Tales From Mephitis: Chapter 4 The Moon's Creature

Updated on May 31, 2019

“This is the place I told you to expect. Here you shall pass among the fallen people, souls who have lost the good of intellect.” Dante

A couple of days later he wasn’t so sure. There was no rest. Every day for the past month they’d worked from dawn to dusk cutting, splitting, and hauling wood. By Thursday they finally had eight cords in the barn, which was the bare minimum they needed: two more to go.

Like Camus’ Sisyphus, on each of the trips back down for another load he had plenty of time to think...and calculate. He figured they had each wheelbarrowed wood eight miles each day that they had cut at the far end of the property.

Melissa was weaving on her feet by the time they finished yesterday, and she picked up another four ticks. He only got one. He angrily swore to himself she’d never have to go through this again.

While looking over a woodshed that you filled gives a deep sense of satisfaction and security, few things are so disheartening as to bust your ass hauling in a day’s work worth of wood and seeing you’ve only accumulated a third of a cord. That’s what really brings home how much work goes into heating with wood.

Nor was that their only ‘hobby’. They depended on their large gardens, which had to be turned over and cultivated by hand, to supply them with their food. And there were also the chickens and the bees.

He found himself beginning to think that maybe this ‘laborer’ gig wouldn’t be so bad. Unlike running a business, all he had to do here was put in his time and then walk away from it.

“I’ll have a lot more free time. And what money I got will be all ours; no overhead. Maybe we can acquire all those labor-saving things I’d scorned all these years: a riding mower, or at least a push mower in decent shape, a snowblower, and cut-split-and-delivered firewood.

And we’ll be able to afford food again.

All I have to do is endure. Correction: All WE have to do is endure.”

The next Friday morning was clear weather again for his ride in. He concentrated on memorizing the route and its hazards so he’d know what to expect. He fared no better on the hills. His thighs were stiff and aching before he even began, and in no time they were on fire: But he didn’t do any worse either.

He could smell the place waiting down there for him as soon as he reached the crossroads two miles off uphill. For some reason the smell seemed stronger at dawn, or maybe it was that olfactory fatigue set in later.

When he got there he realized he still hadn’t gotten his timing down and arrived too early again. He was soaked with sweat and the day hadn’t begun yet. He decided he was not going to stand while waiting this time. There had to be some place for him to take a load off his feet.

He leaned the bike against the wall and looked around. He went over to the waist-high wall overlooking the roll-off with the metal in it and parked himself on it musing.

The first one to arrive there was the one called “John”. A cheerful sounding raven-haired woman driving a green pick up dropped him off. She perkily wished him: “Have a good day!” after reminding him to take those “beautiful strawberries” she’d packed him.

If he grunted anything in response as he stumped toward the door it was inaudible. Frank followed him, either unnoticed or ignored, into the office. John kept right on going, out through the doors, his legs moving stiffly trying to overcome the resistance of his jeans’ crotch being damn near down to his knees. Frank waited in the vestibule near the timeclock. Soon he heard the overhead doors rising, and then the crashes as John let the metal trays drop down.

By the time he came back in and plopped down into the chair at the foreman’s desk and began flipping through the papers and grumbling under his breath, Rodney had arrived and unlocked the entrance gate. He came straight into the office and took up his position by the window.

Another vehicle, a minivan, pulled in. Frank felt he had been delivered from Hell when he saw it wasn’t “Tim from Genoa”. Instead, it was a soft young man, very fat through the middle. He seemed quite grave, his boyish face a mask.

Frank decided that he may as well do as the Romans did, as long as it was at least somewhat dignified to do so; he sat down on the end of the couch nearest the door.

An old pick-up roared up the hill from the exit gate.

“Here’s Little Tommy, Hoppin’ John.” Rod observed, glancing at the clock. ”Right on time. 6:27.”

Hoppin’ John grunted and slurped his coffee, slouched in the chair so his belly formed a chest-high shelf for him to rest his thermos cup on. The old truck lurched to a stop out front. ‘Little Tommy’ sauntered in. Frank observed him, curious.

This guy...I know I’ve seen him before. Must have been down at the mill.”
He was short and stocky, with short arms and legs. His black hair was in a late 70’s “shag” cut, his hounddog face set in a fixed, bemused, apologetic smile. He went over to the other desk and sat down, immediately changing his sneakers for a pair of construction boots that were on the floor there.

“What’s up, Big Rod? Hiya doin, Hoppin’ John?” he asked in a high, nasal voice with the classic twang of country people. He seemed relaxed and at ease. “Suckin any c**k lately, Big Rod?”

“Yeah, right!” Rod retorted quickly and too loudly. “Hey, John! Guess what?! You shoulda seen Tommy with Ray in his truck yesterday!...All ya saw was Ray, cuz Tommy was suckin his c**k!”

An alarm went off in Frank as the repartee continued. This was beyond weird. He’d worked with some of the roughest, coarsest men, and women, imaginable, the lowest of the low, but he’d never heard such a torrent of exclusively penis-focused ‘talk’ like he was hearing now; ever. But there was something else. Like smutty thirteen year old boys, there was an underlying excitement, as if they were able to express something in this way that they couldn’t otherwise.

“If anybody’s suckin Ray’s c**k, it’s you, Rod.” John deadpanned over his cup, then slurped noisily again. His gulp was followed by a deep, wet cough that sent him into a paroxysm, his huge paunch jerking convulsively. His face went beet-red and his mouth sagged wide.

Ohhh, ya stabbin me Hoppin’!” Rod was becoming positively gleeful.

“Ray sez: ‘C’mere, Rod. I want ya ta s*ck me off, an Rod sez ‘Yes sir!’” John mocked. He and Tommy roared at the perceived scoring of a point in this bizarre repartee. Both broke down coughing and wheezing from their laughter. “The only reason Ray ain’t fired yer homo ass yet is cause you bl*w him every week.”

“Yeah, right! If your thing wasn’t so short, you’d have Herpes!” Rod shot back. It was plain to see Rod was at the bottom of the pecking order, but that, perversely, he enjoyed the smutty give and take.

Frank had had more than enough of it. He stood and wordlessly left the room and stood in the hallway. Glancing outside, he saw a vehicle pull up. Anton came in silently, punched in, and went into the breakroom to change.

“I heard from a guy in Highway, John, that the cops saw Rod and Ray parked outside the gate after hours, and they said his head was bobbin up and down on Ray’s lap like no tomorrow.”

IIIIII don’t think so!”

I believe it.”

“Ya gonna do any work today? Though I don’t see why today should be any different from any other since you f**kin been here.” Another wracking cough.

“Yeah, Big Rod, an when ya gonna start wearing safety shoes, huh? Those ain’t safety shoes.” Little Tommy indicated Rod’s feet. Rod looked down at his battered, shapeless sneakers.

“Are so!”

“Oh, bullshit!” he coughed.

“I don’t haveta wear safety shoes! The Big Rod does what the Big Rod wants!”

“Yeah, right.”

“The Big Rod does what the Big Rod wants!”

The phone rang and instantly everyone fell silent. Rod looked over toward the breakroom, turned on his heel and left the room. Frank looked at the clock: 6:35. Hoppin’ John had the phone picked up on the first ring. He murmured something in a low, subservient tone and began scrawling brief notes.

“Garbage and C and D, Genoa...Right...Yard waste and garbage, Florence...Affirmative, Ray...Yup...Yup...”

“GET THE F**K OUTTA HERE, ROD!” Anton’s voice exploded in exasperation from the other room. Rod scurried back to the office with a wide grin.

What?” Hoppin’ John held a hand over his free ear. “Okay, right.” He handed the phone to Tom.

“Hiya, Ray. ..Not much...What’s up?...Okay...Okay. Right. Meet ya there in about...an hour, okay? Okay, talk to ya later.”

As soon as he hung up, both he and Hoppin’ John started bitching vociferously about what an idiot Ray was. Anton walked in attired now in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Frank noticed John never budged from the foreman’s chair at the desk. Instead, Anton sat down in another chair. They gave him a quick run-down on their assignments that Ray had given them. He nodded distantly, and pulled some papers off the desk, sitting down to scan them, staying aloof from the obscene chatter.

“Ya gonna go bl*w Ray, little Tommy?” Rod mocked, eager to begin again.

“”Nah. He said for you to get ready though, he’s gonna c*m in ya mouth today.”

“Yeah, right!”

Frank silently headed out to the trays. “I feel ‘slimed’. What type of place is this?”

The heavyset lad with the boyish face was named Amen. He wordlessly followed Frank out to the trays. His silence, Frank decided afyer a few minutes of conversation, was not timidity; Amen simply didn’t feel he was among his kind here either. He was in the final year of his Master’s Degree in Earth Science at Syracuse; and was anticipating never, ever, having to come back here. His father was the town supervisor of Salzberg and had ‘won’ a contract for aquatic Milfoil removal on the lake. Amen worked a couple of days a week here, and a couple cruising the lake at the helm of an automatic weed harvester; no skills required other than piloting a small boat. Nice gig.

The cars came in steadily and the two of them conversed quietly between hauling trash. No sign of “Big Rod”. Anton came out eventually, his long face one of perpetual sullenness created by his long Nordic features...and boredom. He was about six foot and leanly built. His features, his pale blonde hair, and distance gave him the air of a haughty Prussian nobleman among serfs.

“Before Tom leaves you ought to get him to open up the stores closet and get you some gloves.” He told Frank.

“Good idea. Thanks. I’ll be right back.”

“Yep; gloves is the one indispensable thing around here. But Ray’s so cheap, he thinks he’s savin the County money by buyin the cheapest ones out there. Sometimes they don’t last out a day. No matter what, they’re worn out in a week; unless ya Rod. He don’t do any work. They get slimy inside an out with garbage juice, oil, detergent; you name it. Didn’t you used to work at Crown Z?” Tom asked him as he locked the stores closet door back up.

“Yeah” He examined the gloves. “He’s right: Pretty cheesy.” “In another lifetime. You?”

“I thought you looked familiar. Yeah, I used to work there too. My name’s Murray. Tom Murray.”

“Pleased to meet you. Frank. Frank Novak.”

“Pleased to meet you too. My brother Sam used to work there too.”

“You’re shitting me. Sam Murray is your brother? He was on one of my crews for years. How’s he doing?”

“Good, I guess. We don’t see each other much. When did you leave?”
”Early 1990. You?”

“’96, when they shut it down. I started in ’88. Mostly I worked in Finishing.”

“No wonder I didn’t recognize you. I worked in the paper mill the last ten years I was there. Whose crew did you work on?”

“ Smiley’s.”

“So you worked with Jughead and Sugarfoot?”

“Shit, yeah. It was great.”

“Hey, they ever hire anyone full-time here?”

“Nah. Not anymore. Last hire was a few years ago. Whenever someone retires or is fired, they just replace him with part-timers. There’s no future here. They keep tryin to shut us down. Scares the shit outta me... I’ll see ya later, I gotta go. Ray’s got me doing some half-ass thing or other again today. Christ, he’s a pain in the ass...Any time ya need gloves, let me know. Hey. You remember Doreen Kiley?”

“From the mill? You mean the Scheduler?”

“Yeah. That’s the c*nt. When I first started there, everyone warned me not to complain about your assignments; she’d f**k you but good if you did. So I kept my mouth shut and did the night shifts for eight f**kin weeks...An I’m seein guys that got hired after me get day shift. I didn’t say nuthin for another four weeks. Finally, I goes in there real polite and tries ta talk with her reasonable-like, ya know? I says to her I says, ‘Listen Doreen, I been on nights now since I started an I ain’t said nuthin...’”

Frank knew how this was going to end up as soon as he heard Tom say he went to talk with her. What he couldn’t believe was that after more than twenty years he was still nursing that grudge.

“..but I was hopin ya could find some way ta get me first or second shift, just every once in awhile.’... Ya know what that f**kin c*nt did?... She stuck me on nights for the rest of the summer! The only way I got off nights was when I won a posting on the facial unit! Can you believe that? What a c*nt! Hey. Didn’t you used ta be married ta a Riley?”


“My old lady, Susie, she’s related on the Boulet side.”

“No kidding.” “Great. He goes home now, tells his wife, she tells her Uncle Larry, who tells my ex-mother-in-law who tells my Ex, who tells my kids.” “Larry still managing that farm for those City people?”

“Nah. Retired. They got nuthin but f**kin Mexicans workin for em now. Must be forty of them living in a house near me. They’re takin all the f**kin jobs. All the jobs that are left, that is. I don’t get it. Where they expect people to work if all the jobs go overseas?”

“That is not their concern at all.”

“Scares the shit outta me where this is all headin. After I got laid off, I almost got hired by IP, I was gonna take it, then they called me for here. I remembered hearin that IP kept ya only up ta twelve weeks, then laid ya off, so I took this one. Been pretty good for me here. Got my CDL and Heavy Equipment Operator’s license. Then they started talking about closing the stations. …God damn them.”

With a sigh he pushed himself to his feet. “Well, gotta get goin. Ray’ll be wonderin where I am….The Asshole.”

Before Frank went back out he found the schedule pinned to the board over the desk and deciphered the scratchings to mean that he was working Fridays and Saturdays all month. “That’s a relief. Three days would have been better, but beggars can’t be choosers.”

Back outside, he took his turn poking down the garbage when Anton ran the baler, gradually learning how to tell when the ram was back so his poking would actually accomplish something. “There’s got to be a better way to do this. You shouldn’t have to pound your brains out to jam this crap down its throat. It’s like it was designed to plug up.”

In listening to Amen and Rod talk, he gathered that the garbage baler was viewed with a trepidation bordering on fear by them. Neither of them liked to run it, and actively avoided doing so.

Ohhhhhh.” Rod moaned, making his face twitch rapidly side to side, so that his slack dewlaps added a flapping sound to his moan. “It makes me puke. Anton hates me to run it cause I always screw it up and he’s got to fix it.”

“You know how to run it, Amen?”

“I can run it. But I don’t like to. Anton always does it here.” He stated calmly, “When I’m at the other stations, I don’t say I can and so nobody asks me to.”

Okay. Nobody likes running it. Must be a bitch. Gotta start sometime. What did Mignon McLaughlin say? ‘Whatever you can’t get out of; get into wholeheartedly’.”

The customers were coming in hot and heavy now. As he worked he watched the hopper fill higher and higher with garbage.

“When do you run this thing?” he asked Rod.

“Should run it now. But what the frig, that’s up to Anton.” He coughed spasmodically.

The garbage kept coming, the pile growing. It was harder to dump barrels in now because the garbage was so high it threatened to overflow. Finally Rod asked Anton to “run it”.

“Hey.” Frank called out. “Mind if I come and watch?”

“Suit yourself.”

Frank followed him across the ‘bridge’, and down two flights of dusty stairs. The odor was even more pronounced the further down he went. They crossed the cement floor, sticky and black with ancient unspeakable residues, to the ‘cave’ where the baler lay under the hopper’s mouth.

Sheets of dust covered cobwebs hung everywhere. Scraps of garbage and unidentifiable moist blobs covered the floor. Fat flies droned everywhere, trying to settle on their arms, shoulders, and heads. He swatted at them in disgust.

Anton merely lazily waved an arm now and again. He walked up to the desk-sized control panel, with its array of buttons, switches, and lights.

“To start it, you turn this switch here, like this. Make sure this switch is on ‘Manual’ first.”

Frank looked over his shoulder to see what he was turning on: Couldn’t read it, the layer of grime and dust obliterated any letters.

“Then press this button and hold it in until the baler starts.”

He was about to ask how you knew when it “starts” when a piercing claxon started going off. It screeched nine times and then with a deafening roar, the baler was alive.

“I RUN IT ON ‘SEMI’!” Anton yelled over the din. “YOU FLIP THIS TO ‘SEMI’, THEN PUSH THIS TO RUN THE RAM!”

He said something else as well, but no matter how Frank strained he couldn’t make sense of it. Thanks to the years in the paper mill, his hearing had already suffered some loss despite having worn protection, but with decibel levels like this, he didn’t think anyone could hear.

As the ram compressed the huge mouthful of garbage in its throat, pressing it further down its digestive system, the whine of the hydraulics keened ever higher and more piercing. A succession of lights blinked on below the dust on the panel.

Then the ram belched backwards, casually withdrawing, opening its mouth for another load to be poked in. This was repeated about a half dozen times, the roar increasing in intensity with each stroke.

Movement at the discharge of the baler caught his eye. Now as the ram stroke peaked, something began protruding from the discharge opening. Like a constipated digestive tract, the baler pushed and whined to extrude a plugging block of excrement.

Finally, with one last ear-splitting whine, it went into ‘eject’ mode. The one-ton block of garbage was messily pushed out and strapped, falling to the floor like a deposited turd, disturbing the flies feasting on the scraps on the floor.

The surface of all the exposed bales or piles of garbage writhed with maggots and flies making more maggots. The bales were always oozing something, because the process of ramming explodes all the bags and containers and squishes the contents out.

The process started again, building another bale with the garbage that was pulsed peristalsis-like through the system. Frank glanced up and saw Rod’s unlovely face set in a frown, looking down at him and Anton through the gap between the hopper and the fencing he held back with one hand. He was imperatively flapping his hand.

Frank realized Rod thought he was giving Anton directions on when to run the ram forward. But Anton never looked up. He simply watched the grated opening just above the ram chamber to see if garbage had been poked down enough to run the ram. Soon another bale oozed out onto the floor, pushing the first one out of the way.

Thundering noises began over their heads as Amen, under Rod’s directions, pushed couches, console TV’s, and chairs into the hopper using a Skidsteer. Finally, the painfully loud booming ceased, and when Anton saw no more garbage showing up, he glanced up at Rod, who slashed his finger across his throat. Wordlessly, Anton flipped a switch, and the baler groaned as it died. He flipped one more switch, then turned impassively and walked across the floor to the skidsteer with a set of forks on it.

The machine roared into life, and with dexterous skill and speed, he quickly scooped up the bales, one after another, and drove them into the roll-off to join the others already stacked in there. Over the twelve foot sides of the roll-off, Frank could see the forklift arms lifting the bales into place, and the black clouds of flies rise up in buzzing protest, along with the pigeons disturbed from gorging on easy pickings. Even the tightest-made bale lost some content when moved and left a trail of stinking, rotten debris on its way to the roll-off.

When he got back upstairs and walked outside to join Rod and Amen, he spooked a half dozen pigeons roosting over the walkway. They took flight with wings clacking, and careened out through the open overhead doors. Outside, perched on an exterior light were two more. A lady, dropping in her recyclables, was startled by them as they too took flight.

God!” she exclaimed, repelled, checking her clothing for soiling. “Filthy animals. Why do you let them here? They carry diseases you know. You should get an exterminator.”

“They’re my pets.” Rod replied in a little boy’s voice. She shot him an incredulous look and backed away from him.

“Why don’t they have them killed or driven off?” Frank asked Amen.

Not on my watch!” Rod interrupted. “Not on my watch! When Don was the foreman, he was gonna throw a battery at them. We started wrestling and both of us almost went over the bridge! Ray had Tommy and Farina put up screens to keep them out of the C and D building, and I told someone I knew who knew somebody at the animal shelter and she called the County and had them tear it all down again. She warned them that she’d have the County sued if anything happened to a pigeon. Nobody is gonna do anything to those pigeons while I’m here!”

Hmmm...There’s a sore point here...And a power trip. He really gets off on that he backed them down.”

“I like to eat at 12. Do you want to take your lunch now, or at 12:30?” Rod suddenly asked him.

“What time is it?”


Frank waited till he stopped coughing. “Yeah, sure. I’ll go now. But...How about you, Amen? When do you want to go?”

“I can go anytime. I’m not hungry.”

“Alright, if it’s okay with Anton.”

“He don’t care.”

By now Anton had joined them.

“You mind if I take lunch now?”

“Nope. Whenever.”

“Okay, thanks.”

Frank headed for the breakroom feeling ambivalent. On the one hand, his stomach was snarling, and he’d be eating alone: No “Tim from Genoa”. On the other hand, after that ‘lesson’ just now with the garbage baler, his nose was telling his stomach “You do not eat in a place that reeks like this!”

And he couldn’t believe he was going to. He was appalled to see that the others would grab a snack while out there working, and without washing up first. In the little fridge they stashed the goodies people brought in for them, usually in a quid pro quo for scavenging rights.

When he took a leak in the bathroom and flushed the urinal, a sulpherous blast rose up to assault him. He washed his hands in the filthy sink, watching the water in amazement. It was almost black right out of the faucet.

He thoroughly enjoyed his sandwich and a bottle of water from home, sitting gratefully in the battered and stained upholstered swivel chair in the breakroom. He glanced up at the map of the USA on the wall. Someone had written something on it. Standing up, he peered closer. “Rod’s Broke Back Mountain” was inked on the Adirondacks.

“Weird.” He refilled his water bottle from the bottled water cooler.

A couple of tractor trailers pulled up somewhere outside nearby. Then a County pick-up truck pulled up to the office. Rod suddenly appeared.

“Hi, Buddy!” he breezily greeted Frank, and then coughed.

“Is it 12 already?” “Buddy?”

“No. I’m just getting a head-start.” He went to the refrigerator and pulled out a Big Mac and slid it into the microwave. Frank heard raucous laughs, coughing, and banter as the drivers came into the office for their lunch. As soon as his burger was done, Rod grabbed a can of soda from the fridge and scurried to join them.

Frank crumbled up the sandwich’s wax paper, tossing it across the room into the waste basket in the bathroom and took a last swig of water. As he walked past the office he heard a continuation of the same puerile smut and coughing as this morning.

“Rod only likes fat old ladies, he don’t like the young, juicy ones! Doncha Rod?”

“That and Ray’s d*ck in his mouth.”

“He likes him to c*m in his coffee, saves on cream.”

“Yeah, well, that’s not mayonnaise on your sandwich, little Tom. I spread my c*m on it!”

“How come you always want women ta pee on ya, Rod?”

“I’m outta here.” Frank silently headed back out to work.

He followed Anton downstairs later when he told Rod he was going to go do some baling. Frank had the distinct sense he was trying to get away from all of them. But he needed to know what he had to do here, and how to do it.

And, as there was obviously no real training program, it was going to be up to him to get what he needed.

He asked him about the New Holland L-150 “Skidsteer”, which is what they called the squatty little machines they used to move everything with here.

The driver’s seat was encased in reinforced steel, and the small side windows, and even the smaller rear one, were crisscrossed with safety wire. The two hydraulic arms on it ran from the very back of the eight foot machine out two feet in front of it. There, some had forks on the front; others had either a scoop bucket, or a scoop bucket with an upper jaw with nasty looking fang-like teeth, which gave it the appearance of a huge, toothed mouth.

“You might as well get used to it. Get in and start it up.”

“Okay. I’m in.”

“Buckle up. It won’t start unless you’re buckled in.”

“Where’s the ignition?”

“Over your head, to the right. Up front. The right foot pedal controls raising and lowering the bucket, the left the tilting of the bucket. You steer with the right and left joysticks.”

“How do you adjust the speed?”

“By moving that lever mounted on the frame to your left... There...Take it outside and get used to it.”

That was the extent of the training. Frank drove it outside and set about figuring out how it handled. Using the two joysticks, you could make that machine spin right around in a circle.

He drove it for awhile until he felt it was useless; it wasn’t going to teach him anything anymore. He needed time actually working with it. He drove back in and asked Anton about how the baler there was run.

“This one is used for product. I was going to do a #2 colored, but you might as well. Drive in that bunker, get a scoop, and dump it in this hopper.” He listlessly indicated a pyramidal funnel above the baler which was as wide as the skidsteer’s scoop. “Don’t drive with the mast extended all the way up, wait till you’re right in front, then raise it up and dump it in. And don’t worry about making a mess. Everyone does.”

On one of his first trips with a load Frank found out why he had cautioned him about the mast. When he tried to make a turn with the bucket fully raised, it rocked the whole machine wildly, threatening to overturn it. Frank took him at his word about making a mess.

Time and time again as he made the circuit between the bay, scooping up the empty plastic detergent, coffee, motor oil, and shampoo containers, and dumping the load awkwardly in the baler, he spilled the colorful containers redolent of overpowering commercial fragrances all over the floor.

He struggled to control the bucket using his feet, and to steer into the bay using the joysticks. If he miscalculated by only a few inches driving into the bay, the corner of the scoop rammed into a concrete side wall, stopping him dead with a tremendous bang and throwing him against the seat belt.

No matter how careful he tried to be, on each trip he spilled bottles from the scoop. And with each dump into the hopper, a cascade of plastic bottles rained down on the floor around him.

I can’t believe this is how they handle this stuff. It’s like using a wheelbarrow for Christ’s sake. Why isn’t this belt-fed straight from the bay? It’d be easy as hell to install and they’d get a helluva lot more baled in a lot less time, with a lot less mess.

Anton stood by the baler’s controls, impassively bored, I-Phone cords dangling from his ears. He ran the ram forward every so often to compress what Frank was dropping in. He offered no suggestions or critique. When the bale was done, Frank shut off the loader and went to watch how Anton tied off the bale, securing it with wires. His first inkling that his performance was not up to snuff was hearing Rod say to someone on the bridge:

Look at that mess!”

He angrily grit his teeth, grabbed a broom and began pushing the piles of colorful bottles that he had spilled back into the “bunker”

“John just picked up the C and D. One of you go push the roll-off in.” Anton addressed Rod and Amen later. Neither moved or said a word, just stared impassively. Frank waited for something to happen. Nothing did.

“I’ll do it.” He volunteered. “What do you have to do?”

“Take the Skidsteer and go down to the back of the C and D building. There’s an empty roll-off there. Push it with the Skidsteer into the building up along the wall. Make sure you get right up against the wall.”

Frank hopped in to the Skidsteer that Amen had used earlier. This one too had a bucket on front. He maneuvered his way down a roadway to the bottom of the C and D building. Hoppin’ John had dropped off the empty roll-off halfway across the lot from where it had to go.

He drove to the back of the container and eased the bucket up to the back of it until he heard it make contact. His entire field of view was blocked by the scarred orange metal of the container four feet in front of him. Because of the filthy, opaque little windows he could see nothing to either side or to the rear.

“How the hell can you see what you’re doing?”

He gunned the engine until the container began to slide. It had four steel cylinders about a foot long and six inches in diameter for wheels. The tarmac here was all chewed up, which meant those so-called wheels did no turning. The screeching and roaring was deafening as he tried to maneuver the roll-off into its berth.

“Is everything here deafening?” He wondered. As he slowly managed to make the groaning, screeching mass move into position, it struck him.

“If I don’t get it pushed in right the first time, how do I back it out for a second shot?”

After backing up and peering around the side of the container to see how he was lining up for the final push in, he tested something. He tried to pull the roll-off backwards by hooking the bucket under the frame and lifting a bit. No matter how he gunned the motor, he could not pull it backwards.

So there was only one shot at pushing it in; an irrevocable one.

“Well; other than being a possible metaphor for life, this is insane. There has GOT to be a better way of doing this.”

With a deep sense of relief, he got the container pushed in against the wall without incident.

Finally, the end of the day drew near. Frank looked at the tally: 900 stickers.

“That’s a good day for a Friday now.” Anton commented. “We used to do over 1,200 a day a few years ago. It was nothing for us to kick out twelve bales of garbage a day.”

He went to the little refrigerator and pulled out the six-pack of beer a leprechaun-like little man called Mike had brought in, who used to work for a big sheet-metal fabricator who did a lot of business with all the area paper mills...before they shut down, one after another.

Anton told Frank that he came in there once a week and he let him pick through the stuff. So the little fellow always brought a six-pack in on Fridays to say ‘thanks’.

“You drink beer?” Anton asked him. “I know Amen doesn’t... I’ll split it with you and Tommy. Hoppin’ John only drinks Miller’s Lite.”

“Yeah, sure, great! How about Rod?”

F**k Rod. He doesn’t drink beer anyway. I’ll leave it in the fridge inside.” He went on toward the office to finish filling out the paperwork.

While he was gone Amen and Frank worked steadily, moving the people along. He watched Rod out of the corner of his eye. He stood there, deep in conversation with a large, strange looking man about his own age; stoop-shouldered, with a protruding lower jaw like a bulldog’s. Cars came and went; customers, him, and Amen, bustled past and around Rod. He never budged, never made a move to help any of them, oblivious to everything else. This went on for a good ten minutes.

“What the f**k have I got to do to get some help around here!? Grow a pair of tits?! Next time I’m gonna put coconut shells under my shirt! It’s the only way to get anybody to pay attention to ya here!”

Frank glanced down the line at the speaker; a ruddy-faced short, squat guy with white hair.

“Oh, shut up! That wouldn’t do you any good anyway, JR!” Rod laughed delightedly. He immediately broke off with the one fellow, and took up a repartee of sorts with this one, but still made no move to help anyone.

“I know, you homo! You don’t even like women! Who are you kidding!”

“Yeah, right! I’ll do anything between eighteen and a hundred an eighteen!..Especially if I can f**k em in the pee-bag!”

“You’re sick, you know that?!”

Rod tossed his head back and laughed soundlessly, gleefully. Frank realized they were both just kibitzing; it had the feel of long familiarity.

“I got the exit gate.” Rod announced.

Anton turned away from Kronos to stare at him in mild surprise.

“What’s with you? You’re always calling the entrance gate to save yourself fifty yards on the way out of here.”

“Just doin ya a favor, buddy. You know how I am: You wash your back and I’ll wash mine.”

“What? What the f**k are you talking about?”

“I gotta go shopping. Della told me to do the groceries before I come home and one of the cats had kittens, and I got Stan to leave water and food for the mother, but I don’t think he’s doin it right, so I’m gonna check before I go home...Awright with you?”

“Fine. Knock yourself out.”

“Okay, buddy. I’m just gonna need you to corporate with me; let me check on them during the day too now.”

“What are these cats?” Frank interrupted. Kronos went to 4:30 and everyone lined up to punch out.

“There’s always stray cats around here. People either dump them here or they get dumped elsewhere and make their way here.” Anton told him wearily.

“And I takes care of them.”

Stan takes care of them.”

“Yeah, right. IIII don’t think so.”

“Who’s ‘Stan’?”

“He’s the operator of the composting operation at the other end of the property. He’s got to be in at least an hour a day, seven days a week to monitor the compost. It’s made using sewage and septic system shit. He says the cats give him some company.”

“Della got you workin at the vegetable stand for that woman again this year, Big Rod?” Tom asked.

“I start Thursday.”

“You gonna be there next Monday?”

“Yeah. I work all my days off from here.”

“Good. Set aside some corn if they got some.”

“Okay. All I gotta do is say it was no good no more. She don’t know the difference.”

As they all fired up their vehicles, Frank strapped his knapsack down, made sure the lid on the water jar was tight, and mounted up. He picked up speed quickly, and shot through the entrance just as Anton was swinging the ten foot chain link gate shut. Checking traffic, he swung onto the shoulder and started pumping.

“Interesting. He feeds stray cats and protects pigeons; and talks about c*cks non-stop.

I kept an eye on him all day. He seems to live only for certain regulars who come in. Those are certainly the only ones he helps. But mainly, he stands there with his hands at his sides and talks with them, with the strangest, earnest appearance. What’s he talking about?

These people bring him stuff too. I’d seen him scurrying out to his car with his arms full of catfood cans, six-packs of soda, and donuts. All that stuff put aside for certain people: He’s got a racket here.”

He stopped about two miles from home at the peak of the tall hill overlooking the vegetable stand far below, and drank some water, panting. It was beautiful country.

“But the beauty of this world is beside the point. What matters is how it feels to be in it. And that is to suffer. Life is no gift; it’s a debt. ‘Il faut payer de sa vie.’…Something’s wrong with the damn bike.”

It wouldn’t stay in gear anymore. He got off and squatted down to look over the mechanism. He didn’t know any of the names of the pieces his eyes were following, but he had a good mechanical eye. He could follow a piece of equipment and dope out what was supposed to happen. In a minute or so he found the problem: The block just above the front sprocket that the gear cable went through had cracked in two. It wasn’t supported anymore. When he shifted, there was no anchor.

Shit. Don’t do this to me, Rocinante.”

He managed to ride home holding the gear selector firmly in place with his right hand.

With the help of three hose clamps, he stabilized the piece enough to make it work again after dinner. His mind wandered angrily as he worked, thinking about the futility of it all.

“My legs can’t seem to recover. They’re always aching and weary. And I can’t shake this heartburn... What’s the point of it all? What’s the point of all this effort? Am I fighting to stay alive just to stay alive? Why? ‘Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle’.

It’s like pissing into the wind. There’s no justice. We are all like Phineas: The Harpies of Life shit on us all.

But at least my first paycheck comes next week. By then I’ll be late on the phone bill; the first time I’ve been late on anything for as long as I can remember.

I’m scheduled for twenty hours a week all this month. That should allow us to catch up. But right now we’re scrounging, trying to find something to make up meals with.

By July our staple, the potatoes, will be starting to become harvestable, and I should have enough cash set aside to let me get to Wings Falls and buy some groceries.

Thanks to that beer the guy dropped off, Mel and I were able to split a bottle with dinner for two nights. That was the first beer we’d had in five years. I used to always brew my own, six gallons at a time. Man, those were the days. Maybe some day....

These people I’m working with are not my kind of people. But I’m stuck here working with them because I need this job.

I’m going to have to keep reminding myself of Confucius’ maxim: ‘The ‘superior man’ is always friendly; but never familiar. The ‘inferior’ man is always familiar; but never friendly’. Therefore: I need to stay on guard.

I’ve got to be polite, but keep them at a distance. I’ll brook no insolence though. I WILL be treated with respect.

When he finished he drew the Chinese characters for “Sage”, “Zhe Ren”, on the face of his knapsack to remind himself to aim at his ideal.

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