Tales From Mephitis Chapter 8: The Tomb Song.
“One thing is more necessary than another.” Nietzche
On Monday he splurged and took a cab in for groceries. The guy that showed up was an “Ex-Limo” driver from Las Vegas, a forty-year-old Brooklyn Italian named ‘Tony’; all of which he found out, and more, within five minutes. The “Housing Crash” in 2008 hit Vegas hard, and forced him back east. He was riding to work with another driver, still hadn’t made enough to buy a car, but he had his eye on a beaut.
“Nice thickly-applied accent.” Frank thought idly as he nodded occasionally at appropriate times in the brief pauses in the driver’s monologue. “Tony” let it be known that he had “Connections” with the old Gambino family.
He wondered if all these Italian City Ex-Pats pretend to be at least somehow connected to the Mafia. He idily wondered how Tony would feel if he told him he’d gotten into a fistfight with Gambino’s nephew; kicked the crap out of him.
Tony pulled into a yard to pick up another fare, and laid on the horn twice. As the youngish woman walked toward the cab, he moaned appreciatively.
“Oh, f**k! Oh, baby, how much I’d love to f**k her!” he murmured for Frank's benefit.
“Mornin’ love! Jump in and we’re off!”
When Frank paid for his groceries at the check-out, he suddenly realized how different he felt than the last time he was in there: He stood ‘taller’. It was all because he was working again; self-sustaining again. It was a surprising indication to him of how much being dirt-poor had affected his view of himself.
It felt Goddamn good to buy some things they’d been out of for months, and in the case of the hamburger, something they hadn’t had in five years. It had been months since they ate all that was left of the last deer he had shot.
He had always been contemptuous of ‘money’, as something to be disdained for its power over people. Now it seemed like nothing less than an absolute blessing to him. There was a profound sense of relief, a relaxation of tension, to not be just stopping the hemorrhage, but gaining a little bit.
In the grocery store’s lobby was one of the few pay phones left that he could use to call a cab. Everywhere he looked he saw cell phones stuck in people’s ears like an appendage.
“Vade meacum” He thought and wondered how these poor people could afford them.
And from what he could see, those people that he would definitely classify as poor did have them, and if anything, seemed to use them more than the more affluent subspecies.
The cabbie that came to pick him up for the ride back was fat and tattooed; a G.E.D twenty-nine-year-old with a cheap-tobacco gravelly voice. And he made sure Frank knew he depended on tips. And as he did help with the loading and unloading of the groceries, Frank sure did tip him; because now he could afford to.
Within that month his legs had finally responded to the challenge of the twenty miles, and there were only parts of a few hills that still defied him. He had knocked the time needed for the ride in down from an hour to forty minutes, and the ride home to fifty minutes.
And by the end of the month he was getting used to the job. He could run the balers at least well enough to be on his own, he knew the day’s routine, and had done a lot of the jobs, though not all yet. And he was slowly gaining proficiency with the skidsteer and its attachments. There were no more ‘games’ pulled on him at all, and Hoppin’ John was much more respectful and careful. But it’s always a mistake to get cocky and think you’ve got it by the horns. He re-learned that lesson yet again one day.
In the afternoon, he volunteered to go run the garbage baler when it needed it, in keeping with his philosophy of confronting what was difficult.
But he didn’t even notice that there were two bales on the floor all ready. He kicked the slimy mounds of trash out of his way so he could stand at the console without being ankle deep, and fired up the baler. The nine piercing wails of the warning siren pealed out.
“I have to remember to see if they’ve got ear plugs here. ...No, they won’t. I’ll bring my own.”
He flipped it into ‘Semi’, and pushed the ‘cycle’ button. Then again. And again. And again. He fell into musing about what he was reading at home: “Also Sprach Zarathutra”, smacking disgustedly at the swarm of flies trying to settle on him.
“There’s something that doesn’t follow. The ‘Eternal Recurrence’ just doesn’t seem to fit that build up to the ‘Great Noon’...And what was so novel about that? Even Lyell, the father of geology and gradualism, thought the Ichytosaurs would return again along with all the prehistoric ages…”
The baler went into ‘Full Bale’, and then began to eject and strap the full bale.
“But his message is essentially...”
“FRANK!! NO!! NOT THREE BALES!! THERE’S NO ROOM FOR THREE!!” Anton’ scream cut through his reverie and the tortured wail of the ram.
He suddenly realized what was happening: The two bales on the floor were pushed by the one being extruded up against each other and the cement wall. They could go no further. Yet the ejection ram was insisting that it was going to be rid of that third one. Something had to give, and it sounded like metal.
Instantly, his hand shot out and flipped it to ‘Manual’, freezing the calamity in its tracks.
“I’LL BE RIGHT DOWN!”
“Goddamn, I hope I haven’t killed it...and my job. You asshole.”
Anton hopped into the skidsteer with the garbage forks on, throttling it up all the way. He roared into the cave and sank his forks under a bale, then tried to lift it. They were wedged as tightly as if welded.
The engine blustered and bucked, sending plumes of blue clouds out its ass, the rear wheels lifting high off the ground time and again. He backed out and then attacked the second bale, the machine bawling, with no better luck. But he kept at it, sometimes almost standing the machine on its head, then crashing back down.
He slid the forks under so that one was beneath one bale, the other under the other, then he bucked the machine up and down until finally, the bales began to open up like a drawbridge. He pursued his advantage, the machine getting even louder. At last he got one free enough that he could drag it out far enough to get the forks under it and roar off with it to the roll-off. The next one followed.
He gestured for him to finish ejecting the third, which he removed.
“Christ, Anton, I’m sorry! I wasn’t thinking.”
“Forget it.” He shut off the baler and began examining it. “Looks like you moved the whole baler about two inches to the south.”
“Shit!” “I’m sorry, man.”
“Hey, I told you: Don’t worry about it. Every one’s done it. When Hoppin’ John did it, he tore the whole hopper free from the wall by about two feet. Had to get a welder in on a Saturday to fix it. This is nothing.”
“Hi, Frank! What are you doing here!?” Bertha’s jovial, fat lady voice boomed out late in the day. Like so many obese people, it was hard to judge her age. He was guessing she was only in her thirties. This late in the day the people were only dribbling in.
She worked as a County Extension Agent. He had known her from the markets. When he was president, before his past had crash-landed in his present, he had talked with her about regularly addressing the membership meetings.
“Paying for my sins.”
“HAW! HAW! HAW!” she guffawed good-naturedly. She was about to ask him something when Rod spotted her.
“There’s my girl!” He opened his arms wide as he came out to greet her. “Give me a hug!”
“STOP IT! Don’t start that again!”
“What’s the matter? Ain’t you my ‘Bodyguard’ anymore?” He turned to leer at Frank. “She’s my ‘Bodyguard’ cause she loves my body!”
‘Yeah, right, right. Don’t start.” She repeated tensely. “Here...take this. Make yourself useful.” Keeping Rod at arm’s length kept her distracted enough not to pursue whatever she was going to ask him. She just wanted now to get out of there and away from Rod.
“Okay, guys. See you next Friday.” She said to Frank. “Stay out of trouble.”
“HAW! HAW! HAW!”
He was still subdued over his faux pas with the baler and very glad when quitting time came. He was appreciative that no one said a thing about it, but he knew full well that story would have wings.
He waited his turn to punch out and got on the bike. As he pedaled out the gate, Rod passed him, honking. Then Anton passed, waving his hand. He looked over his shoulder and saw Hoppin’ John and Tom pulling out down the road. Those two went the other way, toward town.
As he swung his head forward, the bike wobbled slightly, and he went off the shoulder into the grass for about a yard before he got it back in balance and onto the tarmac.
That’s when he knew something was wrong. He looked down at the rear tire: Flat as a pancake and squishing out from the rim. Quickly he glanced up the road. Up the hill about a half mile, he saw the back of Anton’s car disappear around a bend.
“Shit... Goddamn it, Rocinante!” He stood still for a minute.
“Why am I cursing out a bike? It’s not alive. It’s not ‘Rocinante’. It’s a f**king bike. I’m the one who did it....Here come the Deerflies... Okay. This sucks. Start walking.”
The cars whizzed past him as he slowly climbed the hills. He had forgotten how awkward it was to walk a bike for any distance.
Almost unconsciously he noted that the Elderberries were starting to bloom already, as were the Daylilies. The milkweed hadn’t started yet, but wouldn’t be far behind, like the Queen Anne’s Lace, Knapweed, and Burdock.
“Man, Melissa’s going to be worried. She’ll figure I got hit by a car and am lying dead in a ditch somewhere....OH, YOU IDIOT! I should have turned right around and broken into the office to call her and let her know. GODDAMN IT!...Too late now. In about half an hour she’ll know I’m going to be late....For once I wished I had a cell phone.”
He had always refused to get one, and refused to get rid of his ancient rotary phone. When asked why, he’d reply: “Don’t need it. This works just fine. ”
That was only partially true. Relatively recently he had finally understood that he was really just being obstinate to make a point, to go against the current, to stand out as an individualist.
Sure, the rotary phone worked fine. But the rest of the world was not going to stand still to be considerate of his desires. To interface with the automated systems that had taken the place of people, “touch-tone” capability was not an unnecessary frill; it was a necessity now. His obstinacy was only hurting himself; the rest of the world ignored his noble gestures.
Well, now he wished he did have a cell phone. Just like he wished he had a car, a furnace, a riding lawn mower....and a fresh start.
When he got within five miles of home, he figured the people passing him, going home so effortlessly in their vehicles to maybe change and go out for a nice dinner, might recognize him and stop if he hitched. It’d been forty years since he hitchhiked. Back then, he traveled far and wide that way.
Now he just wanted to get home. It didn’t take long for him to decide to keep walking while holding his thumb out. No one would stop.
“F**k you all.” He muttered when about three miles from home. “I’ll walk.”
As he expected, Mel was waiting on the porch, arms crossed across her chest, a worried look on her face, as he limped up the hill to their drive.
“Did you have a flat?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry, Honey. I should have called, but by the time I remembered I could break in and get to a phone, it was too far to turn back already.”
“That’s all right. I’m just glad you’re okay. At first I was scared, but when I thought about it, about how old that bike and its tires are, I figured it was probably a flat.”
“And you were right.” She fell in alongside him and grabbed his thick arm as he walked the bike to the barn. “Ah, you don’t want to kiss me...I’m sweaty and covered with crap. I need a shower.”
“I called Anton.”
“You did? How did you get his number?”
“It was on one of those sheets you brought home. I asked him if you had left with everyone else or maybe stayed for some overtime.”
“What did he say?”
“He just said: ’No’. I told him I was really worried about you. He said maybe you were running some errands. I said: ’On a bike?’ He said: ‘No, that’s not really likely’. But he didn’t offer any help either.”
“I wouldn’t have expected any.”
The next morning, they were back at it; cutting up more felled trees, splitting it all and hauling it up to the barn. Now they were working the north end of the land, and the wood had to be wheel-barrowed up that terrible, steep hill through the woods.
After a quick lunch, they went back to work. Then the rains began. He kept urging Mel to let him finish it up, but she wouldn’t “ditch” him as she put it. But swinging that eight-pound maul, bending, loading, and pushing that load step by step up the hill finally overwhelmed her.
In all the years they’d been married, in all the grinding, grueling work her life with him had put her through; he had never heard her say “Enough. I quit.”
She did that day. He helped her stagger back up the hill to the house, where they both collapsed on the couch and fell asleep.
The work had been steadily grinding them down. Any time they did sit, they often just nodded off where they were. Neither of them could keep doing this much longer. There were still about eight loads of wood left down there. He went back down with tarps and covered it up. He brought it up the next day.
By that next morning, Melissa knew she’d re-injured her back badly. The spasms and shooting pains down through her leg kept her in an agony only someone who has had a prolapsed disc can know.
To add insult to injury, she had gotten bit behind her knee by mosquitoes, and had begun to feel ill. A red rash appeared behind her knee.
By the next day the headache, nausea, and the hypersensitivity of her skin was almost as bad as the back pain. Then came the chills, fever, and traveling waves of deep bone aches.
No matter what he said, he couldn’t convince her to let him bring her to the Emergency Room. She maintained that she knew how to alleviate the displaced disc, it would just take some time, and if a couple of years ago he had gone through whatever this was she had caught without going to the hospital, she wouldn’t either; she was no “wimp”.
He felt terrible leaving her the next morning after the horrible night she’d had, but she was peacefully sleeping finally, despite the thunderstorm that had kicked up in the predawn. Silently, he went about having breakfast and getting a lunch together. Rather than take a chance on waking her by kissing her before he left, he left her a love note instead.
The thunderstorm ended just before he left home. The sun was coming up a little later every day now that it was the beginning of July. He glanced over at the sun as it broke through the departing clouds. It appeared as a red ball shining through the mist, which was a promise for a hot, humid day ahead. Even flying down the hills didn’t cool him off.
Suddenly he remembered the dream he’d had last night. The storm had awakened him and he lay there for a moment bitterly thinking ahead to a wet ride. When he fell back asleep, he had seen a sunrise. Not any sunrise. He had seen the exact same one he was seeing now; the clouds and their colors, the landscape below it, and the red ball of a sun. All identical.
“Now what the hell is that?” he thought. “Coincidence? Hell of a coincidence.”
The rain had washed a lot of the reek from the air; he couldn’t even smell the dumps until he was within a hundred yards of it.
“The END draws nigh! Repent!” The evangelical Church’s sign proclaimed, righteously confident.
“Wonder what they’re getting so worked up about anyway? These messages are beginning to sound frantic.” He pedaled easily along the flat, thinking. “I remember Schopenhauer thinking that religions which teach that we came from nothing, but will become immortal, and that though created by another, we are responsible eternally for our deeds, just does not hold up to a mature mind’s examination. It appeals only to child-like minds or sloppy thinkers.
I think that’s pretty dogmatic of him. I think they appeal to a certain type of person, for sure. Particularly emotional ones. And of course, the religions, all the religions of the masses, are little more than priestly threats to enforce behavior and formulas to try to propitiate the Deity for personal gain.
The freshness of childhood memories meant to him that there is something in us that endures unchanged; a something he called ‘Will’, rather than ‘soul’. If the existence of the “Will” is not accepted, then life seems to be just a succession of nightmares coming into and out of existence for no purpose. The constant rebirths into life of a Will are to instruct and improve itself until it ‘abolishes’ itself.
He felt that the individual had no recollection of life before birth and will have none after death. It was essential that Memory die off with the body: To remember all our actions and sufferings for eternity would be unbearable.
For him, a ‘personal’ existence after death seemed inconceivable, but he felt there were lives lived before birth, and there will more after the death of the ego.
Palingenesis versus metempsychosis.
He was strongly influenced by Hindu ideas about karma and reincarnation; rather than the Greeks’ Eternal Cycles, which is the same as Nietzsche’s ‘ die Ewige Wiederkehr’’; ‘The Eternal Return’.
Wait. That’s what was bugging me about ‘die Stillste Stunde’: The build up did’nt fit what he eventually said it was for. What was it that comes in the ‘Stillest Hour’?
For me and a lot of others, it was repressed memories.”
He noticed something was different immediately when he rode up to the office. As usual Rod’s car was already here, and when he pulled up to the building, Hoppin’ John’s girlfriend, Tina, was just driving off. But everything should have been opened up already, and it wasn’t.
“Don’t get wet!” she cheerily called out to Frank as she passed him.
“Kidding around, or mocking me? Assume kidding around.” “Too late!” he called back as cheerily, which was rewarded with a delighted laugh. “Okay. It was just kidding.”
He went on in. No lights were on; or not really. The fluorescents overhead were weakly strobing. All the other interior lights were off. It was stifling, and the stench was overwhelming in the shut-up building. The door opened and Hoppin’ John stumped in from the bridge.
“Power’s out.” He pronounced flatly. “It’s on one leg. This place runs on 480, that’s three legs. Two are out.”
“Power company coming?”
“Not my job.”
“Well, what’s running?”
“Nuthin.” He descended gracelessly into Anton’s chair at the desk, resting his coffee on the ever-ready jutting mass of his gut.
“What did you tell Ray?”
“Nuthin. Not my job. I’m a truck driver. I drive trucks. Anton gets the big bucks to be boss, let him tell him.”
Shaking his head, Frank headed out to the trays, which were sealed off behind the overhead doors. Rod was just finishing pulling the barrels into place.
“This ever happen before?
“Yeah. Last year I think.” Rod grimaced. “Ooooh! This is my last Friday this month too! What da frig! I’m off every other Friday and Saturday this month. Why did this have to happen ta me?”
“Hey, listen...What do you do when the power is out?”
“Nuthin. We just fill the hopper with garbage till it’s full, then get a roll-off and throw them in there if the power’s not back yet.”
“How about the recyclables?”
“We just pile them on the ground.”
This made no sense to him. He went looking for Anton. He found him just coming out onto the bridge, looking sour. He fell in alongside him.
“Ray know yet?”
“I didn’t tell him.”
“So what happens now? Did you call the power company?”
“That’s what Ray gets paid the big bucks for. Let him do it. He’ll be here around ten.”
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“It’s none of my business, but maybe you ought to think of covering your ass and calling the power company yourself, before Ray gets here.”
He was silent for awhile as they walked.
“Assuming I was to call them, do you know who I should call?”
“I’ll be damned. He just didn’t know what to do.” “Well, there’s a power-outage reporting number in the phone book. They’ll ask you where the outage is. Just tell them.”
Anton turned and headed back to the office. Frank went outside and rounded up all the plastic garbage cans he could and put them in front of the sealed off trays.
“Rod. Listen. When the people start coming, we tell them about the outage, and tell them to use these barrels. When they’re full, we can carry them inside and dump them over the side inside.”
Cars were just starting to come in. He headed inside to see how Anton had made out. He groped his way through the blackness, hearing scurrying movements below him.
“Rats. They’re moving because it’s dark. Wonder how many they have here?”
When he got to the timeclock he saw Stan, from the sewage composting station, coming in to use the bathroom for his morning bowel movement. A blinding white light blazed from the center of his forehead.
“THAT’S what I need. What a great idea! A headlight you strap to your head. Gotta get one. Pretty soon I’ll be riding here in the dark.”
The power company was there within a half hour, but power wasn’t restored until almost quitting time. It turned out lightning had struck the transformers on a pole on the property, crisping the wooden crossarm. Made for a long day.
Rod had paid attention to what Frank said about telling the people the power was out, and very conscientiously carried it out. But he seemed to have missed the other bit about emptying the barrels. Byron, Anton, and Frank carried that part out.
“We have no power. So we have to do this all by hand.” Rod told one of his people, looking hang-dog, his arms drooping.
“Oh, no. That’s too bad. It must be hard on you guys.”
“Yeah. I’m dead already. And I go on vacation after today. I got almost all of July off. Every Friday and Saturday. Me and my wife are going camping.”
“Oh, yeah? Where?”
“To the lake. We go there every year. It’s only five minutes from where we live.”
When Frank went in for his lunch, he stopped in the office and looked for July’s work schedule. Ray faxed the month’s schedule in to each station at the beginning of the month. No schedule.
“Hey, Anton. I couldn’t find a schedule for July. Did it come in?”
“Not yet. Half the time Dodgers doesn’t get it out till the month’s almost over.”
“Well...Am I working?”
“Yeah. Just show up tomorrow as usual.”
“How about next week?”
“Same as this week.”
Saturday afternoon Anton, Rodney and Frank were idly waiting for some one to pull in. Anton had switched the radio station to his classic rock one. The Beatle’s Magical Mystery Tour was on.
“’I am the Walrus’, I am the Walrus, I am the Walrus.” Rod began repeating over and over
“That was McCartney.” Anton commented confidently.
“You sure? I thought it was Lennon.” Frank asked. He was sure it was Lennon.
“No. If there’s one thing I know better than anyone else, it’s the Beatles. Especially John Lennon. He’s my hero.”
“No shit... It’s pretty unusual for someone of your generation to think so highly of him.”
“He was great. I love all that music from that era. That’s all I listen to. It must have been a great back then.”
“I don’t know about ‘great.”
“You were there?” he asked in disbelief, like he’d met a walking ghost of a legendary time. “Are you that old”
“Yeah. I’m sixty.”
“’I’m fifty-eight. I was there too, but I don’t have any rememberies about it.”
“Shut up, Rod.”
“Why do you think it must have been great back then?”
“Because then everyone believed they could change things. People changed the world. They ended a war, the Vietnam War, by saying ‘NO.’ to those in power.”
“Actually, the war ended because the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong won, they flat-out beat us. Americans hate to hear that though. All the protests did nothing. It’s a fallacy that the military’s hands were ’tied’ because of lack of public support. They threw more at the Viet Cong and the North than all the ordnance used against Germany in World War II. And they still couldn’t stop them.”
“Ya know, I had a thinking the other day when I was thinking...”
“Shut up, Rod...You don’t think any of those protests did anything?”
“Oh, they made everyone feel like they were doing something positive and good; and that was an accomplishment. And it forged a common bond, solidarity, an ‘us versus them’ sort of comraderie...But make any changes in public policy? No.”
“Really? That makes sense though. I think that you need a leader with a great idea; that can make the people believe in him. That’s how things change. Like Kennedy. He was going to get us out of Vietnam, that’s why he was killed.”
“I’m the only one my age who never smoked Mara-jew-wana, or did any Hal-oo-cenets.”
“Shut the f**k up, Rod!...That’s what we need; leaders with vision, that can give the people something to believe in. Because this country is heading down the wrong direction. That’s my idea.”
“Leaders like who? Clinton? Bush? Pee Wee? ”
“Who’s ‘Pee Wee’?’
“Sorry, that’s my nickname for ‘Dubaya’ Bush.”
“No, I was thinking of Leaders, like John and Bobbie Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Gandhi.”
“I don’t know. There have been a lot of people down through history who though great, could not affect any real change: Socrates failed to change Alciabedes, nor could Plato dent Dionysis. Aristotle couldn’t tame Alexander, Seneca sure as hell failed with Nero, and Marcus Aurelius pulled a real boner setting his son Commodus up for the throne.
There have probably never been more enlightened kings than Asoka or Shotukuyo, yet their improvements died with them. Same with Gandhi. And all those ‘great’ leaders you mentioned? They have one thing in common, don’t they? They’re all dead.”
“They’re all dead because they were great leaders. They were killed deliberately.”
“I see what you mean. Because they threatened the ones in power. You know, maybe entrenched government is the problem. I always thought the Libertarians had it right. Like Jefferson said; the government is best that rules the least.”
“There’s something to that of course, but the Libertarians neglect to mention one essential point: They want no government that makes them pay taxes for someone else’s benefits, but they are all too ready to accept government spending for their own benefit.”
“What are you talking about?”
“They’re so fond of saying they don’t need government, while they’re enjoying police protection, the protection of courts of law, the publicly built highway systems of roads, and the governmental enforcement of contracts.
The Libertarian Party is actually the ‘I got mine, Jack. You’re on your own -Party.’ If they really got what they seemed to be asking for it would be every man for himself, and the devil take the hindermost. They wouldn’t possess what they have for long because they depend on the publicly financed infrastructure to make their money and the publicly financed enforcement of laws to make it safe for them to do business...or even live.”
“I never looked at it that way.”
“I try to think about what I have seen.”
“I guess it’s because I’m still young that I haven’t gotten as cynical as you are...So what’s the answer?”
“I don’t know, maybe I am just cynical. Sometimes change just takes time. You know, Schopenhauer said the characteristic expression of the elderly is one of disappointment.
Even the ‘Laughing Philosopher’, Voltaire, said that after eighty years he was only sure of this: That spiders will always eat flies, and flies will always be born to be eaten by them, and happinesses will be crushed.....But I was there and I remember. I’m telling you what was, not what I wish was... I’m sorry.
I don’t want to dampen your enthusiasms. That’s what youth is for. And who knows; just because it hasn’t worked in the past doesn’t mean it never will. And if it’s not tried over and over again, we’ll never know if it can succeed one day.”
“That’s right.” Anton affirmed seriously.
“So tell me; I’m curious. What about ‘your’ generation? I hate generalizations; but generally speaking, what do you all ‘believe’ in?”
“They don’t believe in anything.” He spat it out bitterly. “They care about nothing but themselves and getting drunk.”
“Interesting. Really? Why do you suppose that is?”
“I don’t know. It just seems like everything’s fallen apart. There’s no work out there, it’s tough to find anything decent. Most of them can’t afford to live on their own, so they have to live with their parents...It’s just grubbing for a living. We’re never going to have what our parents and grandparents had.”
“How long you been working here?”
“Me and Anton started almost the same time.” Rod broke in “He’s got two months on me, that’s why they made him foreman instead of me when Don was fired. He got fired for drugs. Anton didn’t never like him cause he offered him all the time ten thousand dollars if he could anally penetrate him in the ass. They asked me first ta be foreman, but I told them that ain’t right, Anton’s got seniority on me. Like when I was at ‘Syco’....”
“Shut the f**k up. Don’t start with your ‘Syco Talk’...I started in 2004. This is the first ‘real’ job I had. I was eighteen. Can you imagine this place as your first job? Working with something like him...” Anton indicated Rod with his chin “...and these others? It makes me nauseous. I can’t wait to get out of here.”
“I hear you’re going to school?”
“To be a Paralegal.”
“Excellent. Two yearprogram? Four year?”
“Two. Full time. I’ve been going part-time. I’m taking a sabbatical for nine months so I can go full time. I should be done by next May.”
“Anton’s real smart and oral-verbal. I’m very, very proud of my son!”
“Shut the f**k up.”
“So what’s this ‘Syco’?”
“That’s where Rod used to work.”
“For thirty years. Before they moved to Mexico after the new owners promised they wouldn’t. We made catheters. All the other Catheter places; ‘Phillips’, ‘Prium’, ‘MedServices’, ‘AdvaCare’; they all left already. I got laid off and no one would hire me. My wife got hired by the last catheter maker, ‘C.W. East’, but I failed at the interview. ”
“Don’t get him started on this...”
“I told them I got writ up so much cause my boss hated me at ‘Syco’. He was goin out with the bitch that was in converting. I really ran the warehouse, my real boss knew I knew what I was doing, so he let him do it my way. His boss was the one that hated me. I didn’t spread that drain cleaner on the toilet seat! Or that time someone smeared shit on the toilet seat, that wasn’t me either! They said I did, but I didn’t! An she was the one that took my lift-truck...I liked that type of truck. It had the controls you worked with your hands. I don’t like the skidsteers. I can’t get used to using the pedals....I was just takin it back when she rammed into me with the other one. So, I rammed her back! An I was the one got writ up! An I didn’t throw that wrench. I just threw it back at him, I wasn’t tryin ta hit him! He threw it at me!”
“ Wait a minute...Who was he?”
“No, Frank, don’t bother. Don’t encourage him.”
“He was her brother. After Della threw me out, she was going out with him while we were separated...”
The salvaged pink ‘Princess’ phone set up by the battered fridge rang.
“Shut the f**k up and get the phone, Rod.”
“Florence Transfer Station, Rod speaking...Yes, till 4:30 today, but we’re closed tomorrow for the 4th of July... Why?... Because of the 4th of July...I know Saturday’s not the 4th, but we’re closed anyway...No, we’re open Tuesday.... I know Tuesday’s the 4th. Thannnk yoooo.”
It was a good thing he happened to check on his bike about an hour before quitting time. The rear tire was flat.
“Who the f**k...?” Instantly his mind raced over the possibilities of who could have done that. It could have been any of them. All they needed was a few minutes alone with the bike.
“If I catch whoever’s f**king with me... they’ll need a feeding tube when I’m done with them.”
He had seen a big air compressor in the warehouse. Anton gave him a hand getting it going and finding a hose and nozzle. He hadn’t found any holes, or nails stuck in the tire, so he was hoping for a slow leak. It looked like he might be in luck; it seemed to be holding air.
It went dead flat within two miles of the station. He walked home again, grinding his teeth. The cars flew past him, effortlessly climbing the hills, the windows rolled up, air conditioners and stereos creating a cozy environment. He knew that some of these people that were passing him knew who he was, for there was truth in what Sherlock Holmes once called “the powerful curiosity of quiet places”. Rural people are ‘observant’; a pleasant euphemism for ‘nosey’.
There were in the main three groups of people who chose to live in “the sticks” in upstate New York.
Group One is composed of those who grew up there and never left; whose ancestors had lived there and never had left.
They are all that is left of the original Dairy farming families. There are only a handful of those working farms left. They are often large people with thick hands, both males and females. They work for themselves now at whatever they can or at whatever laborer job they can pick up for as long as it lasts.
They used to be factory hands a generation ago, but there are no mills left now. There are definite signs of inbreeding here as well as entrenched poverty. But they still view this area as “theirs”, and view all others with surliness as interlopers, land-grabbers.
For them jacking deer is a tradition. So is having their land logged off from time to time. They view their woodlands as a cash crop; sort of a slow- growing hayfield, though they would never phrase it that way. It was just what their “people” had always done to raise cash.
This group doesn’t garden, or eat much in the way of vegetables beyond sweet corn and tomatoes. But they do raise meat; chickens, beef cows, and pigs. The livestock are raised in whatever ramshackle sheds can be gotten away with, because they figure there is no point wasting effort or money on a walking food supply.
They heat with wood occasionally, but more often with oil or kerosene, buying by the gallon in cans if they’re short of cash.
They hate zoning and love battered pick-ups; the noisier the better. They drink a lot of cheap beer, smoke cheap cigarettes or use snuff. They are scroungers who keep everything: “Ya never know when ya’ll need that.”
They see no need for a dumps, because everything that needs to get thrown out just gets dumped right there on their own property; sometimes right outside the door, sometimes in a hedgerow. ‘Burn Barrels’ take care of the rest of their trash.
They are prone to leaving easy chairs or couches out doors all year for lounging around in; either on a porch or under no cover at all. Occassionally one sees an old toilet bowl used as a planter.
They have answering machines, but never return phone calls. They figure if it’s important enough, whoever it is will call back.
They have guns, a lot of them, and they know how to use them.
They always beep as they pass houses they know, whether anyone is out and about there or not. And they always stop to see if a stopped car needs help.
Their daughters usually have children early and often. Among a lot of them in the past the children were born out of wedlock, because until ‘Welfare Reform’, more kids meant all the more money. That stream has now been shut off.
But where there is a will to abuse a system, there will be a way. Now they simply get themselves married and pregnant starting very early, usually in High School, and often. They divorce each spouse, and live off the child support from several different ex-husbands; as long as the courts can force them to pay. These young ladies have only one or maybe two years of blooming beauty and desirability in their very early teens and then they just get fat; real fat.
Group Two is comprised of the misanthropes: Those who want or need solitude because they cannot abide living close to their fellow man, the last of the hippie homesteaders, and PTS damaged Viet Nam vets.
Group One finds Group Two suspicious and watches them from a distance, which Group Two notices and hates, because they are either paranoid, or intensely private.
Group Two may raise their own vegetables as well as their own meat. If they hunt, it’s only legally and during the regular season, but they seek to exterminate the predators and varmints that eat their livestock or crops year round, and deer are considered pests.
Many in this group heat with wood, and if they can’t harvest enough off their land, they’ll buy it direct from loggers, who are as notoriously dishonest in the main as car salesmen are.
They drive whatever they can afford. The vets keep choppers and hogs to ride in the summer.
This is the group that will brew their own wine and beer and raise their own dope. They too keep guns; for hunting and self-protection. The vets, most who have never seen actual combat, have a preference for semi-automatic assault rifles.
Group Three, the latest one, is “The Exurbs”. They commute about an hour south to work, and they’re making the switch from the big SUVs to new, more fuel efficient, smaller cars. They often will also have the de rigueur Pick-up, but it will be new and top-of-the-line.
They have no intention of mixing with the locals, whom they view as uneducated hicks, (and they’re right), they just want the ambience of ‘rural living’ for their children and for entertaining their city friends.
Group One feels this from them and hates them for thinking they’re better than them, (they’re not). Group Two feels it too and is happy to be left alone, but annoyed and offended to be lumped in with Group One by Group Three.
This third group may raise livestock, but if they do it will be in designer sheds or barns. And more often than not it will be for horses and Guinea hens, or chickens strictly for the eggs; not pigs or beef cattle. They hate hunting, the slaughtering of livestock, and cutting down trees. They drink Scotch, (single malt), or boutique vineyards’ wines.
If they smoke it will be Caribbean cigars. If they garden, it will be perennial flower gardens or small vegetable gardens with a theme; like all heirlooms or different tomato varieties one year and all purple vegetables the next. They will proudly let it be known that they had earned a “Master Gardener’s” certificate from the County Extension.
They heat with oil or propane, shop for meat at farmers’ markets and feed deer. They push for zoning to clear out the ‘riff-raff’ (Groups One and Two) and raise their own property values.
This group has no weapons.
What all three of the groups have in common is that, each for their own reasons, hate the “government”; local, state, and national. Those in Groups One and Two that are affiliated with the ‘Tea Party’ hate the ‘U.N.’ as well.
Frank figured he and Mel were definitely part of Group Two. They were both loners, unable to abide others for long; only each other. They were accepted locally however, being seen as “Hard workers who keep to themselves”, as Mel was told by one of the local mother hens.
Frank had gained the reputation as something of a local “Iron Man”, by dint of a few incidents; like the time a farmer’s teenage daughter stopped and tearfully asked his help in getting her ATV out of the ditch across the road. She was afraid her father was going to kill her.
He simply walked over and picked up the rear end and dragged it out of the ditch. Her eyes looked like they were going to pop out.
Then there was the time another neighbor had his tractor fall over on him and pin him under it in the stream. Frank and Melissa had heard him mowing, then suddenly the mower stopped and they heard blood-curdling screaming for his wife.
Frank had heard screams like that in the mill when people got pinned in a machine or lost a finger or a limb. He told Mel to call 911 as he flew down the hill.
When he got there, he quickly asked the older man if he were hurt and where. The neighbor said he thought he was okay, just pinned and unable to get out. Frank’s first thought after hearing that was that this guy was a weenie: Making all that blood-curdling shrieking and he wasn’t hurt? He bent over and picked the tractor up off him.
Got a bottle of gin as an unexpected thank-you from the man who couldn’t understand how it was possible for him to have physically lifted that tractor.
He had taken it in his head awhile back to cut their firewood by hand like the old-timers did; with a bucksaw. Unfortunately, the only place he could have the logs dropped off was near the road. Day after day, he felt the eyes of passing cars on him. People began to stop him at the post office, telling him how much they admired what he was doing. He wished they wouldn’t; it made him feel embarrassed. Then the local fire chief stopped one day.
“Hey. Mind if I ask you something, fella? Cuttin wood by hand is one thing, but how the hell are you getting a log like that up on them cradles?” He indicated the eight foot section of two foot thick maple log he was cutting.
“First one end, then the other.”
“Whhhheeeew”, he whistled, reached out and squeezed his arm to see what could do that.
And now everybody no doubt knew they had been out of work, they all knew by now he was riding a bike to work, and where and what that work was. Mel and Frank hated being under the microscope like that.
They had nothing whatsoever in common with Group One, despite the fact that they were poorer than most of them and they were engaged in the same farming and logging tasks.
Group Three, when they found out Mel and Frank were artists, wanted to claim them as their prize and have them appear at their circles. They had nothing in common with this group either, finding them selfish, arrogant, and pretentious. They just wanted to be left alone.
Well, now he was.
He was good and tired when he walked into the house.
He was relieved to see Melissa was much better. Every day from then on brought her some more relief from her back, and from whatever disease she had.
They were in agreement that it was similar to what he had had, and the only thing they knew of that created a rash like that and had those symptoms was “Lyme’s Disease”; but there was no tick bite, only mosquito bites.
If this was Lyme’s Disease, empirically it was evident ticks were not the only vector. When Frank had contracted it, there too there had been no ticks, but lots of mosquito bites.
“You know what?” she asked wistfully. “I wish we had some new movies to watch. I’m so tired of re-watching the same old movies over and over again for years.”
She fell asleep on the couch after a light supper with her head on his lap. He stroked her hair softly, soaking her up. He loved that woman.
She too had had it really rough; these past few years in particular. She had expected justice for them and revenge on their enemies; a happy ending. In some ways he thought it’d been harder on her than him.
He had never expected a happy ending. He never saw one yet except on TV, in the movies, or in fairy tales. Yet, like her, he was profoundly shaken by the events that had overtaken them. Any remnants he harbored about ‘fairness’ were shattered.
Before all this happened, he had thought their lives finally were on an even keel and planned out; the Odyssey was over. They’d continue to farm and sell the fruits of their labor until they couldn’t anymore. The income was adequate, and they had little interaction with the world: No computer, internet, or cell phones, and they just didn’t answer the land line. That had been his goal; to simply vanish:
“The Master is picking herbs on the mountainside; cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.”
Then circumstances or some malignant Being stepped in with a sledgehammer and destroyed everything.
In one of Plato’s dialogues, he had posed the question: Supposing there was a, completely innocent, completely just man who was unjustly accused and thought guilty by all. Would his innocence, his justness, go unrecognized? Would he suffer the fate of a truly guilty man?
After much hemming and hawing, Plato avoided the obvious conclusion and instead simply said that ‘of course’ such a thing could never really happen; no innocent man would be so completely thought guilty.
Frank had been appalled at what he considered a cop-out.
If there is no justice, if the evil prospers and the good fail; why try to be just and good?
You can say: “Well, even if there is no God that is just, we humans can make just laws.”
Tell that to the wrongly imprisoned, or the ones who have had the courts used against them to rob them. Tell that to the victims who see their attackers get off on a technicality. Tell that to a country whose greedy, criminal banks are bailed out and unpunished for pillaging a world’s economy and it is the people that are made to foot the tab and suffer reduced services to pay for it, while the same banks speculate again with the free money from the Federal Reserve.
No; that is not a satisfactory answer either. But on one thing he did agree with Plato. In ancient Greece, they too had ruinous speculative bubbles and crashes. Plato’s solution was to either outlaw speculation, or forbid governments from enforcing contracts.
The best answer Frank had come up with was: If you are expecting justice or revenge, or a place in a ‘heaven’, because of your striving to do good; you’re really looking to be paid for your ‘virtue’, so you really are no more than a wage-earner.
But if you strive for virtue for no other reason than you cannot do otherwise, then you are superior to the universe that contains you.
But spiders will continue to eat flies, and the good will die young, and evil will prosper.