Tales From Mephitis Chapter 28: The Drunken Song in the Garden of Eden.
“The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?”
“Something has been incubating in me.” Frank thought, sitting quietly at home on Easter Sunday, watching the sunrise.
“Synchronistic influences are all telling me that I must ‘Entsagen’.
I must: It’s not coming from anywhere or anyone else.
I assumed that the attitude of the ‘Eternal YES’ to the Universe, ‘Das Ewige Ja’, was gained because of a mystical experience that occurred as a blessing coming unearned from outside of us.
But maybe it can also be achieved in a more mundane, practical way; by a simple change of attitude. If one truly realizes one does have a choice in how one views the world, then you are free to enjoy the game as it is.
The game can’t be changed but your attitude can be. Camus, Carlyle, Nietzsche, Goethe, Lao Tse, the Buddha; all came to the same conclusion.
The refusal to accept that is at heart based on wanting the universe to revolve around me: Not Thy will, but MY will be done.
I’ve intellectually known this for decades. But knowing it is not the same as accepting it.
What ‘It’ is I don’t know. Brahma, God, Daimon: They do not exist. They are fingers pointing at the moon. The mistake is to focus on the finger instead of what it is pointing at. They are words attempting to express what cannot be expressed; but IS.”
He got up and began silently pacing, limping badly.
“I cannot keep pushing my Will be done. I have peaked physically. I must accept that and live with it. There will be no more personal records set by me; not ever again.
I must also accept whatever happens regarding my past. When my father dies I should find out if I was right or wrong about remembering my grandparents leaving me their wealth.
And I have to accept that I may never find records that will serve as outside confirmation of my memories.
Whatever happens will happen. It will happen, if it will, because It will. Let it go.
I have understood what is required of me now is Ataraxia; amor fati. Let it go.
I have also understood I am still seeing the world as The Wasteland, a place of scarcity. Let it go.
I have to let go of my dreams and worries. Neither be upset, nor pleased at turns of events. I renounce them all.
I need to strive for indifference. No more desire for justice, fame, ease, comfort. No more worries about poverty, old age, injustice.
Drop all expectations of what ‘should be’ of what ‘ought to be’, of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’.
This then, is Life.
‘Life’s good; but not fair at all.’ Well said, Lou Reed; wherever you are.
When the Lion becomes the Child, that Child says with a roar: “Was THAT life? Well, then! Once more!’
Let it be. Crystal words of wisdom.”
“When Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain enlightenment.
At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail.
At that moment she was free. She wrote a poem to commemorate it.
‘In this way and that I tried to save that old pail. But the bamboo strip was weakening and about to break; until at last the bottom fell out. No more water in the pail! No more moon in the water!’”
“Zen Flesh, Zen Bones”, Paul Rep
The local newspaper ran a lengthy article about the local chapter of the “Tea Party” seeing “Agenda 21” as a “One World” take-over by the UN. All local planning and land use regulations, environmental regulations and gun laws were part of a vast conspiracy to specifically designed to destroy the American way of life.
“I know it sounds sort of like ‘Elvis Lives.’” Hal Fass explained to the reporter. “But this is real. There is a secret cult, the Illuminati, backed by the One World Jewish Conspiracy.
This has been in the works since America got her independence and founded a nation built on God Almighty. They’ve sought to destroy us ever since. Their aim is to take away what is ours.
They are Godless, and they hate capitalism and Christians plain and simple: It’s the communists that are behind it. They are the ones funding these heathen terrorists.” He earnestly argued
“And if you let em get away with this; you’re the ones that will have to give up your homes, your appliances, your air conditioning, your hundred-watt bulbs.”
The article went on to point out that ironically enough the percentage of Americans surveyed who believe the UN is out to conquer the world is the same as those who do believe that Elvis is still alive: twenty eight percent.
On Tuesday Rod was there but said he might leave early. Hoppin’ John laughed at him and said if anyone left early today it wouldn’t be him.
Anton called Barrator and bluntly asked if he knew what the day was or not. Barrator replied that a meeting of all parties was set for that day to decide just that. He asked if he was going to be transferred to Highway. Barrator said “No”. Anton came out and told them what he had learned.
“Give yourself nine hours of foreman pay and give me one hour’s pay and nine hours personal, ten hours personal for Wednesday, and be prepared for me to call off Saturday.” He told Rod brusquely.
He told Frank aside that though he would be in Saturday, the clock was now ticking on his “drop dead” date.
When Dodgers stopped in, he mentioned that Steve had been concerned about Frank’s use of the crutch.
“Yeah. He said it concerned him. That’s not good.”
“If I’d have known he was going to show up, I sure as hell wouldn’t have used it. What’s the problem? It’s not like it’s something permanent. He didn’t look upset to me.”
“He’s concerned about how the ‘others’ would take it.”
“Others? What others?” He pressed Ray hard and repeatedly but could get nothing clearer.
“Okay. I think I can safely write that job off my possibles list.” He mused after Ray left.
“By turning down Simon did I repeat my error of going by intuition? After all, a bird in the hand…Oh, hell.
You cannot know if you’re erring, have erred, or will err: You can only DO.”
A thought occurred to him.
“Hey. Simon never offered me a job. By all reports he got I was the best man for him. He could have screwed me too by offering a job. But he didn’t. Because of my knee. He was afraid I’d take it and cost him. I’ll be damned. Who knows what is good luck, who knows what is bad luck.”
More and more he had become convinced he made the right decision so long ago now, to step off that wide, flat highway for sheep and go his own way.
The only mistake he made was stripping himself of some conveniences. Otherwise, even now, as he was entering that last section of life, he was more and more at peace with letting the uniform bleating of the herd fade into the distance.
As Einstein put it: “I dwell in that solitude, which while so painful in youth, is so delicious in maturity.”
“Okay. I dwell in solitude, except; I have to go to work in the dumps for now. At least I am meeting some extraordinary characters.”
When he told Mel later that he wasn’t going to get the janitor’s position, she probably hit the real reason: His age. The knee gave him an excuse. The County would not want to take on someone who they felt would only have a few years left, and who would cost them medically.
Just before closing that day one of the regulars, a man Frank’s age that was a laid off Paper Machine Tender, told Frank and Anton that he had been turned down for a Machine Tender job at Sterling Paper.
“They said it was because they were ‘looking for someone more qualified.’ ‘More qualified!’ I told them, ‘I have thirty years’ experience!’ That was one of three positions they wanted to fill. There were two hundred and fifty applicants at first. The whole hiring process took six months, and I had made it all the way to the next to the last phase when they axed me”.
Rod broke in.
“I was ‘chatting’ on Bongo last night when all of a sudden this big sign filled my screen ‘YOU ARE TALKING WITH SOMEONE WHO IS A KNOWN, REGISTERED, CONVICTED SEX OFFENDER FELON.’ Oooooohhhh! What da frig?
How’d they know what I was doin? That’s Obama!
Hey: Did you hear that Mickey Mouse is offering Curt sixteen dollars an hour, Toad nineteen, and Jon, cause he’s gonna be part-time, twelve dollars an hour? He only offered me fourteen dollars an hour!”
“Has anybody seen anything on paper?” Frank asked.
“Then it’s just talk; telling people what they want to hear.” He told him.
“Nobody has seen anything on paper. That’s not good.”
“When I heard the others were getting more than me, I decided I’m goin for more. First; I told him I wanted fifteen an hour, but then I thought I should ask for more, so then I told them I wanted fifteen fifty.
I called the HR man and left a message that I wants written assurance of fifteen fifty an hour, to work only in Milan, or Florence, or Genoa, and no demolition work.
Curt said he was told his share of the health insurance with Mickey Mouse would cost him a hundred and sixty a week.
Except for you two, everybody else says they’ll work for Mickey now.
Also; The Union Rep told me to start a union whether or not I got hired. He said if I don’t refuse anything, just say “I don’t agree’, then I can still go on UI.”
“That’s what he told me….I’m getting all three of my blood pressure medicine prescriptions filled now while I’m still on the County plan.
I gets eight dollars back for each prescription, so I wanted the woman to charge me three times, not just give me them all in one bottle. I told her to put them in three bottles, so’s I can get my money.
She was pissed off and said that was illegal. I was pissed. What does it matter to her? It’s not coming out of her pocket!”
The paper announced that the Board had approved the deal. Three workers would be transferred to go to DPW, of which one would retire after the one month ‘transition’ where they would be working for Simon but be paid by the County.
The employees going to DPW would drop back to the bottom of the seniority list, and their wages would be cut back to fourteen dollars an hour from the present twenty dollars an hour.
All the other employees would be laid off and have to compete with at least sixty other applicants for the twelve jobs Simon was anticipating filling.
The spokesman for the County Board said “No way to sugarcoat it: Those workers are being scraped off.”
There was a brief press release from Simon which answered no questions at all, not even what days of the week and hours he intended to be open. It merely described how many facilities Ecohauling operated, and a bland statement from Simon saying how pleased he was to be part of the local community.
On Friday Hoppin’ John left early after doing some pulls. Frank decided after watching Rod do nothing but whine to his people all morning that he was no longer going to bust his ass: His leg was killing him. He was now only going to do the bare minimum needed to make his own work easier in order to get through the next three weeks; like keeping the garbage baler clean, the full Gaylords removed, and the yard-waste roll-offs pushed back. No one else was doing a damn thing anymore, and Rod never did for the ten years he’d been paid by the taxpayers.
He started sitting down whenever there were no cars, to take the strain off his leg. When a young mechanic from the shop stopped by to work on a skidsteer, he told Frank that rumor had it that they’re having a hard time finding a slot for Hoppin’ John in one of the highway barns. The only opening depended on a twenty-five-year veteran stationed in the Florence barn losing his CDL after his third DWI conviction and having to retire.
“’You are not going to just sit around on your ass when you lose that job!’” Rod said Della hounded him every minute of every day. “She says ‘I told you years ago to get a different job!’”
“Yeah. But I was fifty-five then, not sixty one, and I liked the job, I got a lot of freebies, and it was easy work.”
The “Mickey Mouse Club” was in session in earnest now. Simon showed up with six others in tow. Turned out all but one, again, were new hires to his management team. Simon showed a miserly, grasping side to his personality now that the deal was inked; He was suspicious about things having been taken. He thought the County had pumped out the twenty-thousand-gallon blended fuel oil tank because it sounded empty when he tapped it. Frank showed him the fuel delivery invoice and the weekly measurement taken the day earlier. But he wasn’t convinced until Frank, in exasperation, ‘sticked it’ and showed him that it was full.
Frank didn’t see any point in mentioning to him that the County was avoiding buying more diesel fuel for the loader and skidsteers; they were fine-lining it, hoping to have just enough fuel in the tanks to make it to the hand-over. Then Simon wanted to know what was behind the locked door in the stairwell.
“It’s the supply closet.” Frank told him.
“Can you open it?”
Frank opened it and stepped back so they could see that it was virtually empty; only a few pair of gloves and packs of paper cups.
Frank put the keys back in the desk.
“Is that the only set?”
Simon took them from the desk drawer, as well as all the keys to the other vehicles that were in there.
“Are you authorized to take them?”
“Yeah. It was part of the deal. Barrator gave his permission.”
“We never heard anything. Matter of fact, we haven’t heard a thing on anything. That release of yours said nothing. What are your hours going to be? We have got to tell the people something.”
“Didn’t you get the sheet?”
“No. Were we supposed to? What sheet? Who’s got it? Where is it?”
“I’ll get it out. It’s going to be in the paper too.”
“How about the scales for the garbage? What’s the story there?”
“It won’t be in until June…maybe.”
“Because it hasn’t been made yet.”
“Where will people drop off their metals?”
“We’re still trying to figure out where everything will be.”
“And how about the traffic flow?”
“We haven’t decided really yet. But everything will be ready for the hand-over, and everybody will have all their questions answered…Oh, would you look at the time? I gotta go, still have two more stations to visit. Nice talking to you.”
“After five months they still didn’t know? How did he get financing? A bank would demand a detailed plan. Unless he does know but doesn’t want to say for some reason.”
A thin, thirty something red-headed cowgirl wearing a Stetson and denim jacket, pulled up in a pick-up.
“I got two TVs to get rid of, Rod. How much’ll it be?”
“Even that big one?”
“Yup. It’s under thirty-six inches. Here let me get that for you.” He grabbed the little portable TV. “Frank’ll get the other one.”
“Yeah, thanks, Rod.” Frank commented dryly and hobbled over to the open passenger door.
He reached in and wrapped the cord around his fist three times, then hoisted the large TV up and carried it off with one hand. Her eyes almost popped out of her head.
“Whoa!! You are a Stud!! You got something real under that shirt!! It was all I could do to just get it up in there with two hands!”
“Young lady: Please do not talk like that to old men.” He said, though secretly pleased at the admiration.
“It makes old men forget that they are old and makes us apt to behave foolishly when a pretty young woman talks like that to them.”
“Oh, you’re not old….Are you?”
“Old enough….Thank you, by the way.”
“Della needs a seat belt extension on a plane seat when we fly.”
“What?” Frank looked quizzically at Rod.
“That means she has to pay for two seats now. They changed the rules, cause they told us it costs them more fuel to fly fat people. I told them then she should get two whole seats.”
“What did they say?”
“They said she’s taking up two seats, nobody else can fit next to her. It’s not right for airlines to charge by weight. You find anything yet?”
“Me either. The HR guy called me back, finally. He said that four hundred people applied for twelve jobs, and sixty of those got interviews.
Mickey is gonna hire twelve he says, get this, at eleven dollars an hour an hour! He says that’s the going rate around here for laborers! I have sixty-one hours of sick time left to burn, and ten working days left to use them up in.” He looked out the door. “Here comes someone. I’ll get this one, buddy.”
It was one of his people.
Frank set the crutch down and leaned on the rail. His leg throbbed mercilessly. “Whatever happened to Simon’s saying he was going to double the staffing here? Sounds more like he’s halving it.”
“How’s your day going?...That’s nice. Mine’s not goin so good. I’m unemployed.”
On Saturday Anton confided in Frank that his last day of work was going to be the next Saturday. “
“After I get out of school on Friday I’m going to Barrator’s office and resigning.”
“Even though that’ll screw up your UI? You sure?”
“I want to leave on my own terms, not theirs.”
“I’ll be damned. That’s exactly what I said when I left the mill thirty some odd years ago.”
“I’m going to call the Judge on Monday to get some tips on how to interview for a paralegal position.”
“We doing the traffic count sheet today?”
“Okay... Hey, I published my book.”
“No sh*t? I never met a published author before.”
“Self-published. I’m apt to be like Thoreau.”
“When his publisher returned all the copies of his books he’d printed, saying he couldn’t sell them, Thoreau simply said he was now the proud owner of the world’s largest collection of his works.”
“The more I hear of him, the more I like him. What’s the title of your book?”
“‘The October People’. It’s on Amazon.”
Ray came in about 7:30. He was completely unconcerned about what Simon was saying, doing, or taking.
“That’s their problem now; is that it?” Frank asked him ironically.
He showed no sign of embarrassment or resentment over having been Mickey’s toady all those months, and then having been scraped off by him.
Every day this week Frank had been talking himself hoarse, telling all the people who came in that the take-over was this month.
Yet that day a full fifty percent of them said they had no clue the take-over was pending. About ninety nine percent were opposed to it, and a hundred percent expressed pity for those laid-off, and outrage against the county.
They were infuriated by their powerlessness. The right, the left, the County, the Mafia, the Blacks, the Mexicans; they all got blamed as they extrapolated up from their anger at the sale to the state of the whole country.
There was more and more talk of revolution and taking up guns to “teach them all”. The stations started to get requests for burn-barrels because the customers all knew they are going to wind up paying more with the corporate haulers once the stations were sold, and that really pissed them off.
Besides the burn-barrels, there were promises of midnight back-road dump-offs and returning to backyard landfills.
“But you know what’s so bullsh*t about all of this?” an engineer seethed. “If you look at the County’s budget, these stations that are costing so much according to them, you know much they actually cost the taxpayer?
For every ten dollars you pay in taxes, seventy cents goes for all these stations! Seventy cents! That’s ten dollars a year for most of us!
Then they hand all this over to some mafia guy for about one sixth what it cost to build them twenty years ago!
Just what they did with the burn plant: They build that for thirty million and sold it for ten million! No, there’s nothing funny going on here!” He snarled sarcastically.
A Banty-Rooster Redneck laborer pulled in. He jumped down from his big pick-up truck, cheek bulging with tobacco, dropped his tailgate and began hurling garbage bags. He spotted a Watch Tower that Rod had left on the wall.
“Them f*ckers.” He spat over into the hopper. “When I was livin in Milan last year, there was a sh*t-load of burglaries.
Me an my girlfriend come home one day just in time to see a van pulling out of our driveway. I run inside and I sees we been robbed! I run outside and I sees that same van leaving another house on the street. So, I runs inside, grabbed my shotgun, jumped into the truck and chased it.
I cut in front of it as it was just about to pull away from another house. I ran up and stuck the shotgun right up to the driver’s head, wired and ready to fire!
‘Who the f**k are you!?’ I yelled at him ‘ What the f**k are you doing!?’
‘We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses!’
‘What the f**k you think you’re doing!?’ All the while I got the shotgun at the f**ker’s head.
‘We go door to door preaching the Love of Jesus Christ! That’s what we do, sir! Honest!’
‘Bullsh*t! My place was just robbed and you just came from there!! You’re stayin right the f**k here until the State cops get here!! They’re on their f**kin way!! Don’t move a f**kin muscle or I’ll blow your f**kin heads off!!’”
He said he was highly indignant that when the cops arrived they told him: “Sir! You can’t point a gun at people’s heads!”
“Bullsh*t! That’s how you take care of things like this!” He said he told them.
Anton called off for Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. He was savoring the idea of now punching out for just one last time on Saturday and beginning a new life. On Tuesday Rod showed up.
“Hoppin’ John, you go home early today, that way I can take Saturday off.”
“F**k you: No. I’m leaving early on Friday, not now. I gotta take Tina to Syracuse.”
“That’s nice. So, you leave early today and Friday and…”
“I said f**k you. No.”
”Fine. Then I’m taking today off as a sick day.”
“You can’t, Goddamn it! There’s nobody ta cover. And you’re already here!”
“IIIIII don’t think so!” Rod turned around and left the station and drove home.
On the way, he stopped at the Veterans’ Administration to see a “friend” of his and see if he could get health insurance through the VA. He looked up Rod’s records. His “friend” was indignant and outraged.
“How dare you claim to be a Vet! You were dishonorably discharged from the National Guard after only ninety days! You are not a vet and are ineligible for any veteran’s benefits. You do not meet the definition of a ‘veteran’!”
“I got my dog tags! That proves I’m a vet!” It was Rod’s turn to be indignant. “After all the money I gave them too!”
“You know, all those veterans’ charities you get in the mail with free Christmas cards.”
“I think you got enough off all these businesses with all the free meals and carwashes you’ve fraudulently gotten all these years! And dog tags are not proof!”
“They didn’t have to pay for that!”
After Rod had left, Frank suggested to Hoppin’ John they switch, and John bale instead, as getting in and out of the skidsteer and working the foot pedals was hurting him bad. John made up two bales of cardboard, one of #2 PET natural, and one of boxboard, and pronounced it a “good day”. But all day long Frank could hear him fuming down below at the baler because it jammed, or because the flaps stayed up and broke the wires.
“Jesus f**king Christ! “
“I swear to f**kin God, one more time!”
The DPW mechanics came out and ground the County logo off the loader and all the trucks and the Highway Department sent trucks in to clear out all their culverts they had stored there.
“What a powerful, odd dream.” Frank thought upon awakening. He mused over it as he made coffee. It was about people losing their memory.
“I think that was a metaphor; it was a teaching. Without a memory, we don’t know what we’ve done in the past, and so keep repeating what we’d done before: We are stuck in a groove.
Only when we remember, and therefore see how all this came about, are we in a position to alter the course of events by acting more appropriately to what happens; and that alters our destiny.
Without memory, our destinies are cast. With memory and reflection, we alter our fates.”
“I sold my first copy of ‘The October People!’” Frank shouted to Melissa. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he checked his Amazon account.
“Congratulations, Ace! That’s a cause for celebration! I am so proud of you!” She hugged him.
“Thank you. You know I couldn’t have done it without you.”
For the rest of the day and evening he was deliriously happy….all over one sale. But it meant more closure and another beginning, and the same sort of almost crying aloud from joy that he felt when he finally got a vehicle again.
Two weeks before the take-over, all the employees who were to be laid off received in the mail a “Bye-Bye” letter from Barrator thanking them for their years of service, and a sheet with FAQ about unemployment insurance information.
On Friday Hoppin’ John had some pulls, and then left at one as he said he was going to, to drive Tina to Syracuse.
As soon as Rod got in the door he announced that his trailer park was in the paper, and that channel six was there, and the cops.
“There was an AK47 attack there last night at 4:20. Someone shot up the door of a trailer and it went through three others! OOOOoooohhhh!
Everyone knew it was about drugs cause the Mexicans there were dealers and the other guys with the guns were from New York or something.”
“What did you do?”
“I stayed under the covers in bed.”
Rod, now the acting foreman after Hoppin’ John left, told Frank he was going to have him stay upstairs with him today because he was “concerned” about his knee.
“You’re not fooling anyone.” Frank thought. “What you want is someone up here to do the work so you can milk the crowd.”
“How’s your day going? That’s nice. Mine’s not going so good. I’m unemployed and I can’t find a job because I’m too old.”
“I feel so bad for you fellows.” A well-dressed middle-aged woman commiserated. “It’s a shame what they’re doing to you all.”
She looked at Frank. “You must feel terrible.”
“This was my choice. I judged the new owner, and he was not someone I wanted to work for.” He told her frankly. “Every ending is a new beginning. I’m looking forward to it actually.”
“Oh.” She looked almost flustered, perhaps disappointed. “Oh. Well, that’s a very constructive attitude. Good luck.”
“Thanks.” He smiled.
“Have you seen Mary? I don’t remember: Didn’t I tell her I was going to be here today?” Rod commented anxiously to Frank later.
“Because I want a farewell gift from her. I only have Tuesday and Wednesday left to work next week and I’m all done.” He turned sly looking. “Don’t tell Hoppin’, but I’m calling off for Friday. I’m already called off for Saturday.”
“Why don’t you take off Tuesday too? Use up your time. You said you had eleven hours left; that way you’d only have to work that last Wednesday in Milan.” Frank suggested. He was getting sick of him, and anything he could do to lessen his time with him, he’d do.
“I can’t.” He said later after going to check his available time on Kronos. “I checked it out and I only got five hours left, not eleven. I can’t take Friday and Saturday off either. But I went ta the County building and I signed up to start getting my pension this week. Hahahahahaha!”
“Can’t be much of a pension. He’s only worked for ten years, and as a laborer, and he’s taking it early.
Still; as I so well know, every little bit helps.” Frank thought. “But, GOD, is he repulsive.”
Rod changed course again.
“I don’t know how Jon is gonna to pass the ‘piss test’ to work for Mickey Mouse, but he says he’s not gonna stop smoking dope, he’ll just use a ‘de-tox kit’.”
Then he started to get off about how someone could carry “pee” so as to fool the tester until Frank shut him down.
“Jon is drawing pictures of c**ks all over the walls and ceilings and ‘Curt sucks c**k’ when I’m foreman there. I told him to stop it cause I’d be the one blamed if Mickey Mouse saw it.”
He never did get that “farewell gift” from Mary.
The word finally came down that Mick Simon had made his brilliant, sage choices. Those who had worked for the County and were chosen as among the best and the brightest of over four hundred applicants to be employed by Ecohauling were: Jon Barrator, Tonto Geryon, Mike England, and Tim McGruber.
When Charlie called the H.R. manager and asked if he were hired, he was told bluntly “There is no position for you.”
“F**K YOU!!” He screamed into the phone, slammed it down, then hurled it across the office.
Austin was told he handed in his application “too late”.
Stations were going to be real short of labor next week. Della did not take the news well.
Rod decided to break it to her while they were playing Parchesi. She was winning, but he sent her ‘back home’ spitefully. That was the moment when he chose to tell her he didn’t get the job and no one would talk to him.
She flipped out and threw the board at him, blamed him for ruining her life, and screamed she wanted a divorce.
Frank received a form letter informing him that he did not get the janitorial position; it went to someone more “qualified”.
“Hey. Mornin, Anton. Didn’t expect to see you today.” Frank greeted him when he came in Saturday morning.
“I changed my mind and didn’t wind up resigning. I want the pleasure of punching out for the last time before it changes hands. Sort of like a burial ceremony. That, and after hearing how much Rod was going to be making a week from UI clinched it for me.
He still claims it’s for fifty-two weeks, no matter how I tried to tell him its twenty-six weeks on New York, then twenty-six weeks on Federal if congress renews it. I wonder if I got a letter from the county about UI, I don’t remember getting one.”
“It was in with the kiss-off letter from Barrator.”
“I never read it. I just ripped it up and threw it away.”
“This place has left a really bad taste in your mouth, hasn’t it?”
“You have no idea.”
When he called Beatrice to ask her to fax him a copy of the FAQ on Unemployment Insurance, he was stunned to hear her say no one knew who was getting all the product in the warehouse.
“It’s all crazy: No one knows anything.” Beatrice told him. “No one can answer even basic questions like: Who gets the product in the bunkers? Who gets all the bales? All these details nobody knows because only the attorneys negotiated the contract, and they had no idea of even the rudiments of how the business and stations run.
I expect I’ll be scraped off after a month or so, myself.”
Anton and Frank figured Simon was getting it all. There had been no trucks going out for weeks now, and the stations are bulging with bales.
Frank talked himself hoarse again explaining that this place was being privatized after the twentieth, but there was no other information available.
“JR” pulled in at his usual time and bellowed a boisterous greeting to them. Anton went over to help him and kibitz.
A worker from the remaining unionized paper mill in the area came with a pick-up load to dump. As Frank helped him off load, he asked him how it was going at the mill.
“The rumor is they were getting ready to sell the place. The joke now is that “Puckert LLC” means “Puckert: Layoff, liquidate, closure.”
“Well, you’ll know the end is near when ‘housekeeping’ becomes management’s buzz word and they start having everything spruced up and painted.
The fellow suddenly looked sick.
“They just started it. That’s just what they’re doing.”
JR had been listening quietly.
“Sucks.” He said with feeling. “I used to be an engineer at Sadant. One morning we just came in and found the doors locked. The place was sold.
Took me three years to get another job, at half the salary. I figured I’d be better off than most though, because I had a fat 401K.
It was doing good until 2008. Since then, I’ve lost a hundred and fifty grand and still counting, and I’m driving this piece of crap.”
The afternoon was very quiet and Anton and Frank watched a grey squirrel eating elm buds in the canopy of the woods beyond the fence.
“Jesus f**kin Christ! No traffic count again!?”
On Tuesday, with only three more days to go, Hoppin’ John was complaining again. “And no baling done on the weekend either!”
“Hoppin’, you know there is never was any baling done on the weekend except for garbage. You just started doin that this month because ya sucking Mickey’s c**k!”
“F**k you, Rod, you c**ksucker!”
“Oh, I can see we are going to finish here on a high note.” Frank said sarcastically, got up and went out to the trays alone.
He couldn’t catch Hoppin’ John and Rod bitching about him, but he was suspicious they were by their behavior. He was alert and just waiting for an excuse so he could jump all over them. He realized he had to be real careful because he detested both of them today, but especially Rod.
He had switched to a stout walking stick instead of the crutch.
“Everyone is brittle. Snapping at each other. It’s like the place is already gone and they knew they are no longer going to have to work together, so the gloves are coming off. The rats are leaving the ship.”
Rod came out later. “I can’t find work and Mickey Mouse or HR won’t talk to me.” He whined.
“Why should they talk to you? They said no.”
“I thought if I talked to them…”
“Which is why they probably don’t want to talk to you.”
“Beatrice said that Ray was told to get all the bales shipped out this week. They got seven trucks lined up for this week.”
“This is my last day here ‘hint, hint’. I’m unemployed. No one will hire me. I’ve been turned down eight times. I’m unemployed.” Rod told someone for the hundredth time that day.
“By your own CHOICE!” Hoppin’ John in exasperation yelled out, which didn’t faze Rod a bit, but badly confused the poor woman he was lamenting to. Rod ignored John and began to complain to her about his knee aching.
Frank went down to bale in order to get away from them both. A hydraulic line blew on his skidsteer and he cannibalized one off another grapple. As he was tightening up the fitting, Rod called down to him in a panic, telling him to come up, come up, he needed his help; he was swamped.
Frank hobbled up there and looked around. There was one customer, whom Rod was holding captive.
He surveyed the trays: They were a mess. He checked the garbage hopper: Virtually empty. So it had not been busy.
He knew now that Rod had just been talking, not paying attention to what people were dumping on the trays. And now wanted he wanted him to clean up his mess while he continued yakking.
Frank turned around and went back downstairs.
When he came back to the bridge after pushing yard waste, he saw Rod was on his phone again. Frank took hold of his walking stick like a baseball bat and measured a swing for the back of his head, lovingly envisioning knocking it clean off and into the garbage hopper. It took a lot to control himself.
Rod did absolutely nothing all day; no baling, no yard waste, didn’t even help people with their stuff. He just whined.
“Somehow my cell phone turned itself on, dialed my home phone, and from 7:30 to 11:30 everything I said to anyone was recorded on our answering machine!!” Rod told him after he got back from lunch. “Della finally managed to get through to me on the station phone. Boy was she mad!! OOOOoooohhh!! I’m worried about what she’ll hear when she plays that! All of them ‘I’ll miss you’s’ ‘Give me a hug’s’ from me talking ta all them women! It cost me five hundred minutes!”
“That’s about a hundred and sixty bucks.” Frank told him, and Rod looked green.
Hoppin’ John was in a better mood after trucking and was happy to see how much he had baled.
But Frank was still angry, thinking that he was bitching about him behind his back, and he let him see that he knew it and was pissed.
While Hoppin’ John was trying to explain the changeover to some woman, he absentmindedly unbuckled his pants in front of her, unzipped them, struggling to reach under his paunch to pull his pants on better.
He did a lot of crotch-grabbing in public too; must have had his knickers in a twist.
After he got back from lunch a stout-torsoed fiftyish woman who was one of “Rod’s women”, lamented over their losing their jobs and the closure, and wanted to give them all hugs.
“Madam! Do not hug men who work at a dumps!” Frank admonished her, appalled that anyone would hug men in clothes covered with the filth of other people. So, she hugged Rod. “Hope his phone is back on.”
With one more day to go on Friday, Frank was surprised to see Little Tom’s pickup. He had been called back from the Highway Department for the one day to do some trucking. Hoppin’ John was hopping mad over that.
“What the f**k they doin callin you in? You don’t f**kin work here no more. You getting O.T. for this?”
He was digging his ass again big time, must have been nerves.
“You bet Hoppin’ John. We work Monday through Thursday. This is O.T. and they’re gonna pay it cause we got a union that’s worth sumthin over there.”
Frank was surprised when he walked over to punch in and saw that Kronos was ripped off the wall and gone, leaving just an ugly ragged hole in the sheetrock.
“Anton; you have been deprived of your highly anticipated pleasure of punching out for the last time.” He told him when he came in.
Frank had a quiet first two hours by himself out on the bridge, then it got hot and heavy. He was left alone to handle it all. The others were loading trucks.
Ray and the Human Resources manager for the County stopped by briefly. He wondered how they felt about the imminent lay-off of most of the men. He walked over to them. They were discussing the upcoming baseball season.
“Excuse me.” Frank waited till they stopped and looked at him. He held out his hand to Ray. “I’d like to thank you for hiring me two years ago.”
“Oh. You’re welcome. Good luck.”
Then they went back to talking baseball. Frank turned his back on them and returned to work.
Seven trucks had been scheduled for that week: There was a truck waiting at the gate at in the morning already. Three more came in during the day; the last one was finished at 3 o’clock. Three were no shows.
Anton shook hands with Hoppin’ John.
“It was a pleasure working with you and knowing you.”
Hoppin’ John, Little Tom, and Farina, and the young mechanic drove over from the Highway barn to bade Frank farewell.
“I bet you’ll land on your feet.” The mechanic told him.
“Somehow or other, I always do.”
“I believe it.”
The final closing with Simon was scheduled for noon that day. A “Yesterday’s Meals on Wheels” truck came in with a load of Porta-Johns.
“Where you want it?” The driver wanted to know from Anton.
“What’s this all about?”
“Each station is getting one. The new guy is tearing out all the bathrooms. Some say it’s to convert the space into offices and for money handling.”
A couple came in Frank had never seen before. She appeared to be in her forties, a good twenty years younger than her husband. She was a pretty blonde, with little remaining of a figure.
She gave the man very detailed instructions on what went on what tray, as if she were talking to a dim-witted child.
The man, a distinguished looking tall man, continually ignored her instructions of what went on what tray. He was badly messing everything up.
Frank stepped forward and told the man courteously to listen to his wife. He looked Frank hostilely in the eye and went right on throwing anything anywhere.
“STOP!!” Frank bellowed, furious.
“I’m sorry. He just doesn’t understand.” the woman pleaded. “He has Alzheimer’s.”
“Oh. I apologize. Forgive me.” Frank replied, feeling like a heartless clod.
“Yes, he got it from handling a dead mouse.”
Frank looked at her in disbelief. Then he looked at the man. He didn’t seem demented; she seemed nuttier. Then the man touched another dead mouse that was in the bottom of one of the boxes.
“Oh my God! Put it down! Put it down!” she wailed. “Oh my God! Is there some place I can wash his hands?!”
“Yes. Of course. Follow me.”
He led her to the filthy bathroom. She followed, holding her husband’s contaminated hand in a death grip by the wrist with both hands as she steered him to the sink, talking reassuringly to him the while. He remained silent. She washed his hands for ten minutes, and then they disappeared forever.
The regulars all came in getting rid of everything they could and taking anything they could. Frank had to chase two women out of the warehouse from the Gaylords of books after two hours.
On Saturday, the last day of work for the two of them, it was just Anton and Frank. They discussed how people fear change, and yet how everything changes.
“Remember what Lennon said? Life is what happens while you’re making plans’.” Anton reminded him.
“I hate change. Why do things have to change?” the thin cowgirl asked them plaintively, as if in confirmation of their musing when she came in for the last time.
“Why do things have to change, Frank?” asked Dave, the bigoted old rodeo rider.
“Why do things always have to change?” asked Anton’s fellow Giants fan, a sixty year old woman.
All day long, the same question was asked like an echo.
At 9:00 Rod called from Milan. Anton taunted him about how many gifts they were getting. He told Anton that Barrator called and said Simon never showed up at the closing Friday.
“They waited till four o’clock for him. He was a no-show. They got hold of someone at Mickey Mouse’s office finally. He said maybe Mickey had trouble getting back from Florida?”
“That’s bullsh*t.” Anton told him. “There were none of his lawyers there either? And no phone calls from the curly-headed bastard? Did all the phone lines go dead in Florida?”
“Maybe we won’t lose our jobs!”
At 9:30, while Frank was on break, enjoying a prosciutto, egg, and cheddar on hard roll sandwich, he saw Barrator pull up.
He came in and told Anton the same thing. Simon owns nothing yet, takes over nothing yet. There was no closing. He’ll get back to them on Monday. Right now, he’s going to all the stations and telling them personally.
At 10 o’clock Rod called in a complete panic.
Large sunset “Anton! Ray called me and told me I was working for free because I’m retired as of last week cause I signed them papers!”
He probably wouldn’t have needed a phone to hear Anton’s delighted whoop of laughter even up in Milan.
“It’s not funny!!”
“The hell, it’s not!”
“I called Barrator, an he told me that cause I started to get my pension, once I did I can’t be working, that’s double doping…or something! I got to punch out and go home! I’m not gonna get paid for today, or Friday either!”
“So, did he also screw up his UI by retiring before being laid off? Technically, he was never laid off: He retired.” Frank speculated after Anton had imparted the news.
“Oh, this is great!” After he had stopped laughing, he told him “By the way, he also told me Barrator said Simon have signed ‘something’ now. So, I guess it’s going to go down after all.”
At 11:45 Mickey Simon showed up; slinking, shifty, tongue out and guilty looking. He saw Frank eating his lunch behind the wheel of his van.
“What’s up?” Simon asked him.
“You tell me....Do you own this?” Frank asked bluntly.
“Yeah. I own everything.”
“Barrator said you never signed Friday.”
“He’s a f**king liar! I signed!” His eyes shot left and right.
“So you own it?”
“Yes! I’m tired of dealing with these government types! I was raised to speak in black and white! I told him ‘I’m through talking with you! Talk to my lawyer!... Any trucks been shipped of my product? I see the Warman trailer is gone. Any others go out?”
“Seven were scheduled. Only three went out.”
“Any from downstairs?”
“One magazine. Why? You own them?”
“I own everything. They’re stealing my property. On top of it all, I just came back from my brother’s funeral. He was only fifty-nine.”
“Sorry to hear that….That was Bill?” Frank asked pointedly, knowing full well that it was a lie concocted to explain his absence from the closing.
“Uh. No…Matthew.” He looked caught. “What else can go wrong?”
He went into the office for about five minutes then drove off in a rush without a ‘bye-bye”.
Simon was lying: Frank had checked up on him on-line. There was no brother “Matthew.” He checked the office and saw he had been looking through the bills of laden. He went out and let Anton know. Anton called Barrator.
“No. Simon owns nothing yet.” Barrator told him. “His check for the equipment cleared, and he signed a one-year lease, but not the personal indemnity paper the county lawyers drew up. That says that he is personally liable for the full purchase price even if his businesses go under. This was to prevent him from selling off the equipment and then turning the empty building back to the county at the end of the year.
Simon did not sign this, so he owns nothing; do not let him take anything. But starting at 4:30 this afternoon the County no longer operates any stations.”
It was a very busy day, even though they had resolved to do the absolute minimum. They took no tickets either on Frank’s suggestion that they give the public one last gift.
As always JR was the last customer; this time for good. Anton quietly shook hands with him at 4:27. Then he shook Frank’s hand.
“I’m in the right mood to tell you this.” He told him “Knowing you and Melissa has been the third greatest pleasure in my life. Samantha is the second, and I haven’t experienced the first yet.” It had a formal air, practiced, not spontaneous, but sincere.
“Thanks. You’ll do alright. Keep in touch.”
“I don’t want to intrude, and I don’t know what the parameters of intruding would be.”
“You don’t have to worry about that; just use your judgment.”
JR and Frank stood side by side and watched Anton drive up to the entrance gate, get out, swing the gates shut, lock them for the last time, and drive off into his future. The wind whipped the dust into the air.
“How did it ever all come to this? This ain’t the country we grew up in. John Wayne sure as hell wouldn’t recognize it. Americans torturing prisoners, bombing ciies full of women and children.” JR said quietly, looking off into the distance.
“Ice caps melting, twenty percent of the kids hungry, no savings, no work, no protection.”
“Make you glad you lived long enough to see it?”
“I’m glad I’m old. I wouldn’t want to live to see it go down more.”
“I feel sorry for the kids.”
“I do too….What a long, strange trip it’s been, huh?”
“What shall be.”
“Power to the people.”
“Right on, brother.”
“Le but n’est rien; le chemin, c’est tout.” Michelet
“You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work…Do your duty, always; but without attachment. That is how one reaches the ultimate Truth; by working without anxiety about results.”
“Achieve results, but never glory in them.
Achieve results, but never boast.
Achieve results, but never be proud.
Achieve results, because this is the natural way.
Achieve results, but not through violence.”
“In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.”
Tao Te Ching
“Who can wait quietly while the mud settles?
Who can remain still until the moment of action?
Observers of the Tao do not seek fulfillment.
Not seeking fulfillment, they are not swayed by desire for change.”
Tao Te Ching
"The October People."