I finished the installation of the tankless water heater for Sushi Garden. It was intimidating but it wasn’t hard.
I asked the old man in the mirror door, who just said,
Right back at me, the pitiful sap, all his years, commandeered to the service of a group ego with a mobster’s sense of honor. As the typical woman led her typical boyfriend in to the secret door & he followed not for anything inside the restaurant but in not so secret hopes of getting to the promised land later on that night in bed.
Plumbing’s not my favorite game, so I did have to call Gene a few times to ask questions about code. He just laughed, nothing to worry about.
You and me, Gene.
I said, we won’t ever get the girl, not in this stupid movie. Not for all your nights crawling through attics and below floors, a light on your forehead, like a misshapen, ungainly, toothless angel, or your rainy days jackhammering through asphalt and concrete to run a water line for a poor ol widder woman. The most beauty we’ll ever hold in our hands is the mechanical excellence of the Cummins diesel in your big dually bread truck with parts and supplies neatly stocked like military secrets on walk-in racks and in filing cabinets.
So that’s done. I said to myself. Now don’t you dare tell me it was nothing, after all the complaining and whining you did, o I can’t do it, I just can’t do this... don’t say shit
and myself said, just shut the F up,
To the sinking, queasy sensation in my gut as I called Rick at the homeless vets’ center.
I can’t talk to him, I’m not a shrink, I don’t know what to say to a clinically depressed man.
It wasn’t Rick, it was someone sounding even more depressed.
What the hell kind of sense does that make?
To let these guys associate with each other? Drag each other down?
Is Rick there?
Yeah, just a minute.
The voice dragged the words out forever.
Can I pick you up so we can go take a look at the stuff in the garage?
Well if you’re sure you want to.
My thing is take a look at the situation and then decide what the options are.
He sounded really bad off. This wasn’t going to be a good trip, I thought.
How far behind in rent are we?
6 months. That’s 900 dollars.
Have you broached the idea to the center that they could use the equipment to start a woodworking shop there?
No. It’s Saturday, there’s no staff here.
Well I’m just concerned about how I can reimburse the family trust.
Yes I understand.
Well can we just go take a look at what’s there and then decide what to do?
Yeah, I guess.
He said the equipment wasn’t in good shape and needed assembly. I wondered how much his depression was clouding his judgment.
He’d disappeared many times before and always came back and paid up. But this time he said he left town “intending to end it all” but “couldn’t go through with it”. It is a hard thing, those times in your life when you realize how alone we all are. The good news and the bad news is it’s nothing personal, even when both parties think it is. I was thinking about times in my life when it would have been so easy to fall into that hole he was in, and wondering if I would get dragged down THIS TIME into his hole…and you fall and fall thinking any minute you’re going to find the bottom, the answer. O yeah, haven’t we all been there on that bipolar roller coaster ride to nowhere? I asked myself as I drove down that long twilight line of red taillights strung out to the airplane boneyard at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. Is this where we’re all going?
He came walking up out of the darkness, a figure in tan clothes with white hair, his face had gotten fatter from the drugs, stood staring at the truck, slowly reached up to the door handle, and got in and stared at the dashboard awhile.
Kind of hypnotizing, these LEDs
They’re not. Just kids’ sneakers I cut the tops off of. They have those stars in them that flash whenever you take another step. Just stuff to keep me awake driving from job to job late at night. I tried to get all bobble head toys but only ended up with three.
Where’d you get them?
Charley, the crackhead, left them in the storage shed & finally said just take everything out for the rent owed the trust and send him a few things he really needed. He had enough toys in there a hundred kids couldn’t have played with them all. It’s funny.
He didn’t think anything was funny.
I said, When were you in the Service?
In the 80s, when it wasn’t very popular.
Did you see any action?
No, just once we found a boat with 80 Vietnamese refugees trying to get to America in a boat built for 20. We left them off at the next port. I’m sure they just found another boat. Then near the Panama Canal we heard about an uprising in Guatemala…
Oh the arms for hostages thing…
No before that. Just the beginning. Our sister ship got an emergency call and peeled off to go back to Vietnam. That’s all the action I ever saw.
You get a pension?
No, just the care at the home.
What about the Harley?
I’m behind on payments on that too. I need to call the bank and tell them to just go pick it up.
Lotta people in that same boat. The house next door to me was built by two partners and got taken over by the bank. Guess they couldn’t pay the loan. It hasn’t rented and hasn’t sold in over a year. There’s some bad times ahead.
When we got there he walked in real slow like someone wading through floodwaters. He’d built a loft in the back. A 2 X 8 had cracked in the middle on a knot and all fifteen feet of it was sagging under the weight of years of storage. I grabbed a piece of angle iron from a bed frame and asked him to hold it on the beam while I hammered the bottom until it was plumb. The equipment was all heavy duty Delco, a band saw, contractor’s table saw, bench saw, drill press, joiner….the bed on this was rusty but the blades felt sharp.
I don’t think it will run.
Been sitting too long.
Don’t see why that should matter. Why don’t we try it?
They’re not hooked up.
Just a few wires. Here let me get my tools.
Yeah we got power. Try it.
I’d like to have an electrician to check out the continuity on the motor.
You got one. Try it.
I saw a flash.
We still have power. Probably just a tiny wire touching another one. It’s gone now.
Stand back. OK I’m satisfied it runs…
Don’t you want to try it with a board?
No I don’t need to lose any fingers tonight. O alright.
He held the piece of dark maple in his hands and sighted down it, and then slowly adjusted the bed on the jointer.
God, I thought, he’s like me when I have those feelings that I can’t do anything, and just have to fight my way to competence one tiny battle at a time. What a crying shame to lose all that expertise and experience to a tiny imbalance in a few neurotransmitters.
It’s more than that you idiot and even you know better. There’s something going on here.
But I’m not a shrink.
Yeah you said that, so….?
He ran the board through and then said the tiny variations on the cut meant the blades had to be sharpened.
Not necessarily. What about the rust on the bed? As you dragged the board across it, I saw it jerking a little.
Yeah, guess you’re right.
Looks pretty good to me.
I shoulda had you here before.
There was a yearbook like a high school yearbook from his ship, The Roanoak. He thumbed listlessly through the water stained and wrinkled pages.
I said seeing the pictures of women in bathing suits in the South Pacific. Oh they were FAR AWAY alright.
He put the book down abruptly, like he was discarding it. I watched as he looked at the new computer and then started putting clothes on it, sticking a shirt on it, then a pair of pants, like he was dressing it for bed, and then did the same with the flat screen monitor. I knew he was thinking about taking it. I let him choose whether he would or would leave it to be part of the sale.
I saw a little bronze sculpture next to a Japanese sword. It looked like one man carrying another on his back, but looking closer it was a statue of the many armed and legged Hindu dancing goddess.
Did you learn to use that sword?
Yeah. In Kung Fu.
Did you study Buddhism?
A little. In martial arts. It makes sense to me.
Yeah. Me too.
On the way back I talked about my sister’s history starting from age 11 when she was taken to El Paso and got electro shock. It wasn’t as bad as in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest I said. They knew they were exaggerating in that movie but it wouldn’t have been much of a show if they didn’t ham it up a little. Sometimes I almost like Jack Nicholson when he’s playing somebody besides himself. It’s like Mark Twain said, “Be yourself is the worst advice you can give some people.”
He laughed, a little.
I actually liked him once, in “The Missouri Breaks”.
It’s been a long time since I saw that. What was it about?
It was about insanity. And Marlon Brando was really insane in it. It was a surreal Western. I liked it because there were no good guys, kind of like life, without the boredom.
You been following the election?
Riveted to it.
It’s high drama. Edwards withholding his delegates out of pride like Achilles, like: "Only I can speak for the working man." What did Hillary offer him in that secret meeting? Something to help him swallow his pride? Is Obama just another pretty face and a bunch of slogans? Is Hillary all corruption? Does the machine win, or the populist? What will the insurance companies do to our health care? I don’t like her waffling. I don’t like Obama’s lack of specifics but nobody owns him yet. But whatever you think there hasn’t been a time in history when people were this excited about an election. It’s good that we’re having a real debate.
At least it’s not as divisive as last time.
The conflict last time was between red and blue states. And between Diebold and Democracy. This time it’s war inside the parties. People are going to find it hard to close ranks after all this bitter squabbling. Every week there’s a new upset, a new block of voters saying, “Not so fast! It’s still a real contest.”
They say Obama isn’t really saying anything, but he’s saying end tax breaks for corporations, the health insurance companies get a seat at the table but they don’t get to buy the whole table, free this nation from the tyranny of oil, bring the planet back from the point of no return. Robert DeNiro says “he doesn’t have enough experience” to let corporate lobbyists run Washington. That’s general, and maybe it’s nothing, but he’s getting the young involved. And I think they’ll keep on inspiring him, like the innocence of children, to do more and do better.
Yeah. He said.
I take it personally, I said, because there was a time in my life when I wasn’t clinically depressed but I was pretty much a sad sack. Sometimes in those times it seemed like the mass media spoke to me like it was the I Ching. I was standing in the checkout line at the grocery store and a voice in my head said why not check out the Cosmopolitan? Naah, there’s never anything in there, just a buncha twits looking at their new clothes. Try it. No. TRY IT! So I looked inside and there was an article by a psychiatrist about the healing power of memory. And I’d just seen a movie on that same theme: “Return To Paradise”. And later that night there was a book about wilderness survival in the book rack. I opened it up and there was a story about a man who was lost in the woods and died, not for lack of food, water or fuel, but because he ran out of hope. I went across the street and ate at this Chinese Restaurant and my fortune cookie that night said, “He who has hope has everything”. Quite a string of coincidences. But I just took whatever felt true and used it. But this video that’s going around, “Yes We Can”. They can say it’s shallow, because anybody can say anything, but
But that’s cynical.
Yeah, but like Obama said, “In the unlikely story that is Ameriica, there has never been anything false about hope.” And that’s a true thing. What else did we ever have except hope and dumb luck to get us through? In the Black Plague, the Dust Bowl….there was a time in WW II when we hadn’t won one naval battle because Yashimoto was a really good admiral, and a squadron of our fighter planes got lost in the clouds and got to the target ship an hour late. But that coincided with the men having put the guns under wraps and gone below to eat and sleep. The planes demolished the ship, and that one accident changed the whole course of the war. Before that it looked like we’d lose. Our marines were hemmed in and just being slaughtered from machine gun fire from the hills overlooking the volcanic ash of Iwo Jima and other islands in the South Pacific. And now according to all logic, the human race stands the chance of a snowball in hell of stopping climate change.
I was talking too much. He was looking at me strangely. I gotta stop preaching…
We shook hands, and he took the personal records and pillows he’d salvaged from storage into the dark house.
What can a person do? I wondered. I went home and tried to listen to the “Yes We Can” video with hate in my heart for big words and pretty people, because they had no place for uglies like me and Rick and Gene in that paradigm. I’m sick of beautiful people with nothing to say I said. Sick of them, y’hear?
But I had the same old flashbacks to the sixties when people put their lives on the line for principle. Will he lose? Will there be millions of embittered, disillusioned people who will never rise to believe again? Will we ever look OUTWARD again, or are we just gonna sink into our health care and social security and our worries about the economy for all the world like a nation of cockroaches with TV sets? Why is there so much injustice? Why can’t I touch that sad man? Who would make the decisions that would give his life meaning? Why can’t I find any clarity? The tears came anyway. Hope, Yes We Can….what else was it that got me through each day’s mundane and impossible battles? It wasn’t shallow. I said. No fool like an old fool I said, and turned on the computer. There were lines from the voting booths in Maine 3 and four blocks long in the snow, people all bundled up looking like wrecked overstuffed chairs, with faces like my face and Gene’s face and Rick’s face, worn down with trials and trying, old and mottled like so many muppets stretched out into the gathering darkness on one long thin thread, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
It was a human thing.