her fancy car and the Betty Boop stickers all over the windows.”
“Isn’t that the same woman who hit a hawk with her car, and then had it on the front seat with her, saying she was going to have it stuffed?”
Frank remembered her. She was about fifty or so, wiry, with tight copper colored hair the same hue as her SUV, with a penchant for big gaudy earrings and hot pants, which she shouldn’t have.
“I think I have a taxidermist in mind that could be very creative with that bird.”
“Never mind. Why should I ‘take off’?”
“Cause last time she was in here she was askin about ya; was you married or had a girlfriend. She thinks you’re hot.”
“I’m going to lunch.”
Later he asked Anton about internet service providers. He figured there had to be something cheaper than what he’d heard about so far.
“Well; there’s ‘Dial-up’.”
“They still have that?”
“Yeah. That’s what my grandfather uses. Because it’s cheap. But it is slow. I don’t know if anyone offers that out here.”
“I think he pays twelve or fifteen bucks a month.”
“No charge by the minute? Unlimited access?”
“That’s the ticket. I can live with slow for now. Thanks.”
“No problem. What do you want it for?”
“I’m tired of going into town every time I need to fill out an application on line or check my E-mails.” He hesitated. “That; and I’m intending to try and get a book I’m working on published.”
“You wrote a book? Cool! Most people I know use the internet only for porn.”
They turned to look at the customer speaking. He was middle-aged, with a gentle face.
“I couldn’t help overhearing you. I fix computers for a living. Most of my clients work for large companies. Every single member of management has their computers loaded with porn. I told one guy, and he was the head of IT, that he’d stop getting those viruses that crash him if he’d just stop downloading porn. His response was ‘Just fix the damn thing!’”
“Hey, Anton!” Rod yelled as he approached. “Did I tell ya what happened ta me yesterday?”
“No, and I don’t want to know!”
“That’s fine. Della…”
“I don’t want to hear it! Do you understand!?”
“Okay. That’s fine. We were playin Trouble…”
“She threw the board at me. It hit me right here.”
“Jest cause I was winnin and went ‘Nyah-nyah!’ she threw it at me and called me all kinda names!”
A young man came by sorting his recyclables. Frank noticed he had a string of blue Chinese characters tattooed on his neck. He’d noticed that several times before on Gen-xers.
“Hey, Anton. You know why some people are getting tattoos of Chinese characters?”
“Yeah. Lot of my friends have them. Spells out their name in Chinese.”
“What?” He thought for a moment. “Think of somebody you know that has one. Is there one character for each letter of their name?”
“Yes, I think so. Why?”
“Because the Chinese don’t spell out their names one character to each letter. There is usually, as I understand it, one character for the surname, one for the ‘first’ name, and maybe one other to clarify which meaning of the character.”
“You understand Chinese?”
“No. Just a smattering. But take Rod’s name.”
“Do I have to?”
“Suppose you use these Chinese sounds for his letters; er, a, de. One translation might be; ’You big-ear-ikins.’”
“IIIIII don’t think so!”
“I love it!” Anton chortled.
The next Friday Rodney called off and Frank was called in. Farina asked Frank what was eating Anton, he looked morose.
And he was in the pits. He had withdrawn from the last class he needed for a paralegal associates degree because there were just no jobs out there; the market was flooded.
There were lawyers trying to find work as paralegals; with the housing crash there was tremendous collateral damage to the law firms. And it was costing him forty-five dollars a week for gas to and from the college. He hadn’t fully paid for the course yet either, and his car was ‘falling apart’. He felt like a complete failure; nothing was of any use.
Then Frank found a law volume, “Black’s Law Dictionary”, in a Gaylord. He showed it to Anton, who said it was very valuable and a great reference, but he’d never be able to afford it; they run about a hundred and forty dollars.
Frank simply handed it to him. Anton’s mood instantly improved. By the look on his face it was obvious that he couldn’t believe anyone would do that. Rod couldn’t believe it either: He had just handed Anton a hundred and forty dollars.
The next Saturday the big news flying around was that word came down from Barrator that if there are no buyers by New Year’s, the stations will be open only two days a week, with no part-timers, and Hoppin’ John and Farina would have to work as laborers on Saturdays.
Then Anton got a call from Dougie at the Genoa Station. He was calling to give him a heads up. Some Pennsylvania businessman who ran something called “Ecohauling” was going around to all the stations checking them out. He was interested in buying them. He told Anton he just left there and was probably heading to Florence. He thanked Dougie and asked him to let the other stations know too.
Frank was downstairs running the garbage baler when the businessman showed up alone. The fellow only stayed a few minutes.
“What did he look like?” Frank asked Anton when he heard he’d been there.
“I don’t know. Forty maybe. Thick face. Curly hair. Tea Party type, for sure.”
“He told Rod ‘I may be your new boss.’” Anton laughed. “Rod looked at him stupidly and just went ‘Hunh?’”
However ill-prepared he was for his first meeting, Rodney wasted no time in deciding on what tack he’d use to keep his job with this potential new employer: He’d promote himself as the most popular one in all the stations with the public.
But that was not his main concern that day, he was all worked up over a news story he’d seen on TV.
“This bastard from Alaska had two mal-new-cherished dogs! He didn’t feed them anything! They should kill him!” He opined vehemently. Then he stopped for a moment, as if pondering. “My neighbor lives in Alaska.”
“If he’s in Alaska, then how the hell can he be your neighbor?” Frank asked.
“Not now! He come from there!”
There was another pause before a different thought was announced.
“I’m going to my brother-in-law’s Halloween party tonight. He lives in the trailer park too. I’m gonna paint my face white on one side and black on the other.
Also; I’m gonna be wearing a prisoner’s stripes with a prisoner number on it and my pellet pistol that looks like a .45. During the party I’m gonna to sneak out and go to my neighbor’s trailer and knock on the door. When he opens it I’m gonna to stick the gun in his face!”
“Is this the neighbor you told me about before that’s got all the guns?”
Later, as Frank was walking toward C and D to help a customer, a silver Explorer pulled up to the office. The driver jumped out of the car and headed straight for the office door.
“Can I help you?” Frank asked.
“I’ll be back in a minute. I gotta take a wicked leak!” He disappeared into the bathroom.
“Pennsylvania plates.” Frank thought and glanced into the car. The remains of a MacDonald’s’ meal were on the passenger seat on top of a map of the Stations and a New York state road map. “So that’s who this is.”
“Ah, that’s better.” He said as he came out after a couple of minutes. “Names Simon, Mickey Simon.”
Frank appraised him. Portly with a big belly, he had a thick, well-fed, self-satisfied face and small, un-calloused hands. There was no sign of his ever having done manual work. His curly hair was a rich black; probable dye job.
“You’re the one interested in these stations?”
“My name’s Frank. Frank Novak.” He took off his glove and extended his hand. The two shook. “ Mind if I give you my resume?”
“No, no, not at all!” He looked surprised.
Frank went to the van and pulled out an envelope and handed it to him.
“Thanks!” He stuffed it in his back pocket without looking at it. “Nice to meet you. Where is everyone else?”
Frank pointed toward the trays.
“Out there.” “That was a rather crass way to handle a resume.”
“See you later!” he uttered breezily.
When Frank got back, he found the prospective buyer talking with Anton and Rod. He was telling them about his plans for these places. He intended to emphasize metal recycling; he wanted to make it the largest metal reclamation site in the state.
“Is that what ‘Ecohauling’ is?” Frank asked.
“Sort of. We’re mainly a deconstruction operation. We demolish buildings and structures. But we’re also expanding into metals, getting into them. Here; look.”
He fished out his cell phone and showed them some photos from a plant he said he had built in Pennsylvania. It appeared to be a copper recovery unit that shredded up wires and ended up with pure copper.
“How does it separate out the metal? By air or water?”
“I…I’m not sure.”
“He doesn’t know.” Frank cautiously questioned him more on his operations, but Simon seemed strangely unfamiliar with how anything he owned actually worked. He seemed more like a salesman than a businessman: A talker.
“Me and my brother run the business. Our father started it. It was a construction firm back then. I started work right out of High School in the ‘80’s. I got a big plant in Kentucky and another one in Alabama.”
Frank asked about his management levels.
“There are none. Just me and my secretary.” He laughed, then caught himself. “Well, actually right now I’m between secretaries. She quit on me a week or so ago.”
Frank asked how he would maintain the equipment; using in house mechanics like DPW did or outsourcing it?
“You’ve already got a Master Mechanic working at one of the stations.” Simon told him with a smug grin. That caused some head-scratching.
“He’s at that….uh… Genoa station. I forgot his name.”
“Does he like trout fishing?” Frank asked slowly and carefully, disbelieving what he thought this guy was going to say. “He can’t be serious.”
“Yes, that’s him! He’s a great mechanic and a workaholic.” Simon, said proud of his potential new expert mechanic.
Anton and Frank looked at each other. Rod laughed out loud.
“Did you talk to his supervisor about him?”
“Why should I?”
“Christ. This guy’s not kidding.” Frank thought. “What the hell do I say now?” “Been to any other stations?”
“Oh, yeah! All of them. I think Anthony is great, you know, over at the…what is it? The Venice one? But I’d fire that Curt and Tom at the other place, Mill-something-or-other.”
“Why?” Rod asked sharply.
Frank caught the note of alarm in his voice thanks to the use of the word “Fire”.
“I don’t like their attitudes. Who’s the one with no neck? Curt? He was complaining to me about only having gotten a…” he paused, repulsed by the memory, unable to bring himself to repeat the vulgarism he’d heard. “…a ‘C-Hair’ raise in three years.”
He looked straight at Anton.
“How about you? You love your job?”
“No. I don’t love it. It’s a paycheck, but I try to do it well.”
“Well, I’ll help you get fired up about this work…or I’ll help you find something else.”
Frank did not like the arrogance he heard in Simon’s voice and the insinuations of intimidation. It made his hackles rise. He remembered how dismissively he had stuffed his resume in his pocket. These were not good omens, but he had to keep a rein on himself; he might wind up having to work for this character.
Simon suddenly was caught by something in the Gaylord of books he was leaning on. He reached in and pulled out a book on the Middle East.
“Hey. Can I take this?”
“Help yourself.” Anton told him.
“Thanks.” He leafed through it.
“See? These people have been killing themselves for centuries. There’s no helping them. They’re animals.”
“There would be a lot less blood shed if we’d stop instigating and arming everyone in the region. A lot of money’s being made off it. We thrive on carnage.” Frank couldn’t help himself; that tone of self-righteous superiority coming from people in positions of power always angered him.
Simon regarded him with new interest.
“Yeah. The government has no business over there.” He nodded vigorously. “That’s the way I feel too. We need less government and less to do with other countries. Especially the U.N. We’re gonna change that. The Tea Party is. You’ll see. So how about you? You going to stay on here?”
“Can’t say. I’m getting too old for this.”
“No way.” Simon scoffed. “I heard, and I can see, you got lots of energy…And a strong aura.”
Frank turned to look at him.
“Is he serious? Does he think he can read auras? I thought that died out in the 80’s.” “Yeah? What color?”
Simon paused just for the slightest of moments.
“Green.” He pronounced confidently
“Green?” Frank looked at him closely. “I’ll be damned. What a strange mixture: Tea Party and New Age.”
Rod thought it was time he got in on this discussion. So far, he’d silently listened, but his eyes were like an alert bird’s.
As if he knew Rod’s intention, Simon abruptly announced he was leaving; he still had Turin and Venice to visit.
On the Friday before Halloween, Rod was in working in Milan because Tom was out ill. That was the only other station Rod would work at because it was only two minutes from his home.
At Mephitis, it was just Anton and Frank. Since the paper had run the story about The County seeking buyers for the Stations, the traffic had dropped off drastically. It was no coincidence that at the same time the corporate garbage haulers had started offering special lower monthly rates for any new customers.
“Rod’s going to call off tomorrow.” Anton said after getting off the phone with him.
“Did he tell you that?”
“No. He used a single word, just one word, in that call that makes me sure.”
And he did. Anton did not make any attempt to call in a replacement. Like all the recent Saturdays, it started off slow that day, but by the afternoon it had become a zoo. The news stories of the imminent arrival of “Super-Storm Sandy”, the “Frankenstorm”, had panicked the local populace.
Not only were there long lines at the gas stations, and all the grocery and hardware stores were jammed, but everyone wanted to get rid of their garbage and leaves before the storm came ashore.
Mitch Barrator came in, apparently looking for the potential buyer. Frank asked him about Simon.
This was the first time he had spoken with him. Barrator was seventy but looked much older. He came across as avuncular; a soft-looking old man who walked with a cane, but Frank could see he would harden up instantly if someone crossed him. He was very enthusiastic about Mickey, calling him a “real nice guy”.
“He has five sites in Pennsylvania. I visited them. Real peachy and good for the communities involved. The only building on them is a very small office, like a shack. All recyclables go into covered roll-offs with windows. So does garbage.”
He seemed happy at the prospect of losing the stations. Frank wondered if he was as callously happy about causing the unemployment of a couple dozen men. Anton asked about the plant in Kentucky. Barrator corrected him.
“It’s Mickey’s brother that runs the plant in Mississippi. They ‘de-construct’ foreign autos. Simon’s father started in construction, moved into de-construction, which just seems to be a fancy word for demolition.”
After Barrator left, Anton told Frank that the first time he met Simon, he told Anton that he was a big fan of George Steinbrenner’s two rules.
“Two rules? What are they?”
“Rule number one: The boss is always right. Rule number two: If the boss is wrong; see rule number one. I knew right then and there he was a jerk, because I can’t stand Steinbrenner.”
Anton wanted to be anywhere but where he was and sometimes just hoped a problem would go away if he ignored it.
A good example was that Saturday. The leaves were overflowing the full-to-the-brim roll-off and were now making a mountain on the ground. He knew there was no spare roll-off set up for them on Friday, yet he had made no move.
Hoppin’ John came in to dump his leaves and garbage and he too saw the mess, but he made no offer to jump in his truck for ten minutes and get an empty roll-off up there for him.
It wasn’t till three o’clock that Anton made a move after Frank had mentioned to him that he’d found an empty container below. Anton said it was stuck in the ground and the wheels didn’t work.
Frank got chains and pulled it free with the skidsteer then got Anton to get another skidsteer. Together they tried to pull and push it up the hill, but they couldn’t; he was right, the rollers were gone on one side.
After they stood there quietly for a minute considering what to do next, both of them turned simultaneously and stared at the huge John Deere Front End Loader parked under the eaves of the building.
“You know how to drive that?” Anton asked him.
“No…But I’m willing to try.”
While Anton went back to handle the patrons, Frank clambered up the ladder into the cab. Sitting in the cab his head was about twelve feet off the ground. He had checked out the controls before. They appeared elementary enough. There was even a diagram, faded but still visible, next to the joystick depicting what movement on the stick did what. He fired up the engine and put it in gear.
“What a blast! It’s actually quite easy to figure out how to drive this thing. Turns on a dime.”
He pushed that container in place like it was a toy, like he’d been doing it all his life.
The last hour and a half they worked like madmen trying to keep up.
Anton loaded the mountain of leaves into the new container while Frank helped the public.
There was nobody that could drive the skidsteers faster or more dexterously than Anton. He had that machine flying as he closed off one roll-off, opened the empty one, pushed the ramp in place and began grabbing huge bites of leaves with the grapple jaws.
People stopped and stared, forgetting about their irritation at being held up. Frank could see kids gape-mouthed with wonder. In Anton’s hands it was like a beast that roared around eating huge mouthfuls of leaves.
When an operator is that familiar with the controls of a machine, he transforms it from a tool to an extension of his self; it becomes alive.
At the end of the month Anton told Frank and John that there was no further word on any other bids, and that someone had stolen their tip money. Toad and Tom were there for half a day baling and Tom was pissed off at Simon.
“I ain’t gonna work for no ‘Mafia’. Who the f**k does he think he is crackin on us? He doesn’t even own the place yet!”
Rod was in rare form. He had convinced himself Simon was going to hire him. “I’m gonna get to work only in Milan, as a foreman. Also; I’m gonna have my choice of days, and no Saturdays! Hahahahahaha!”
“You’re a loony; you know that?” Toad told him seriously. “What makes you think this guy’s gonna hire you? You suck, and everyone knows it and’s gonna tell him.”
“IIIIIIIII don’t think so! Cause I’m the most popular with the public, that’s why!”
“Why don’t you take that lollipop you’re suckin and use it for a ‘Butt Plug’?”
“Only if you’ll suck on it after I pull it out!” He stopped suddenly and pointed out a customer. “Ooooooh! That guy was complainin once that he had too many tomatoes, so he throwed them out! Even after I told him I liked them. I figured he’d give em ta me! But he throwed them out! Some lady did that to me with Zucchinis; said she had too many. I said I’d take them, but she just throwed them out! What is wrong with people?”
“Simon’s the president, not owner like he claimed.” Toad told them. “And he told Dougie he can match his wages, about $20 an hour, but not the County’s benefit package.”
“He told me that $14 an hour was too high for a laborer, he said the going rate was $11 an hour!” Rod added. “That’s not right! I can’t work for $11 an hour!”
There was the briefest of pauses as he skipped a track.
“Me and Della took our little Nathan to a Halloween parade in Utica for the free candy the firemen tossed out to the crowd along the route. But we was waiting at the end of the parade. I told Della we shoulda been near the beginning! That was her mistake. No matter what I did or made Nathan do, the firemen didn’t throw him any candy. He wound up with only a little bit!”
Rodney felt it was deliberate, and they were cheated. He told Della this would happen. He was all worked up over the rudeness of the people of Utica and insisted on detailing all of it.
“First; there was this homeless black woman who talked crazy to herself and scared us cause she hung around near us. Then; some woman insisted she could smoke outside there. She was no lady.”
“Because she smoked. Then kids kept standing in front of the chairs we brought and wouldn’t move. I yelled at the kids until some guy told me to leave them alone.”
“Also; Before the parade we had to go to Wal-Mart’s to buy PJs for Nathan. We had ta spend fifty-three dollars on him at the store.”
“Well, he needs adult size.”
“Wait a minute: How old is he?”
“Four. But he’s a little, well, fat. But not like my daughter says!”
“Did you carry out your plan at the Halloween party?”
“Yeah!” He broke into that openmouthed, toothless loony grin. “He answered the door in his underwear. I stuck the gun in his face, but nuthin happened. He just looked at me and shut the door in my face!”
“Must’ve been putting it to Sandy” Toad commented sagely.
“At the trailer party this guy came only in a diaper and kept spreading his legs so you could see everything. Ooooohhhh!” he continued. “The women kept telling him to stop it.”
All day long the leaves were coming in fast and furiously. Not once did Rod or Toad push the leaves, or bale garbage, or even help the customers. Rod told Toad his job was Public Relations. Toad felt his job was texting. All day long Rodney talked, working the customers with tales of the County’s and the supervisors’ misbehaviors.
After a year and a half of keeping a lid on his anger, Frank finally lost it that day.
After he had pushed the leaves and then ran the baler, he went to lunch. As he ate his lunch in the van, he watched the stream of customers dumping leaves, overflowing the container and spilling out on the tarmac. He watched with growing irritation as the piles grew into mountains. Neither Toad nor Rod did a thing.
Then, precisely at noon, Rod beeped his truck’s horn twice to tell Frank it was his turn. Frank had started his lunch late because he had to run the baler because no one else would, and now he was determined he was going to take his full half hour: He didn’t budge.
Toad was nowhere to be seen. Rod simply left the trays and the people, got into his truck and started to eat.
That did it. Frank leaped out of the van, slammed the door and started shouting at him. He saw Toad’s face in the window turn white and disappear.
“You f**king asshole! You lazy f**king asshole! Don’t you see that f**king pile!?”
“I’m on lunch.” Rod smirked.
“You lazy f**king asshole! Where were you before! You don’t do a f**king thing around here! You never have! You lazy, mother-f**king asshole!”
Rod looked shocked, gaped-mouthed as Frank roundly cursed him out, his face contorted in tigerish rage.
Frank suddenly turned and leaped into the skidsteer. Someone had to do something. And he needed to get away from Rod or he was going to get violent.
He was quite surprised when Rod quickly came and helped him close up the one container and open the other. He defended himself by saying he couldn’t have come, because he was all alone on the trays: It was Toad’s fault; he was in the office all the time.
Frank went inside and told Toad he was sick of being the only one working. Toad accused Rod, and when Rod came in, they each accused each other and each said they too didn’t get their full lunch break.
Frank left them both to argue who was the lazier. They both stayed away from him the rest of the day. By quitting time he had cooled down and was beginning to feel a little foolish at his loss of control.
“Docunt volentum fata; no lentem trahunt.” Seneca
("The Fates lead one who is willing; The one that isn't...they drag.")