Friday, December 30, 2011

If You Don't Like It You Can Suck My Dick Part 2

Jake and I were sitting in the Labor Hall. I'd brought a dozen stale donuts that were snatched up quicker than ammunition at an Arctic Wolf hunting party, but I didn't care to eat one myself. I think they were chocolate covered raised. Jake drank his coffee and rolled the unlit cigarette around his mouth. He was waiting for the call to come in so he could be assigned a bell to ring for the Salvation Army. Lately it had been at Rite Aid, but Shaws had better bathrooms and fewer sick people.
"It's $52," he said plainly.
I'd ring the bell for free but you couldn't pay me to do it. For one, the Salvation Army is paying $21 an hour for you to stand and ring a bell. $160 a day in costs and I didn't think I could collect that many they would be losing money by paying me. And even though all the meals at the Sally Ann are preceded by a sermon, they gave you a roof and some cabbage stew and a job if you wanted to sort donated clothes or pick up worn couches off the side of the road. They deserved better than to lose money during the Christmas bell season. Also, it's a shit job that any respectable person would do for free.
"Eight hours of ringing a bell?"
"Rain or shine?"
Jake nodded.
"Some people bring me coffee. They nod, at least. Treat me like a person."
I'd been chased around New England by fresh faced policemen and stalkers for the last three weeks so I nodded vaguely and said, "Ah."
Jake left to smoke his cigarette.

I didn't get a ticket that day but the next evening I swindled my way onto a construction site. That's where I met Bill and Nick and became best friends with red fireproof slime. It all started to blur together into a series of chaotic appointments:
Midnight: start fire in my wood stove,
2am: read the New Testament by candle light (as God intended)
oatmeal at 3am,
Police bang on side of van around 3:30am and keep banging until I answer that I'm sick with the flu and unemployed and harboring no criminals.
4am move van to another dark street and sleep for 40 minutes.
5am fail to start fire in the freezing cold because the crappy big lighter has a kinked butane hose. Find a can of starting fluid. Spray fluid into stove on pieces of cereal cardboard boxes. Ignite by striking cheap Mexican hatchet against Labradorite stone (that is supposed to help me find my destiny). As ball of flame explodes from the stove and sends the two tops spiraling over my electric guitar, I shiver until I can feel my fingers. Then I scrape the bottom of an old yogurt container and chew on a blackened banana peel. Time to get ready for work.
5:10 - Having put on socks - I am ready for work.
6: Arrive at Labor Hall after stalling several times as the van fails to climb slopes near the hospital (where I hid for a few hours in the visitors parking lot)
6-10am- sit around the Labor Hall trading sob stories with the rest of society's rejects. A call comes in for working at a paint factory. Someone else gets assigned and the remaining men moan and drink coffee.
10am-4PM Play inventive and original arrangements of 1940s era jazz songs on my imaginary piano. Read Cosmopolitan and think, "Blake Lively isn't good enough for me." Plan grand essay on the vapid state of today's youth. Lose the piece of scrap paper that the notes for the essay are scrawled on. Use internet and read anonymous comment "EAT SHIT YOU LOSER. DIE FUCK FACE" Laugh at the madness of it all.
4pm-6pm walk around the downtown window shopping at restaurants. "I'd eat that. Oooh, that sounds good. I'd get an appetizer and a drink....blah blah. So HUNGRY!"
6PM-7PM blunder around in the dark as my eyes are failing me and my legs are too weak to walk.
7PM - 10PM Lay in the van and play guitar by looking at the fretboard because my fingers are too cold to feel the strings.
10:02 PM evicted from the library parking lot by someone from the neighboring police station. "If I catch you here one more time.,..blah blah....," says someone in a uniform. I flip him off as the van stalls and rolls into a mailbox as Bob Marley erupts from the radio: "Easy Skanking....skanking it easy...." suddenly burst out laughing and make a mental note to write down exactly what the last few minutes involved. It will make good addition to Homeless manifesto.
10pm-12AM - revisit the events of the day and edit my responses so that I come out as the hero. For instance, when the librarian says that I must leave the library if I want to sleep, instead of mumbling my apology and stumbling to the bathroom to wash my face in hot water, I respond, "Well, you'd fall asleep too if you were reading Moby Dick." Or when I read hate mail from my many admirers I always slay them with my wit and insight. Note: This particular segment of my day sometimes lasts 10-16 months until every single event of my life has been examined multiple times.
Midnight- Light up the stove with the starting fluid method, burn songbooks and Hemingway novels to keep warm until the police arrive.

This routine was viciously disrupted when I landed the ticket to the apartment construction gig. Bill took charge and led us in ever increasing circles of madness and futility that I didn't question because I LOVE WASTING MONEY AND TIME IN ORDER TO APPEAR TO CONTRIBUTE TO A DECAYING SOCIETY.
"This goes where?"
"Well, you're telling me one thing and the code inspector is..."
"Fine. I'll nail it up here." (I'm thinking of Jake and his bell ringing gig. Laughing in my head as I mash my thumb under the hammer)
Four hours after nailing in tiny scraps of plywood coated with fireproof slime we are told to take it all down and use one continuous piece of plywood. Furthermore, says the inspector, "You're using way too much fireproof stuff. Just fill in the cracks."

From 7-1 we waste company time and materials, destroying three sheets of plywood, one large chunk of siding that I mistook for plywood, the circular saw blade...and the circular saw itself....along with some other stuff that went mysteriously missing as soon as we were told to put it in storage. We do manage to collect all the paper and foam material from around the work site when the environmental impact is called into question. "MOTHERFUCKING TREE HUGGERS WANNA SAVE THE FUCKING WORLD. LIKE A CHUNK OF FOAM IS GONNA KILL ALL THE TIGERS IN IRAN!"
Then the inspector and the contractor all gang up on us because they are methodically going through the houses after we have worked in them and have declared all our work to be shoddy, worthless, wrong, etc...and we have 20 minutes to correct everything that took 6 hours to fuck up....and we run like roaches through the site throwing fireproof slime at the walls and kicking sheetrock that is in the way, knocking over ladders, fighting with Mexicans for a turn at the saw, using a box of nails to reach up into the rafters to spackle a gap with slime (a negotiation that was later deemed unjustified) screaming, sweating, nearly destroying one building when Bill lights up a cigarette next to a leaking propane tank. I lose my gloves and misplace Bill's carpet knife and spend 10 costly minutes tracking them down behind the porto-potty where I had keeled over from famine.
Finally, the contractor dismisses us for lunch. I can tell our work leaves no doubt they've asked the wrong people to do this job. I'm not proud. I'm shaking my head as my stomach rumbles.

Off we drive into town where every girl on the street gets dressed down and judged.
Oggy: You have kids?

...To the convenient store that is packed with people hustling for gas and crappy sandwiches. Bill waits impatiently, honking at an old lady backing out of a handicap parking space.

And then he swiftly plunges his huge Crown Victoria (salvaged Police cruiser) into the handicapped spot.

"Really?" I say. "We can't just...."
Bill reaches over a coffee maker that is plugged into his cigarette lighter.
He pulls out an expired handicapped tag and hangs it from his rear view mirror.
"Found it in a bush outside the DMV," he says proudly and steps out. "I DON'T GIVE A FUCK." I get out and see at least two dozen faces who are waiting to order a sandwich all looking in total disgust as three men wearing yellow Labor Ready Hard hats and work boots covered with red slime get out of this shitty Crown Vic parked in a handicapped spot. Bill flicks his cigarette into the air and it lands in a puddle of oily water. Nick leers at a girl. I trip on a curb and injure my wrist falling on the cement.
Our audience decides they want nothing to do with us and look back at the neon menu and their disgusting sandwich choices. I grab the poor man's lunch of one gallon of water (I curse my stupidity in not bringing water) and a pack of overpriced peanut butter crackers. Nick shoplifts $10 worth of power bars and Bill skips ahead in line to get a turkey sandwich while flirting with a girl wearing Ugg boots.
"I like your boots," he says. "They make your legs look sexy."
He makes a good point as her legs are like finely sculpted flesh sticks that I could eat with chipotle salsa. I'm so fucking hungry that I've eaten 5 peanut butter crackers before paying for them. Crumbs are falling over my gray whiskers as I fish through my pockets for change, borrowing liberally from the penny cup.
"You like Ludacris?" Bill asks after her initial silence.
"Can I have some napkins?" asks the girl to the cashier.

I really hope the police tow Bill's car because I don't care at all about going back to the job. It's all damage control from now on. Unfortunately, the car is where we left it and after a few minutes of waiting for Nick to come back from the liquor store we're back in the car with Ludacris blasting from the amplifier that takes up most of the back seat.
"Blah blah blah...COULDA TAPPED THAT ASS!" yells Bill as Nick bounces in the back seat and blows rings of smoke around my head.

Back at the work site, Bill shouts a series of contradictory and vague commands...."I WANT THIS SHIT DONE WHEN I GET BACK!" he yells without providing any details. FOr some reason, we've abandoned all the plywood strips and I'm now cutting 3/4'' sheet rock into 8'' wide strips that are 6' long. I'm using a $1 box cutter for this and the blade brakes every five inches so it takes an hour to cut one strip.
This goes on for what seems like an eternity. I bring the strips to Nick who is sitting on the floor with his pants so far around his ass that I can tell the size and country of origin of his Boston Red Sox long underwear (XL, Mexico). He fumbles with a spatula of red slime, his hands are covered with it, Bill's unwieldy framing hammer is covered with red slime.
"'PUT THE SHEET ROCK IN THE GAP'," mimics Nick. "No one says how I can do that WITH THESE FUCKING STRAPS IN THE WAY!"
So Nick finds a weak power drill and starts to remove all the metal bands that are holding the sheet rock to the floor and stud. As I've said this is some time saving method used by the sheet rock crew and instead of screwing the rock to the studs, this single band runs up the length of the wall and is attached to the floor and ceiling. It's in the way of the plywood that Nick is putting in the gap (that was left when the strap failed to bind the rock to the wall).
"Maybe you shouldn't take that band off. Let's notch the plywood instead..."
"YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT!" says Nick as he quickly removes the band, losing all three small screws instantly and then we watch as the wall begins to collapse as the tension was removed. The sheets of wall no longer rest on one another and they tear out of their screws and fall into the gap and down into the next floor.
"MOTHERFUCKING MEXICANS!" yells Nick as he slams his hammer into the floor, causing a pulse of pain to radiate through my brain.
"Wait!" I say, "Why are we putting fire proof slime on the first floor? Where's the fire going to come from?"
I point at the concrete foundation.
"There could be a volcano under the building," says Nick.
"A volcano?"
I consider arguing the possibility of this but decide to argue the effectiveness of the fire proof slime.
"If there were a volcano under here, do you think this sliver of plywood covered with red slime will do anything to stop the whole building from going up in flames?"
"It might," says Nick.
I roll my wrist, which has begun to ache ever since I demolished the tile floor at the Library restaurant and trucked it out in 5 gallon buckets. I ain't fixing shit. I wish I knew what time it was so I'd know how long I need to pretend to work. I return to slicing sheetrock with the razor blade and ignore any progress or demolition going on above me. Eventually, the contractor comes and gets us to begin a three hour tour of the property picking up all the wood and stacking it on a front loader and then into neat piles on the outskirts of the site. Tons of wood goes in the dumpster and I need it for my wood stove by I have no way of transporting it. An electrician, one of the few locals on the job, finally takes a truckload of wood "for a bonfire this weekend"
"Good for you," I think with hateful venom in my heart.

Bill and Nick and I sit behind a shell of a building where sheets of sheetrock have been left in the rain to rot and hundreds of roofing nails with plastic rings stick out of the dirt.
"Sue told me that if I cut my finger off and wasn't wearing my gloves then I wouldn't be covered by Labor Ready insurance. I told her that the gloves they give us couldn't wipe my ass let alone stop a circular saw blade." This is true as my gloves are 9 hours old and have holes in the thumb that have allowed my once broken nail to play the part of a shattered plastic poker chip. Nick steps on a nail and dances around in agony.

We begin to walk back to the trailer when it gets dark. I'm indifferent to the work and confident that we caused more problems than we solved. Bill and Nick cross a paved street singing a Ludacris song. I limp along behind them as the crappy steel toe boots that were provided by Labor Ready have worn a bleeding blister in my ankle. They have no foot pad and it's like walking on my knuckles. But as I cross the road with my head sagging low into my sunken chest I notice that Bill and Nick have stepped over several clusters of framing nails. A car is coming and because I always remembered the horse rustler Russ Peach telling me, "Always pick up nails in the road, else a tire'll pick em up for you."
I stoop over and feel the tendons of my hip creak like a rusty wagon leaf spring. My knee buckles but I grab the nails. THe fact my gloves have no thumbs left makes it easier to grip the nails. I look around for more and then shuffle out of the way on my bleeding feet.

That's when I hear it: a whistle that has only one source: The Mexican Roofing Bird, perched on his wooden framework, it's a high whistle made without fingers. A single pulse of a note that pierces the loudest work site and calls attention. I look up and from the darkness of a hooded sweatshirt I see the roofer looking down at me. He nods in appreciation because they were his nails in the middle of the road and he's been up there watching for hours and he knows that every car that passes over them has a chance to hit them just right to turn it up and into the tire. The whistle and the nod are the only positive moments of the entire day. I pause and salute him before limping toward the trailer. I want to leave. I need to eat half a pack of ramen noodles or a can of soup or even toast a piece of bread and put some honey on it. I'm starving. The roofers return to the last of their work for the day as the light fades.

In the trailer we are signed out and, amazingly, asked to return. I was sure we'd be fired. Lawsuits would've been justified, but they want us back. Nick and Bill commit instantly but I say that I've got a job interview. No one tries to talk me out of going to it. The contractor writes my name on a piece of paper and I'm sure it's because he wants to make sure I don't come back.

Still, I'm so happy that the Mexican acknowledged my effort with the nails and Nick and Bill are so engaged with packing and smoking a bong that none of us remember to retrieve our loot stashed behind the Port-o-potty. We swerve home, crossing double yellow lines, screaming at trucks, honking, singing about nasty booty sex, smoking weed and sparing no respect for our fellow man. Bill sees Jake ringing a bell at Rite Aid and yells, "GET A FUCKING JOB DEADBEAT!"
Back at the office we clean the red slime off our boots and hard hats. Then I heard Bill say something about spray foam to another man.
"Yeah, everything we did today was for nothing. The code inspector approved the use of a spray foam retardant to fill the gaps right before we left."
"No plywood or sheet rock?"
"Wassahp, mothafuckah!"

"Sometimes they bring me coffee," said Jake. "One woman brought me a muffin. They treat me real nice. They say hello. I've seen some of the customers three times in one day. Walgreens has a place where the wind can't get you. I've gone to Walmart but the wind comes sweeping across the parking lot and there's nowhere to hide. You freeze at Walmart."

I nod and yawn. It's another day at Labor Ready. We're all chasing phantoms in the parking lots, crashing empty shopping carts into mystery bakery grab bags.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.