Rare is the Midwestern day that finds perfection. It's too cold, it's too hot. It's rainy, it's snowy, icy, humid, or flakey dry. The wind doth blow with all combinations of these, gathering up beneath the cuffs and collars, cooling sweat or rashing skin.
Hippie chick belongs in the Northern forest. One cannot guess why she's stoned to the city Her lithe and lovely shoulders tend to gardens of herbs and flowers, and her kitchen gathers potions and potpourri, and her parlor plays host to crafts of forgotten music and abstract jewelry
She has the remnants of youth about her in an obvious way.
Beach bunny walks the wet sands of summertime in her mind, and wonders how she will ever return to her native lands. Her strong curves tend potted plants arranged for sale, and her home is let go, and her kids are clingy fishes, and she worries with her gusty will about the next day and love now and love then and how will love be kept.
She has the remnants of youth about her in an obvious way.
I had had it with Advanced Criminality, Incorporated. It was only a matter of time, I suppose, until someone figured out how to make a service organization into a mob. It was Life in Hell. Quantity was valued over Quality, and success was measured in the amount of money brought in for the bosses to suck up. The atmosphere in the shop was what I might imagine a prison day room to be, replete with moronic tough-guys spewing insults and profanities, acting out semi-violent passions, strutting like cocks in a dirty chicken house, doing all they could to live up to their favorite "motherfucking" curse. Management was quite the same as one would expect in a prison, inept maintainers of an air of abusive and threatening parenting, inflated weaklings elevated to be feared and ridiculed, hated, respected only for the power they wielded, the power of hire and fire.
I had had it with busting my ass for them. Was I to believe the entire human labor force was devoid of all semblance of civilized behavior, even to the point that completely rude and uncouth morons were all that could be found to lead, much less to work? The average cable customer has no idea the kind of wicked thinking that goes on inside the average head of the average cable guy they let into their homes. Advanced Criminality cared not for a person's style, manners, or professional attributes, but only for what a person could bring them in the way of gold stolen from the corporate coffer.
O, but they provided a vehicle. Damned Chevys and GMCs that were trashed by their punished employees. O, but how did they afford it? By paying mostly minimum wage. We were buying the trucks, but the young and dumb wannabes could not fathom the math of it.
I met her online. I've got no business dating. I'm living in my sister's basement. She had the look of a young and smart girl, and she saw right through my satirical profile. I did what I could to run her off, but not all I could. Something inside me said that would be very stupid.
I had had it. I had had. The mob sent me out to work in a Sunday blizzard, without so much as a hint of concern that the weather might just be too fucking awful to be climbing poles. I wouldn't kid about this...there was four inches of snow over two inches of ice. The authorities asked folks to stay home unless they absolutely had to go outside. The wind was blowing a gale, and gusting like a bastard in completely unpredictable directions. One guy put his van directly into a ditch first thing, and the word was sent out to "be careful"...like it hadn't occurred to anyone.
They towed the guy out, gave him another van, and sent him back to work.
The doors I knocked on that day were opened by astonished cable subscribers, in awe that the corporation would send its workers out on such a sucky day. I gave them the standard and required bottom-line statement...that real men didn't let the weather stop them from going out and making eight-bucks and hour to feed their desperate families.
Like I got kids.
We had lunch, and I checked out her details. I can't really understand how she came over me. It's happened before, to no good end. It wasn't any one characteristic...it was the combination of them all: A tough but tender body, a face of unintentionally exasperated expression, an intelligence that saw through the piles of societal bullshit, a personality that accepted the relevance of her uniqueness, and reveled in it.
I don't know why I couldn't get her out of my mind. To look at her, she seemed quite ordinary. To know her was to know better. She got under my skin like a pleasant parasite.
A person may not know what it's like to lift a twenty-eight foot extension ladder up into a thirty mile an hour gale. Fun is not a word I would use. The struggle raise it is a bit like the struggle to raise a victorious flagpole in the midst of a furious battle. To hook it on the strand is an experience of great relief, that it is up, that one has survived, that the objective is secured. To climb it in a gusty gale for reasons of no great importance for wages far below the norm is an exercise in human futility.
The fuckers want their cable hooked. They don't care if it kills you. Glen Beck is on.
I had put my ladder on the strand a couple times that blizzardy morning, questioning both times the sanity of the human race. By the afternoon, conditions had only gotten worse...yet one more time a cable customer did not suggest that I might come back on a better day.
I carried the ladder down an icy ally, and strained against the blowing snow to extend it to the strand. I didn't really like the way it looked...the pole was a bit rotted, and the strand hung a little low, and the feet of the ladder sat upon the alley ice like the feet of a little boy on a frozen pond...but, I had managed to get a hook jammed between the tap and an amplifier, so it appeared to be relatively stable. I only had to go up long enough to take the terminator off and connect the drop. I climbed quickly, and arrived at the tap just as a continuous burst of wind struck me head on.
I endured it, holding on to rung and rail like I was scaling a Himalayan cliff. In the lull after the gust, I removed the terminator and attached the drop F, and fumbled in my pocket for the right tags. The wind slapped me again, and the strand swayed fervently, pushing up on my ladder, then swaying back, slipping the tap out from under, and letting the hooks slide down the frosty hardwire, the feet below kicking up. I clutched the tap, and with a jerk of my leg righted the leaning ladder, and slid down it quickly, landing on the ice with a slip to my knee and a crack to my hardhat. I stood slowly, and looked around for casual spectators, finding none, of course, on such a winter's day. I pulled my tool belt up, and my pants, and collected my wits quite carefully, then walked stoically and steadfastly to the cab of the little GMC, where I sat for a silent and extended while staring past the windshield at the lamented the woes of the toiling masses.
It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that perhaps I was not cut out to be a cable guy. It's kind of silly to think that anyone is or should be. I'm not so full of shit as to fool myself into believing that I work because I enjoy it. I work to survive. I work for money, because that's what it takes. Working for a meal and a roof over my head and a place to bed would be about the same, and this is the fact of the matter, that I'm no more than a free-range slave. I decided then and there to get out of the mob and move on to more legitimate and less dangerous masters.
It's a known issue that life ceases. Everything that lives, dies. It's nature's great equalizer.
There had been pains in my lower internals, both front and back. I had a strange heaviness in my bowels that was very hard to describe other than to say that it felt like I was about to make a turgid turd, though my colon was apparently clear. I also had the constant sensation of needing to pee, though nothing but a drip or two came out. It might have all been a fluke if the symptoms hadn't persisted.
I went down to a local clinic, where I had heard that I could get checked out for twenty-five bucks. It was very nice, a Catholic hospital charity kind of thing. The young doctor there gave me a good going over, and asked many appropriate questions. I dropped my jeans, and he gave my gonads a thorough feel.
"How long have you had this?"
"All my life, I reckon..."
"No, how long have you had this mass on your testicle?"
I couldn't say. I'd have to say that I pay a lot more attention to my penis. I hadn't been dating much, nor had I been laid but a time or two in the last couple of years, so no one else was paying much attention to my testicles, either.
"You need to have it checked out. Ultrasound."
I suppose it's difficult to know how someone will react to news that isn't good and potentially very bad. I can't deny that I had a few hours of rational panic, but I felt deep down a weird calmness. It might be the symptomatic result of my crappy life that I actually looked forward in a sick sort of way to cancerous testicles. Let's face it...I've had more than my fair share of sexual relationships, so much so that I really feared a new one. I checked the web, and discovered that the survival rate for ball cancer was quite high, due primarily to the fact that there was a pretty good cure: Amputation.
A good excuse to lie around smoking dope and writing my novel. Who says this isn't positive?
We had a long dinner at a bar off Grand near the university. The conversation was both shallow and deep, our complaints melding like the powders of a batter.
Just add water.
She invited me to her place for a smoke. I hadn't been high in months. Her little house was a tidy mess, good for hiding things. We sat at her kitchen table, and she loaded the toker a few times, and I filled my lungs and thus my mind. She showed me her potions and herbs, and talked of her crafts, and the intentions of her life. I watched her lush movements as if I was studying a new species.
She said she was cold. I told her I could warm her up. She made upon her face the grimace of the insulted girl, and her eye was the eye of an angry opponent, and I looked at my shoes, and saw what I had stepped in.
I had another hit, and some lame comments fell from my mouth, and I said goodbye with a small hug and dry kiss, and tramped off into the snowy St. Louis like an arctic explorer, contemplating my latest discovery while reconsidering my approach to it..
My work had a new resolve. She wouldn't settle for me, and why would she? I had landed in a sticky misery, and she happened by, to gasp at my pitiful writhing.. I had to free myself, or be forever outside her graces.
Who understands the mind of a man?
Certainly not I.
She was the kind of girl that, when you looked at her, you might wonder why you couldn't stop thinking about her later. My desire for her was nearly instantaneous, and only grew with every meeting, and only grew with every rejection. I have a quirk, you know...when I meet someone and get to know them, I sometimes spontaneously imagine that I am them...I feel as if I am in their skin for just a moment. I so enjoyed being her, so lithe, so lovely, so smart, so coy, so unintentionally sexy, so damned unobtainable.
We chatted. I wrote inaccessible and sometimes drunken poetry in her honor. I was writing. It was good.
She doesn't do Christmas, but I bought her some crap anyway. She said my negativity bothered her, and gave me the positive thinking best seller, The Secret.
It pissed me off royally.
I've got a goddamn right to my damn negative bias. I might be having my nuts off, lady.
I was hooking up some cable crap for a tiny little person in an apartment outside of Godfrey, IL, when I realized that I hadn't brought in my compression crimpers. I went out to the GMC just as another cable contract worker pulled up next to me. He was driving his own S-10, with a magnetic sign on the side: RCH Cable. He was looking for a nearby address. I kind of pointed in the direction of it, and asked if he was getting rich. He said he made eighty-thousand last year, selling, collecting, and disconnecting.
Wow, I said, I make minimum wage.
He laughed the laugh of the all-knowing troll.
That night I answered a Craigslist advertisement seeking a "cable retention specialist" in southern Missouri. I own a house in that area that I had to rent out when my world went to shit a few years back. It's on the old family farm, where two of my brothers still live, one of which casually stole the land out from under me, and the other one of which is a deluded jerk-ass burden of a right-wing hypocrite. It would be good if I could get back down there, maybe back into my house, but at least back to the woods and good life, the silence and solitude.
I had to have it checked out. I was referred to a medical corporation down the street from the hospital. I'm not sure what affiliation they had with the local air base, but many of the people working there were uniformed Air Force personnel. I waited more than an hour and a half, both in the waiting room and in the exam room, for an unexpectedly young and beautiful doctor.
I won't deny the chemicals that boiled inside me when she walked in. Damn, I thought...why am I so old?
I explained to her what the clinic physician had told me about the growth upon my jewels, and flooded her with questions regarding the implications of the mass. She gave me a cursory examination, heart rate and blood pressure, and tried her best to address the condition. Then she said she supposed that she would have to check it out for herself before she sent me over to the ultrasound technician. She admitted her inexperience in such matters, and called for assistance through the office intercom.
As we waited, we had a small conversation about the virtual slavery of the modern workforce. She, too, felt as if she was indentured. She was strangled by the debts of her education, and overwhelmed by the length of her week. All the complaining I do, I thought, must be pretty weak compared to her reasons for woe.
The door burst open, and a very large Air Force Major in full camouflage fatigues stepped in as if he had been monitoring our conversation. He closed the door behind him, and spoke of the current procedure.
My filthy mind was swirling with pornographic scenarios, but I wasn't sure that he wasn't going to fuck me first. He stood at attention in front of me and put on a rubber glove, and said I could just drop my pants down. I felt for an instant a frozen fear, like he had threatened me with a beating, but as it has been for so many years now my old-man patience rose to the top, and I undid my belt, button, and zipper, and let my britches drop, looking down with relief at my cloaking shirt tail. He looked up at the ceiling while reaching down to gather up my scrotum into his cold fiddling fingers.
"Unh-huh. O yeah."
"Do you mind if I try?"
She put on a glove as he released my treasures.
"It's on the left one."
"O...yes, I see..."
I smiled. She giggled.
Her fingers were much warmer.
I pulled my pants up, clicked my heels together, and saluted the major before he snapped away, hiding his shitty grin.
Later, the ultrasound technician lubed them up and gave them more attention than they had had in many years. She charged well over three hundred dollars to tell me she didn't think it was cancer.
Not yet, anyway. Hey, they don't feel cancerous. They just feel weird. I'm going home to masturbate now.
It didn't take me long to figure out that testicular cancer was the funniest of all cancers by far. I don't think it was all that unusual for me to have a twinge of disappointment at the good news diagnosis of pre-cancerous calcium deposits. The situation must be monitored, but for now, the knife is not required. That's great, I know...but instead of a few years of dope-smoking novel writing before death, I have about twenty or thirty more years of low-wage slavery to look forward to. These scenarios are easily weighed, but tough to judge.
There was an unexpected side to the equation that is darker than I had imagined. When a person is confronted with the unholy specter of an untimely death, or just the simple notion that they personally can be affected by a disease that will debilitate or kill them, the amount of bullshit they can tolerate suddenly becomes very low.
I could write another book about my troubles with my selfish and unethical siblings, but for now I'll thank the Earth that I've come to learn that humans do human things simply because they are human. Knowing that did not stop me, however, from taking a small trip in the little blue sports coupe down to the old farm for the sole purpose of giving my hypocritical brother a large piece of my stewing mind. I was pissed about his actions at a recent family reunion, that's all...and I thought it was time he heard first-hand what people had been saying behind his back his entire life.
He didn't take it well. He thought being an unrepentant Nazi quasi-pedophile racist pig bastard was how to be. He didn't want to hear how the rest of the siblings and myself blamed him for our mother's death, and how I personally blamed him for our father's death, and how our dead brother didn't even consider him a true fraternal unit. He's a selfish, manipulating, conniving sociopath that has been a burden on the family his whole life, who then has the nerve to get upset when his molested daughter doesn't want to see him at the reunion. You know, if he could just show some real remorse, it would go a long way toward his redemption...but he can't, because he really doesn't think he did anything wrong. After all, incest and pedophilia were part and parcel of German Nazi life, and it doesn't matter how many of them our father shot in the war, it's okay by him, because forty million white supremists couldn't be all wrong.
I then told him that my testicles were in danger of being disconnected, and that I wanted everyone in the county to know.
Not a problem. He is also the town gossip. He hasn't spoken to me since.
I had a few more dates with the hippie chick, but it was quickly becoming apparent that she was never going to fall for me. I really think she tried, you know...but it's the same as always...I'm attracted to intelligent, independent women, but they're just too smart and too independent to ever fall for an overused loser like myself.
I know she tried. I had another small smoking session with her, at her kitchen table. It was all I could do to keep my mauling paws off of her subtle curves. I tried all my moves...subtle and clever wordplay, sly, impromptu touching, soft looks and knowing winks...but she just wasn't melting. I was practically a foaming wolf, ogling her when she wasn't looking, desperate to get my hands on her parts like an eager mechanic.
She was getting sleepy, but from the smoke, and not from any hypnotism per my eye. She stood, and nodded toward the door, and I stood, and embraced her tenderness, and she wrapped her arms around my torso, and I squeezed her precious curves, and ran my palms across her loveliness, then stilled like a frightened doe. She held me tight, and I could not move. Somewhere from deep inside her a spark came and my groin jolted, and my penis jerked to life in sudden expectation. She pulled away, and gave to me a small kiss, and led me to the door, sending me away once again into the cold St. Louis, where I might use the memory of her to write some great fiction, or something less, and even this is written for her gracious assessment and taunting amusement.
So, I got a call from the guy with the Craigslist ad. I could make five to six-hundred dollars a week, anyway, and a thousand a week if I was really good. It was the same company that the guy in the parking lot worked for: RCH. All I needed was my own van and clean urine.
Well, I've got this old Aerostar cargo van, and I don't think I smoked that much, so I sweated out the urinalysis, and kept working for the installation mob until I got the call that I was cleared for hire with the new company.
I had actually been trying the positive-thinking thing. Thus far, I had given it credit for the new job. It was a bright sunny morning when I went into Advanced Criminality, Incorporated for the last time, to hand in my equipment and tell them I was going away forever.
This was such a great opportunity for me. I'd be able to get out of my sister's basement and back down to the Ozarks where I might be able to move back into my home by the shimmering pond on the old family farm. All I had to do was think positively. It wasn't a matter of believing, it was a matter of knowing....I knew that camping out in the farm shop would be fine, that my brothers would help me out with a shower now and then and a warm meal, that the Aerostar would hang in there and be a dependable friend, that what money I had saved would last me long enough to get me through until such time as the thousand dollar paychecks began arriving. I just had to know that Spring would arrive early. Of course it would...warm, lovely Spring....gentle rains, comforting sunshine, kind breezes.
It was going to happen. I just knew it.
I went ahead and reopened my online profile. The sweet, loving hippie chick of my desires had pretty much said she didn't have it for me, even though we still chatted often and kept in touch otherwise. All I had to do was get my nasty sex-slathered brain off of her hot bodice, and maybe we could be good friends.
She has the simplicity of a spinning top. She checked my profile, and wondered if I really wanted a date, or if I was just teasing women who might otherwise find me interesting. Her photo has trouble written all over it, but what the fuck, we met at the Mexican restaurant of her choice.
It was well lit. I ordered a draft and watched the door. She arrived all blonde and built, like she rode a surfboard there. She spotted me through the glass and stopped to assess me before she opened the door to come inside. She looked me over closely before saying hello. I gave her the big-guy smile and stood to offer her the other side of the booth. She sat softly on the squenching vinyl, and moved to the center with a careful walking of her supple buttocks.
Within minutes, I know that her husband left her for her best friend, and that she has four daughters from three marriages, and that she endeavoring at this time to get herself back to California where she belongs. She markets plants at big-box hardware stores, doesn't smoke, drinks rarely, and goes to the roundy-round dirt track races every Friday. She's not watching Idol this year. She lives with her dad now, who's eighty-four.
There's something about her blonde bitchiness that I find quite attractive. She has a way of using words incorrectly that comes off as cute rather than stupid. Her made-up eyes are a neat hazel, her nose could be a little smaller, her mouth could use a little more lip. It's an innocent and helpless look that might take some getting used to, but no more than her interests and tastes will. The body, already, I can tell...might cause me to put up with all manner of moronic ineptitudes.
After the lousy meal of granulated meat burrito, I walk her out to her mini-van. She says "give me a hug", then grabs me and kisses me smack on the mouth. I push her away and give her a curious look, then pull her back for another kiss.
Yeah, I'd like so much to get back to California.
But I'm headed back down to the Ozarks to get my positive success. I'm going to makes lots of money and move back into my country home and relax every night out on my deck with a sore back and a big fatty.
You know it.
The farm is about forty miles from the towns where I'll work, not a bad commute to suffer until I can get a place of my own nearer to the job. Sleeping in the shop shouldn't be much of a problem...I've got blankets and sleeping bags and my space heater...and besides, Spring is coming early this year, I just know it.
I put a little of the savings into the Aerostar, bought a ladder rack for it and had the transmission serviced. It's a truck from the south, you know, not a rust-bucket. It's kind of cute, and clean. A tad underpowered, I suppose, not great on the interstate, but cool for around town.
I packed some of my shit into it, and told the beach bunny that I just didn't know. She's a nice gal and all, but...I've got to go for this, and I wasn't sure a long-distance thing would be right for her. She put her hand on my arm and squeezed, and used her pretty round eyes as a sort of invisible leash. She said that it had been three weeks now, and we haven't had sex. What's up with that?
I delayed the trip. It wasn't so much a mental decision as a physical one...my body would not say no to such kisses and caresses. I had been working so hard for so long. The comfort was irresistible, and well deserved, I thought...and while she was not the all-encompassing hippie slut of my dreams, she was very accommodatingly enthusiastic.
I left Illinois with the added confidence of a just-laid man.
The shop had the atmosphere of a gassy rag. I cleaned it up a bit, but between the old cans of paint, the various aerosols, and the solvent bath, there was just no avoiding the cancer-inducing airs. There was a small vent fan, but it did not have the fortitude to suck out the stink. I pulled the Aerostar inside, and stuck an air mattress inside it, and my space heater, and slept pretty well the first night.
I awoke to discover that Winter had returned. Quite possibly it has never left. I opened the big door and let in a blinding white light. There was a good six inches on everything, and the clear blue sky let all warmth fly up and away.
At least it wasn't windy.
That first week I ran with a young man in his yellow pickup truck. We made contact with a lot of losers who were unable to pay their cable bills, so we wound up with quite a lot of ladder work, disconnecting drops at five bucks a pop. There's more money to be made if a person pays, and a lot more money if you can get a person to keep the cable when they have asked to have it shut off. That's kind of how it works...pay me or I'll cut you off, keep the service and I'll get you twenty bucks off every month for a year. You have to have good people skills, which I do...but I might be a little too nice or empathic, or maybe the fuckers just don't have any money and hate the cable company anyway.
These are tough times, you know.
That first week I didn't see the guy make any money. Most days it was maybe eighty bucks, hard won, with about twenty or more spent of fuel. I was blowing my savings running back and forth from the farm, and every day it seemed the price of gasoline rose a few pennies. I came on back to my sister's the first weekend, and had some more beach bunny.
I was still chatting frequently with the hippie chick. My desire for her was still undeniable. We just seemed to click so well on so many issues...both of us were certain oddballs. It helps to know that you're not alone out there. I wasn't about to mention the beach bunny. I was still hoping the hippie would come around.
Sikeston is a little big town at the intersection of Interstate 55 and Interstate 57 in the southeast part of Missouri. It's a place where truckers like to stop, where farmers liked to shop, where the coal fired power plant could be seen from miles away. It's very flat there, the rich land of the Mississippi flood plain.
Flat, and windy.
Segregated, as well. The east part of town is almost entirely black, while the west side is all white. The same is true for Charleston down the road, and New Madrid further south. East Prairie, in between, seems to be all white. This isn't something I note with any pride. It is what it is. These were the towns of my territory. All peoples loves television.
I returned to the farm one day to discover an old recreational vehicle parked next to a shed. I didn't think anything of it as I made my way to the shop for another fume-filled night. I was just bundling up when my brother came in and told me that he had borrowed the RV for me to sleep in, and gosh darn, y'all...nobody's ever done something so nice for me ever, much less my asshole brother.
It was tight, but comfortable. I burned up what was left of the propane the first night, and used my space heater from then on, closing up the bed partition at night so that I would survive the darkness of the prolonged wintertime. The temperature dropped to below freezing as yet more snow and ice fell, and more wind blew, and more muscles became sore as I lifted the ladder repeatedly fifteen or more times a day, and more beer flowed as I struggled in the evenings to complete the massive piles of paperwork created every day by my simple labors, and my wet feet froze to numbness nightly as I fed up saltines and peanut butter.
But, it was okay. I didn't read the novel the hippie chick gave me, but I was applying the basic principles of positive thinking to my everyday life, just to give it a try. Instead of getting brain cancer in the shop, I was freezing my ass off in a decent RV. All I could afford to eat was flat meat and toast, but heck, I was losing weight. I was running my butt overtime to chase down delinquent cable accounts, and spending most of my money on gasoline, but all that was going to change as soon as I got the hang of it and started making some sales. I wasn't making it with the woman of my dreams, but I hadn't run her off yet, either...and I was making it otherwise with a very nice woman indeed.
I certainly cannot control the thoughts that come to my head, but I can recognize a bad one and reject it. Things could always be worse. I was proving it every day.
Spring came, finally, raising the temperature some but keeping the winds intact. They brought in the rains, gentle and spattering at first, then hard and constant. I worked my way through it, getting soaked some days, and staying dry between the drops on other days. Not a day passed that the wind did not blow across the flat plowed dirt, and only one day of dryness lifted the topsoil up and into drifting clouds of dust.
I knocked on the doors of the farm towns like an interviewer from outer space. I had seen a lot of poverty in the city...hidden mostly behind the mansions and skyscrapers, piled in the alleyways between the red stone homes. Here in the so-called "heartland", the poverty was more apparent, more open. There was some very clean public housing, tiny apartments for the elderly and disabled, but most of the poverty was in specific older neighborhoods, especially in the smaller towns, where rotting wood homes and hail-beaten trailers housed the simple dregs of mankind, alone or in small or vast families, their dirt lawns decorated with rusting junk and accumulating trash piles, spotted with bright but neglected toys protected by dogs chained to spikes and trunks, dusty holes dug within the reach of the chain, made apparently out of frustration or boredom, or for some respite from the whipping wind.
Once in a while someone would pay me, cash usually. Mostly they bitched about the quality and the price, and said they didn't care if I cut it. I rather enjoyed it...a public service that I might have done for free, anyway.
I've always thought it madness to pay for one's own brainwashing.
I had a couple of good weeks, I guess. It wasn't the five or six-hundred a week that they had promised, although I had done all the work required of me.
I'm not saying they are liars. What they are is cable contractors. It's what they do.
But, I was feeling pretty good. I made a couple of retentions, flukes really, but it paid pretty well and gave me hope. I spent a few hundred on shocks and alignment. The weather had cleared up, and I set out one positive morning under a blue sky and through a light breeze. I was cruising toward Sikeston with a Styrofoam cup of bad coffee and positively great and happy attitude. Things were finally going my way...making some decent money without working twelve hours a day six days a week, looking for a nice apartment, getting back into the groove of country life, looking forward to a bag of weed and some time to write.
Positive thinking, it seems, was not a joke.
About four miles out of Dudley, my mirrors filled with a mighty white smoke. I looked down at the instrument pod, and saw that the temperature gauge pegged to the hot side. An obvious anomaly, I thought, but I figured I could make the exit, and I rode it out, and as I came to a stop at the end of the off ramp, the Aerostar rattled and died.
I won't divulge the aggravating details. I did a lot of walking that day. I called my old girlfriend, who graciously rescued me. She's doing alright now days, a house of her own and an okay boyfriend. I got the Aerostar running enough to get it back to the farm, but by then it was evident that I had cracked a head or blown a gasket.
I kept smiling, and got in my little blue sports coupe, and drove it to Poplar Bluff, where I paid a guy thirty-five bucks to sleeve up the busted exhaust. From there, like some kind of hypnotized zombie, I drove to an old buddy's house who sold me a small amount of weed, and who accompanied me to a nearby bar, where I proceeded to drink beyond my own well-documented capacities.
I was surprisingly quiet about it. I had run into a few folks I hadn't seen in a while, and I made like all was well. The truth was, though, that I had dropped a million miles down that day, back into the pit I thought I was risen out of. A head was not a cheap fix, especially on an Aerostar. I didn't have the money for the repair, or money for a new vehicle, nor could I strap the ladder to the top of the sports coupe and fake it. I was dead in the water, with an emphasis on the "dead" part, since I was right back to contemplating suicide, like I had been so many times over the last few years.
It would be easy. I wouldn't tell anyone. I would crawl back into my sister's basement, arrange some toy cars in crazy positions around the room, light a stinky candle or two, put on The Juliet Letters in random and repeat mode, place a lily in my hand, and lay upon my carefully made bed with my arms crossed over my chest, imitating the dead to find death in much the same manner as we imitate the sleeping to find sleep.
It should be so easy.
The next day the rains came again in their fullness, and I made the requisite calls. I was correct in my assumptions about the motor. It would be a couple thousand easy to do it right, with short-cuts it could be just over a grand. I told my supervisor that it looked kind of grim, but if he could let me have a few days I would see what I could do. I chatted with the hippie chick, maintaining a false aura of positivism. She sympathized in a small way, but I could tell that she was somewhat worried that whatever curse that was upon me might well be catching.
I called the each bunny and told her that it was most likely over. No woman wants a desperate loser down on his luck living in his sister's basement or borrowed RV. I'm just an old jerk-off that needs to be put out to pasture then put out of his misery. There was no hope, I held...no way to figure out this poor man's conundrum to the satisfaction of his current desires.
"Maybe you could use my mini-van..."
The words sounded ridiculous. It was ridiculous.
Maybe the rack on her van would hold the ladder.
She could use the little blue sports job.
Until I could get it worked out, anyway.
That weekend she drove through storms and met me at a motel in Sikeston. I fucked her like a motor-butt.
Later, she stared me down and said in no uncertain terms was I to have no other girlfriends before her.
It would not be good if she found out I was cheating.
So, I know where she stands. Between me and the hippie chick, or any other such goddess.
The mini-van hadn't had its oil changed in twenty-thousand miles, and was two quarts low, and idled like a Fokker bi-plane. The front tires were balding, and a rear wheel bearing scowled with every rotation. I took it to my mechanic down at Lake Wappapello, who said he'd never seen such a rusty-ass undercarriage on any mini-van. He put some plugs and plug wires on it, and changed the oil, and I tie-wrapped some pipe-foams to the rack to protect it from the heavy ladder. With a few bungee cords, the ladder rode quite well, and I was soon back in the cable retention business in southeast Missouri.
Good thing I didn't kill myself.
Maybe next time.
It's been one of those years I suppose, when the rain comes in buckets pouring. We don't really worry about it on the farm, since we're on a hill. The pond spilled a time or two. We're used to it, it's expected.
I was running my ass off between the towns trying to get it all done as fast as I could so that I could have some days off to go to the city. I was pouring gallons of gasoline into the tank, and each day it seemed the price went up, and where it took forty-five dollars for a fill-up, it now took seventy-five. I got the feeling that what I was actually doing was cleaning up a backlog of delinquent accounts, because the amount of work available diminished drastically. I simply could not afford to gamble my gas money driving around trying to get people to pay or stay. So, I limited my travel to fair weather days when I had enough work orders to make it worth my while.
But the wind never stopped. I was getting all musclely lifting the ladder so many times, and fighting the wind to place it. The rain kept coming, and the farm fields filled themselves into giant lakes. Roads were closing due to flooding, and I was finding it hard to get to some places. As I returned toward the farm one afternoon, I could see the western sky was nearly black with more storms. I pulled into the McDonald's at Dexter, thinking I might wait it out.
Inside, while waiting for a small number two, a nice looking lady showed me her cell phone display, which presented a large red blob on a weather radar screen.
"Do you know anyone that lives in Rombauer or Wappapello?".
"Yes. It just so happens that I'm staying there myself."
She was one of those beautiful, sophisticated country ladies that the rich farmers kept.
"There's a funnel cloud on the ground there..."
"O, really?", I said, and felt my calm, old-man patience rising up.
"O, well...I'll ride it out..."
I then went into a short but nervous dissertation about the odds of a tornado actually destroying and individual or his home. The odds were good, I said, that I had nothing to fear.
I grabbed my cheeseburgers and headed west into the scary blue. By Dudley it was coming down in fantastic sheets, and the balding front tires on the mini-van were spinning in hydroplaning fits. I held on through Fisk, noting that the St. Francis river seemed terribly bloated.
My father, you know, grew up in the flats around Fisk. He often told the story of how a flood floated his grandmother's coffin, and how they had to chase it down to rebury her. Nothing so awful, I was sure, would ever happen to me.
In places, the highway was covered over with water, but I was able to get around. On the road to the old farm, there was more than one place that I had negotiate slowly, or face a washed-out motor. When I got to the farm, I noticed my brother's car was gone, so I went to his house to see if anyone was there.
No one was. On the computer, the red blob of radar was displayed, with a tornado warning popped up next to it. I figured they ran from it, going where, I did not know.
My cell phone rang. It was my old ex-girlfriend. She sounded just short of terrified. Water was up to her front door. She wanted to come up to higher ground. I said come on.
She came with her oldest daughter, navigating the same floods that I had just forged. She looked good, and her daughter was all grown up. I had never regretted our ten years, I was only angry in the amount of loss it ended up being.
She was so very apologetic. I was so over it, my old-man tolerance coming through in this time of her worry and need. I raided my brother's fridge for some lunchmeat, and his cabinet for some bread, and made us some sandwiches, which we washed down with my brother's wide selection of cheap two-liter sodas. We retired to his guestroom, where we went to bed like we had never parted, with the exception of the fact that her daughter was sleeping on the floor beside us.
There was a lot of no-sex cuddling, and a lot of near-sex spooning. My brother returned soon after we fell asleep, and peeked in, and asked what the fuck was going on. I said no fuck was going on.
The next day was quite bright and calm. The news said there had been some floods and evacuations, but so far no one was dead. I followed her to her house, which was still standing in water, but the water had not risen to her floors. I gave her a large hug, and whispered in her ear some small regrets, and she kissed me with the taste of warm tears. I wondered where the Hell her boyfriend was.
I had to go to work. I headed east on 60 like I always do, flanked on both sides by floodwaters. Even the median between the lanes was flooded. It reminded me a bit of the roads to Lake Ponchitrain. Just before Morehouse, where the train tacks dross, there was a back-up of traffic as the flooded westbound lanes made it necessary to make two-way traffic out of the eastbound lanes. As I crossed the tracks, I saw water up to eaves, and floated cars. I spoke with a highway worker directing traffic. No levees had broken; they had simply been topped by the deluge.
It was a nice enough morning. I worked the poor neighborhoods in Sikeston as the gray clouds built up and the winds steadily gained force against me. Around four in the afternoon, the last job of the day was a tough set up...I barely got the ladder hooked onto the strand, and I gripped the tap for support as I disconnected the drop. The gusts beat against my back like some sort of giant god-slap, taunting me on this my last call of the day.
I climbed down, and grasped the ladder rope, and pulled it as I drew the ladder away from the strand. The wind shifted and gusted from another direction, and I lost the rope, and the ladder came sliding down onto my fucking thumb, tearing into it a small but deep gash that spurted blood onto my hand and pants.
It didn't really hurt too bad. I put the ladder back onto the mini-van and tied it up without using my thumb. I got behind the wheel and used a paper towel to clean the blood away. I examined the injury with a calm patience. I could press the skin back into place, and the flow would stop, but when I released the pressure the flow would begin again, running out like a juice seeping from a spilt package of meat.
The rain came in large drops on the windshield. The skin, I thought, is just a levee holding in the life. The body is just a containment system, holding all the things together that allow my mind to exist and explore. In the end, it will give way, weathered to death or broken. Either way, the mind will not survive. As bad as it might be, it's not so awful, and this is all I get.
I drove to Wal-Mart and washed my thumb, and bought some bandages and chili-cheese Fritos. I have to say I was feeling very defeated. I thought I'd try the long way back to the farm, through the hills of Crowley's Ridge. Almost every road was covered in water. They must have been running out of "road closed" signs, as I drove miles on some roads only to confront the sign at the water's edge. Each time I turned around to find a new route, I became less interested in getting back to the farm at all. The flood was awful, yet cool. I stopped several times just to watch the water as it banged against a bridge, or as a culvert strained to accept it, or as it poured over a levee like tea from a pitcher.
It was near dark before I made it to the dam at Wappapello. The road was closed. Water had come over the wall, and washed away the pavement.
The first time that ever happened.
Something had to break.