By: Joel E. Turner
Three jobs should be enough, I mean none of them is what you’d really call a job, not like when I was clocking in at the refractory plant, lifting heavy shit to make bricks, running a hydraulic press. Before I got that lay off letter from headquarters – Moon Township Pennsylvania, can’t make that up. Bring you back if there is sufficient demand. Being an A-rated tech don’t mean shit, I guess.
Better off out of there anyway, I seen old guys at the Eagle Lodge coughing out their life from the asbestos after twenty years. They say it ain’t like that anymore, but still.
The lady at the coffee joint, she’s alright, tad on the nervous side. Laughed my ass off when that buzzer for the drive-through went off, she jumped a mile, bent over trying to figure out the damn spresso machine. Niece left her in charge all week, gone off to that steam railroad thing over in Owosso. Came in here in her robber outfit day she left, calico shirt and kerchief over her face. Some sort of fake train robbery. She could rob my ass any day.
The aunt was glad when I figured out the coffee machine. She wasn’t doin it right, got to have the steam pressure at the right level. Spent a few hours on it one night, there was a leak in one of the valves, had me up half the night taste-testing like I’m freaking Juan Valdez. Who drinks that stuff in this town? Get a few pale-face out-of-towners, some guy in a bucket hat and sunglasses, had to be east coast, I could tell he thought it was crap, can’t blame him, but what the fuck, he wants that shit, go back to Brooklyn.
I sneak one every now and then, tell the truth, when I open the joint. Good with a cigarette out back. Makes me feel all refined, soon I’ll be writing poetry about the birds and clouds and shit, hey, you never know. I used to like that stuff, teacher we had that one year had us reading all kinds of crap, didn’t even rhyme or anything.
Got through the lunch rush, surprising how many people eat bear claws for lunch, no wonder they’re so fat. Auntie Em gave me the stink eye when I hung the apron on the hook, but she’s supposed to have that teenager come in, good luck with that. Then down the highway on the bike to the raft place, it being Friday things starting to pick up with early weekenders. Checking out rafts and canoes, giving them kids the speech about the life vests. We gotta tell them, they gotta take them, what they do on the river is their lookout. Couple of smartass kids today telling me don’t worry granpa, we won’t die, tryin to look cool for their girlfriends. I don’t care long as they look like they been on the water before, but some of these girls, guys even, they ain’t been on the river enough to know how to keep out of trouble, much less know how to swim good enough.
That rush died down, then into the piece of crap truck to get over to the landing area for pickup, always a few stragglers, count the life vests, didn’t lose any today, which is a goddam miracle.
End of the day is the best, no more checkouts, just getting everything in order for tomorrow, patching up tubes and rafts. Made a run out to the sports store for supplies, a few paddles, pads for the canoes, some bug spray. That’s a good business, Mecke, he had the family money for sure, but still he made the right choice and keeps that place spic and span. Can’t throw a stone without hitting a Mecke business in this county, shit, I think they put up a bit for the coffee joint, better than a bank.
Like to do something like that, how much would you need, can’t even think about those kinda dollars. Couple grand, maybe ten-fifteen? Then you get a loan. Who am I kidding? Where am I getting fifteen grand? Be lucky to make that this year, much less save it. Still they started somewhere. You never know.
Then it’s the last, the cafe for the night. No point going back home, kill an hour or so sittin by the river. Could have a beer, but then I’m in with either the alkies at the fisherman’s bar or the young pseudo-sophisticates at that brewpub place. Matt called them that, pseudo-whatever, made me laugh, but I got it right off.
Tonight the cafe was busy for sure, I forgot they had an open mike. Jesus, it’s loud, I mean there just ain’t no need for a microphone there, the roof’s made of tin, and floor is tile, it all echoes like you’re inside a marble. Plus god, does anyone really want to listen to someone singing Creedence songs when they’re eating a sandwich, maybe trying to talk to their girlfriend or wife? But the lady owner says it gives the place some class, and people come to listen to their friends. All women, far as I can tell, don’t want to say anything to her, but it’s turning into a lesbo spot. Hard to tell out here sometimes, seems like they all get the same short spikey haircut, whether they’re just housewives or working at the camp or actual dykes, pardon the expression. Not that I mind, it’s just don’t she think that’s gonna put off some of those fisherman and hunters? But I suppose they go to the bar with the alkies.
Gotta admit the gals tip better than a lot of assholes I know with their Big Cat hats, actually buy food, don’t piss all over the bathroom floor or throw butts on the ground outside the back door. So maybe she’s onto something.
Thank god that lady baritone finally gave up the ghost and let a couple of the young girls who can play take a chance. Besides being better to look at, you can tell they studied and practiced, and don’t just strum a few chords and hope you remember how good the original sounded.
Clean up took longer than it should, the new girl couldn’t figure out what to keep and what to pitch, I had to show her how to clean the meat slicer, jesus, scared the pants off me, she’s wiping it while it’s still plugged in. Hair black, yellow on the edges, a streak of blue in there. Tattoo on the back of her neck, I mean I ain’t one to talk, but like I told Pamela, get it on your leg, at least you try to get a nice job there’s no problem. We all had a beer after we mopped the floor, chairs up on the tables. I’m thinking that girl is awful cute, that’s when I knew it was time to get out, she’s about the same age as Pamela.
Of course outside down the street at the alkie bar, Ted and Mikey were out having a smoke. Got their beers tucked in the doorway, who are they foolin? Better watch out if they’re driving, cops ran in that township manager guy just the other week, probably staked him out, plenty of people on the board looking for a way to can his ass.
Had to talk to them, couple of sorry asses. Wouldn’t want Ted working on my trans tomorrow, but guess he’s been doing it for so long it seems normal. Sure he’s wacked by the afternoon, don’t know how Pete puts up with it. Mikey, Christ, Mikey, he ain’t never had a chance, the old man was twice as worse, practically lived inside the bottle. He was a stitch in school, though, man he had us all laughing. Seems I remember him mostly out by the bleachers all day, wasn’t worth the trouble to make him stay in class. Got sadder once he was out. Can’t be bothered to figure it all out, just getting by on food stamps, odd jobs, charity really.
Their beers needed refilling, the only way I broke free. Love that rip up the highway at night, keeping eyes open for deer of course, and drunks, but not many cars. I like to shoot back behind the refractory, it’s all quiet, I cut the light when I turn in the drive, don’t want to shine in on old lady Maggert, who knows if she really sleeps, some folks say she just sits up in the attic on her broom, but she’s alright.
Silly, but it always feels good coming down that hundred yards past her house on the dirt driveway in the dark to my own patch with that half-assed singlewide and a rusted barrel full of ashes and beer cans out front. Got to talk to her again about buying the lot, it’s like I heard that realtor guy, another Mecke of course, saying to that young couple in the coffee joint, build up some equity. Start somewhere, right?
Actual mail inside the door, guess the old lady brought it up, probably peeking in to see how bad I’m trashing it. Postmark up north – U.P. somewhere, I guess. Did somehow manage to have a couple of beers left in the fridge from last weekend, now that’s the best way to have it, with another cigarette on the screened platform off the back door. That was a good idea, maybe I could make something putting those together around here. Unique Platforms, Inc. A few bucks anyway.
A picture with the letter from Pamela – shit, this girl, look at her, stronger than two men, hiking all over god’s creation, her knapsack, water bottle hanging off, bedroll up top. Four days in the wild, her and that boyfriend, skinny geek, what we’d call a bookworm. Look at those glasses. Still. Expect he’ll know how to run a business, or fix a computer or some shit. Science, something like that. Can’t tell the right end of a hammer, I remember that. A year, almost two now. Guess that’s serious. She was born by the time we got that old.
Mom says hi. Right. Her and hubby went on a trip to the Little River casino. Stayed in a nice B&B. Ain’t that swell. B&B. Maybe I could put a sign out. Crap Cottage B&B. Just toss the laundry on the floor, don’t mind the tools on the chiffonier. Hold the handle down on the toilet, plunger’s right there if you need it. Miller Lite and Cheerios in the morning, breakfast of champions.
That’s not right, I got no cause for a grudge, it was a damn long time since we were happy. Should have known, her dad running that hardware store in Fremont, she wouldn’t be happy with a cedar savage like me. But the girl’s good, college, what more could you want.
Course then there’s the check, I can hear it now, you said you’d send it, Pamela starts back in a month, well I’m sure you’ll send it when you can. Fuck you. No problem for her of course. She’ll get it, don’t you mind, in time for her books and all.
That cat creeping around again, spends more time back here than at the old lady’s house. Sorry, tabby, only got that skim milk for you, don’t know what your doctor says, a little victory for mine, hoping to get the numbers down.
The old lady ain’t much younger than Ma herself. Wonder how she gets along, those sons of hers are a bad bunch, probably likes having me here, at least I’ll see if they try to move a lab back there. Fuckin sad, just takes them down so fast. Thank god that wasn’t happening back when, Mikey would have been there in a minute.
Well, my turn for Ma this weekend, Sunday night I guess. Can’t get anywhere next two days, the old tourist boom coming in for the weekend. But I’ll get out there, expect she’s doing the same thing as me, running through all the junk in her head, except no beer and cigarettes. Looking at the rocks and stones and trees.
Cat finished lapping up her treat, off skulking around those white pines, looking for a rodent that’s lost its way. That sound through the pines, different now than the wind through the birches, whispering like. Maybe I’ll write that down, shit, I’ll get that poetry thing going before you know it. Ma would think that’s a hoot.