Tales From Mephitis Chapter 26: Vanaprastha and Eudaimonia

Updated on March 29, 2018
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Mr. Vanek is an Observer of the Human Condition and a Writer.

The New Year began with a small mutiny within the Board of Supervisors. The Reverend Hal Fass, the Gotham Supervisor, was replaced as chaplain.

His long hyper-political sermons disguised as a prayer at the beginning of the meetings had long rubbed some of the supervisors the wrong way. His vitriolic ‘prayers’ could stretch on for an hour or more.

In them he sometimes referred to the Venice Supervisor Gina Vaccaro as a “Tree Hugger” and said some of the other supervisors would “rather worship dirt than Jesus.”

His Tea Party politics the others also found offensive. He had invited the local chapter to all the meetings, in order, as he put it, “To educate the supervisors on the true aims of the United Nations, Obama, and the Illuminatti.”

The head of the board gave Hal an ultimatum: Cut out the politics, make your prayer short and non-offensive personally, or resign.

“Government should not be forcing religion into the background.” The Right Reverend Fass told the press upon deciding to resign rather than “be muzzled.”

Frank felt a deep sense of thrilling peace. For all intents and purposes, “’The October People’ is done. There’s a sense of closure, of completion, of satisfied ghosts.” Frank thought as he looked at the finished manuscript. He’d sent off a copy to the Library of Congress and sent out more letters and E-mails to agents. So far, he’d only received silence or rejections.

I think I’ve written it well and the story is compelling. I’ve tried my hardest to get an agent. Well, then, that’s all I can do. Think that’ll satisfy my Daimon and let me get some paying work?”

He got called in for a half day the first Friday of the New Year when Rod took a half of a sick day.

Hoppin’ John was not happy about getting stuck throwing garbage on one of the rare busy days. The holidays were over and whatever customers who were still left all came to get rid of the festive garbage.

When Frank got there, John was in rare form, bellowing “Why doncha just kill me now?! Jesus H. f**kin Christ!”

“Where’s Rod?” Dave asked.

“Went home sick.” Frank told him.

“There ain’t nuthin wrong with Rod, except he’s got a CORNCOB stuck up his ASS!” Hoppin’ John roared out loud, very loud.

Several women gaped open mouthed, and children were herded into cars.

“Is he having a bad day?” Somebody asked Frank very quietly.

“Him? No. He’s always like that.”

The next morning Frank saw “Tim from Genoa’s” listing mini-van pull in out of the darkness. As the massive spherical torso extricated itself from behind the wheel and struggled to its feet, the van groaned and returned to level.

”Good to see ya. See you’re still alive. I hear you been getting more hours than me.” Were the first words out of Tim’s mouth.

“Don’t know. I been getting three, four days a week every once in a while. Mostly one or two.You?”

One day. Yessir. One day. Man can’t live on one day, no sir. Got kicked off UI cause I claimed no hours one week.”

“That doesn’t sound right.”

“That’s what I said. Who’s boss today?”

“I’d say Anton. There’s his car coming in right now.”
It was quiet at first in the predawn hours. Frank stayed outside at the trays, hoping the cold would make Timmer decide to stay in the office.

No luck. Timmer’s bulk was effective insulation apparently. And he had a new audience for his news.

“Been trapping. Me and my boy are getting into taxidermy. Yessir. Lot a money in it. Ya know what I’m tryin ta say? We’re gonna buy a hundred dollar taxidermy kit and course. Figure it might take me three weeks to learn it. Yessir. For poses on branches you can get $1,100! Been keeping the bodies in the freezer till I get the kit and learn. Got four ‘fisher-cats, four red fox, three grey fox, six mink. Lost two bear.”

’Lost’ them?”

“Yessir. I thinks they musta been bear. The trap was missing, and the wire, I use thick wire, electric fence wire,” He winked and nodded knowingly as he imparted his seasoned knowledge. “an it was snapped. The sapling the wire was tied to was snapped off, clean off, chest high, sapling thick as my wrist! And the blackberry patch next to the tree was trampled flat. Know what I’m trying ta say?”

That day turned out to be even busier than the day before. Frank tore his left shoulder again while lifting a huge bag up and over into hopper with his arm out to the side.

Goddamn it. You idiot. Not again. When you gonna learn, eh?”

He and Anton worked steadily, while Timmer went through the box board tray, tearing coupons off cereal boxes, and holding up various walls and leaning on barrels.

When he wasn’t talking non-stop, he whistled tunelessly non-stop; which sounded like an incredibly irritating mosquito.

One of the few times Frank saw him actually try to help someone, it didn’t go well at all.

A woman, that Frank knew as a regular, was starting to remove a box of recyclables from her trunk. She was an attractive woman of around forty, with brown hair just beginning to gray. She had a demure, timid air about her, like he imagined an organist in a small-town church might. Quiet, with a shy smile, she was always very polite and soft spoken.

He always treated her deferentially. Now he saw that gleam come into Timmer’s eyes.

Uh-oh.” He thought. “Better keep an eye on him.”

“Here, young lady. I’ll do that for you.” Timmer reached out both of his ham-like hands and grasped the other side of the box she was holding in her hands.

Frank could just barely hear her politely tell him no, as she held on to the box.

“Lemme have it, ma’am.” Timmer grinned smugly and pulled at the box.

Her refusal was louder this time, and she again pulled the box back toward her.

And again he pulled it back.

She braced her legs and pulled harder.

So he pulled harder.

She was now red in the face and yelling “No!” loudly each time she yanked backwards.

Timmer apparently had lost the capacity to understand English because he persisted in trying to wrench the box from her so he could do a good deed for her.

Frank decided enough was enough and started for him.

“Let GO of my Goddamn box, ASSHOLE!” she finally shouted, her eyes blazing.

Timmer let go, and moved cautiously backwards away from her, looking at her as if she had gone mad.

Anton sent him out for coffee for them. He eventually did return, which they were beginning to think he wasn’t going to do, with three of what were shaped like hot dogs, but were of the nastiest yellow color Frank had ever seen.

But Anton was delighted and exclaimed “Cheese Dogs!”

Frank politely declined the one proffered to him, much to Tim’s disbelief that anyone would turn down a Cheese Dog.

As he ate and emitted farts, he told them he’d built an ice shanty on a camper frame that he got from the dumps.

“Yessir. And everything else, all with crap from the dumps. It’s got the works; sleeps eight, got a stove and a heater, but there’s no fishing holes. That’s how they begins to rot. If anyone wants ta go fish, why, they can go outside an fish. Ya know what I’m tryin ta say?”

“What happened to your bait business?”

“Bust. Went bust, boss. Couldn’t get licensed. But ...we still got ten or twenty thousand minnows in that little quarry pit.” He winked and grinned slyly. “State regs say that when you buy a pint of baitfish, you get a tag saying it’s good. Well, me and Jim buys a pint now, uses it up and re-fills for it for free from our quarry over and over. Ya know what I’m tryin ta say?”

The barrel-assing Milan bank clerk’s little pick-up came roaring in and screeched to a stop. Diana leaped out of the cab.

“I only have a few minutes. I’m on lunch…”

Timmer, wearing his best lady-killing smile, had ambled up and was reaching for the tailgate.

“No! Don’t drop the tailgate! It doesn’t work…”

He dropped the tailgate.

“Lemme take those for ya, ma’am.”

He slid a box of newspapers toward him, slowly brought it to rest on top of his stomach and began to make his way down the line to the newspaper tray.

Frank and Anton seized the garbage bags while Diana flew back and forth, up and down; bottles, cans, and boxes flying onto the trays.

She was about to leap into her cab when she realized she was still missing one of her receptacles.

“Have you seen my newspaper box?” she asked.

All three of them turned and looked down the length of the building to where Timmer was removing the newspapers one at a time.

Hey! Thank you, but I’m in a hurry!” she shouted.

Timmer slowly turned, looked at her, nodded knowingly, slowly turned back and continued removing the papers one at a time, occasionally stopping to peruse a page here and there.

Hey! Excuse me!”

Finished, Timmer strolled back up the line, stopping to remove a piece of colored plastic from the clear plastic tray.

“There ya go, ma’am! All done.” He slid the box onto the bed and reached for the tail-gate.

“Never mind the tail-gate! It doesn’t work anyway!” Diana pushed the box up and headed for the cab.

“Well, let’s have a look-see here. I’ve seen plenty of these latches. It’s just a matter of a dog being bent s’all.”

He grabbed the tail-gate and pushed it up, bending over the latch and peering sagely down into it.

Thank you, but I gotta go!” Diana’s voice was rising now.

Timmer smiled indulgently, pulled a pocket knife out and began probing. Exasperated, Diana leaped into the cab.

LEAVE IT ALONE, YOU F*CKIN IDIOT!” she screeched and floored it.

Timmer stood there, gape-mouthed and watched her fish-tail around the curves to the exit.

“The woman’s nuts.” He observed bemusedly to Frank and Anton as he passed them on his way to a chair.

As always, Bertha was about the last customer of the day. Timmer decided he wanted in as she and Frank chatted lightly about the weather. Frank looked up at the sky.

“Looks like it’s going to start warming up.” He said.

“I heard the forecast on the way here. They’re saying that by Wednesday...” Bertha began.

“Cold tonight. Gonna be cold tonight, yessir, ma’am.” Timmer talked right over her, stopping her cold. She smiled and waited till he was done.

“They’re saying that by Wednesday…” she began again.

“Yessir. Cold. Going cold. Yessir. Just like last year. Going cold.”

Bertha smiled and waited for him to finish.

She didn’t know it, though Frank did, that the rotund one was in one of his stuck-needle ruts. She was not ever going to be able to finish that sentence unless she killed Tim from Genoa first.

“They’re saying that by Wednesday…”

“Cold tonight. Going cold. Yessir. Gonna be cold tonight.”

“Ha!” Her short laugh said she now understood. She turned to Frank. “See you next week. Stay out of trouble!” she told him as always.

“Too late. He replied as always, to which she guffawed as always.

She drove off shaking her head.

Starting that night, the weather turned very mild, and by Wednesday…

“It was in the paper this morning. Did ya see it?” Rod was asking Anton when Frank came in to enter Kronos.

“No, Rod, I didn’t.”

“Did you?” he asked Frank.

“Did I what?”

“Did you see the paper? Austin’s arrested.”

“No. Who’s ‘Austin’?”

“He used to work here. He got hired at the same time as Rod and I.”

“What’s he in the paper for?”

“He killed his girlfriend’s baby.”

Frank’s jaw clenched and his shoulders began to swell.

What?”

“Here it is. Look.”

Rod found the article in Hoppin’ John’s paper on the desk. Frank took it and quickly scanned it.

It was the typical, blood-chilling story. He claimed at first that the one year old had just “fell down”. Under questioning, he admitted that he had beat the boy because he wouldn’t stop crying. As he read, Frank felt his own past and all the souls of eternity’s child-victims howl like Furies.

This was Rod’s talking point of the day, so no matter how much Frank might have wanted to put it out of his mind, that wasn’t going to happen.

“How’s your day going?...That’s nice. Mine’s not going so good. A guy who worked here got arrested for murder. OOOooohhh!” He’d shiver, making it sound like he’d just realized what a close call he had had.

“Austin used to drain stuff outta all the booze bottles dropped off here all together and then drink it.”

Frank looked long at the mugshot of the scared looking young man with the short beard and shaven head. It was hard to see a monster there.

But that child saw it. Not for long though; but in absolute terror.

And he remembered him now. He had seen him here once when he came to do his own recycling. It had to have been just after this ‘Austin’ had started working here.

“What’s this?” He had asked, holding the old manual typewriter that Frank was dropping off. He had just finished his first rough copy of the chronicle of his anamnesis and his childhood of abuse.

“It’s a typewriter.” He’d answered, amused. The young man was bulky like so many Gen-Xers.

“How come ya throwin it away?” He asked.

“I used it so much I wore off a couple of keys. Can’t find ribbons anymore either.”

Frank saw him looking it over with interest.

“Can I have it?”

“Help yourself. Here. Here’s a few old ribbons.”

“Hey, thanks!”

“His grandfather lives right up the road here.” Rod was telling a woman. “His mother got pregnant and the guy ran off, stickin her with the kid. Then she ran off and left him too. His grandfather wound up raisin him.”

“Ray just called.” Anton said to Frank.

“Oh?”

“He wanted to see if Rod was in, seems nobody is sure if he’ll be in or where he’ll decide to work anymore. And he told me that Tom was off on sick leave and to tell you to take his place here on Tuesdays till further notice.”

“Excellent. Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me. Thank Ray. Or Tom.”

Simon showed up with someone in tow at 11:30.

Frank was eating his lunch in the office.

“You full time yet?” He asked Frank.

“No, I’d been cut back to one day a week since September, but I been picking up a few days here and there as the guys take days off. And I just heard I’ll be getting two days a week now.”

“I told Ray to get you more time. I want you making a living, not just be getting by. Who you working with today?”

Obviously he hasn’t looked around then.’ Wait a minute. He TOLD Ray to give me more time? He’s giving orders now? Already?

“Rod and Anton.”

“How’s Anton doing?”

“He’s almost finished his training for paralegal.”

“Great. I want him on the team.”

“Really?...Does he know that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Mind if I tell him?”

“Not at all.”

“So, I take it you’re confident this is going through.”

“Yup. All is on track for a smooth transition. I intend to double the staff at these stations. But now I have to ‘lay low’ for forty-five days. See you later” He pointed his forefinger at Frank thumb raised, like a cocked pistol.

“You seen Simon?” Frank asked Anton after lunch.

“No. If I had, I’d of said the day had been going well until I saw his f**king face”.

“You might want to re-think that.”

Frank told him the ‘good news’, expecting he would be relieved. Instead he exploded.

“That c**ksucker! All my life people have called me a f**king a*shole, and the one time I needed someone to see me that way, he f**ks me!”

“Maybe you’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not. The guy only asks if I’m still mad at the world, then won’t talk to me at all. Won’t shake my hand, won’t even look at me. No, I’m not wrong. He’s intending to f**k me.”

Frank finally grasped what Anton had decided to do: he didn’t want Simon to offer him a job. He wanted to get laid off. That way he could draw Unemployment, which would give him at least six months of an income while he finished school and tried to find paralegal work. A local lawyer had already asked for his resume.

The rest of the day he was morose.

The phone rang and Anton picked up.

“How much is it gonna cost me to drop off a TV?” the voice asked.

“How big is it?”

“I dunno. Thirty-two inches.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Whattya mean: That’s Nothing?!”

“I didn’t say ‘That’s nothing’. I said ‘It’s nothing’. There is no charge for anything under thirty-six inches.”

“Oh.”

On Tuesday the rumor now was that the sale would go through in March and that the Venice and Turin stations were interviewing five applicants for part timer openings for Ecohauling.

Ray informed Farina and Hoppin’ John that there was no guarantee of a job in Highway for either of them. Farina turned white and John turned scarlet.

Then, when Hoppin’ John thought he would be doing the ‘White Truck’ run, Ray gave it to Farina instead, and told him to bale all day.

Royally annoyed, he grumbled and sulked all day downstairs. The Skidsteers were all running badly and smoking, especially one of them. Either the rings were shot or the fuel filter was plugged.

Within minutes of Hoppin’ John beginning to bale he had filled the whole building with a dense cloud of blue diesel smoke.

Frank opted to stay outside by the trays on a windy ten-degree morning rather than breathe those fumes. At the end of the day Hoppin’ John came up and was wondering why his cough had gotten so much worse.

“Probably got f**kin cancer. Good. F**kin kill me now.” He mumbled.

“I had a friend who needed a lung transplant because acid reflux had eaten his lungs out.” Anton mentioned.

“You’re kidding me.” Frank said incredulously.

“Nope. That’s what the doctors said to him. Seems like everyone has acid reflux.”

“Doctors” Hoppin’ John sneered contemptuously. “F**k em all.”

Anton told Frank he had an interview that week for a paralegal job in Utica. He was going to take Wednesday off to cram on Real Estate law. The prospect of a chance at a new life had immensely lifted his spirits once again.

While he, Frank and Hoppin’ John waited out by the trays for 4:27, he held forth on how if he was president he would use presidential directives to immediately put America back to work by building sea walls, solar power stations, and rebuilding the crumbling cities and roads.

JR was finishing up his recyclables, trying to hurry.

John voiced his opinion on how the Iraq war ate up four billion dollars and for nothing, that it took them way too long to find Osama Bin Laden, and that they should have just shot down the 911 jets that hit the World Trade towers before they hit them.

While half-listening to the conversation, Frank leaned on the tramp glass barrel and idly gazed down into the assortment of broken pottery and wine glasses. Suddenly he stiffened and reached slowly down into the barrel. He pulled out a glazed ceramic salt shaker in the shape of a pear. Turning it over, he read the name “Novak” etched into the bottom.

“One of our old ‘Salt and Pep-pears’. Mel wrote that name in the clay with a chopstick before it was fired. I made this. And she glazed it. I gave it birth. Now after all these years I am witness to its death. How ironic.

God, we made thousands of them. Each one by hand. They made us a lot of money.

Its stem got broken off, probably why it got tossed. I don’t see its mate in there. One of the baby blue, unreduced purple glaze ones; probably from a second’s sale.”

“The news keeps sayin how f**kin good the economy is. It ain’t. It sucks!” Hoppin’ John spat.

“You hear that Conidian announced its shutting down within a year and moving to Mexico? That leaves only one catheter place left here. Used to be a half dozen or more.” Anton said.

“Yeah. And I heard from someone at Highway that Canadian Pacific is laying off twenty-two hundred. But the economy’s doin’ ‘great’.”

“Back in the 70’s Brazil went into a bad recession to qualify for IMF funds; it was called ‘restructuring’.” Frank said. “Someone asked the Brazilian president how the economy was doing. ‘The economy?’ he said ‘Oh, the economy’s doing fine. The people aren’t. But the economy is.’

There is a writer, Michael Parenti, who pointed out that the only reason Capitalism ‘allowed’ unions, Social Security, workmen’s comp, or any of those protections was because it was in a battle for the hearts and minds of workers around the globe with communism.

Once the Soviet Union collapsed, and Deng Tsiao Ping was leader in China, Communism was dead. So no more need for the velvet glove. It’s now the ‘Dismantling of America’.”

“There it is in a nutshell.” Anton said.

“F**kin A-right” Hoppin’ John concurred. “What have we got to look forward to? Even if we keep workin, by the time we get to retire, Social Security’ll be gone, empty.”

“You can thank Reagan’s team for that one. Not Reagan personally. He didn’t have the brains to pick his nose.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nobody wants to talk about it anymore, but Social Security was flush with more than enough to be self-sustaining, like any other foundation. But Reagan’s people wanted it broke. So they ran up the budget deficit by pumping up the military and cutting taxes on the rich. In order to pay for it, they started taking the money Social Security was holding in trust. They had to pass a law to do it, which they did. They took the money and gave Social Security an I.O.U. each time. It was an easy way to get cash, and to slowly kill it at the same time. Now no one remembers. They just blame it on poor design.”

“Is that true?” Anton asked incredulously.

“He’s right.” JR had been listening silently. “I remember. And I voted for that motherf**cker.”

“You did?” Frank asked.

“Hell, yeah! I was sick to death of Carter’s piety. I wanted someone who would get them hostages back. I didn’t know of course that Reagan’s people had made a deal with the Ayatollah to hang on to them.”

“They were masters of spin. Remember when he got shot? By the way, the one who shot him was a relative of Bush. Anyway, he supposedly told Nancy on the way in to the operating room ‘Honey, I forgot to duck’.”

“Yeah, and that was bullsh*t too. He was unconscious and almost clinically dead. But I’ll never forgive them f**ckers for trading arms for cash to the Iranians and buying coke and shipping it here.”

“I think the worst damage he did was to labor. He fired those unionized air traffic controllers who were striking, not for pay or benefits…”

“Yeah, they were striking because the cutbacks he’d made were endangering the public fer chrissakes!” JR finished it for him.

“Those f**kers!” Hoppin’ Joe sputtered.

Anton took Friday off so Frank worked with John and Rod; he counted it as a blessing not to have to work with Timmer.

“How’s your day goin, buddy?”

“Why? Now what happened?” Frank wearily asked.

“Me and Della got sick on New Year’s Day. We were puking and sh*tting all over. She went to ER, but I toughed it out until the weekend and I was hurting too bad.”

“Must have been something you ate or drank.”

“I don’t think so. The ER thought I was having a heart attack so they gave me nitro. They gave me other shots and things too, cause they thought I was having a heart attack, even though I told them I was sick here.” He held his hands up near the center of his chest, just below the sternum. “The doctor, some woman, threw up her hands and yelled ‘I don’t know what to do!’ and ran out of the room. OOooOOoohhhh!”

“So, what happened?”

They scheduled me for a stress test. So, I went even though I told them I was just sick when I came in there. They had me walk and run on this treadmill. I thought I was gonna puke. I take high blood pressure medicine but my blood pressure got up to 225! Now I’m gonna die of high blood pressure!”

“Rod. Did it come back down after you got off the treadmill?”

“Yeah. In a few minutes it was 140.”

“Under exertion it is not unusual for it to go high. And they were going to run it up higher and higher, until they found something wrong.”

Rod seemed disappointed to hear that, but he decided it was not going to alter his line with the public.

“How’s your day going?...That’s nice. Mine’s not going so good. I went to the hospital and they gave me a heart attack and high blood pressure. Also: My daughter has decided too she wants to have breast resuction surgery.”

As noon approached, Hoppin’ John sent Rod out for a MacDonald’s run.

A half an hour later he was sitting in the office studying a stack of People magazines. He had Rod save all them, as well as Us, and Inside, for him. He claimed they were for Tina, but they never seemed to leave the office.

The phone rang. It was Ray.

“Where’s Rod?”

“Downstairs baling.”

“Then how come I just passed him coming out of MacDonalds’?”

“Dunno. Thought he was baling.”

While Rod was gone taking care of his cats later, Hoppin’ John without preamble began to complain about how much Tina’s still-growing religiosity was getting to him.

“Now she tells me she don’t want any visitors on ‘Sabbath’ Sundays anymore. So it’s up to me to tell my son and his wife this…Okay, they’d just show up uninvited on Sundays and expect dinner, but that’s not why she’s doing it.”

He spat snuff juice into the hopper.

“She’s watching so many religious game shows every day that she’s beginning to know all the answers. When she gets one she yells out: ‘I’m f**kin goood!’”

“Religious game shows? Where?”

“F**kin cable station. She was acting all huffy when she learned that her nephews didn’t know the words to the Lord’s Prayer. ‘You didn’t know them until six months ago!’ I told her. Jesus. I mean, I ain’t got nuthin against her religion. If she wants ta be religious; fine. But leave me out of it.

She wants to get married now. I tell her I likes it just fine as it is. She says she don’t want to ‘live in sin’ anymore. I tell her I don’t wanna talk about it; drop it. But she won’t let it go. ‘We are going to talk about this.’ she tells me.

But whenever I try to tell her that her sister is taking advantage of her, she says ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ And she keeps after me about Hell, saying I’m not going to like it down there. I tell her I’m in Hell. She says what do I mean by that. I tell her Hell is just like here, only maybe hotter.”

He paused to spit again, wiping his mouth with the back of his glove.

“I tell her God can’t be good for much if He’s letting her go blind like this. ‘Why doesn’t He fix your eyes then?’ I ask her. ‘Oh, He can’t be bothered with little things like that!’ she says. ‘Well, then He ain’t good for much, is He?’ I tell her.”

Frank was beginning to sense that the underground resentment against him was rising. He was someone who was overstepping his ‘place’ as a part-timer and someone one step out of the poor-house. He was catching whiffs that he thought he was better than them. He wondered if they just didn’t like to see anyone seem to succeed against the odds. Regardless, they were free to think what they liked of him, as long as they kept it to themselves.

Barrator had all the thermostats locked in at forty-one degrees. At Mephitis it didn’t matter where they were set.

By the beginning of February, the heaters were no longer running most of the time. First three of the four worked, then it was only two, then it was down to just one that worked in fits and starts.

The heaters themselves were located in places where they couldn’t be accessed without a long extension ladder; which of course they did not have.

In Milan, Tom was back off sick leave and had started putting ice on the thermocouple to fool the thermostat.

With determination, any obstacle can be overcome.

Anton took a half-day on Ground Hog’s Day. He didn’t come in until 12:30. It was sleeting, so Hoppin’ John and Frank had pulled their vehicles into the building on the bridges to get them out of the weather.

As Simon had stopped in about noon, when Anton got there all he saw was his car. The first thought he had was that the place had been sold already.

“How’s it going here?” Simon asked Rod when he came out on to the bridge. He had assumed an arrogant air, lording it up like he already owned the place and everyone in it.

“Not so good. Business is way off.” Rod responded.

“How come? Are you driving people away?”

I’m the most popular with the public.” Rod replied haughtily “I got letters.”

“What?”

“If you take over are you going to allow heat or not in these buildings? This cold is no good for me.”

“If you work for me, I’ll have you running around so fast, you wouldn’t have time to worry about whether you’re cold or not!” Mickey snorted.

That shook Rod right down to his socks. He began spreading that story to all who would listen.

“How’s your day going?...That’s nice. Mine’s not going so good. The new owner said he wasn’t gonna have any heat and he was gonna make me run all the time. I’m sixty-one years old and I can’t run no more and I get Broncheetitus from the cold…”

On Friday Melissa called Frank at work: There was water pouring out of a pipe in the cellar. She had shut off the breaker for the water pump. Anton let him go back home to deal with the break. After he was gone John called Tina and told her to bring two coffees.

“Why only two? Aren’t there three of you on?”

“Two. Rod is in Milan and Frank had a ‘plumbing emergency’.”

“I’ll pray about the plumbing.”

“Praying’s not going to fix it.” he replied. After she had dropped off the coffees he told her “Drive carefully. If you wreck the truck; don’t come home.”

Frank was back in two hours. Luckily the fitting that broke was one he had a spare for. He headed back downstairs and picked up baling where he left off.

Simon showed up at 11:30 just as he was starting his lunch.

“You on break again!?”

“It’s my lunchtime. You always come at 11:30, and at 11:30 I go to lunch.” Frank replied evenly, but his thoughts were cold.

Simon said nothing in reply but went straight out to the trays.

“Don’t tell me I’m going to have to work for another moron. This guy acts like everything and everybody is his possession. He never checks in with the foreman or asks permission to go anywhere; he just acts like it’s his.” Frank thought grimly.

“What’s with Frank? Everytime I come here he’s on break!” Simon asked demandingly of Hoppin’ John.

“At 11:30 he takes his lunch. Me and Rod go at noon. Anton goes at one: He’s on lunch break.”

When Frank came back from lunch, Hoppin’ John told him what Simon had said. He felt his temper flare and explode against the top of his skull. He looked around quickly.

Where is he?”

“Gone.”

That was what tipped the balance for him. Then and there he decided he wouldn’t work for Simon.

That man could not be trusted. He was duplicitous; he’d act real nice to your face to get you where he wanted you, and then the gloves would come off.

“He tried to convince me to consider working as a driver for him. Said his drivers get sixty hours a week. Said he can’t afford to match the County’s benefits, but maybe the wages.”

“Think you will?”

“No. He’s just a bull sh*tter who’ll tell you just what he thinks you want to hear.” He snorted derisively.

“I told him I wanted to go to Highway. He said he heard they may not take me. I told him I’d take my chances. Claims he told Barrator to make sure Dougie was taken care of by the County until May so he can retire. Said he’d hold up the deal a month or so if that’s what it took for him to be able to retire. Said that a team is only as strong as its weakest link, and when you find that weak link, you investigate and fire him on the spot.”

He looked at Frank, and then spat snuff juice into his empty coffee cup.

“He meant Rod. He said ‘It’s like the army.’ ‘Yeah’, I told him ‘But you gotta remember this ain’t the army.’”

Farina had arrived for lunch and joined them. He listened quietly for a moment, then asked Frank “How about you? You gonna work for him?”

Both he and Hoppin’ John waited.

“No. I will not. I do not trust him.” Then he added “He hasn’t made me an offer anyway. Not yet.”

Frank had much to think about. It was more than worrisome that no one responded to any of his applications, and now he had just decided he couldn’t work for Simon. No one was interested in his manuscript for “The October People” either. Not promising.

“Oh, well. Who knows what’s good luck?

Maybe I should just accept the fact that I’m going to be retired. To start again at sixty-two goes against life’s order. At that age I should be withdrawing, turning my light inward.

But to say I’m ‘retired’ has many connotations, and a few hazards. The biggest one is that I remain essentially the same person I was when the economic sphere was my world center.

Another is just drifting, to just stagnate in a backwater pool. There still needs to be a discipline in my life.

Hopefully, if I am to retire, I can use this time wisely; to study, write, and keep fit.

So, I guess here’s where the traditional Hindu view comes in. I am now entering the third stage of life; Vanaprastha. The stage of withdrawal from the world and the activities of money-making, power, fame, accomplishment. It is now the time of meditation, reflection, learning.

Traditionally, in order to symbolize a clean break, one dressed differently, wore their hair differently, and did not do any of the things they were accustomed to.

And it helps emphasize to the psyche a change is needed.”

Rod was back on Saturday. He was still upset about what Simon had told him about ‘running’. By now he’d told anyone who’d listen as well as those that wouldn’t.

When he tried to talk to his old ‘buddy’ Barrator about getting winter coats now that it was in the union’s contract, Barrator told him “That’s not going to happen.”

When he tried to tell him what Simon said about no heat, Barrator simply hung up on him.

“I got it figured out.” Rod told Frank and snickered slyly. “All I gotta do is tell Mickey I can’t work in the cold cause I get sick and will miss days and I’m too old ta run. See? That way he won’t offer me a job and I can take Unemployment and that’s three hundred twenty-five a week! I know somebody’ll hire me an pay me off the books! I’m all set! When Mickey comes in, tell me, okay?”

“Sure. Chase your dreams, baby.”

An hour later Simon showed up with a small man in a suit who took inventory of all the equipment and wrote down the serial numbers of everything downstairs on a yellow pad. When they finished, they came on upstairs. Simon regally approached Rod.

“Hey. Open up the warehouse. I want to show it to this guy.” He indicated the man in the suit.

“Has it been cleaned up?” He surveyed the area. “This hasn’t. Where is everyone? All the stations are missing people.”

“They’re using up their time the County owes them so they don’t lose it.” Rod told him as he accompanied them to the warehouse.

Simon was visibly irritated at that.

“They are, are they? Hard workers, are they? Paid sick days! Not with me! No Over-time, no ‘Comp’ time: You don’t work, you don’t get paid.

And if I had my way there’d be no Unemployment Insurance either. No sitting around on your butts instead of taking whatever work you can get.

That’s your liberals! That’s Obama for you!

When I stopped off at Turin, I found the two guys there just sitting in the office. There was a pile of ‘Playboy’s on the table. ‘This ‘porn’ is not going to happen when I take over!’ I told them, and I threw the whole stack into the garbage thing.”

“That’s nice. Also; I can’t work in the cold because I gets sick and I’m too old to run for you or anyone, so maybe you might as well not offer me a job.”

Mick looked at him sharply then smiled meanly.

“It was just an expression. Don’t make too much of it.”

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