Monday, October 26, 2009

stain, Part VII

stain  n.  1  a color, discoloration, streak, or spot resulting from or as from staining
2  a moral blemish; dishonor; guilt; taint

Another late lunch.  Another Big Roast Beef, large fry, a Coke.  Usual booth in the back.  No window, an overhead light out.  My little cave.  Mike through the side door.  Shit, he saw me.  Here to tell me my twenty minutes are up?  Well, I’m about done.  You just gonna stand there?  What the fuck ya staring at?  Hell, if you actually did some of the shit work you’re always giving me to do, maybe the sun wouldn’t glare off your safety cap like that.  You goin’ for the halo look?  Scuff that thing up, man.  Get it fuckin’ dirty already.  It’s way too white.  Fuckin’ blinding, man.  That’s it, move the hell out of the doorway.  I can see!  It’s a goddamn miracle!  Geez, you’re takin’ it off?  Don’t know if I’ve ever seen you without it.  Oh man.  Nice hair, dude.  It’s Major Anthony Nelson.  I know I dream of Jeannie.  Master looks weird without the cap.  Looks weird without the fuckin’ grin too.
     “Jim . . . .”  Something’s up.  “It’s your daddy.”  What about him?  “He’s at the hospital.”  What the fuck for?  “Looks like his heart.”
     Don’t smile.  Do not smile.  Mike puts the cap back on, cocks it.  Yeah, you’re cool.  Looks back over his shoulder a couple times as he walks off.  Stops at the door, looks again.  Give ’im a little wave.  Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.
     Shit.  The old man’s dead.  Or soon to be.  Wonder can you take the rest of the day off?  Guess you can finish eating anyway.  Dead, huh?  About time.
     Greasy damn fries.  Forgot to get a napkin.  Fuck it, wipe that shit on your jeans.  Man, they feel nasty.  Kick your feet up on the seat.  Might as well be comfortable.  Levi’s.  Boot cut.  They quit sellin’ flares, and I ain’t goin’ for straight legs.  Faded out real good.  Holes where the knees used to be.  Just about perfect.  The old lady’ll make you cut ’em off soon.  Just make ’em shorter than your boxers, so they hang out.  Have to tuck ’em up around the house, pull ’em out when you leave.  Mike wanted the pit cleaned before lunch.  A fuckin’ bitch.  Seven, eight feet square?  Just wide enough to hold the big-ass grinder sitting in the middle of it.  The floor in there’s got to be a good three feet lower than the rest of the plant.  Open the door and jump down in.  Trimmings from all the machines—the three gallon and the half—along with any bad jugs that get crushed or got inclusions you cut out with a box cutter first, get sucked through those pipes running across the floor, up the walls, across the ceiling, out to the pit and into the grinder.  The regrind gets sucked back out to the machines where it’s mixed with virgin pellets sucked in from the silo out front.  Well, not number three, the new gallon.  It isn’t hooked up to the silo.  The virgin for it gets sucked out of thousand-pound boxes.  Gaylords.  Mike said to go get a gaylord and bring it in.  I said OK.  No problem.  Just one thing though.  What the fuck’s a gaylord?  Why the fuck couldn’t they just call it a big goddamn box?  You gotta bring ’em in from the warehouse with a forklift, move it to the machine with a pallet jack.  You need to bring in another one after lunch too.  Don’t forget, or Mike’ll have to tell you to do it.  Slide the two stainless steel tubes in to suck the pellets through the hoses leading up to the hopper.  Got to keep an eye on the skinny window on the side to make sure it’s full.  It needs to stay full.  Make sure it’s always full.  The glass meter thing that’s always got water in it tells you something too.  Fuck, I never remember what.  The virgin mixes with regrind from the pit.  The mix drops into the barrel where it’s melted, pumped through the nozzle, split in the manifold.  Four sleeves of that melted shit drop between the open halves of the mold.  It clacks closed, air’s blown in, it clicks back open, out come milk jugs.  Clack, pfft, click.  Four more gallons.  Clack, pfft, click.  Eight more halves.  Clack, pfft, click.  Clack, pfft, click.  Blow molding.
     I’m glad the old man retired before I started working.  Not that Mike is much of a boss.  They didn’t even need anybody on first shift, but Buddy’s the plant manager, friends with the old man.  Hired me as a favor, I guess.  Wouldn’t work second, and fuck third.  Then they let two niggers go after a week.  "Slow down, save some of that for after break."  Lazy motherfuckers.  Eat fuckin’ cold chicken for lunch.  Gristle and everything.  Suck the fuckin’ bone dry.  Bessie and the black women’ll be sitting in the breakroom, and you walk in there without anyone noticing and catch Buddy talkin’ shit with ’em like you ain’t never heard.  "Why would he wanna lick your asshole?"  She was like, "I guess he didn’t wanna get no shit on his dick."  Or they’re pickin’ their hair over the same damn tables you gotta eat at.  "Black people ain’t got to wash they hayuh.  Just got to pick the nits out."
     The pit.  Coated with dust.  Powder.  A few loose trimmings too, that somehow didn’t make it into the grinder.  Once a week, every week, you put on a mask over your mouth and nose, strap on goggles, stick in earplugs, roll down your sleeves if you’ve got any on, climb down into that hole, close the door behind you.  Loud as shit, even with the earplugs.  Hot as hell.  Runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, unless it’s fucked up or the place is closed.  Only one window.  Not really even a window, just a square hole, way at the top of the wall, with a heavy screen.  Can barely turn around, keep bumping the broom handle against the grinder sweeping off the walls, or bumping it against the walls sweeping off the grinder.  Balance on the ledge in front of the door, clean from the top down, sweep everything to the floor, scoop it up with a shovel, dump it in the big plastic garbage can squeezed in the corner.  Not too full or it gets too heavy.  Haul the can out to the dumpster, push it over the top if there’s too much in there to open the doors, let it fall on top of the trash, climb up, jump in, empty the can, toss it out, climb down, go back for more.  Blow off with an air hose at one of the machines when you’re done.  There’s usually water in the line that sprays out after you get going, makes the shit stick worse than just sweat.  Maybe the glass meter thing has something to do with that.
     Mike laughed at me one time climbing out.  Said I looked like Santa Claus.  Asshole.  Always smiling.  Never heard him cuss once.  It is kind of like walking through snow when you first get in.  Your Chuck Taylors leave a trail of dark footprints where the concrete shows through, then leave a trail of white ones on the way to the dumpster.
     You should head back.  Your shoelace is loose.  Better tie it.  Need some new high-tops too.  Things won’t stay white at work.  Can’t even remember when I started wearing All-Stars.  Sixth grade?  Fifth?  The pricks at Williams wore Nikes, with the fuckin’ swoosh, but half of ’em wouldn’t even say the name right.  Like it’s one fuckin’ syllable.  Hey, check out my new Nikes, man.  You’re gonna drop forty bucks on a pair of fuckin’ shoes, at least get the goddamn name right.
     You should head back.  Katrina’ll be mad for makin’ her late for break again.  At least she doesn’t start counting her time after she gets out of the bathroom, like Bessie.  Can hardly understand a thing that woman says though.  German.  Built like a goddamn tank.  Fuckin’ mustache about as thick as mine.  Her and Rosie on the half-gallon, all day, every day.  Only ones who never switch off packing and bagging.  Katrina always packs.  Lets Rosie haul those bundles out to the dock, load ’em in the trailer.  Hardly ever even look at each other, much less speak.  Katrina just fuckin’ hates little Rosie.  Calls her Jeepsee.  Even to her face.

German Cockroach

Buddy and I are sitting in the breakroom,
a pack of Twinkies on the table in front of him,
a cup of bitter, vending-machine coffee facing me.
Katrina tromps in from the half-gallon press,
her fingers hooked around the handles of three milk jugs
she rattles in Buddy’s face.
“Nein, nein.  You fix, Buddy.  Schlecht, Buddy.  Bad.”
Buddy just nods, reaches for another Twinkie.
A little roach crawls from the pack as he crinkles back the cellophane.
He whaps at it with his palm, but it escapes,
scurries to the edge of the table and under.
Katrina screams, tugs at the front of her blouse furiously
with both hands.  Jugs hit the floor as Buddy and I stare.
She regains her composure as quickly as she’d lost it.
“Bugs.  They crawl from seams.  At train station.  Soldat—soldier—he see.
He know we come from camp.  He take us back.”
She picks the jugs from the floor,
shakes them again in Buddy’s face.  “You fix.”
Katrina tramps out to the half-gallon press as the roach
goosesteps its way back across the century
to nibble on Buddy’s Twinkie.

You should head back.  Loading trucks.  That’s about as good as it gets.  The machines’ll keep cranking out jugs whether there’s trailers at the docks or not.  Just got to keep packing ’em.  An aluminum bin at each machine.  Three sides and a bottom, open in front and on top.  The bottom has a square cut out in the middle at the front edge above the tilt lever.  Put in a piece of cardboard, stack five sets of four gallons against the back of the bin, stand a cardboard divider against those, stack five more sets of four against the divider, pull a plastic bag down from the roll over the bin and slip it over, rip it loose, tilt the bin onto the bench, push the whole thing into the bag.  Grab up the corners, spin the bundle to twist it closed, get a metal tie from the tray on top of the bench, use the tool to close it.  A straight handle with a drill bit kind of thing inside, with a hook sticking out the end.  Slip the hook through the loops on the tie, pull the handle, the hook turns as it comes out and twists the tie, then gets pulled back in—a spring?—without turning.  Three full pulls twists it tight.  Less than three leaves it loose.  More than three and it snaps.
     Two people at each machine.  A 10-minute break in the morning and afternoon, twenty minutes for lunch.  One packs, the other bags, they switch after break.  Some count time like Bessie, after the bathroom, so breaks are never on time, and everybody’s pissed off when you get there.  Beats the pit, or mopping, or wiping grease.  Sweeping’s not too bad, but loading trucks is best.  Start with the stacks closest to the trailer, work your way up the dock.  Grab a bundle in each hand, above the metal tie, start counting steps from the stack to the back of the trailer, then counting back to the stack.  That gets old, and you usually forget and just count off in fours instead.  One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four.  Get a beat going in your head, start trying to come up with lyrics, go over ’em a zillion times ’til they’re memorized, write ’em in your notebook in the car after work.  Go someplace safe first, where nobody’ll see.  The dirt road off 70.  Past the mall.  The old barns.  Me and Grant used to party there some, maybe Swade sometimes.  Get a six and a large cup of crushed ice at the Kwickie Mart, pack the Little Playmate, back into the big barn, pop open a can, pull the notebook from under the seat and get whatever’s in your head out of there.
    You should head back.  Get your safety cap.  Safety cap.  A cheap hard hat.  Maybe half as thick.  It’ll give on the sides, but you could probably stand on top of the fucker.  Beat to shit, dirty as hell, cracked on one side.  Just about perfect.  Pull your hair back first.  Damn nasty-ass dust all in that shit too.  Cap on, straight.  Trash to the can at the side door, in through the flap on the way out.  Sun’s fuckin’ bright.
     To hell with the son of a bitch.
     Whoa, man.  Watch out for the fuckin’ garbage truck.  Man, that shit reeks.  Spoiled milk?  Fuckin’ diesel.  God knows what else.  Oh, so now you’re gonna empty our dumpster after I already had to climb in and out of that fucker a zillion times?  Sure as shit.  Pull that U-turn, out of Hardee’s parking lot, up the hill to the plant.  The place is just a brick wall from here.  The back of the shop where they fix the little shit that breaks down on this side of the back drive, the side of the warehouse and the garage on the other, the dumpster in between.  The plant sittin’ opposite all of that.  You can tell what’s the oldest by the bricks.  Most of the buildings are old as fuckin’ hell, made out of that red brick that’s a bunch of different shades.  Like most of downtown is.  Hell, all Burlington must’ve been made out of that at one time.  Some new places are brick too, but lots of them aren’t red.  Tan maybe, like the mall.  Or a place like Doc’s, which is old, but the brick’s painted white.  The new part of the plant where number three sits is new brick, all one color, lighter than the old red, and a lot smoother.
     The smell’s not so bad this far behind the truck.  It comes in at an angle, blocks most of the drive.  Just stand back and watch the show.  You’d think it was pissed off at the dumpster, roaring while it creeps up, sticking its arms out and knocking the dumpster around a little before picking it up, heaving it over its back and shaking it empty.  The open top catches most of the trash, but some spills over.  Yeah, you just leave that for me to clean up, why don’tcha?  Slam the dumpster back to the ground, beep loud as hell at me backing up, curl your arms in and head on down the road.  The shovel’s in the warehouse.
     “Hey!”  Fuckin’ Mike again.  Down the loading ramp out of the plant.  “Hey!  Jim!  You can 
leave that.  Why don’tcha go on over to the hospital?”  Just shrug, keep scraping up the trash.  He stops at the edge.  You feel like you gotta watch?  Yeah, I see ya.  But I ain’t gotta look at ya.  Just keep the corner of my eye on you.  In your supervisor’s uniform.  Brown leather work boots, brown pants, tan shirt with a white name patch over the pocket.  And that damn cap, cocked just right, not so much as a scratch on it.
     Scoop up a shovelful near his foot.  Fucker ain’t gonna move, huh?  What the hell’s that on top that flipped over?  Pull it closer.  Fuck!  Push that thing away!  Shit, man, you had your mouth open too!  Mike ewws like a damn girl.  It is gross.  A used . . . what’s it called?  A maxi-pad?  A purple-black stain no bigger than a quarter.  Like a miniature inkblot.
     “Uh, well, maybe you can just finish this up, then go.”  The fucker leans right down in your fuckin’ face, grins.  “I guess she weren’t pregnant, huh?”  You’re a riot aren’tcha, shit for brains?  What the fuck are ya tryin’ to do?  Gimme a kiss?  He steps back, shoves his hands in his pockets, shakes his head, leaves.  Steady with that shovel now.  Real slow, ease on over to the dumpster.  That shit’s got to be toxic, man.  Red alert.  Well, I guess it used to be red.  Purple alert?  “Good Lord, Jim.”  Shit, Mike’s coming back.  Whoa, what the hell are you watching him for?  You’re gonna drop that thing.  “Go on over and see him.”  Maybe he’ll just go away.  Maybe.  If you really hope so.  Maybe.  OK, maybe not.  “Heck, that coulda been you, ya know.”  Mike nods at the stain.  “If not for your daddy.”  He heads back up the ramp.  Finally.
     Fuck ’im.  Fuck ’em both.  Flip that thing in the dumpster, clean up the rest of this shit.  Put the shovel back in the warehouse.  Let’s get the fuck out of here.

Kick It In

The angry young man
In over his head
Got something to say that shouldn’t be said
Gun in his hand
His eyes seeing red
No longer victim of trepidation and dread

Kick it in
Kick it down
Kick it over
Kick it around
Kick it in

The angry young man
Been freed from his doubt
No longer concerned how things will work out
Take it in stride
One day at a time
No longer looking for reason and rhyme

Kick it in
Kick it down
Kick it over
Kick it around
Kick it in

The angry young man
He’s tired of strife
Ain’t gonna let it take control of his life
Been so unsure
Been so insecure
Gonna go with the flow and you know he’ll endure

Kick it in
Kick it down
Kick it over
Kick it around
Kick it in

The door of the  Raunchwagon creaks.  Man, the bitch holds a lot of heat with the windows up.  Let that shit roll on out.  The old man bought it used about five years ago.  One of the salesmen’s cars.  Why do you need a salesman for milk jugs?  Seems like the people who need ’em would just come looking for you.  Even if you do need one, why make him ride around in a Ranchwagon?  It was pale blue once.  Pretty much faded white now.  Not even one hubcap.  Climb in the front seat, reach over and roll down the back windows, then the passenger’s.  Ease into the seat, keep your back off that vinyl, close your door and roll the window down.  Pump the gas a couple times, crank ’er up.  Come on bitch.  Yes.  Man, you need a muffler.  You say that every time.  Well, shit, that’s when I think about it.  Toss your cap over on the floorboard, put on your shades.  Back out, roll this piece of shit away from here.  Need gas.  Again.  Probably use some oil too.  Burn a quart a week.  A trail of blue smoke.  Goddamn AC doesn’t work.  Already had a hundred and sixteen thousand on it when the old man gave it to you.  You’d been working a few weeks, a month.  It’d just been sitting in the driveway.  He hasn’t had much use for it since he retired.  The old lady probably got sick of having to take you in in the morning, talked him into letting you use it.  Fucker was pissed when you covered up the Marine Corps bumper sticker on the middle of the tailgate with one you got from that bar in Chapel Hill.  He’s Not Here.  Like I was gonna ride around with that Marine shit on there.  Not that anybody’d mistake you for a jarhead.
     It’s usually quarter after by the time you punch in.  At least ten after.  Supposed to be there by seven.  That’s the only thing they could complain about though.

Workingman’s Blues

I got the workingman’s blues
Worn down the soles of my shoes
My attitude fades with my jeans.
Time goes by like clouds in the sky
Working like a dog, just a cog in the working machine
With the workingman’s blues.
I got the workingman’s blues, yeah.
Can’t get ahead in this life
Best I can do is get by.
There ain’t no way to lose the workingman’s blues.

I Quit Dreamin’

Was a time
Long time ago
Seems forever has passed
Had delusions of grandeur
Made me want so much more
Couldn’t see what I had
Wondered what was in store
For I knew that someday
Things would turn my way
Knew life was gonna change
And start screamin’
But now I know
Life ain’t no picture show
No noble seed did I sow
I quit dreamin’

You get bored as hell loading trucks.  You gotta write the shit down to get it out of your head.  Already filled five notebooks.  Lyrics, fucked-up . . . what?  Cartoons?  A lot’s just a verse or a chorus or even just a few lines.  Not finished.  Probably never will be.  Just write ’em down so they’ll quit bouncing around my brain, stash ’em under my seat.  What the hell else you gonna do with ’em?
     Friday nights, head to The Bar.  Right at the railroad tracks, but still this side of ’em.  Always bikers there, but usually a bunch of people from Elon College too.  Beer by the pitcher for quarter toss.  Don’t fit in with either crowd, but it’s cheaper than drinking up in Elon.  The Lighthouse gets a nickel more a bottle.  At Dewar’s, it’s a fuckin’ dime.  And The Bar’s the only one of ’em with gooseneck Buds.
     Fuckin’ Swade introducing me to that guy at Dewar’s that time.  “This is Jim.  Nobody fucks with him, and he don’t fuck with nobody.”  That was cool.  Kind of how it is at The Bar.  Nobody fucks with you if you don’t fuck with them first.
     Swade.  Competed over everything.  Who can smoke the most.  Who can drink the most.  Who can drink the fastest.  You’d try to ignore him, but he’d keep at it.  You’d have to beat him at whatever it was after he pushed hard enough, just to shut him the fuck up.  Always trying to beat you at something.  Always.  Never did.
     The Battle of the Bands.  Every Friday.  At The Bar.  Who the fuck named that place, anyway?  A bunch of local yokels’ll come in and play some rock-n-roll, maybe some college boys’ll try some punk, maybe some rednecks from the Cummings side of the tracks’ll twang some country shit.  Taking turns.  Two stages, one in either corner facing the bar.  One band sets up while the other plays.  Only go maybe half an hour, more if the crowd’s into it, less if the crowd thinks they suck.  Big John might let ’em drink free if they’re real good.  Most of it’s shit.  Sometimes it’s pretty cool.  That dude from Williams is there every week, sometimes with a band, sometimes just playing guitar and singing solo.  We might’ve had a class together, maybe sophomore year.  Maybe.  Never talked or anything.  He plays mainly original shit.  He’ll jam with some of the same guys sometimes, but they’ll never have the same name twice.  Snidely Whiplash.  Barney Google.  Skylab Falling.  Clothes Hamster.  Turd.  Even played as fuckin’ schwa once.  Just had the “ə” taped on the bass drum.  Had to look that one up.  Something about a vowel sound.
     Some of your stuff is better than his.  The music’s pretty good, but the words aren’t much.  Not that yours are worth a shit, just that some aren’t as bad as some of his.  Never have gotten quite enough beer in you to ask him to have a look at your shit.  Come close once or twice though.  He’d probably think you were a fag.  Like, hey, do you want to go out to my car and see some things I’ve written?  Ooh.  Teachers called him Rick or Richard, but he’s Rip at The Bar.  Never was in class much.
     Kasha.  Goddamn.  Good-looking blond works behind the bar.  Think she goes to Elon.  Sure doesn’t fit in with the bikers.  Big John doesn’t let anybody fuck with her.  That’s cool.  Nobody grabbing her ass or anything.  If they do pull that shit, Big John tosses ’em out.  Picks ’em the fuck up by the collar and the belt and throws ’em through the door.  Seen ’im do it a couple of times.  He doesn’t put up with any shit.  Kasha.  Oh man.  Eyes like Aqua-Velva.  She handles herself pretty well, even without Big John around.  Calls ’em all darlin’.  Cool as hell.  So’s her boyfriend.  The fucker.  Tends bar at Dewar’s.

I’m Kinda In Love

I’m kinda in love
You know, I ain’t even told ya
That I’m kinda in love
Although I don’t really know ya
But I’m kinda in love
Yeah, I just wanna hold ya
Because I’m kinda in love

I’m crazy ’bout you Blondie
You got those wild blue eyes
Your laugh unique as thunder
Rollin’ ’cross a summer sky
You’re beautiful with people
You handle men so well
You can call everybody “darlin’”
Hear what they have to tell
Everyone’s an equal
Can’t play no favorites here
You catch me as I’m staring
And bring another beer

So why can’t I see
There is no you and me
Don’t want to understand
You already have a man
Gotta keep my dream in sight
I’ll be back tomorrow night

You leave me at the bar
You head out with your man
Don’t think to say good-bye
I play cool as I can
I’ll wait ’til you get back
I know you’re just on break
I imagine you with no one
I’ll give my love if you will take
But I know I’m only dreaming
Wish we could coincide
Maybe you’re right together
And I should let it slide

But I just can’t see
There is no you and me
Don’t want to understand
You already have a man
Gotta keep my dream in sight
I’ll be back tomorrow night

’Cause I’m kinda in love
You know, I ain’t even told ya
That I’m kinda in love
Although I don’t really know ya
But I’m kinda in love
Yeah, I just wanna hold ya
Because I’m kinda in love

Work buys you beer, if nothing else.  Helps keep your mind off of—  Off of other shit.  When you got something to do, fuckin’ do it.  Fuck savin’ it for “after break.”  Get whatever nasty shit it is over with, even if there’s just more nasty shit waiting.  Some trailers come in with old cardboard, dividers from a shipment where whoever got the jugs didn’t want the cardboard.  Can’t be re-used.  Buddy makes you load it on the pickup.  Then come to find out he just drives the shit to the recycling place, gets cash for it.  He wasn’t around last time, and Mike just wanted the shit out of the trailer so it could be loaded again.  Told him I could get rid of it if the pickup was around.  Any reason to get the fuck out of the plant for a while is a good reason, even if they just blow a hose or need a coupling and you have to take the Raunchwagon somewhere to pick up a replacement.  But gettin’ outta there and gettin’ cash for doin’ it?  Didn’t know that pickup was straight drive though.  Mike asked could you drive three on a tree.  Didn’t want to look stupid, didn’t want him to know I didn’t even know what the hell he meant.  Just said, “Yeah.”  Three on a tree.  Man, talk about learning the hard way.  Know exactly what grinding gears means now.  Fuck.
     There’s a lot of purges on Mondays.  At least a couple machines won’t run over the weekend.  None run on a holiday.  Mike starts ’em back up, runs plastic through the barrel to get all the burned black shit out.  Leaves the mold open, runs the melted shit straight down to the floor.  Shit sets up into one big chunk.  A purge.  When it’s cool enough to handle, take it to the grinder out on the dock beside the band saw.  Cut it in small enough pieces to chuck up into the grinder hopper.  Cut another piece while it’s chewin’ up the last one.  Throw in a piece too big, it jams.  Turn the power off, unplug it, tilt the hopper back ’til it’s leaning against the wall, pry the chunk loose.  When the drawer’s full, dump it in an old gaylord.  They sell that shit cheap to somebody who doesn’t care about inclusions.
     Inclusions.  Purges.  Hoppers.  Fuckin’ gaylords.
     Black shit.  Chunks of plastic.  Big funnel-lookin’ thing.  Big fuckin’ boxes.
     You stay busy, you keep your mind occupied.  It all sucks, but it all keeps you busy.  Minimum wage is supposed to go up soon.  May hit four, four and a quarter.  Payday every other Friday.  That’s a good night at The Bar.  Off week is usually a little tight.  First paycheck, went up to the john, got in your stall, opened it up.  Two hundred twenty-one dollars and thirty-six cents.  Right in my fuckin’ hand.  Hell, the paper route Don dumped off on me was the only money I’d seen growing up.  Maybe five bucks from Aunt Elsie and Uncle John for a birthday.  A quarter from the old man to go to Barnacle Bill’s Fishing Pier at the Dine Ashore Restaurant.  Always had to go in August.  Surf City.  The first thing on the sign that welcomes you: No Surfing.  Water’s rough that late in the year, it’s not as sunny.  Jellyfish floating around, rolling in the surf, dead on the beach.  Senator Scott’s place.  Owns the plant too.  All the supervisors get a free week there.
     I might’ve got a quarter tip from somebody on the paper route.  Collected once a month, paid the Times-News what they were owed, kept the few bucks left over.  That one old lady knitted you a scarf for Christmas.  Longer than you were tall.  Four shades of fuckin’ pink.  Asked where it was next time you went to collect.  Felt bad about making her feel bad.  Asshole.  You could’ve worn it at least to her place.
     She always paid in change from that little zipper coin purse thing she kept in her pocketbook.  You used to have one of those.  You were real little, up at Big Star getting a piece of bubble gum.  Got your penny out, zipped it up, shoved it in your pocket.  Fat Colleen was working the register, must’ve seen you putting something in your pocket, wanted to know what it was.  Reached over the counter, pulled it out herself.  Told the old lady after.  She must’ve told the old man, ’cause he made you tell him what happened.  Got pissed off, said he was gonna go cuss the bitch out, tell the manager that none of us would ever shop there again.  Me and Don were the only ones to ever buy shit there anyway.  The old lady shops at Winn-Dixie.  Says it’s cheaper.  She might’ve had one of us go up there if she needed a gallon of milk or something, like if Aunt Elsie and Uncle John were coming over and she didn’t want ’em to know we drank powdered milk.  I still bought gum there when I had a penny, at least until the Kwickie Mart opened.  They got Zots and Sprees and all kinds of shit.  Stole money out of the old lady’s pocketbook a couple times, went there and got a big bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos and a quart of Borden Dutch Chocolate Milk.  Ate ’em up in the treehouse.
     Me and Don coming from Big Star that time.  Stopped at the corner.  You pushed the button to change the light so you could cross Church Street.  While we were waiting, you asked Don what the red box on the telephone pole was, sitting right above the button.  He dared you to pull the handle in it.  The light turned green right after.  Don took off running, so you did too.  Stopped halfway down the block, looked back at the pole.  Don kept going.  You knew you’d fucked up.  Just didn’t know how.  Heard the siren all the way from downtown.  It kept getting louder.  A man ran out of Rich & Thompson's Funeral Home shaking his head at the firemen when they jumped out of the truck.  Felt sick to my stomach.  Then you get home, and fuckin’ Don is telling the old lady how he was yelling at you from the other side of the street not to pull the thing, but how you pulled it anyway.  After the whipping, the old man took you to the fire department, made you stand beside the car while he went in.  The big door was open, a bunch of firemen were sitting around a table just inside, right beside the truck.  The old man talked to ’em for a minute, pointed out at you.  They all shook their heads.
     Fuck it.  Man, I actually wondered how the hell I was ever gonna spend all of that first paycheck.  How?  How about easy as hell?  Making it last to next payday is the hard part.  Usually stay high without having to rip Don off.  Get drunk pretty regular.
     Don always knew you were stealing from him.  You’d find four big bags and think you could take a little out of each and he’d never know.  It was a quarter pound.  Four ounces all weighed out.  You were dipping into his OZs, making them light.  He came in to hit his stash once.  That’s still the only time he ever has when you were there.  You were on your bed reading the comics, and him and a friend came in.  Heard Don open the drawer, get the paper bag out and open it, tell his friend it looked like his little brother’d hit him up pretty hard that week.  You just kept the paper up to hide behind.  His friend grabbed your arm, jerked it down, got right up in your face.  "Quit rippin’ off your brother’s pot!"  They laughed all the way out.  Didn’t quit stealing from him though.  If he’d been selling it and the bags were light, it might’ve been a problem, but he was just smoking it.  Fuckin’ Mexican.  Ten bucks an ounce.
     Buy my own now.  Columbian.  For fifteen.  Hard finding anybody to party with though.  Grant’s at school.  In Charlotte.  Spend the weekend at his apartment sometimes.  His college friends usually hang out there too.  That one fucker asked whose piece of shit was parked out front.  Could only have been talking about the Raunchwagon.  Grant told him.  The guy tried to change the subject, asked what you did for a living.  You mumbled something about milk jugs.  Then another guy comes in, asks the same shit.  First guy laughs.  "He’s in plastics."
     Hell, if they didn’t go off to school, anybody else I knew from Williams joined the army.  Even Swade would’ve been somebody to hang with.  But his folks got money, so he’d have gone to school too.  What the fuck else you gonna do?  Drive around, get a beer at The Bar, hit the bars up in Elon, see if there’s any chicks.  They’ll be with a guy or a group.  Even if you did see a girl alone, even if she was good-looking as hell and came right up to you and said she wanted to go bump uglies or something, even if she was just a hot slut who said she wanted to go fuck your brains out, she’d probably see the Raunchwagon, laugh, change her mind.  So you go to one of the bars, drink beer until you have to piss like a Russian racehorse, then leave.  Sometimes just take a leak behind the bar and go back in, but there’s usually somebody hanging around, so you’ll get in the car and take off, find somewhere dark to piss, drive to whatever bar back across on whichever side of town you’re not on already.  Try to park far enough away so that nobody’ll see you getting in or out.  Not that it’d be anybody you know.  Or just go home and crash.
     Hungover at work early, getting better by lunch, ready for a beer at four o’clock.  Always get your work done though, hungover or not.  Mike told the old man it didn’t matter how bad the job was, you’d get in there and do it right.  The old man walks a lot these days.  Always end up at the plant.
     I used to have to walk home in the afternoons.  Before leaving, I’d go upstairs, sit in my stall, twist a number on my wallet—still can’t roll in the air too good—burn it on the way home.  Walking right down Main Street.  It’s been widened to four lanes most of the way, but it’s still not much for traffic.  Just held that thing like it was a cigarette, smoked on down the sidewalk like it was nobody’s business.  Tapped it out on the brick wall at the corner from the house, stuck the roach in my pocket for later.  Now you got wheels, don’t have to go straight home.  Can drive around and burn one.  Still like to have a joint.  A bowl is too much hassle driving, and too plain to see.  The bong is out of the question.  You got water to deal with, you need two hands, you’re fucked if you get stopped.  It may be the best way to get high, but you got to be inside to use one, or at least parked in a safe place.  The barns.  You can take BHs there.
     That was the best thing about that first paycheck.  A new bong.  A real one, not just homemade like Big Red.  Bought at The Pipe Line in Elon.  A lot like Old Yeller.  Straight up and down, carburetor on the back.  No dry chamber or anything, just a two-foot tall tube.  Green.  Not clear, but still see-through.  Took your old birthstone ring you got one Christmas with an emerald in it.  May is the emerald.  Taurus the bull.  Just a piece of green glass.  Pried it out of the ring, super-glued it to the front of the tube, up near the top.  Esmerelda.  The girl in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.  Old flick on PBS.  Nothing else to do Saturday night.  The actor slash poet guy was in love with Esmerelda the gypsy girl.  She didn’t love him back, but he was willing to let her go ’cause he loved her so much, just wanted her to be happy.  The Chief Justice guy, who first found ol’ Quasimodo on the doorstep or somewhere when he was just a hunchbaby, he loved Esmerelda too, but she really didn’t want anything to do with him.  Had funky sideburns and bangs.  No lips at all either.  But Chiefy wanted to kill Esmerelda since she didn’t love him.  And Quasimodo loved her, but she wasn’t about to let that thing near her.  She should have.  They say he’s a good hump.  But Ezebel loved some soldier named Phoebus, and he told her he loved her, but he really just wanted to fuck her.  Sounds about right.  You love somebody, but they don’t love you back.  You find out somebody else does love you, but it’s somebody you want nothing to do with.  And all anybody really needs is a good fuck, but they can’t get one.

Love Makes Fools

Can’t count the hours
I’ve spent thinking of you
How I was gonna make you mine
But you had other ideas
Dreams of your own
That didn’t include me
I wanted you for my wife
You said let’s be friends for life
Where have I heard that before
As a general rule
Love makes fools

I felt anger
Wanted to hate you
Wanted you to love me until you hurt
I felt pain and frustration
Felt sorry for myself
So alone I could not love again
As I had loved you
But sadder still is the fact
That I still feel the same
After all this time
After all that’s past
I would give for you my life
If only you would ask
I know it to be true
Love makes fools

I imagine us together
I imagine you alone
You, so altogether woman
The epitome to me
You can choose men
From the lines awaiting you
And I imagine you alone
Thinking of me
When I never cross your mind
As I envision you
This I know because we’re not together
But still I won’t believe
When there’s nothing I can do
Love makes fools

At the end, ol’ Quasimodo leans against a gargoyle on top of the church.  Why was I not made of stone like you?  I hear ya, Quaz.
     Once in a while, some girl calls you cute.  Or somebody says some girl called you cute.  More of a hunchback on the inside, I guess.  Maybe some on the outside.  A hunchdick.
     Kathy.  Still the only time you been laid.  Two years ago.  Eighteen, and about ten seconds of pussy.  And that some shit you didn’t even want.
     People thought the world was flat.  Chief Justice guy thought the printing press was evil, that everybody reading would turn the whole fuckin’ world upside down.  The king took a bath once a year.  Bet he never got laid either.  Bullshit.  He’s the fuckin’ king.  As much pussy as he wants, whenever he wants.  He was pretty old though.
     The old man’s got his own room.
     Need music.  Cassettes under the seat.  Ooh, The Doors sounded good on the way in this morning.  Still owe Don ten bucks on the Super Tuner.  It mounted pretty good under the dash.  This is the end, beautiful friend.  A little more volume from them Jensens.  This is the end, my only friend, the end.  Someday you’ll get ’em out of those old towels in the back seat and mount ’em right.  Someday you’ll replace ’em with triaxials.  Fish that half joint out.  Roach clip under the mat.  Need your Bic.  Left knee at 8 o’clock to steer.  Maybe 7 o’clock.  7:30.  Ish.  Fuckin’ wind.  Put some window back in that crack.  Yeah, burn baby.  Take it deep.  Hold it in.  Kill that fucker.  Let it go.  Oh, man.  Hit it again.  Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free?  Hold it in.  Flick the ashes out the window.  Let it go.  Hit it again.  And all the children are insane.  Hold it in.
     Roll the window back down, stick your head out.  Airbrush.  Whoa, stay in your lane.  Another toke.  Hold it in.  Put some window back in that crack.  Let it go.  One more good one.  Feel that shit expand.  Tap the roach out in the ashtray.  Let it go.  Red light.  Fire up a Marlboro.

“Jimmy!  Get out here!  You’re next!”  You ran to the back porch but stopped at the door to watch Don climb down from the kitchen chair that was wobbling on the four upside-down metal milk crates.  His new crew cut was even more lopsided than his old one.  He brushed stubble off his bare stomach as he passed.  The old man caught you not looking, scared the hell out of you when he grabbed your arm and jerked you out to the porch.  “I said you’re next!”  You actually looked at his face for a split second before you realized what was happening.  His eyes were red behind his glasses.  His tan shirt had a white name patch over the pocket.  Dean.  Don’s hair was stuck to the shirt, to his brown pants, the tops of his brown leather work boots.

He took a face from the ancient gallery and he walked on down the hall.  Check the rearview.  Some guy with long hair, sunglass eyes.  He came to a door, and he looked inside.  Father—  Barmp barmp.  Who’s blowin’ that horn?  Old fucker behind you.  Light’s green.  Give it the gas.

Your knife was too loud on your plate sawing up the Salisbury steak.  He cleared his throat, pulled a piece of bread out of the loaf.  “Butter!”  We passed the saucer.  You dropped it beside his chair.  The half stick of margarine on the floor, the white saucer in pieces.  No use trying to pick it up.  “Idiot!”  His hot breath on top of your head.  “You think money grows on trees?”  He got up, whipped off his belt.

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my pen name, tj jude, is spelled EXACTLY like that. All lower-case letters, no punctuation. I write. Here you will find my novel, stain, also spelled in lower case. I post poetry on myspace and facebook. I also do artwork occasionally, mainly oil paintings. I have done some cartoons, a number of which are supposed to appear in this novel, but I have yet to figure out how to post them so that they will remain posted any longer than I am on this blogsite. As soon as I log out and log back in, they are no longer embedded in the text.