Tales From Mephitis Chapter 25: Dreams
The first Tuesday in November the word came down that “Ecohauling” had won the bid;it was the only bid. The vote in the committee was six to two to sell. “Ecohauling” got it all for $1.8 million: The five stations, all the equipment, twenty five percent of all the trash business in the county handed to him, and all the equipment, except a few skidsteers and some roll-offs.
The local chapter of the Tea Party lauded it as another victory for free enterprise. The fact that the tax payers did not get the true value of the property didn't enter into their calculations.
“From the start of this anamnesis in 2006, my dreams have included vignettes of me hauling bags of trash, and of a large, cavernous cement warehouse with bays, almost empty, that I was helping to close down, of the shutting down of the place.
Was this actually prophetic of where I am now? At the time, I looked on it as a metaphor for cleaning up the trash in my personal life. Now it looks like it had another dimension.” Frank thought.
“This is too weird. And the implications are mind-boggling. If, and that's the key word, if, those dreams are what they seem to be, prophetic, then it means the future already exists somehow.
If at least one version of the future already exists, what does that mean for 'Free Will'? It destroys it, that's what. It adds another dimension to thinking about the possibility of change, progress, perfectibility, and theoretical physics as well.
Does Schrödinger's Black cat get the last laugh?”
He told Hoppin’ John he was going to take him and Farina up on their offer to help him mount the studded snow tires Timmer gave him. After lunch, when Ray had punched out for the week, John had him drive the van into the warehouse and back it up to the big air compressor.
They lifted up the rear end, using a forklift as a hoist. Then they tried to break the lugs free, but without any success. They were frozen. An air wrench wouldn’t budge them. Frank finally got one freed up by sheer force and a sledge hammer.
Hoppin’ John calmly slid the tire over the machine and popped off the tire. He had Frank lift the studded tire and put it into place, and then he began trying to work it down over the rim. He couldn’t do it. He began sweating profusely and cursing up a storm.
“Really! Well, what the f**k!”
Farina arrived then and lent his expertise. They tried lubing the tire, and used a sledge to help try and pop it over the rim and assist the machine. No go.
Farina called the shop and told the head mechanic what was up, that this was one for him. He sent one of his men over, a young mechanic named Bennie, who watched them fighting it for a while. Then he walked over and stared at the studded tires, then at the ones on the van.
“Gentlemen. This is not going to work.” He announced calmly. “Those are 16” tires and these are 16 ½” rims.”
“Looks like you’re gonna haveta either buy new tires or new rims. ‘Tits or tires, they’re gonna cost ya.’” Farina shrugged, threw up his hands, and left embarrassed.
Frank thanked Bennie and mentally cursed himself for not double-checking Timmer.
“My old lady’s gonna ask me what I did today.” Hoppin’ John said. “And I’m gonna tell her I tried to put a teeny little tire on a BIG MOTHERF**KIN’ RIM!! She’ll laugh her ass off!”
Frank found a set of 16” rims at a salvage yard for two hundred bucks, and the next Friday he and John installed the studded snow tires successfully.
“So, why do you think Obama won? Don’t you think it was because he had the best ideas?”
“Nope. In every election I can personally remember it has always been the one who spent the most who wins. That’s just one reason I stopped voting. The last time I voted was for Nader in 2000, not because I thought he could win, but as a ‘Thank You’ for all he’d tried to do.”
“You don’t think it was the ‘Will of the People’?”
“Nope. Hey, I could be wrong. I used to always tell my kids: ‘When in doubt; check it out.’ Can you use your IPhone to look up who spent more; Obama or Romney?”
He pulled his phone out of his back pocket and bent over it for a minute. Frank watched his thumb stroking and moving over the screen.
“Obama raised $934 million and spent $852 million. Romney raised $881 million and spent $752 Million.”
“Pattern still holds then: He who spends the most wins. Best election money can buy. It’s not proof, but it’s a damn good rule of thumb. Hey. What’s with them?” He pointed with his chin to a company minivan parked near where the Highway Department’s culvert storage.
“I’m going to go check it out.”
“Knock yourself out.” His head went back down to his phone.
Frank walked over, sizing it up. Pennsylvania plates. He changed his angle of approach to read the logo on the side. “Ecohauling”. Two males in work clothes were in it, both redheads, one with a more fiery shock than the other.
“Can I help you?”
“Mickey sent us here to see the operation. Name’s Dan. This is Fred.”
“Name’s Frank. So you work for Mickey?”
“Yeah. At the Redford station.” Fred replied. “I cut up heavy equipment.” He pointed toward the Front End Loader. “I’m lookin forward to cutting up that Deere Loader.”
“Why would you cut it up?”
“Mickey said he was told it was no good.”
“It’s fine. Don’t know who told him that. Feel free to look around. Any questions, me and the foreman, Anton, will be over there.”
“Thanks. Mickey said it would probably be you who met us.”
“What do you do, Dan?”
“I separate metals.” He fished a magnet out of his pocket. “I always carry one of these. Every Microwave has one in it.”
He pointed toward the metals barrel. Scraps of metal overflowed it and were in piles near it.
“I can take this magnet and go through a pile that big and make my paycheck for the week out of it.”
“How’s Mickey to work for?”
“He wants only people who want to work. He’s not lookin for someone’s only in it for the money; he wants them to love it, to put their souls into it. Hey, the way I figure it, it’s like goin fishin.”
“Well, ya wouldn’t take some one fishin with ya who hated fishin, would ya? It’s like that. Why would ya wanna work with some one who didn’t wanna be there? Hell; we’re one big ‘Old Time Religion here’!”
“How long you been working for him?”
“Coupla weeks. Fred too.”
With a sinking heart Frank was beginning to see Mickey as someone he did not think he could work for. And he might need to, because he still hadn’t even had a call back on any application. Simon was looking for true-believers; he wanted their souls to be his. He didn’t want men; he wanted automatons, unquestioning, subservient servants.
Frank had run into this before in the ‘new’ generation of management that arose in the early 80’s. And there was 'trouble' then between them and he. It wasn’t ever enough in their eyes to be a good worker.
They did not accept the contract as one where the employee in essence agrees to give a portion of his or her life in exchange for cash, but that the rest of his or her life was their own.
No; they felt they owned you “24-7” as they liked to say. You had no life that was separate from being their underling. Even off the job they felt they had the right to dictate what you did in your free time.
You were not an employee; you were an indentured servant: It was a return to serfdom, and Frank had dug his heels in and fought it until he could quit.
Mickey arrived a bit later and as he waved for Fred and Dan to come to him, he yelled out to him “You’re part of the team now!”
Frank nodded silently, but his heart was troubled. The rumors were saying the hand-over to this guy would be before the summer. He needed work and needed it badly, but he really doubted he could long work for that guy.
And if Simon formally offered him a job he’d have to take it or lose his Unemployment Insurance.
Rodney had “Lotto” fever again; the Powerball jackpot was up in the $500 million range and climbing daily. He was almost drooling in anticipation.
He always played the lottery when the prize got way up there and he was always absolutely certain, supremely sure, he was going to win; for all the signs and omens proved it.
With chagrin, Frank saw an ironic parody of his own tendencies to see significance in signs and omens.
“I know I’m gonna win, cause yesterday my grandson said ‘I’m never gonna have to work when I grow up because ‘Pi-Pa’ is going to win the Lotto.’”
“That proves it, huh?”
As the prize built he indulged in long drawn out, intricately built fantasies of what he’d do with all his winnings, and who he’d reward and who he’d punish when he had his millions.
As soon as he verbalized a wish or a desire, it then became real for him, and he built the most bizarre fantasies ‘logically’ off of that base, and fully accepted them as real.
Then just as suddenly, he was subject to sudden attacks of horrified panic as he imagined how something could go wrong.
“Oh no! What if that happens? Then the plane would crash, which means that I’d lose the suitcase I sent to Hawaii, and then that would mean I’d lose all my money! OOOooohhh!”
Besides being manically excited over his impending riches, he was also gleeful over his Veterans’ Day coups.
“I got three free meals! One after the other! Free! OOooooooh! I was stuffed! Also; I got two free carwashes. I coulda got my son’s car washed too, but he wasn’t around.” He crowed happily with that toothless grin. “And guess what? I took a Carhart jacket with a busted zipper to Walter’s. They fix anything you buy there for free. So I told them I bought it there, but I didn’t, and they fixed it for free! Hahahaha!”
He suddenly turned serious.
“I know Mickey wants ta hire me cause I’m most popular. But I’m only gonna work for him if he makes me the manager of the Milan station. Otherwise it’s no deal.”
“Chase your dreams, baby.” Frank told him laconically.
“I heard Mickey’s not gonna hire you, Anton.” Rod said to him with a tight bitch smile.
“I’d be glad not to be hired by Simon if it meant I never have to work with you ever again.”
“OOOooohhhh! Ya stabbin me, buddy!”
“Shut up Rod.”
“I heard Jon Barrator finally finished washing the cars in the car pool. The head there told him to go to Utica for a part, and don’t come back till 4:30.”
“Figures. Barrator’ll toss us out on our ears, but he finds make-work for his little worthless grandson.”
Still no job offers.
After Thanksgiving, Frank and Melissa scoured all their outbuildings and the barn for salvageable metals.
He brought a van load to Far Side Metal Recycling up near Tuscany. He had been there twice before, bringing tire rims and car batteries there from Mephitis. It was a sprawling complex. Metals sales had been booming thanks to the demand from China. He drove onto the scale and waited there quite awhile until a hand emerged from a window and waved him on. He flagged a scruffy looking young man down and asked him where they wanted scrap steel.
Following a pointing arm, he drove into a large fenced-in yard past a sign warning him that Far Side was not liable for any tire damage. He backed up to a towering pile and threw his load onto it. Then he drove back onto the scale when it was his turn. Once again he had to wait until a hand flagged him on.
He walked into a little waiting room. A bored, surly looking young man with tattoos covering his fat neck and arms sat behind an alcove. Frank walked up to it.
“You the white van?” The kid intoned.
“Here. Sign here.”
He waited while Frank scanned the paper. It was a payment statement. He signed and pushed it back to him.
“Wait there. No money yet. Had to go to the bank for it.”
He looked around him. There were no chairs. The walls were lined with dirty men in even dirtier clothes. The room was clean but smelled strongly of old cigarette smoke, unwashed clothes and old, old, old perspiration.
“Christ! How long’s it gonna be?!” A small young man in ripped jeans said loudly to the tattooed teller. “I’m half a mind ta go out and get my load and put it back on my truck!”
“You bitchin, again!? Shut the f**k up! You wanna leave: Leave! I don’t give a f**k! Just shut your yap! I’m tired a hearin you day after day!”
Frank instantly bristled up. But the kid shrank back.
“He works here. Part time.” A fat man in a filthy sweater said under his breath to Frank. “His day off.”
After a half an hour Frank decided enough was enough. It was time to find out where the hell this bank was; Oregon? He went to the window and was surprised to see the kid was gone.
“This ain’t nuthin.” An old man with a couple of days of grey stubble on his face opined. The others grinned and murmured their concurrences. “Sometimes I had ta wait fer a week fer my money.”
“You’re sh*tting me.”
“Yeah. An never take a check from these bastards. It’ll stretch from here ta Beulah!” Another spoke up.
The room broke up into laughter. They all began relating the problems they had getting their money.
“Alright. Who’s first?” The kid was back. He opened a wall safe and threw in a wad of cash.
“That was quicker’n I’ve ever seen it.”, an old man muttered through his toothless lips and stubble.
Frank drove back and loaded up again. As he drove he reflected on what he’d seen; a new stratum of his fellow men.
The regulars he saw there were “unfinished people”. They were the bottom of the bottom dwellers of workers in this area. No steady work. No marketability. Dirty hair and clothes. No concern for appearance. Bodies that showed no sign of care or good feeding; just work. No education or culture.
They belong to that sub-class of the local culture that had no, absolutely no, minimum requirements of behavior, dress, or interests. Yet they were not at all unfriendly; to the contrary. They just existed from day to day for no purpose other than to exist.
It was an irredeemably ugly parody of what Frank thought it meant to be a fully functioning human.
He made four runs there and netted $435.26.
"Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved." Max Weber
Frank hadn’t signed up with an internet provider yet, but the Trakfone had browser capability, albeit an expensive one. It chewed through the pre-paid minutes like a wildfire in a dry forest. Still, he did a search on his kids. He found no sign of his daughter, but turned up something he didn’t expect about his son. It seemed he was now the CEO of a corporation that he helped found with $3 million in annual sales in Boulder, Colorado.
“I’ll be damned. Good for you.” He smiled.
“You used to live in Colorado?” He rhetorically asked Anton the next time he worked.
“For a few years in my teens.”
“What is ‘Boulder’ like?”
“Figures.” He thought later. “Travis always dreamed of living the life of one of the elite; the ‘superior’ class of digital godlings.
‘Godlings’. Bullshit. ‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.’
Hey; Chase your dreams, baby.
But trust the Old Man on this one, kid: ‘Cave ne cada.’
And I hope to hell you’re taking care of your sister and mother.”
As he worked he reflected about his relationship, or rather the lack of a relationship, with his two children. It pained him less now than it did, but he still didn’t understand it. He had loved them and thought they loved him. But simply because you love someone does not mean they will love you. And the more you try to get them to love you, the more repelled they are by you.
That month Mel signed up to take the offer from the paper company she had worked for and get her pension in a lump sum. She figured that a little bird in the hand is better than a bigger one in the bush. The way corporations were unilaterally disregarding legally binding obligations and cutting benefits, or dropping pensions entirely, scared her.
She lost a lot by doing so; 30% of her pension was all they were offering. By doing that though, she thereby guaranteed they would have enough money to carry them through to May of next year when Frank could begin drawing his Social Security early if he couldn’t find work: They’d almost reached the shore. It wouldn’t be a triumphant landing; more like getting washed up, but at least they should reach it even if all else fails.
“I have had some remarkable coincidences that seem to be a push to write. Maybe this is what I was meant to do. So if Hillman is right, it is my Daimon that wants my story told. Apparently paying bills is not its concern. Sure as hell is mine.” Frank thought as he drove in to work.
“But if I can get that book published, our money problems are over. Long shot though.
I can’t believe I won’t find some work somewhere. I have a helluva resume and great references. Even the fact that I’m cut back to one day a week is a disguised blessing I suppose, because it gives me more time to write and look for work. At least until March anyway, when Simon is slated to takeover. And he’s guaranteed me a full-time slot; I think.
But do I take it? Can I trust him? Do I want to keep working in a dumps?”
In the beginning of December, the whole board of supervisors took the committee’s recommendation, and voted to sell the stations. First though, they needed to quickly pass a law allowing them to sell county property. They set the date for that vote on the winter’s Solstice.
Simon was supposed to meet with the public then. Most of the workers had decided they did not want to work for him. And Rodney insisted he can refuse a job with Mickey and still get Unemployment, regardless of what the others told him.
Anton had heard that on Thursdays, when no one else was working, Ray and Mickey were meeting in the office at Mephitis and talking for several hours. He felt that explained the change he and the others had seen in Ray recently. He was no longer nervous, unsure, worried about whether or not the County would offer him a job. He was back to acting cool, and “an asshole” according to Anton.
When he asked Ray what he and Mickey talked about, Ray replied “Nothing.”
“Would you take a job with Mickey if he offered it?” Anton asked him point-blank.
“Maybe.” Was his flat response.
Anton now knew he would not get a job with Mickey, because he was sure Ray would poison Simon’s mind toward him.
Rod did not win the Powerball. He took it as a personal affront; that which was vouchsafed to him from the omens and signs was stolen from him. And he was beginning to get worried. Della had had her hours cut back, and now her company was talking about closing and moving to Mexico.
“So she’s worried about money. I keep telling her ‘We got to cut back’! Then she throws it in my face that I ordered special covers for the new truck and special rails, an stuff. So I tells her she’s addicted to QVC and shopping.
Then my brother-in-law shows up and begins preaching Jesus to her! She’s real worried, so she’s listenin to him now and she digs out a Bible from the bottom of the closet, and they both start readin from it together kneeling on the floor! She starts cryin and sayin how she wants ta be saved and everything!
Then she gets yellin at me and gets mad at me for not ‘having God in my life’! It’s all my fault now! He talked her into going to his church Sunday, but after he left I says ‘We are not going to that church! We have our own church, if you want to go to a church! We’re Catholic!”
He paused for a moment.
“I was descented from Sitting Bull.”
“What?” Frank asked, startled out of his thoughts.
“Yup. My grandmother told me when I was little.”
“Your name is Minos. That’s not native American. It’s Greek.”
“Scottish. Not on my father’s side, my mother’s side. So I’m really a Sitting Bull.”
“Are you sure you don’t mean ‘Bull Sh*tting’?” He asked innocently. Rod didn’t get it, but Anton broke up.
“My daughter Sara keeps her dead pet cat in her freezer.”
“What? With all the food?”
“Yeah. Been dead for months, but she can’t decide what she wants to do with it yet.”
Later Frank watched as Rod kept whining to a customer, not letting him go, about the pending sale of the Stations. The man kept retreating until he was finally in his car, the door was closed and the engine running.
“Rod. I gotta go. I have to go to a wake.”
“Okay. Have fun.”
“Have fun!?” Frank blurted out, laughing. “Did you hear what he just said!? He’s going to a wake, and you tell him to have fun!?”
He saw someone standing on the bridge near the stairs and went over and asked if he needed help. The stocky mustached man introduced himself as Mickey’s brother Bill.
He heard Mickey downstairs talking with what looked like an accountant.
“Congratulations on that steal of a winning bid!” Frank yelled down to him.
“Steal!? I paid top dollar because I wanted to be sure I won.” Simon protested. He gestured at the floor around him. “Look at how messy it is down here, trails of garbage all over.” He looked up and grinned slyly. “Anton still angry at the world?”
“He’s right out here. You ask him.”
He never spoke to, nor acknowledged Anton that day. But before he left he pulled up by the garbage hopper and told Frank he was to be hired full-time.
“Thank you, that’s wonderful news for the holidays.”
“Glad to have you on board. Your luck is changing. Your star is rising again!”
“My ‘star is rising’? My God. What is he, an Astrologer now too? Christ, what do I do? I don’t trust this guy. But I need money. But I don’t want to do this anymore. And not with him.”
Rod came back from his usual fifty minute lunch just after Simon had left.
“He came in the office while I was on lunch break. He wanted me ta open the warehouse an I told him I would after my lunch break; I was on my lunch break. I told him I had some questions such as; would I be full-time, or part-time?
Also; does he give health insurance? He wouldn’t answer. He just said ‘My H.R. people handle all the hiring.’ What da Frig! I got a lot a questions!”
When Frank passed along what Simon said, Anton was incensed at the comment about his anger, and he was sure it came from Ray.
Puzzled at first, Frank realized that though Anton was very unhappy at Mephitis, he was ambivalent; still unable to make a clean break.
But Life seemed to be now making it for him: He may yet have no choice but to break out of his rut. He was both worried about it and yet really wanted to. He kept trying hard to bolster up his faltering courage, but sometimes it failed him.
He was very bitter about not having a family to fall back on for support. His father had a ‘new’ family ever since the divorce and had nothing to do with his ‘old’ one. His stepfather was at best a shallow friend and his mother didn’t care about or love him.
Things seemed to be unraveling. After agreeing Friday to work Saturday to cover Rod, Hoppin’ John just never showed up. Toad never showed up at Genoa either.
Frank was out by the trays when Dave came in with a coffee, looking for Rod.
“Well; here, Frank. Seein as Rod ain’t here, why don’t you take this.” He offered the over-sized Cumby’s coffee to him. He looked like the quintessential Irish grandpa. “Rod asks me to bring him a big one. Hope you like lots a cream an sugar. That’s the way Rod likes it.”
“Well; thanks, Dave. Unfortunately, I take it black.”
Seeing a crestfallen look pass over those blue eyes, he lied.
”But I know someone who likes it like that and would sure appreciate it. Thanks.”
That restored Dave to a twinkling good humor again. He relaxed, put his hands in his jacket pockets and settled his feet more comfortably.
“Oh no. Rod’s not here to shoot the sh*t with him, so I’m to be the stand-in.”
“Ya know, Frank,” Dave began earnestly. “I still just cannot believe this country elected a n*gger.”
Frank was stunned. He never expected to hear such a thing from such a kindly looking man.
“Obama and Oprah; they’re behind all this, ya know. They wanna take our guns and put us in concentration camps too. I heard it on the radio. Oh, they come across as innocent, but...”
“”Gotta go, Dave. Sorry. Customers.” Frank turned on his heel and left.
“That man has probably never actually known a black person. But all his life he’s heard that poison and believed it.
It will never leave him. Good God. I would not want to be black in this country. I’d either be dead or in prison like so many of them are. This is so deeply rooted in this country. It will never leave.
As long as these whites are the ruling race, it will infect all the structures of power.
Oran por la ‘Reconquista’, people, pray for the Reconquest.”
Bridget brought him and Anton a cup of coffee that afternoon.
“Oh. I brought him his coffee too.” Her broad, pocked face looked downcast.
“Well, why don’t you drink it?’ Anton suggested.
“Oh, I don’t like coffee. I just bring it in for you guys.”
“You don’t have to do that you know, Bridget.” Frank told her.
“Oh, I don’t mind. You guys are my friends.”
She suddenly beamed.
“Guess what? I put in a woodstove I got for $300; a guy I know got me a deal on it and the pipes. Got em for one third the price. No more freezing! Yippee!”
“Well, how’d you heat before?” Frank asked her.
“Oh, whenever I had the money I’d buy a gallon of kerosene. No more!”
“How about wood? Where are you getting wood?”
“There’s plenty of wood on my mother’s house’s property. So I just go out and cut it as I need it.”
She wasn’t the only one Frank knew of now that tried to keep warm that way. He had been stunned to learn how many up here in snow country ran their furnaces, if they had one, a gallon at a time. Or heated with woodstoves fired by scrap pallet wood.
By the middle of December Rod was “burning up” so much of his time, taking paid days off as fast as he could, Hoppin’ John took to calling him “Father Time”.
But he had no intention of taking days off too close to Christmas; he didn’t want to miss any of ‘his’ tips. He gleefully, greedily boasted about how much he was going to take in to the point Frank was sick to death of it.
When it was announced that the five stations cost between $5.6 and $7.8 million to build back in the nineties, there was an outcry from public over the speed and the low price of the winning, and only, bid. The supervisors started backpedaling a bit. Now they were saying they hadn’t really decided whether to lease or sell.
Anton was sure Ray had been offered a job by Mickey because he now always showed up just before Mickey did, jumping in a skidsteer and doing work. And when Simon pulled in; he waved like a schoolgirl at him.
The place was getting eerily quiet and hollow feeling, like it was already gone. There were fewer and fewer customers each week. All the workers were joining Rod and taking all the time off they could and searching desperately for other work; and nothing was getting fixed when it broke.
For his part, Hoppin’ John wanted no part of Mickey, nor would he look elsewhere for work. He insisted he just expected somehow to be transferred to the Highway Department.
“Let me go to Highway or die. Let me go to Highway or die. Let me go to Highway or die.” He kept repeating stubbornly. “And get it over quick.”
“Sounds like a Country and Western song title.” Frank told him. “Catchy.”
“Now here’s a guy following his Daimon...I guess. Or maybe he’s just stubborn or unrealistic.”
On a Friday in mid-month, Frank had planned a full day of last minute outdoor work before the rains came; cutting and getting in the last of the dead wood.
But at 6:30 Anton called. Rod never showed up, he was stuck there alone. Frank hated losing an extra day’s pay, but he hated losing that wood to the rains too. And somebody had to go in. He couldn’t stick Anton, so he agreed to come in.
When he got in, Ray was there. He asked him what happened. He said Rod just decided to work at Milan and told no one about it.
“Yup. He didn’t call off or take it off. He just took it into his head he was going to work in Milan today. And he had told Farina and John on Wednesday that he was going to be working here at Florence on Friday.
Anton called Milan on a hunch, because that was where Rod was working on Wednesday. He was there.
Anton said he asked him ‘Where the f**k are you?’ and Rod said ‘I’m working here today.’
‘What the f**k are you doing there?!’
‘I told you I was gonna work here today.’
‘No you didn’t! Why would I expect you here and be so mad if you had told me?’ Anyway, Rod refused to leave Milan, so Anton called you in.”
Frank couldn’t believe his ears.
“Fire his ass!” He roared.
“I wish I could…Hey! Are you going to ‘squish’ him like Rod said you were going to?” Ray asked with happy anticipation.
“What? When did he say that? I never…Never mind.” A thought occurred to him. “Well, Ray, if he likes Milan so much, why not keep him there until January?”
“No, that’s what he wants.”
“No it isn’t. He wants to be here to collect all his Christmas tips.”
“Oh, ho ho ho! Thank you for telling me that.”
A little later Anton came back out on to the bridge laughing delightedly.
“Ray just told me that he was going to notify Rod that he’s going to be in Milan until January. Ray said Tom is out on sick leave because of his old arm injury, he went to the comp board with it. He thinks Tom won’t be back.”
“When did he hurt himself? What was this all about?”
“He tore his shoulder years ago lifting a heavy garbage can, but he never turned it in as an injury because he was afraid of being fired. That was in the pre-union days, remember. We all were afraid to say anything to anyone about anything.”
“Hell of a way to live.”
“Tell me about it.”
Since the fall, a customer had been dropping off a quart jar of pickled eggs every week along with dispensing radical right-wing tough talk.
“Here you go guys!”
“Hey thanks. Wait a minute. We got your one of your empties around here.”
“Great. Damn things are expensive. Everything’s expensive ever since Bernanke bailed out them banks with make-believe money. F**kin’ Obama!”
“You make a lot of them pickled eggs?” Ray had strolled back from the office.
“Hell yeah. Got twelve hens. That’s a dozen eggs a day. Can only eat so many, the wife and me. If you guys like em, you’re welcome to em.”
“Sure. I’ll take a couple.”
Ray stuck his hand down into the jar, fished out a couple and noisily slurped them down. “They’re better than Viagra and cheaper.” He belched. “See you boys later.”
He lifted his hand in salute and headed back down the bridge.
“Oh, yeah! Boy, was Rod pissed at missing his tips by being stuck in Milan!” He said over his shoulder before going out the door.
The Winter Solstice came with a bitterly cold wind. Even on Fridays now there was minimal staffing: Just an Alternative Sentencing kid named Will, Hoppin’ John, and Frank.
Will was a tall, lanky young man with a long horse face. He was very good-natured, but not very smart. He had a son that he adored who was living with his ex-wife, who he also seemed to adore even though she had cheated on him and was addicted to Heroin. He was doing his time at Mephitis for a drunk-driving charge.
Hoppin’ John grumbled into his coat about having to accept Comp Time for the day instead of getting paid overtime. The drivers hadn’t got pay for overtime for years now: They had to take comp time in lieu of it; no choice.
Frank told him to put himself down for O.T. and see what happened; what could he lose? Hoppin' John made no reply.
“I guess the days of being scared to say anything are still here for some.” Frank mused.
“What do you think? The world gonna end today at 3:15 or 6:15?” Will asked.
‘I don’t give a f**k.” Hoppin’ John grumped.
“I asked my Mom on the drive in here this morning what she’d do if a zombie jumped out in front of the car right now. ‘F**kin run him the f**k over!’ my little brother shouted.” He laughed with appreciation at his sibling’s wit and spunk.
“Tina believes The Second Coming is soon, even if it don’t happen today.” Hoppin’ John said out of the blue when it was just him and Frank.
They were leaning on the railing, waiting. He never looked up as he spoke, just stared expressionlessly down at the mountain of clear plastic in the bunker below their feet. The wind howled around the trays.
“She’s buggin the shit outta me about it, tellin me I ain’t gonna like Hell. I keep telling her: ‘Who gives a f**k? Hell’s gonna be just like this. Maybe a little warmer. When I’m dead, I’m dead, and that’s the end of it.’ I tell her.”
“Has she always been religious?”
“Nah. I don’t know why she suddenly got so religious. Maybe it’s her ‘sugar’. I don’t think she was this religious when she was young. Christ, she goes to prayer meetings six times a week and church on Sunday twice.”
“Is the rest of her family like that?”
“Nah. Father’s dead, so his troubles are over. Her mother drinks hard, smokes hard. Her sister is on SS Disability, for what, I do not know. There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s just fat and never worked a day in her life.”
On the Saturday before Christmas Bridget showed up. She just finished cleaning out a house for forty dollars.
“I just needed to get out of the house and have a quiet smoke. How are you guys?”
“Good. You Okay?”
“No. My brother, Joel, he’s six years older’n me, he’s moved in now into my Stepdad’s house, where me and my son are staying. He use ta be a union mason, but he got hisself kicked out for not paying his dues and refusing jobs... My Mom died last year, I can’t believe it was only last Christmas time. I miss her so much.”
She stopped for a moment her lower lip trembling as she sought to gain control over herself.
“I make sure my Stepdad gets a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, and diapers each week in return for letting us stay there. But my brother won’t help with chores, and he won’t kick in ten dollars a week toward my Stepdad’s groceries. He said he won’t pay until he finds out ‘What the f**k is going on in this house!’ He’s called the cops twice on me cause we’ve argued over his not contributing.”
She looked up at Frank and Anton with watering eyes.
“Why do people have to be so mean?” She asked plaintively. A tear coursed its way down her heavy jowl and fell onto her filthy sweater.
“I don’t know.” Frank said quietly.
“Well; enough of my troubles. Gotta go. See you guys.” She turned and clambered into the beat up truck. It roared to life.
“Bridget.” Frank called out. She rolled down her window.
She broke into a wide smile and her face lit up.
“Merry Christmas to you guys too! See ya next week!”
While he was helping an old, small man with the rheumy eyes of a life-long welder, he told Frank he’d 'let' him take care of the big Flatscreen box that was in the bed of his pickup.
Frank was surprised to feel how heavy it was when he lifted it out; he’d expected just an empty cardboard box.
“Is there a TV in here?” He asked the little man.
“Does it work?”
“Yeah. It just has these lines when you start it up. They go away in about fifteen minutes, but our daughter just bought us a new one.”
“Yup. I’ll take care of this.”
He hoisted it up, and took it straight out to the van. He passed John.
“Whattya got there?” Hoppin’ John asked him.
“My Christmas tip.” He yelled over his shoulder. “And Melissa’s Christmas present. She’s not going to believe the size of this thing. Forty eight inches! Goddamn! For thirty years we’ve only had a twelve inch one!”
The day before Christmas the paper reported that the County was nearing a deal with “Ecohauling”.
Things were beginning to disappear from the Stations. The big air compressor vanished and turned up in the County Truck Shop, about one hundred cord of hardwood logs that were dropped off at Mephitis were divvied up among the Highway barns, the metal cut-off saw and bandsaw disappeared, along with lesser objects of desire.
The day after Christmas only Hoppin’ John and Frank were working. It was like a tomb, bleak and empty. The wind whipped sullenly across the frozen swamp.
John started to talk, once again leaning on the railing, looking down into the plastics, occasionally spitting snuff juice down into the bunker. He never looked at Frank; it was almost a monologue to himself again.
“The old lady’s mother called Christmas night. She fell down and couldn’t get up. Me and Tina went over there. I waited in the truck in case I was needed to lift her up. She was dead drunk. Her husband, he was a chain smoker, died last year and this was her first Christmas without him. Tina’s five-hundred-pound sister on SSI lives there now with her.
My son lives with his fiancée in her house. She used ta be married and got one kid from the other guy. She wanted to re-finance, but the bank was making her jump through hoops with one thing or another before they’d give her the money: New sheetrock all through the house, re-do the kitchen, re-roof it.
I told her the bank’s tryin ta make it hard on ya so you’ll just say ‘F**k it!’ She was gonna pay contractors ta do it all, but I told her ‘If ya did that, what was the point in re-financing? You’d pay more for the work than you’d save on the refinancing’.
I told her me and my son would do it. At first, he said it wasn’t his problem, her name was on the mortgage, not his. I told him he was living there for free, and she was his fiancée; so, it was his problem. So, I been helping him this whole year get it done.”
Then he told him that his cousin’s daughter from Virginia showed up the day before Christmas Eve on his doorstep; jobless, homeless, and eight month’s pregnant.
“Why is that my problem?” He said was his first reaction.
“But; I couldn’t turn a pregnant woman away, so me and the old lady took her in. She had gone first to her mother. She’s who sent her to see me an Tina. She’s in a bad way herself an couldn’t do anything for her; she’s got no home herself, she’s stayin on a friend’s couch. No job. Heroin. She told her ‘Go see your Uncle John.’
So she come ta our house. Guess she’s divorced, with a little girl, and is pregnant with another guy’s child, but has a boyfriend up here.
At first she was only going to stay a few days until her Social Services trailer was ready, but now it’ll be longer, because SS has to have the furnace inspected. Maybe a week or more.
So she takes her daughter to see the little girl’s halfbrother at his grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. They gave her brother forty four f**kin presents and gave the little girl f**kin nuthin. The kid was heartbroken. She said ‘Santa must hate me’.
When my son’s wife heard that, she went in to the bedroom where the old lady was wrapping gifts, and told Tina to give the gift we were gonna give their son to the little girl instead.
The old lady wanted ta know why, so she told Tina what happened. She told me and I went to CVS, the only place open that late on Christmas Eve, and me and my son and his wife bought presents for the little girl.
I was totally, completely flat broke before this. We spent everything we had on Christmas. But just before we heard about this, my other son’s fiancée stopped over and gave me a couple of hundred bucks for my helping re-build her house. So; I could afford to go and buy gifts for the little girl, and she was happy.”
“I guess there are miracles.”
“You’re a good man, John.”
“Hrrrrr. The old lady found out the Diabetes’s drug she’s taking is not the same one her girlfriend’s is, even though the name is the same.
Tina finally got on SSI, but it increased her co-pay, and when her prescription ran out, she couldn’t afford to re-fill it.
Her friend had extra, so she gave Tina a bottle. When she was on that one, she began to feel better and was using only half the insulin she normally did.
When she got her check she got her prescription filled. She was about to take it when she compared labels. Hers had Hydrochloride; her friend’s didn’t. So she took herself off it.
When she told her doctor she wanted the one her friend got, he started yellin at her cause she used somebody else’s pills and then decided all by herself to change. He kept sayin he was the doctor, she couldn’t tell him what she wanted….F*ckin doctors.”
A man about Frank’s age told him after he had dumped his trashcan for him, that he couldn’t have done that due to his weak heart. For a year and a half he had been fighting lung infections. It was finally discovered that the heart medicine he was taking had a high aspirin content and had eaten away his lungs. When the doctor looked in with his probe, he said his lungs bled wherever they were touched.
“I heard the other guy talking about his wife and the Diabetes medicine. Ever hear this one?
There were two doctors discussing a patient. One of the doctors asks the other one: “Well? Should we treat him...or let him live’?”
They all broke into peals of laughter.
Hoppin’ John couldn’t get rid of his cough. But he would start all the diesel trucks indoors and let them run while he baled down there with no mask on. He got a face full of a dust cloud when he opened the office heater to see why it didn’t blow, and tapped on the filter while the blower was running. The plume of yellow dust hit him right in the face, turning him a sickly hue.
He set up a working stereo someone had dropped off, tuning into his Golden Oldies station. The rest of the day he kept singing to himself in a loud falsetto the chorus from The BeeGee’s “I gotta get a message to you!” over and over.
Suddenly he stopped and deadpanned: “Obama’s the perfect n*gger: As black as black.”
He broke into laughter at his wit and immediately fell into paroxysms of coughing.
Between Christmas and New Year’s, a lake snowstorm hit overnight. Frank and Melissa got up early and shoveled out a path for the van.
The roads were still completely unplowed. It was a thirty five mile per hour ride in to work. He was beginning to think Timmer knew nothing about tires. He had no traction at all.
When he finally got there, no one had plowed there yet either and the entrance gate was still locked. He could see Hoppin’ John was on the loader plowing up by the office.
Frank waited alongside the road near the entrance for him. He watched as he plowed right up to the gate, and then in disbelief, watched as he turned around and went on back without opening the gate.
Frustrated, Frank drove to the open exit, gunned it and got through the snowbank, and followed Hoppin’ John’s truck tracks to the warehouse. He floored it and almost got up the hill, but he lost traction and had to back down and all the way out to the road again.
He went back to the entrance and figured he’d just wait for John to open it up. As he drove up, he saw him come as far as the gate once more, and then go back to the office again.
He parked and waited and watched, but realized the loader’s lights had stopped moving.
“I don’t believe it. He stopped plowing and went back to the office to wait for Ray’s 6:30 call!”
Finally, he just left the van and walked in. Anton came in behind him.
“Right…garbage pull at Turin. Got it, Ray….Park the plow? We ain’t been plowed yet. Highway ain’t made a pass here yet….Alright. Park the plow. Got it.”
Hoppin’ John was upset when he got off the phone, cursing.
So was Frank; at him.
“Ignore Ray.” Anton told him, taking charge, which was refreshing for Frank to see. “Make a pass from the exit to the entrance so people can get in and out, and so you can get your truck out. Frank can do the rest of the plowing with the loader.”
That startled Hoppin’ John; he was jealous of anyone else using that loader. It was his toy. Anton told Frank that last week he had to move the loader ten yards so they could get a load of magazines through and Hoppin’ John had grumbled about it all week. Next thing they knew he’d disregarded both Ray and Anton, and was plowing everything.
“Hey, John! I told you: Park it and get going!” Ray yelled up at him when he arrived at 8:30. “You now got two pulls. You got garbage at Turin and one at Venice.”
Hoppin’ John had no choice now. He meekly got into his truck and drove off.
Now it was Ray who said he’d just make a “couple of passes” with the loader. Two hours later, he had done all the plowing, shook hands with Anton and Frank, wished them a Happy New Year, and left.
They got quite a bit of goodies from the public that day. Frank wound up taking home half a Cumbie’s pizza and a box of Hershey’s chocolates.
Left behind were platters of cakes, fudges, fruit candy, caramel popcorn, homemade candies, a couple of Stewart’s egg sandwiches, and boxes of Dunkin Donuts coffee. Anton said they wouldn’t go to waste: John would eat them all.
“He eats anything.”
“When I was at Genoa this week I saw Toad get more than six twelve packs in one day, and he gave none of them to Timmer.” Anton remarked. “He told me ‘Part-Timers don’t get any.’”
The snow kept coming fitfully all through the day as if it was reluctant to continue its journey toward the Maritime Provinces.
Every few hours Frank or Anton hopped in a skidsteer and plowed the lanes and roadways. Using a skidsteer as a plow was a good deal less effective than the loader, and a lot colder. The loader had a heater like a furnace; even on the coldest day, the driver had to leave the door open or he melted.
The skidsteers supposedly had a heater, but in reality only one of them had a functioning one, and it merely blew hot air annoyingly into the driver’s right ear, meanwhile he was exposed to all the winds.
The bucket was used as a plow by rolling it forward and pushing it against the ground hard enough to just about raise the front wheels. Speed was essential to maintain momentum, but care was needed to avoid the scattered manholes near the office or the broken patches of tarmac here and there.
If the driver was so imprudent as to hit one of them he learned which won; the irresistible force or the immoveable object.
One young man had knocked himself out by hitting a manhole at full speed and slamming his head into the frame of the skidsteer at full speed.
Rodney returned to Mephitis on the last working day before the New Year. Frank handed him an envelope an older lady had given him to give to him.
“Thannnnnk youuuu.” He took it without glancing at it. “I been in Milan all this time.” He pouted.
“Think of all the gas money you’ve saved.” Frank said over his shoulder as he waited with his finger on the pad for Kronos to clock him in. He was mildly surprised that Rod didn’t seem at all upset at the loss of his Christmas tips. Then he found out why: He had his talking point of the day. Before he’d even punched in he was on it without stopping for breath, following Frank out to drop the trays
“Our trailer park was in the paper and Channel six was out there this morning. Didn’t you see it?”
“I don’t get the paper, Rod, and I don’t watch TV.”
“You don’t watch TV?”
“You don't watch T.V.?”
“I told you that already before.”
“The owner of the trailer park, his name’s Michael Gorton, They said he hadn’t not paid the village water bill for the park since 2010 and owed $33,000 in water bill. But the paper had got it all wrong; he owed $53,000! Also; he owed back taxes, and was behind on his mortgage. The village is gonna shut off the water to the park on January eleventh if he don’t pay up. OOOoooohhhh! ”
“They’re going to shut off the water to all of you because he didn’t pay his bill? How can you live there without water?”
“We’re all gonna have to leave. OOOoooohhh! We only use bottled water too. We never drink the water in town; it’s always bad and there’s always ‘Boiled Orders’. Most people there don’t either. They drink beer. I don’t drink beer except for a Cooler’s Lite beer once a year.”
“That’s what I said. Coolers Lite. You don’t watch TV?”
“No. Rod, don’t you remember me telling you that last year? We watch movies. We have a lot of VCR tapes and now, thanks to Mephitis, we have DVD players too.”
“Mefisis? My daughter is shipping her frozen dead cat to California to have it stuffed somehow. Gonna cost $1,200!”
“She’s gonna put it on her mantel or something. It’s been in her freezer for months.” His expression changed, becoming angrily sharp. “Also: She only gave me a twenty-five-dollar gift card at Appleby’s for Christmas!” He sputtered. Anton laughed out loud. He ignored him and continued, thoroughly aggrieved. “But she spent eight hundred on Nathan, and five hundred on her brother, and two hundred fifty on Della! After Della bought her three hundred dollars set of earphones, plus two hundred fifty in cash, and a book!”
“I’ve only gotten a gift from my kids ONCE in my whole life, and it was a last minute one.” Frank thought. “Count your blessings, Rod.”
“I guess she let you know where you stand!” Anton chuckled.
“Also; We had ta have a plumber come an take everything apart.”
“I know I’m going to regret asking. Why?”
“Me and Della poured left over Crisco down the drain after we fried potatoes. It got solidided.”
It began snowing at 8 a.m. and didn’t let up all day. Hoppin’ John happily plowed with the loader and Anton and Frank used the skidsteers to keep everything else open. Rod made sure the area under the drip-line was well salted. The cars were few and far between. With each announcement in the papers from the County about the progress in selling the stations the traffic dropped off more as people assumed the inevitable and signed up with one of the big haulers. Anytime someone showed up, Rod greeted them.
“How’s your day going?...That’s nice. Mine’s not going too good. Everybody in our trailer park is being kicked out on January eleventh…”
“Della saw on the internet where a Eagle attacked a little kid. She showed it to me. It was horrible.”
“An eagle? Where? I’ve never heard of that happening before.” Frank asked, curious.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what kind of eagle?”
“Don’t bother!” Anton laughed.
“I don’t know.”
“A golden eagle?”
“Yeah! That was it! A gold eagle!”
“There’s been tales about golden eagles carrying off fawns and lambs, but I don’t remember hearing one about attacking a child. How big was the kid?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Little.”
“Hear it is.” Anton walked over holding his IPhone up. “I found it on U-Tube. It was a fake; a class project by two Montreal College students for a computer animation course.” He showed the brief clip to Frank.
“Goddamn that looks real. Bet they got ‘A’s for that one.”
‘Yeah. A good job. They break it down here and show where they screwed up a bit. See? There’s suddenly no shadow here. And here. The eagle begins to take off too soon.”
“I’m still impressed.”
“That was real! That was no fake!” Rod protested, refusing to believe it.
“It was a fake, Rod.”
“Was not! I saw it!”
“Seeing is no longer believing in the 21st century, Rod.” Frank said seriously. He looked at Anton. “You know? That’s true. No longer can you believe that what you see on the screen or in print has to be true. Everything now has to be suspect. Those supposed beheadings for instance. ‘Reality’ as we knew it is dead. Anything can now be fabricated and the ‘people’ will buy it.”
“Yes, people like him.” Anton jerked his thumb toward Rod.
Frank nodded. “Case in point.”
“My son knows another prison guard who sleeps with his fifteen foot snake.”
“Shut the f**k up, Rod.”
“It was acting weird, so he took it to the vet, who told him he should have it destroyed cause it was getting ready to eat him.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Also; a Milan bus driver was caught on video punching and tying up with duck tape artistic children on his bus.”
“What are you talking about? ‘Artistic children’?”
“He means ‘autistic’.”
“Why was he tying them up and punching them?”
“Cause they were making noise I guess.”
“What happened to him?”
“Nothing? You sure you got this right?”
“Rod, shut the f**k up.”
A long string of snowmobilers roared up the highway shoulder. The three of them watched them until they vanished from sight, the howling of their machines slowly fading.
“Me and Della used to go snowmobiling until the kids were born with a bunch of other people, but we stopped cause we got into too many fights.”
“What did you fight about?”
“Oh, once it was cause our subs and sodas froze solid and we couldn’t eat them. But mostly it was cause Della was always falling off.”
“Cause she said I kept driving over little trees or taking turns and bumps too fast. She’d fall off and get up screaming and throw her helmet at me. Also: Once I was pushing the snowmobile from behind cause it had gotten stuck. But she gave it the gas. It took off, and dragged me all the way up the mountain on my face.” He was telling all this absolutely dead-pan, but Frank and Anton were roaring.
“Why didn’t you let go?!” Frank gasped.
“Cause I knew she wouldn’t come back for me and I’d have to walk all the way up the mountain.” He pantomimed holding onto the back of the snowmobile and being dragged, eating snow, and spitting it out as he was dragged. “I was covered with snow. It went down my jacket, my pants and my boots. Everyone laughed then.” Frank thought Anton was going to split a gut laughing right then and there. “Here comes a car. I got it.” He immediately went out the door and up to the car.
“How’s your day going?....That’s nnnniiiice. Mine’s not goin so good. We’re all gonna get kicked out of our trailer park…
“Out of all the things I’ve tried,” Anton told Frank later while Rod was playing for sympathy with another late customer. “What I really love to do is farm. I’d love to be a farmer.”
“Do it then. Ever see Bill Moyer’s interviews with Joseph Campbell? I think it was called The Power of Myth.”
“I do. I loved it.”
“He said he had come to the conclusion that if you ‘Followed your Bliss’ it was like everything would seem to be helping, that doors would open for you where you thought there were no doors.”
“’Follow your bliss’? What did he mean?”
“As a student, he was studying some Sanskrit writings and he read that The God in Time devours its creatures, but Brahma, the Creator God, the God Eternal, the Timeless God, is Sat, Chit, and Ananda; uncreated and uncreateable. ‘Sat’ means ‘being’ I think; ‘Chit’, means ‘awareness; and ‘Ananda’, means ‘bliss’. He said he wasn’t sure if he knew how to recognize his own ‘Sat’ or ‘Chit’, but he knew what gave him bliss, so he’d follow that.
He meant doing that thing, that above all else, gives you that special satisfaction; that thing that makes time disappear for you when you’re immersed in it.”
“I don’t know. How can I really know what that would be if I’ve never had that feeling?”
“Ever hear of Nietzsche’s tale of the camel, the lion, and the dragon?”
“No. What’s that?” he asked, intrigued. Rod had quietly joined them at some point and was silently listening, like a child.
“It’s a parable about life. It begins with a camel, which patiently stands there while a burden is placed upon his back. Then he runs off into the desert where he changes into a lion. Now, the heavier the burden was that was put on the camel, the stronger the lion is. The task of the lion is to slay a dragon. And on each of the dragon’s scales is written: ‘Thou shalt’. After he slays the dragon, the lion becomes a child who moves authentically from his own center: Ein aussich rollend Rad.”
“That is cool. So the idea is to eventually not to be bound by conventions, the ‘thou shalts’, and to live your own life, not what others say you should do.”
“I think so. At a certain stage in development, after you have submitted to the discipline of being a student, you forge your own morality. The Lion says ‘I WILL.’, and ‘No!’ to other wills. The child creates all new values, and says ‘YES’ to it’s own will, and ‘YES!’ to this world of suffering. You no longer need any one to tell you what is right, what is wrong for you.”
The highway stayed unplowed all day. Just before closing, Frank walked up to Anton and handed him a slip of paper.
“I found an ISP, a dial-up. You’re right; it’s slow. But I got E-mail now. That’s my address. I think you’re an interesting young man, and I think you’ll do alright. Keep in touch.”