Tales From Mephitis Chapter 27: The End Draws Nigh

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

“Be not too curious of good and evil;

Seek not to count the future waves of time;

But be ye satisfied that you have light enough

To take your step and find your foothold.”

T.S. Eliot

All the stations were now seriously shorthanded due to the men burning up all their time. Ray told Farina to check into his retirement.

He took that as a strong hint that he wasn’t not going over to Highway. The stress was really getting to him. He wasn’t sleeping nights worrying. And he was bitter that he’d be this close to retiring with a full pension and they’d discard him like a used tissue.

“Especially since I been here from day one. I helped build this place and all the other stations fer Chrissakes! Barrator’s the head of DPW, that’s Highway and Solid Waste. His word is an order. He could have just told them to make room for me and John. F**kin bastard! But he keeps his good-fa-nuthin grandson on the County payroll! They lay off or cut back all the other part-timers’ hours, but him they keep workin, washin all the County’s car pool, fa Chrissakes! The little prick flunked the piss-test three times runnin! Anybody else’d be out on their ear!”

“You going to work for Mickey?” Ray asked Frank. “I heard that you weren’t.”

“It’s hard to work for someone who hasn’t offered you a job, isn’t it?” he answered evasively.

“What’s Hoppin’ John’s problem?” Rod asked Frank later.

“Why?”

“He’s throwing Anton under the bus to Ray for him not doing anything, like paperwork and stuff.”

“Don’t know.”

Also; Toad now wants to be at Milan, not Genoa anymore. Before he only wanted to be there as foreman.”

Anton and Frank bought pizza with their tips for lunch. Hoppin’ John made the run, and when he got back with them, Rod was right there.

“Hey. Who’s minding the store? You’re supposed to be out there, Rod.” Anton demanded.

“Nobody’s come in. I can see from this window.”

“You ain’t getting any a this pizza, Big Rod.” Farina told him flat out. “You don’t kick in; you don’t get pizza. Everybody else kicked in. Where were you?” That shamed him into kicking in; but only two dollars.

. “Two bucks? Fa two bucks all ya gets is one slice.” Farina told him.

Whatever.” Rod replied, as he greedily gummed his slice. Later he got caught by Frank taking a three dollar tip from a customer and pocketing it. When he realized that he saw that, Rod said he’d buy coffee tomorrow for them. He didn’t.

A flock of a couple of dozen crows flew south from the woods to north of the station late in the afternoon in a long scraggly line.

“Those are ‘my crows’” Anton said.

“What’s that?” Frank asked.

“I call them ‘my crows’. I’ve been watching them for years now. All morning this time of year they fly north. Then they re-appear later flying back to the woods to roost for the night.”

It was quiet for a while. The rough-legged hawk that been hanging around at the station for about two weeks soared in and hovered over the grassy edges of the swamp, hunting voles. It was quite unafraid of humans and perched on the fence next to the little fake bird.

They watched as it scanned the ground, then landed near a maze of vole tunnels and began delicately scratching at the grass with the talons of one foot like it was pulling it back to be able to see better.

Anton took Saturday off. He had found out he didn’t get the paralegal job he interviewed for.

Rod and Hoppin’ John were at each other over who was going to be foreman for the day. Both had bad coughs that interrupted their discourse.

You’re not gonna get paid any more money for bein foreman, Hoppin’. You’d just have to take comp time that you may not get a chance to use up. If I move up, I get four dollars more an hour. If you wanna give the orders, go ahead; but I’m gonna be paid for foreman.” Rod told him.

”If you’re gonna get paid for it, then you’re doing it. I’m not gonna do any of your paperwork for you.” Hoppin’ John replied gruffly.

“I gotta find a chance to tell Mickey Mouse that I’d start a union if I worked for him. I figure that way he’ll be sure not to offer me a job, so I can get UI. Hahahhahhah!” Rod chortled triumphantly. “There’s no way he’d want me around then! Hahahahahaha!

“What makes you think he wants you anyway.”

“Cause the public loves me.”

“You’re full of sh*t, you know that?”

Ray wanted all the wood ash barrels cleaned up so Hoppin’ John drove the loader up and Frank emptied the barrels into the bucket. He had put on one of his dust masks before doing it.

“You should be wearing a mask, John. Breathing that dust is not good for that cough.”

“Clears your head.” he replied. Later he complained that whenever he goes to the doctor for cough medicine, he never gets anything stronger than Dimetap.

“I told the doctor ‘Gimme something stronger.’ Finally got a kick-ass one with something that makes me drowsy. But Tina keeps giving it away to anyone and everyone. Then she says ‘Why are you so mad?’ ‘Because that’s my shit. I don’t touch your shit. Leave my shit alone. Stop taking my shit!’” He spat and looked up at Frank. “You work here last winter?”

“Yeah.” Frank said flatly. “He’s been doing that a lot lately. Keeps forgetting what stories he’s told me already too. Repeats them a lot. Doesn’t remember who was working when either.”

He heard the sound of voices downstairs. He peered through the fencing. Mickey was down there with two other well-dressed men Frank had never seen before. They were inspecting all the equipment and taking notes.

“Obviously not interested in talking with us anymore.” He told Hoppin’ John. He turned back towards the fence.

“Are congratulations in order?” He yelled downstairs. Simon looked up and around, surprised. “I hear you’re taking over on March first.”

“Oh. Hi. Who said I was?”

“Rumors. That’s all we hear. Rumors.”

“I wish I could, but I can’t. I’m hoping for April. I’m going to lease it for now until all the test results come back for contamination and the tax issue is resolved.”

“Tax issue?”

“Yeah. I want to pay property tax based on the $1.8 million purchase price; the county wants me to pay it based on the assessed valuation of $5.9 million. And I haven’t even started doing interviews yet, which takes about a month. So looks like April.”

By the end of the month nothing was getting done anywhere. All the stations were bulging with bales and the bridges full of Gaylords of ledger paper.

On Wednesday Hoppin’ John was alone, and as at least two men were required to be there according to safety policy, he couldn’t do any work.

On Friday Frank worked all day by the trays while Farina and Hoppin’ John baled metal and loaded a truck. He tossed almost every garbage bag and trash can that came in. His feet and calves ached bad by the end of the day.

On Saturday it was just him and Hoppin’ John, who sent him downstairs to bale all day. That was fine with him, though the customers suffered because John never lifted a finger to help a soul.

When Anton came back after that week off, he told Frank that he almost quit.

“The only reason I didn’t was curiosity over this ‘Game of Thrones’. That, and I don’t want to screw up my chances for UI. But I do have a secret date in mind to quit on if nothing is resolved by then. I hate this dragging it all out, keeping everybody guessing.”

He turned to Hoppin’ John. “Know what I heard? Some of the guys in Highway heard talk of privatizing the Highway Department next.”

“F**kin great. Sure, sure: F**k John. F**k John. F**kin kill me now, just f**kin kill me now. So even if I get to Highway, I have to start worryin about them doing it all over again? F**kin kill me now. This is Hell.”

“Yeah. Little Tom is sh*tting bricks already. And Farina looked like he was going to throw up when he heard that.”

“I’ll bet. But what’s he got ta worry about? So long as he gets over ta highway, he’ll retire by Christmas. As long as he gets ta highway.”

“When I stopped off at Genoa, I saw Toad get a twelve pack and sneak it into his car so Tim wouldn’t see he got it. On his way back he saw I saw him. Man, did he look guilty. Later, when someone gave him a six pack, he real quietly, so Tim wouldn’t hear, offered to let me have one.”

“What a f**kin little weasel!”

On the first Friday in March, Anton came in for only a half day. He said Rod had called him at home yesterday to get him to look up online whether he had to take an offered job from Simon or lose his UI.

Anton told him he had to take an offered job of equivalent pay, even if it had no benefits. He couldn’t get Rod off the line for twenty minutes because he didn’t like that answer.

Both Curt and Tom took days off, so Rod was working as foreman in Milan Saturday. He called Frank at Mephitis and told him to write down a web address without telling him why.

When he saw it was about UI again, he threw the pen down; because he realized that he wanted him to do what he asked Anton to do the night before: Get him the answer he wanted.

He told Rod no; he was not going to look it up again. He had already had shown him a copy of the rules where it was stated in plain English. But nothing short of death was going to get Rod to give up on twisting the fabric of Time and Space till he got the answer he wanted.

“Oh, by the way, I’m supposed ta be at Genoa Tuesday, but Toad is gonna have you work there, not me. So I’ll be at Florence. Anyway, it’s the Part-Timers who are supposed to move, not Full-Timers. Hahahahahah!

“Talk to Anton. He’s my foreman, not you, not Toad.” Frank told him evenly. He put Anton on the phone.

“No.” Anton simply told him after listening a minute. “No. I want him here, not you. You’re on the schedule for Genoa, and Genoa is where you are going.”

“But I haven’t seen my cats in a long time. I don’t know if Stan is feeding them...”

“F**k your cats!!”

“Yeah, but I haven’t seen them in a long time and I don’t know if...”

F**k your cats!” He slammed the receiver down. He told Frank “The odds are that Rod is going to ‘bang off’ for Tuesday now. I already figure he’s going to call off for Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.”

The phone rang; it was Ray. Anton filled him in.

“Good.” Ray said. “F**k him.”

“Oh, yeah: Tell him I killed his cats.”

“My pleasure.”

Farina called; he wanted everybody to set aside any working laptops that came in for him: He had discovered the internet cornucopia of porn.

It was a very slow day; barely eighty cars. All morning the place was deserted, like a ghost town. For Frank the high point was finding a Sony Cybershot digital camera someone had just tossed away.

Rod called off as expected for the rest of the week. Hoppin’ John had to call him at home for the union rep’s number. He said he wanted something for his dues; namely he wanted the union to help him get over to Highway.

Rod told Toad; Toad told Ray, less than fifteen minutes later Ray called John, saying he’d heard he was “upset”.

“You’re damn right I’m upset. I got to pay eighty bucks a month for a union I didn’t want, so I wants sumthin for my money. Let’s see how Barrator likes havin the union breathin down his neck.”

He said the union rep didn’t promise anything, just kept saying there wasn’t much he could do. “You better do sumthin. I ain’t been paying you eighty bucks a month for you to do nuthin.” He kept telling him over and over.

“Seeing as no one wants me in Florence anymore, I’m turning in my uniforms. What day does the uniform guy come in?” Rod asked Hoppin’ John when he called. “And also; I talked to a guy from Highway in Milan and no one wants you in Highway he heard. Hahahahahaha!” That got his goat, as he knew it would.

When Ray came in, Frank was downstairs baling. He asked him to come upstairs; he wanted to talk to him. This was obviously private, not for John. He told him Mickey said all he had to do was go to Allentown and fill out some papers and he was hired full time.

“In what position?” Frank asked. Ray’s eyes glazed over.

“I don’t know, that’s between you and Mickey. ‘This’ may drag on till June or more, and the County has barred Simon from coming here and talking to the personnel.”

On Saturday it was just Hoppin’ John and him again. He told Frank the word is that Ray wanted to go to Highway now too; as a driver

Again, Frank baled all day. He had gotten everything pretty much all baled up. He stopped and looked around himself at the empty concrete bays and was struck by a chill.

“My God. It DOES look just like that dream I had six, seven years ago. Not just a bit either…This IS my dream.”

While he was tying off a bale of cardboard, he went over his options for getting “The October People” published. Finding an agent wasn’t looking good. He didn’t want to keep waiting, doing nothing. “Okay then: I’ll self-publish. It’ll only be available on-line, but at least it will be out there. I should be able to figure this out.”

He could hear Hoppin’ John’s loud voice talking with somebody. They were discussing his future sister-in-law, and what a good woman she was. John said he had called his brother recently and she picked up.

“Who’s this?” she said.

“This is John. I’m Tom’s brother. Who’s this?”

“I’m the one who sucks his c**k.”

There was a burst of coarse laughter.

While Hoppin’ John was at lunch, Frank was covering the trays. Suddenly he heard voices downstairs. Simon had shown up. He was showing another recent hire who was in sales around; a hounded, meek-looking guy.

“Oh, it’s you.” Frank called down to him. “I thought you were barred from coming here.”

“When are you gonna come down and see me?” Simon asked, craning his neck to look up.

“I just heard yesterday that you wanted to see me. When?”

“Anytime. Come on down anytime and we’ll talk.”

Talk? What is this shit?” “So you’re offering me a job?”

“Come on down to Allentown and we’ll talk.”

Can he ever give a straight answer?” “What position?”

“Anything you want. We’ll talk.”

“What do you mean?” “Anything I want? What type of answer is that?”

“What do you want to do?”

“Solve the world’s problems.” There was a low laugh from the salesman.

“You used to be an organic farmer, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Come to Allentown and we’ll talk.”

“It’ll have to wait till sugaring time is over. I can’t get away now. But it looks to be a short season.”

“Is the warehouse open?”

“No. When John gets off lunch one of us can open it for you.”

“Who’s here today?”

“Me and John.”

“John?” He imitated his tough guy walk.

“Yeah.”

“It’ll only take a moment. If anyone complains you can say you had to use the bathroom.”

Frank looked around. It was dead, so he shrugged and opened the warehouse for him. When Hoppin’ John came back he told him he had had a puzzling conversation with Simon, and that he thought he might have offered him a job as an organic farmer.

“I just can’t leave it like that. It’s too weird. I gotta go find out.”

He found Simon near the composting building showing the salesman around. “I don’t intend to interrupt your tour; but I can’t leave it like that. You flabbergasted me.”

“Don’t I always?”

“Yeah....Are you offering me a job as an Organic farmer?”

“Whatever you want.”

“Jesus. What does THAT mean?” “You got a farm?”

“I have lots of land and farms, and an organic restaurant.”

“So... you want me to what? Run a farm? Manage a farm?”

“We’ll talk. Come on down and I’ll show you the operation...Well, not all of it on the first day. We’ll talk. Whatever you want to do. I told you in December: Your star is rising.”

“Yeah. I remember.” He said dryly. “Then there was all these delays, and I heard nothing. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think you were going to be able to pull it off.”

“That’s your unconscious, because you didn’t hear anything.”

“So I just filled in the blanks?”

“Right.”

“That’s why communications are so important. Open, honest communications.”

“How is it going here?”

“Slower and slower. You seemed to have impressed the Venice Supervisor.”

“She loved my operations in Pennsylvania. I didn’t like how the paper said I couldn’t get financing.” He said indignantly. “I have lots of money, I could buy it all tomorrow, but I need to lease it because DEC hasn’t got the permits in my name yet.”

Bullshit.” Frank thought. “Is everything a lie with this guy? How can you tell when he’s serious?”

“How’s Ray? Did he pass on to you that I wanted you full time?”

“Yeah. I hear Ray now wants to go over to Highway. That’s new.” Frank deliberately changed the subject. “I thought he was going to work for you.”

“That was just a backup. He really wants to go to Highway.”

“Yeah...Right. He wants to take a seven dollar an hour cut in pay and wind up on the bottom of the seniority just to drive a truck. Sure.”

“Is everyone still using up their time? I don’t think that’s right; getting money for not working. No wonder the County’s losing money. How is morale?”

“It sucks. Everyone is burning their time because the county is telling them nothing about whether they’ll be reimbursed for the time, and who, if anyone, will be transferred, nothing. And they are owed that time because it was a negotiated contractual obligation. From their perspective they’d be crazy not to use it.” The salesman nodded agreement.

“Well, it’s a shame the workers are being kept in the dark like this. I hope to be able to answer any questions soon.”

Before he left, Simon went up to visit Hoppin’ John by the trays, all buddy-buddy, asking if he’d heard about Highway yet.

“I have no doubt you’ll get in because you’re good.”

That angered him. “How do you know I’m good? You’re all Bullsh*t.”

Then Simon saw someone drive up in a company truck for an electrical outfit. Their slogan, emblazoned across the side of the truck, was ‘Let us remove your shorts!’

“Why is that man using a company vehicle for personal reasons?!” He demanded indignantly of Hoppin’ John.

“How the f**k am I supposed to know? Maybe it’s his truck. It ain’t yours, is it? What do you care?”

While he worked on Tuesday he reflected that none of Simon’s workers looked happy or prosperous. And all of them were recent hires: He obviously had a high turn-over rate. That was another sign that this guy was a problem to work for.

In the afternoon, Mickey arrived with Ray and his new ‘management team’ of three or four men in LL Bean’s clothes; including his H.R. manager. Hoppin’ John said he looked like a hard ass, but to Frank he just looked tired, drained. He gave John an application.

“You’re going to be with us, aren’t you? At least part-time?” he asked Frank, holding out an application.

“Full time!” Simon yelled from where he was photographing the other skidsteer’s serial number. They were taking pictures of all the equipment’s labels and ID numbers.

Frank was in the skidsteer. “Just put the application on that bale on the scale, I’ll get it later.”

The applications Simon’s man gave them was the most bizarre he’d ever seen. He seemed to have out-sourced his hiring. There was no rate of pay mentioned, no place of work, or whether it was for a full or part-time.

On the one-page job description all it said was that it was a plant and field operations laborer position. It talked of deconstruction and construction site work, but there was nothing about baling, recycling, or transfer station work.

There was a non-disclosure agreement that seemed more appropriate for the C.I.A., a statement of the sexual harassment policy, and a two-page personality profile where you were to select the words that you felt described you best. Frank grinned, thinking about what Rod’s might read like.

There was a nine page with-holding worksheet, which would also make Rod’s head spin, and they wanted the applicant’s Social Security number, a bank account number, family income and dependents’ names and incomes.

All the stories on the news about “identity theft” and therefore how important it was to safeguard your social security number were nothing but blather. Every single application he had filled out, and he’d done hundreds already, whether on-line or paper, all wanted the social security number of the applicant.

On Friday it was just Hoppin’ John and him; short-handed again. John had wanted to leave early to drive Tina down to Syracuse to get her laser treatment, but Farina was off; he had started burning his time now too. They tried to find Jon Barrator, but he was AOL from his job sweeping the floors of the shop. No one knew where he was. Hoppin’ John was digging at his butt all day, he was in up to his wrist at times. Then he would fish out a pickled egg from the jar.

Simon and four carloads of “his people”, including newly hired laborers, arrived around lunchtime. He came out and asked Frank to open the warehouse. As he followed Frank down the bridge he asked him: “So, you ready to start with me?”

Frank looked back over his shoulder, and then stopped to face him. “You asked me the other day what it was that I wanted to do. Well, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, and what I want to do is retire.” He turned and walked on.

“Oh. Well that’s too bad. You’ll be hard to replace. Well, the door is always open. What are you going to do?”

“Continue my education, spent more time with my wife...and I have at least one more book in me.” He glanced back quickly and caught him in a lip curling snarl that he dropped instantly as they met eyes.

As they passed the office that was full of “his people” milling about, Simon told them to follow him. One of them was a hard-looking waitress type of about forty-five, Mary. He introduced Frank to her as someone he thought was going to be working for him but who had decided not to. He suddenly stopped and shot him a look as if something had just occurred to him.

“It wasn’t anything I said was it?”

“And what you didn’t say.”

“Oh.” He turned and walked away.

In mid-March the County inked the deal. It was a five-year lease of six thousand a month; for 1.8 million total.

The first Anton and Frank heard about it was when customers told them it was in an article in the day’s paper. They hunted up a copy from the trays. It said the transfer would be between April first and June.

Anton felt they knew exactly when it would be but didn’t want to say anything to keep the workforce from using all their time or sabotaging anything. The paper said the deal was signed in the morning.

Both Ray and Simon knew it was signed, and both were there at the station in the afternoon and neither said a word about it to anyone of the workers. Nor was there a memo from Barrator.

All the customers were very concerned about the fate of the workers: It was if they’d been sentenced to death. Anton said he found Simon’s posting on Craigslist: Eleven dollars an hour was what he was offering. No mention of where the work would be either.

“Excuse me. Are there anymore cats around?” A stout middle-aged woman asked Frank. “I’ve been bringing in bags of cat food every week and giving them to Rod to feed the stray cats. I just wanted to know if I had to keep bringing more in.”

“No, Stan takes fine care of the cats, whenever there are any.’

“That was the third or fourth woman who’s asked that. Rod’s been scamming people and bringing the food home.” Anton commented wryly. He was watching a familiar battered dark blue pick-up rattle its way toward them. “Here’s Bridget.”

“Hi, guys. Here’s your coffee.”

“Thanks, Bridget, but you don’t have to do that you know. I don’t drink much coffee.” Frank said.

“I know. You tell me that every week. I do it because I want to, and because Rod likes me to bring him stuff.” Her homely face scanned around. “Anything good? Hey, where is Rod anyway?”

“Milan mostly.”

Bridget suddenly looked uneasy, almost ashamed. She hung her head. “I applied for a job with Ecohauling. I saw it on Craigslist. I felt bad, cause I know you guys are losing your jobs here and it’s like I’m tryin ta take your jobs away from you.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it. Good for you. I hope you get it. Really. We don’t want to work for him.” Frank said.

“Honest?” She looked up, her eyes searching theirs. “You don’t want to work for him?” She asked Anton.

“Nope. Not for that curly-headed bastard.”

“Oh, I feel so much better!” Her face lit up, then as suddenly fell. “How come?”

“I’m looking for work as a paralegal.”

“And I’m…retiring.”

“Boy, I hope I get it. A steady job.” She said wistfully, dreamily. “But I’m worried. They said you had to be able to lift fifty pounds. I don’t think I can.”

“Lie.”

“Yeah. Why not.” She shrugged. “Well; mind if I look around?”

No Simon all day. The phones were eerily silent. Especially strange was the lack of intra-station calls, considering that article in the paper. Frank figured the lines would be humming with everybody trying to find out more.

The spring equinox brought another Lake Effect storm and another tense ride in. Rod called off for Genoa because of the snow.

“I hope they declare a ‘Snow Emergency’ again, and send everyone home with pay, thereby screwing Rod again”

“What’s this?”

“One day a few years ago, a big snow storm was predicted. Rod called off the night before because he didn’t want to drive in the snow. Everybody else came in. By 8 a.m., the state declared a ‘Snow Emergency’, and all the stations were ordered shut and the workers sent home with pay. Because he’d called off, Rod didn’t get paid. He was livid and claimed he was cheated. He tried everything to get paid; to no avail.”

“Sounds just like him.”

“You want to plow?”

“You don’t?”

“I have no desire to. Go ahead.”

Frank plowed snow with the front-end loader for three hours. At first, he was a bit awkward and tense until he got the hang of it. He had a blast. Anton spent the time on his IPhone or sleeping.

There were seventeen cars all day. From what Anton had heard, it seemed no one wanted to work for Simon anymore. He said that one of Simon’s men told him that he thought the eleven dollars an hour was for the Part-Timers, that Full-Timers would probably keep their County pay rate. He had asked Anton: “You’re going to join us, right?”

“It’s hard to agree when you haven’t been offered a job yet.” He had replied. He then had talked to Barrator about transferring the drivers.

He said the Barrator told him “Transferring was no problem: Match the workers to the openings; and done. But there are no openings.”

A customer who was at the meeting where the Board of Supervisors okayed the deal said that not one of the supervisors had even read the twenty-page contract. They went into executive closed-door session and thirty minutes later they came out and all signed it.

In the contract there was no cap on how much Simon could charge for waste, and it was specifically stated that he could charge for recyclables if he chose. And there was no mention of any scheme to help the dis-placed workers.

Ray called Frank at home and told him the County Building and Grounds head Steve Barret was asking about him; there was an opening for a second shift janitor. He didn’t know if that was something Frank was interested in, but he thought he’d let him know. He thanked him and told him he’d be willing to hear him out.

When Frank was ready, he got on the Kindle self-publishing page and read through the procedures. He smacked his forehead when he realized that of course, he’d need a cover.

He and Melissa set about creating one using a sheet of Mylar, a few lights, some old stick-on gold letters, a flashlight, and a lot of imagination. The Sony Cybershot came into play photographing the cover. They tried a hundred or more layouts, uploading them to the laptop and discussing them.

Finally, they hit on one they both agreed carried the right aura of autumn, menace, and mystery. The upload of the manuscript and cover went quickly and easily, and within 24 hours, “The October People” was available for purchase.

They decided to treat themselves and get a NordicTrack treadmill. They used to be runners fifteen years earlier and they both missed it; but not the gawking of drivers, the dogs, slippery roads, the rain, or the heat.

After they set it up, Frank took his first run. He thought he felt the same as he did back when he was a runner, so he assumed he could just pick up right where he left off. Oh, of course there’d be some break-in period, he didn’t expect to go right back to ten mile runs at an eight-minute mile pace. But after all, he’d kept in shape by working like a horse on the land and cutting wood.

He figured he’d start slow; just three miles or so. But he forgot, once again, how age changes things. He was surprised at how hard it was to breathe, how much his hips, knees, and ankles screamed. He kept cutting back the speed until a second wind of sorts kicked in. He finished the three miles and his left leg as well.

By the evening both his knee and ankle had ballooned. He couldn’t decide which hurt worse. He put ice packs all around them and spent the evening with it up on a hassock, cursing himself. By morning, the swelling had subsided somewhat.

That day was his interview. Frank found the office, knocked and entered. Steve Barret offered him a friendly greeting and waved him to a chair in front of his desk. Frank concentrated his being on not showing any sign of a limp. Steve was a grizzled, portly man of about fifty, though he looked older. He sat behind his desk with an air of authority.

“This one will brook no sass, no nonsense. It’s his way or the highway.”

Steve pumped his hand vigorously at the end of the interview. Frank left thinking with relief that he had the job. Barret had virtually welcomed him aboard, though he said the final decision wasn’t up to him, he’d have to pass his recommendation up to the Human Resources Department; they had the last word.

As he made his way back to the van, limping more and more, Frank reflected that though he was relieved and hopeful, Melissa would be unhappy about him working as a janitor. She felt that it would be, like Mephitis, beneath him.

“Of course, I’d like to think that too. But as I’ve often told her: There’s nothing dignified about poverty or homelessness either. I’d rather swallow my pride.”

On Friday it was Rod and Frank working. Both Hoppin’ John and Anton were off. Frank had been warned by both Ray and John not to mention having that interview with Barret to Rod. They felt sure he would go over Steve’s head and raise a stink, saying that permanent employees should be hired ahead of part-timers.

“I been hearing that the service at Florence sucks now.” Rod told him with satisfaction. “There’s this grumpy lazy guy that just stands in the doorway and never helps anyone. Also; I heard Hoppin’ John yelled at women who put things on the wrong trays or barrels. ‘Does that look like it belongs there?’ ‘Why don’t you look up and read the sign?’”

He looked at the clock.

“It’s 9:00 and there’s been more cars already than there was all day Tuesday here! That’s because the people love me.”

“Rod...There was a blizzard Tuesday. And how the hell would anyone know you were going to be here today?”

“There’s a posting for a second shift janitor with the County. I’m gonna take the civil service test for janitor and I got a sample test.”

He was very concerned about what he called “trick questions”.

“Trick questions?”

“Yeah, like; if you have a bunch of squares, like this; seven of them this way and eight of them this way…”

“A grid of squares seven by eight?”

“Yeah. They want to know how many squares there are. I don’t know if you should count the one you started with both ways; when you counted up and when you counted across.”

“Rod, don’t make it harder than it is. Just multiply seven by eight.”

“It’d be easier for me to just count them.”

“Right. Knock yourself out.”

“Barrator told me there wasn’t gonna be no transfers to other departments cause there were no openings, and the hand-over would be June first.”

His tone became concerned, whining.

“I been turned down everywhere. Even the woman I used to work the vegetable stand for won’t hire me. Della keeps yelling at me for telling Mickey Mouse I wouldn’t work for him before. I’m gonna fill out his application as soon as my daughter comes, so she can help me. Now it looks like everybody but the drivers and you and Anton wanna work for him. I tells my wife we’ve got to cut back on our spending, but she still wants to buy that new camper.”

“It’s tough out there for guys our age. I haven’t had any luck either. So, I did some research. I found out that there is code, called a ‘Robot’ that scans applications submitted on-line for certain key words or numbers which automatically disqualifies you for consideration.

For instance: If the year you graduated High school shows you are older, or if you’re unemployed, or had too many jobs in the last ten years, or were self-employed; Bang. It kicks you out and your application is never seen. No illegal ‘age discrimination’, but the application is never even seen.”

“A robot? Like R2D2?”

“No, it’s a...Never mind.”

“I had a meeting in Milan with Mickey Mouse’s HR guy. But he couldn’t tell me how much I’d make, what my hours would be, whether I’d be at Milan or where. He said there were no ‘personal days’, and the Health Insurance was fifty-fifty.

When I asked about sick time, he told me there was no paid sick days; ‘But if you’re sick, you’re sick, don’t come in. But you’re not gonna get paid for not working. And if you do it too often you’re fired.’ He wouldn’t tell me how many days was ‘too much’ days. What’d you do to your leg?”

“Hurt it.” His left leg throbbed terribly, by the end of the day he was limping badly.

Anton was back on Saturday and Rod was off. When Frank went into the breakroom before lunch, he found a copy of “The Watchtower” carefully laid out dead center on the table by the microwave. He glanced in the bathroom. There was another one on the sink. As he expected, there were two more on each of the desks in the office.

“Hey, Anton. Check this out.” He said on his way back out, holding up a “Watchtower” as he approached.

“What is that?”

“Some Jehovah’s Witness bottom-feeder snuck in and left these pamphlets on the break room table and desks in the office.”

“Why? Jehovah’s Witnesses? What’s that?”

“Never heard of them? How’d you manage to avoid the pleasure? They’re an end-time religion started in the late 1800’s by a shyster. They celebrate no holidays, no birthdays.

They believe that only 120,000 of them are going to go to heaven: The rest are just dead. Of course, there’s a lot more than 120,000 JW’s, so there’s a great deal of competition for the celestial best seats.

They do not associate with non-believers and shun them, even if they are family. They treat the one who doesn’t believe as if they are just not there. There is no thinking allowed: The Bible has all they need to know.

And they feel they are charged with the heavenly mandate of making sure every soul has a chance to hear THE TRUTH, as they believe it, so they practice ‘witnessing’. That means they go door to door trying to convince unbelievers that they possibly could be saved.

They’re trained rigorously in sales techniques. And they prey on the distressed; those whose marriages are in trouble, those who have lost a loved one, those who have lost their job. They offer a simple solution: Believe and stop worrying.

No doubt they’ve read of the coming sale of these stations, and the loss of jobs. They know that means stress, which equals an opening for them.”

“What a*sholes. How come you know so much about them?”

“I read about them, but mainly I have Melissa’s firsthand account. Her mother converted as her marriage crumbled. The zealotry that accompanied her conversion blew that family apart, as she put it.

For her father, who was having an affair and wanted to be anywhere else but with his family anyway, her chasing him around the house with the Bible was the last straw. He divorced her.

Mel still remembers seeing her mother destroy all their Christmas ornaments and burning any books that even hinted at science or idol worship, like fairy tales.”

“They’re that rabid?”

“Yes. Sound real holy, huh? When they’re witnessing or talking to ‘unbelievers’ they have this soft, saintly tone of voice, but they’re as twisted as anyone. They arrange their children’s’ marriages.”

What?”

“Yeah. So, you can imagine there’s room for love to develop elsewhere. They provide cover for gay men too, by marrying them off to women who otherwise might not find a mate. Then they say they’ve ‘cured’ him of his gayness.”

“You’re kidding? In this day and age?”

“Afraid so.”

The ‘Wiggler’ pulled in at his usual time. “Oh, I’m so glad to see somebody else!” He greeted Frank as he came toward the car. “Who is that mean-looking grumpy guy that’s been here? Oh, my God! I’m so glad to see you and the other guy back. That grumpy guy just stood there in the doorway and stared at us. He wouldn’t help anybody! Some poor old lady couldn’t get her bag out of the trunk, and I had to go help her. I told her ‘Well, it looks like we’re on our own here!’”

“Name’s John” Frank told him. “He’s a truck driver.”

Well! He needs personality lessons!” He looked around. “Where’s that nice old man, Rodney? I haven’t seen him here since before Christmas!”

“He’s been working at another station mainly.”

“Oh, thank God! I thought he was sick or died!” He held his forearms out horizontally with his hands bent upwards at the wrist, palms forward, fingers daintily curled down. “I think it’s just horrid the way the County is treating you people! What are you all going to do?”

“I don’t know. Everyone has to decide for themselves. I’m looking around for something else. I know Rod is too.”

“I wish you all the luck in the world! Well, bye-bye! If you see Rod, tell him I said ‘Hi!’”

“Okay. Will do. Take it easy.”

His leg was aching bad; it wasn’t getting better, it was getting worse. He could barely stand. When he went back inside, Anton told him what he’d only vaguely alluded to before.

“You know, Rod meets with that guy on the outside. I’ve overheard them discussing arrangements on where to meet. I know what street that guy lives on in Cooper and I’ve seen Rod’s car coming out of there a few times.

Did you notice that guy has no hair on his arms? He shaves his body. Ever notice that Rod doesn’t wear short-sleeved shirts? One day at the time clock I noticed his arm was shaved. I said ‘Hey! You shaved your arm!’ He reacted in a panic.”

“Well, I can’t say that’s a surprise really. Hey; ‘Different strokes for different folks.”

“Timmer called me at home last night. Very upset. He wanted Simon’s phone number.”

“Why?”

“He said he felt Simon was listening to the wrong people about him; ‘The one on top of the hill lookin down’, and ‘Ray’s son’.

I think he meant Ray and Toad, but I didn’t ask. He wanted to call Simon and ‘set him straight on a few things’. I called Tim at Genoa this morning to see how he made out. He only said he had called, he didn’t elaborate and acted nonchalant about it. Maybe someone was in the room. I don’t know.”

“Hey, how about Beatrice over in the office building? Is she going to get transferred?”

“I talked with her yesterday. She needs even less time than Farina till she can retire. But she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to work till then. Doesn’t know what’s going to happen. They haven’t said a word to her. When she asks, Ray and Barrator just keep saying they don’t know.”

“We’re next.” The head of Maintenance at the County Infirmary announced when he came in to drop off his stuff. “They told us the deal is almost done. Goddamn those Tea Party types! ‘If it’s in the Yellow Pages government has no business in it’! Yeah, but when they privatize, first thing that happens is they lay everyone off, then offer the ones they want a job, but at lower wages with less benefits.

I went to Clarkville and talked with my counterpart there at the Infirmary there. It’d been bought from Dunkelwald County and privatized last year. He said the County workers were kept on for about a year after being hired by the firm, then one by one they were let go: After they had trained their replacements. He said ‘Everything goes by numbers with those guys. The numbers say you can do that job with three instead of the five you have now.’”

“They laid us all off too.” A middle-aged woman spoke up.

“Hi, Nancy! You too?”

“Yes. All of us Public Health Nurses when the County signed the deal last month to privatize. Every one us: All laid off.”

On Tuesday Ray asked Frank if he were going to work for Simon.

“No.” Frank said simply. “Are you?”

“No, I’m hoping to go over to Highway. I’d been told that three qualified drivers are going over to Highway.”

“Well, that could only be you, Farina and Hoppin’ John.”

“By the way, I heard your interview went well.”

Frank was aware he had dodged his comment. When he saw John and Farina later, he mentioned what Ray had told him. Both looked surprised: Neither had heard anything.

“Mickey Mouse was in on Monday.” Farina said. “Says he got big plans. Gonna have a vehicle scale in place by mid-April. Funny lookin son of a bitch. He always sticks his tongue out the side of his mouth. He pumped John and me on Timmer, Charlie, Tonto, and all the others. Wanted us to rate em all as workers. We both agreed you was a good worker, probably best there is. John told him Charlie and Tonto were in it just for the money, that Timmer was lazy, and Curt was a ‘Okay’ one.”

He looked severely at Hoppin’ John.

“You really threw a lot of them in there.”

“Just telling the truth.”

“Yeah. Well. He agreed that Milan is “Pot Central”. And he said only ‘three or four’ so far had filled out an application. But he got fifty-nine applications from Craigslist from three counties before they took it down. Claims Toad’s gonna work for him for a while as a ‘trainer’”.

When Frank next saw Rod he was in panic mode. He couldn’t find a job; he kept getting turned down. He’d tapped all “his people” from Mephitis too, and that was turning up zip as well.

“Mickey Mouse’s not returning my calls no more, the HR guy won’t return my calls or take them, and the Union Rep won’t return my calls, nobody will talk with me! I got a lot of questions! I writted them down. I wants them answered by that HR guy.

I decided I will work for Mickey Mouse if I can be the foreman at Milan, and work only Tuesday through Friday, with some Saturdays for O.T., and get $19 or $20 an hour, but I got questions I want answered!”

“Why don’t you give me a copy in case I see him.” Frank suggested. He was intending to pass it on, but he also just wanted to see what Rod was thinking.

“Okay. Thhhaaaank yooouuu. Neither me or Della can figure out how to put out my resume on line. I’m gonna wait till the weekend when Sara comes. She can do it for me after she fills out my application.

Della and me are arguing all the time now. She’s blaming me for losing this job and screwing up my chances with Mickey Mouse! She says she told me when I first started here to find another job. She’s threatening to divide the bills in half and throw me out! Also; she’s threatening that if I loses this job and has no health care, she’ll cut me off hers, cause otherwise her cost goes up.

I keep telling her she’s got to stop spending! She owes two thousand dollars to QVC! ‘So now it’s all my fault!!?’ she yells then and throws things at me! Our credit scores keep dropping too….We went to a Pam Tillis concert last night. It was great.”

“How much were the tickets?”

“Sixty dollars each.”

When he had a moment, Frank perused the list of burning questions that Rod had made a copy of for him:

“Your garbage can you dump for free

Also how offen do you get a raise (how much an hour)

1 wage’s regular or foreman’s + no insurance

2 hours of work 8 or 10 hours a day 40 hr work week and day’s what day’

3 full time or part time

4 Overtime is it 1 ½ an hour

5 uniforms- pant’s- shirt’s, jacket’s- gloves, shoes mask, ear plugs

6 paid weekly or bi weekly checks +direct deposit what day you paid on, do you hold back a week

7 where will you work at what station’s

8 benefit’s- health insurance + what % you pay, what % I pay. Eye care, dential care, prescription

9 vacation’ when you get a week how long after you get 2 week’s and so on. And is it your regular pay check for vacation pay

10 holiday’s per year 12 or 13 day’s

11 sick time how many days a year can you miss

12 furn bereavement leave is it paid time and for who + how many day’s

5 days spouse, child parent, grand kids

3 day’s brother, sister, daughter in law, son in law, sister or brother in law grandparent (regular pay day)

13 pension

14 Job duties + where you have to travel + paid difference

15 break’s- how many + how long”

“Man, he’s not asking for much, is he?” Frank asked Melissa that evening after when he showed her Rod’s list.

“This guy thinks he’s still in a Union. He doesn’t get it, does he? Welcome to the ‘New Reality’, Rod. Gonna be a harsh awakening. He doesn’t realize this Mickey Mouse, or any employer, holds all the cards now. The calendar has been turned way back; back to the 1920’s. Before Unions, before Progressive Government policies, before Social Safety Nets.” Frank said, shaking his head after he had shown Melissa the list.

She had laughed her way down the list at the questions.

“You know, I think he hasn’t gone far enough.” Mel chuckled. “If you’re going to shoot; shoot for the moon. You can always bargain down from there. I think we should help him out a bit here.”

“I think you’re right.”

They decided to add to his list, copying his own handwriting. After a half an hour they were through and exhausted from laughter. Tacked on to Rod’s fifteen questions were these demands:

“16. bounce house

17 . coon skin cap’s

18 company car with expences (ford escort best)

19. private bathroom with heated seat

20. memory foam mattress for my nap’s

21 cat bed’s, litter boxe’s, and cat fud biweekly

22. cake on my birthday

23. hoecake’s and hogfish

24 pigeon condos

25 green Robin Hood tight’s, and saltine’s

26 shrubery

27 eggnog and fly paper on every full moon’s

28 all holiday’s are big big bonus day’s

29 perky elf shoe’s with dr. Shoals pad’s

30 two dozen sweatshirt’s with my picture on it’s

31 cottonball’s

Ps. Also I want my own union

Ps. Also tuesday-Friday Im a forman and you pay me $20.00 an hour my choice overtime 2 ½ an hour”

“There. That ought to straighten Simon’s wig when he sees this! Probably give Rod a heart attack when he finds out.” He chuckled. He turned to Melissa.

“You do know of course that I’m not going to give this to Simon. Rod is a creep, but I couldn’t in good conscience screw up anyone’s chances for a job by doing something like this. Even him.”

“I know. Was a lot of fun though, wasn’t it?
“Oh, yeah. I like it so much I’m keeping it.”

At 6:30 Ray called Mephitis as usual to give Hoppin’ John his marching orders on the last Friday in March. Anton and Frank sipped their coffee, waiting.

“Oh. By the way.” Ray told John when he was done. “You are going to Highway with me and Farina. But only after a month’s ‘transition’, where we’ll be helping Mickey. Dougie’ll retire then.”

“How’s that feel, Hoppin’ John?” Anton asked after he heard what Ray had said.

“Good.” He kept a poker face, but Frank could tell it was a huge relief.

“I had started putting out applications to Highway Departments all over.” He confided, then took off to the Burn Plant with a load of garbage.

Frank baled until lunch time. His left knee was killing him. Working the foot pedals on the skidsteer and getting in and out wreaked havoc on it.

“If Hoppin’ John didn’t have to truck, I’d have left again.” Anton told him that afternoon. “This ‘nobody knows nothing’ is bullshit. I’ve had it with being jerked around. And I’m not going to tell anyone if I’ll be in or not. If they won’t tell me anything, why should I tell them anything?”

The phone rang, and he picked it up and listened silently for a while. Frank could hear Rod’s voice whining. He was foreman at Milan, everyone else had called off.

“I don’t give a f**k, Rod.” He said finally. He listened a bit longer. “I said I don’t give a f**k.” He hung up.

“Problem?”

“Ah.” He sighed exasperatedly. “Toad’s supposed to work here Wednesday. He wanted Rod to switch with him, and let him work Milan, and have Rod work here. But Rod wanted the foreman’s pay at Milan.

So, when he said no, Toad hung up on him. He hung up on Rod every time he called after that, even when he was trying to get Toad’s time sheet so he could fax it in to Beatrice. So, he whined to Beatrice, who told him she didn’t care finally and hung up on him. So, he whined to me.”

He began waxing poetic about Thoreau’s journal entries about spring, and how great it would be to be able to be intoxicated by just the air of spring.

Hoppin’ John arrived in the middle of Anton’s paean.

“Other than that: What the f**k’s happening?” he said as he walked up to them grinning ear to ear. The news of the morning seemed to have definitely lightened his mood.

“Not much.” Frank grinned as Anton grimaced. “What’s up with you?”

“I think my callin that Union Rep started something, cause it was right after that that I started hearing some talk of transfers. F**kin Union’s okay.

But the old lady’s ‘God kick’ is givin me the shits. Now she’s saying God is telling her what to do. I tell her: ‘Oh yeah? What’s He got that I ain’t?’ She says she loves Him. ‘Well, then you better let God take care of you from now on.’”

It wasn’t long after that Simon showed up with another new face: Soft, fat, big assed, probably a money man. When Simon saw Frank, he turned to the money man and told him Frank was the best worker there, but that he didn’t want to go with him. Then he noticed Frank was limping.

“What happened to your leg?”

“I tore my knee jogging.”

“You jog!?” he blurted, impressed.

“Well, not now.” He told him and walked on past them.

“You aren’t gonna offer a ‘gimp’ a job are you?” The heavy man whispered. “What good would he be?”

“Not anymore.” Simon said under his breath.

Frank caught hint of the quiet comments behind his back and whipped his head around.

What was that?”

The fat money man blushed and said he was just suggesting to Mickey that they pull the manhole covers to see what was actually down there. The two went out to the bridge to shake hands with Hoppin’ John and Anton.

John said later that Anton just laughed mockingly when he shook hands.

“If that curly headed bastard is going to stay, then I’m leaving.” Anton paused as he turned to leave. “You think Frank might want to leave instead? You know, because of his knee?”

“He’s too f**kin stubborn. He’ll crawl before he’ll quit.” Hoppin’ John told him.

He said he had been to Milan that day to get a load and Rod was getting frantic.

“He can’t find any work, there’s been no word from Simon, and nobody will take his calls. “He’s been harassing Steve Barret so much about getting a job at Building and Grounds, cause he heard there’s three or four openings that they haven’t filled, been using O.T. instead, that Steve has stopped going to either the Genoa or Milan stations. Rod always winds up screwing himself.”

He said he got a call from his younger son last night, the thirty-two-year-old. He had no place to stay. His mother called the cops on him and had him kicked out.

“So, I took him in. His girlfriend has a house and she had a son by him, but she’d kicked him out too; she didn’t want him either. I figure she’s going to court soon for child support, that’s all she wanted anyway.

He’s already paying a hundred twenty a week in child support to another ‘one-night stand’. ‘Tits or tires, they’re gonna cost you plenty’.

He had a good mechanic’s job but he f**ked up and lost it. Heroin. He’s working now as a janitor at Wings Falls High School for ten grand a year. Claims he has no money.

I’d told him before to cut back, that he doesn’t need a two hundred dollar a month cell phone, that he should either quit smoking or start rolling his own.

He gets pissed at me then. I’m willing to help him, but not forever, he’s got to take care of himself, he’s a man, not a kid anymore.”

All day long there were constant phone calls to see if they were still there and open. Frank couldn’t understand why Simon was keeping his future customer base in the dark. If he was in his shoes, he would have had press conferences, showed up at the supervisors’ meetings to answer questions, and given interviews. Simon’s behavior was making no sense.

By four o’clock he almost couldn’t stand the pain in his leg.

On the last Saturday in March Anton decided he was not filling out the traffic count sheets anymore.

“Are you worried about what you’re going to do now” He asked Frank.

“I’m concerned, but not worried. Being worried is only useful as a goad to make you act. Once you’ve begun to act, there’s no point in worrying. You’re doing what you can; let the chips fall where they may.”

“Whenever I mention any plans I have, it seems like all people want to do is tell me why they can’t work.”

“Don’t listen to them. Listen to their arguments, consider them, then make up your own mind. Give your opinion the same weight you give others’. Ever hear of Kafka?”

“Yeah, though I never read anything by him.”

“He wrote the parable of The Guardian of the Door.

“What was that?”

“Briefly, a man entered the House of Law and approached an open door guarded by a formidable looking guard, who told him he couldn’t enter till he was given permission. He told the man to be seated and wait.

The man did so and grew old. Finally, when he was on the point of death, the guard came forward and bent down to the old man’s ear.

‘I can tell you now. The one whose permission was needed to enter was yours. The door is closing now forever.’”

“Holy sh*t. What do you take from that?”

“I look at it as a metaphor for the consequences of timidity and unnecessary respect for authority. ‘Question Authority’ always.

I can remember the exact day that I was finally fed up with being afraid to take a chance and do what I wanted to try. I was sixteen. I asked myself what was the worse thing that could happen to me if I tried and failed.

‘Well’, I thought, ‘I could fail. But then I’d be no worse off than I am now.’

‘Well, I could be humiliated by failing.’ ‘But what was the big deal about failing? It was more humiliating to be afraid.’

‘Well, I could die.’ ‘Well then you won’t be around to have to try anymore, will you?’

There’s an adage: ‘Nothing is more humiliating than to miss out on the fruit for lack of courage to shake the tree.’”

“I like that.”

They talked of spring, the swallows they saw returning, and “government” as an abstraction, a passive voice that camouflages the fact that it is people that are making choices in how they act.

“I was infuriated by a piece on NPR” Anton said “where an analyst said a CEO shouldn’t be blamed for a criminal act that he did, because he ‘had no choice; it was the corporation’s culture.’ Of course, he had a choice; he just made the coward’s choice of not going against the grain, for fear of maybe losing his position and income. You might say that was practical, but it sure wasn’t admirable. I wonder if he can look at himself in the mirror.”

Frank started using a crutch he found in the aluminum pile. It eased the pain greatly. But it generated so many questions about what happened to him that he finally began having a bit of fun, coming up with a different answer for each questioner.

“It’s a fashion statement.”

“It’s a ploy for sympathy.”

What crutch?”

This? It’s a swollen lymph node...My God, is it noticeable?”

Anton got into the spirit of it and told the long-haired-drug-counselor-book-browser that Frank got it running down a giraffe and wrestling it to the ground.

“I believe it. He looks like he could do it.”

“It was two giraffes.” Frank told him. “What is the plural for giraffe?”

Anton looked it up “Giraffes or Giraffe.”

“Christ! How anal can you get!?” The guy laughed.

Everyone was of the opinion he should go see a doctor, have an operation, otherwise he’d be crippled for life.

He never argued, simply made non-committal social grease noises. He had no intention of going to the hospital or the doctor’s. First of all, he had no health insurance.

But most importantly, he’d learned over the years, after injuries that he was assured by one and all would leave him permanently disabled; he’d healed. It might take as long as a year; but he’d healed.

He’d already healed from three knee injuries, a slipped disk, and God knows how many shoulder injuries.

Frank took the forklift to the warehouse to get a Gaylord for electronics and found Fred and Dan in coveralls there going through the Gaylords of books.

“Is Simon here?” Fred asked.

“No. But he will be.”

“What’s he up to?”

“Ah, he wants us ta do some sort of stupid ass thing or other.”

“How long you been working for Simon?” He asked Dan.

“Mickey Mouse? Too f**kin long! Feels like forever already.”

They were obviously not liking the experience.

Sure enough, Simon showed up not much later.

“Hey.” Frank stopped him. “Are you going to take yard waste? People keep asking questions and we have no answers.

There are a lot of questions we need answers for. These are going to be your customers, you know. They want to know what you’re going to take, how much you’re gonna charge for garbage, what the hours are gonna be, etc, etc, etc.”

“I know: I had to leave Genoa just to get away from all the questions from the people.”

“Get away from them? Why don’t you answer them?”

“I’ll have a sheet out by Tuesday explaining it all, answering all the questions.” He tried to reassure Frank. It failed.

“This stinks. He’s either a moron or he wants to fail.”

He watched Simon interacting with Fred and Dan, apparently, by their hand motions, discussing traffic flow.

Fred was visibly frustrated with Simon, and was trying to change his mind, but to no avail.

This makes no sense. He’s wanted this place since last November. He’s going to own it soon, and he hasn’t even figured out the traffic flow? How’d this yahoo ever get funding? What moron of a banker lent him money without a detailed business plan!?”

Unknown to Frank, Steve Barret called, and after being assured Rod was not there, he came in to get rid of his garbage.

“That loopy idiot is driving me crazy! There’s no way in Hell, I’d hire that loon!” He noticed Frank using the crutch.

“Impressive. You’re still on the job, you didn’t call off.”

“Got bills need paying.”

“I hear ya…Hmmph. Impressive. Very impressive”

“Was man nicht erfliegen kann, muss man erhinken. Die Shrift sagt, es ist keine Sunde zu hinken.”

“What was that?”

“German. What we cannot reach by flying, we must reach by limping. The Book tells us it is no sin to limp. It’s an old Sufi saying. A favorite of Freud’s.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

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