With the confidence of her new job her life plan was while she has child number one she will be a Front End Developer. Then after her second and last child she will become a Back End Developer. The odds in Vegas of Diego being ‘the sperminator’ for that second child have been dropping steadily.
Maritza’s due date was October 16 so Diana arrived Sept 30 just in case the baby wanted life to start a few weeks early.
She wanted her mom to be with her when she had children. But she knew by the time she was 14 years old she would never leave her hometown – the mini universe of petty importances – if she got married and had a child there. It was painful but with the reports of increasing ‘femicidios’ she knew it was the right thing to do.
To begin with it worked out really well. Diego was on his best behaviour; still a bit nervous and ashamed he got his girlfriend knocked up. Diana loved seeing her daughter after three years and she spread that love on Diego’s toast too. For a while. Diana liked Diego but he just couldn’t get with the program. He would do anything you asked. But you had to ask him to stop watching videos and put down the phone. He worked full time but other than that there was a weak response to the fact of the cost of raising a family. He didn’t party – he didn’t do anything.
Diego’s mom died when he was around four years old so he ended up living with cousins till he was a teenager. His dad became unhinged; unable to transition from grief to widower/dad/homemaker/happy person who didn’t drink everyday and just plop white bread and peanut butter on the kitchen table for his two boys to make their sandwiches to take to school. His dad’s sister Blanca took over the role of responsible adult.
His dad visited a few times but his absence fertilised weeds of disdain to germinate in their garden of young man formation. Of course the boys felt rejected and wound up with contorted relationships with love for a long time. Perhaps that was one of the things that Maritza and Diego had in common. His limited lexicon of love was familiar to Maritza. Not quite comforting but at least she knew what she was dealing with having seen her dad come back from Oregon without the words or the balls to improve the situation with her mom.
Maritza explained her theory to her mom that since Diego was brought up by his Aunt and embarrassed about his dad and afraid they might kick him out if he and his younger brother became too much of a burden he didn’t impose. That is why he had programmed himself out of ambition. And probably the same for drinking. He didn’t drink. He went to church every two weeks to pray for aunt Blanca who was sick and had been for a while. Diego sent her money on her birthday and at Christmas – 250 bucks – which surprised Maritza. At first she didn’t say anything but now with needing things for the baby and el mendigo coche things had changed. She can see that conversation about Aunt blanca coming soon. Her mom was totally in agreement.
It was cramped in their one bedroom apartment. Mom created her tidy corner for living. They pulled the couch out from the wall and put a foam mattress down. She would nap with the baby when Maritza had gone out to shop. In the space between conscious and unconscious is that beautiful feeling of experiencing your mind compressing. It might have been a dream in sleep or had her mind imagined she was back in Mexico as a young mother with infant Maritza. But instantly she realized that was silly because she lived in fear in Mexico of her loncheria being targeted by the narcos and she was breathing in the smells of her granddaughter.
Maritza told her mom she wasn’t married to Diego in any civil or emotional sense. She wanted chdilren and she didn’t want stupid parent problems impacting the development of her children. Diego was perfect for the job. He was not anything remarkable: a little pudgy, not funny or depressing, not ugly or rich, not violent or warm, or not ambitious.
Diana talked with him one Saturday morning when the two of them were walking with the baby in the carriage that everyone at the restaurant had chipped in for and given her as a gift. In fact they had offered to give Diego a job. He would have been making less money but it would have been stable and they would still have benefits. He would have to improve his English and to him that meant reading and lots of things going too fast for him and not understanding. Any book caused a white rain in his head that didn’t let him think. His English wasn’t that bad but he made no effort to learn. It made Diego feel too domesticated. He needed to be the man to go out and make his money to support his family in a job he found doing work he learned. He didn’t need help.
Diana sensed he felt guilt from how his childhood went. She told him he was not responsible for his parents. How could he be?
“Hijo, as parents we make mistakes. The ones you are going to make are enough. You can’t also carry the sins from the previous generation. You are so good to send money to your Aunt Blanca. She will understand if you have to focus on your family now. She has her own children to help her. You have helped them so much.”
Diego sent money to Aunt Blanca so that he could feel a mother’s love. He was too scared to go out into the world by himself. His past was bullying his present.
“Hijo, you are a good man. Your family loves you and needs you. Here. Now,” said Diana.
Diana living with them allowed Maritza to study more and sleep more and obviously she was a great cook so Diego’s lunches were famous on the job site. Diana made him dishes that he could share with the guys at lunch time so they liked having him on the team – so they didn’t fire him for being a lazy dumbass.
She made tacos dorados, flautas, chiles en vinagre and she always gave him an extra bottle of agua de Jamaica sweetened with piloncillo. She taught Diego how to make hand made tortillas so when she was gone he had a specific task in the kitchen.
She opened Fonda Diana two years before she got pregnant with Maritza. It was such a hoe-in-the-wall restaurant with economical food for locals. The revenue often just covered costs and everyone knew they had nothing really. Just the house. Her father-in-law had divided his property up in equal parts for each of his six children. Diana and Rodolfo had their plot closest to the road where they built their two bedroom/one bathroom house as newlyweds 20 years ago. Diana wanted a little more distance between her and her in-laws but she didn’t have her own free property up her sleeve. Being closest to the road gave the illusion of an easy escape in case of emergency.
Now this was her turn being away like her husband. Diana was traumatized by her husband’s experience in the US. Even though Maritza had her work permit Diana still had fear la migra was gonna knock on the door.
She needs to be in the same place as her biggest worry. In her marriage there was no worry nor love. At least not love that flowed between the two of them. There was his support of wanting the mother of his children to be healthy. But there were no emotional hydraulics that kept them connected, rejuvenated or feeling appreciated.
Their love was like a coiled and faded green garden hose that sits in the grass beside the house – the grass growing all around it. The water in the hose gets heated every day and cooled every night but never quenches anything. There was endearment from him to her because he knew she knew he had cheated on her in Oregon. Or as Maritza at four years old would say – oregano.
With her mom around Maritza started speaking more in English to Diego so her mom wouldn’t understand. Diana understood they were a family and needed to have their privacy. As a young family they had so many unknowns, of baby sleeping and parents not/diaper rashes/not trusting the doctor/medicine and diapers/noisy neighbours, arriving at once, like it was a surprise party no one told you that you were hosting. Diana would ‘go to the store’ just to give them some space. But winter had placed a white canvas on the ground after the beautiful palette of autumn fiery reds, glowing oranges and comforting yellows. The cold was hard and penetrating and was more than necessary. All the cold you needed was to make snow, why get colder, thought Diana, when she looked at her phone and it said minus 17 degrees Celsius.
Diana sat in the coffee shop with her sugary medium hot chocolate. She took her coat off and hung it on the back of the chair like the Canadians with their large double doubles. She thought if she acted like them her marrow might radiate some warmth through her body. She bought the hot chocolate because there was the word hot right in the name. Diana cupped the hot chocolate with her pale hands. It’s like she was wearing special lead gloves that didn’t let any radiation through. She didn’t want to complain and cause her daughter any stress and pass that to the baby.
She needed a hug. She found a gif of a boy wearing a toque,snow on his head and frozen snot coming out of his nostril. She sent it to her sister back home. Her sister sent her a gif of a smiling devil with a bottle of booze. Diana had planned to stay six months but cut it short saying that her son back in Mexico needed taking care of because he was getting sick and wasn’t eating well because dad was a moron in the kitchen. And elsewhere. They had Sandra’s first Christmas together and she left in mid January. She was too cold to stay.
Her tears were going in all directions. They were falling up in the joy of being a grandmother of a beautiful shining life. They were falling down in sadness at the stupidness of husbands and son-in-laws and sons not knowing how to love.
They were falling sideways at being 54 years old, grandma, mother-in-law, and feeling needed for what she did and not loved for the woman she was.
She knew what kind of woman she was. Not from a sense of self-confidence based on life success. She knew because Maritza told her.
“Mama, I’m not going to miss you,” said Maritza, which shocked Diana.
“Because I will have you morning, noon and night. Because I need to be strong for Sandra and caring at the same time. All I have to do is exactly the same as you did for me. Everyday. Resilient and dignified and creative and…”
“Ya basta,” Diana stopped Maritza and reached for Sandra to cradle her one last time before she went home. Only Diego drove her to the airport because Diana couldn’t handle the car trip with the joy of being with Sandra and the sadness of having to leave.
Maritza didn’t want to have two children from different fathers so Operation Rogelio was live: get drunk while eatng dinner, have sex and hopefully get pregnant. Maritza figures by the time Rogelio (she has decided it will be a boy and his name is Rogelio) is five years old she can take out the blue recycling bin with Diego in it. Have him get picked up and out of her life and he can get repurposed by another woman.
“Oye gordo, can you jump in your sexy car and run down to the liquor store and get us a bottle of wine for dinner.
“What colour?” asked Diego, liking the idea that he drove a sexy car.
“Red menso. Have you ever seen me drink white wine in my life?”
“I dunno maybe when …”
“Make it one of those one litre bottles. Here’s 20 bucks.”
As the door closed she could hear him jingling his keys with the satisfaction of a man with purpose. Click/clack the door to their second floor apartment closed. She stood there feeling like she was watching the final credits of a bad movie you sat through hoping to be moved by it at some point – and the best part of the movie was the popcorn.
Maritza said to the closed door,
“You are a toad.”
From the short story series Tool by Kevin McNamara
The two month delay because of the strike meant the real estate developers were way behind schedule to get 120 townhouses framed on their big Rowntree 3 project. In order to avoid stiff fines for not having the homes ready for their buyers to move in on time they had to get the project done in a ridiculously short window of time. As a result they were paying top dollar and brought in any and all guys who could swing a hammer. Diego could swing a hammer. He could also stand around with his hammer in his hand and talk while you work. You would think he was single and had no one to talk with at home and so he used work as his therapy. Paco wasn’t single either, he just looked that way. His family was back in Guatemala where he hasn’t been in the three years he has been in Canada.
“Donde chingados esta mi coche?” said Diego, freakin out. “NO me dices esto,” he says, with his eyes scrunched shut and pulling on his short black hair. His new-to-him cobalt blue (no sunroof) 2016 Chevy Cruze is gone. He stood still for a few seconds playing a very brief mental movie in his mind called Fear.
Fear of his girlfriend/mother of his daughter cell-yelling when he wasn’t home by 5:30. If he was driving he couldn’t text but when he declines her call that drives her crazy. Then he would text her to say he would be another 30 minutes and she would think to herself why is he texting if he is driving. Or maybe he isn’t driving, he is with una vieja and I’m gonna pull his hair out and feed it to her and pull his hair out and feed it to her.
Then, according to the script, when he gets home he can expect:
‘I told you not to get a car. You know you can rent a car for like 80 bucks a day so to take my mother to Niagara falls you don’t need a car. So you can’t say it was for me or for my mom or for the baby. It was for you because you don’t want to wake up early and take the bus.
‘Or stand in the fuckin cold at the bus stop,’ Diego, the pudgy whiner, imagines himself saying.
Paco looks at the screen on his cell and sees it’s a call from Diego – he already regrets recommending this guy to Gus.
“One second Gus,” Diego turns away and sings as much as he talks his greeting. “Que pasa hermano?”
“Alguien robó mi pinche coche. Vieron algo?”
“No me dices esto bro,” said Paco without caring.
“Preguntale brother,” insists Diego.
“When are you gonna learn English cabron?” said Paco.
“Askem bro, por fa,” said Diego thinking his Spanglish would help his cause.
As Paco drops his hand with his phone to his hip he puts it on speaker.
“Hey Gus, Diego’s car is gone. Do you know anything?” Asked Paco.
Gus motioned with a quick flick of his chin towards the side street beside the job site.
“No idea. Remember. I told you earlier. Tellem – Don’t park there – they will towem. And fuck me. Looks like they did just that,” said Gus, restraining a stupid-people-do-stupid-things-laugh.
“Is that what you yell this morning?” asked Paco.
“Ya. I saw you nod and smile,” said Gus. “So I thought whatshisface would move his car.”
“Porque no me dijiste pendejo?” Diego heard everything over the speaker.
“Where take it, you know?” Diego yelled into his phone so Gus would hear. His love of his car overcame his fear of speaking English.
“You gotta phone the city. They impounded it. Shouldn’t be too far.”
“Impounded? What the fuck,” cried Diego.
“Diego buddy Tabarnak, they towed it. That’s all I know.” said Gus looking at Paco with wide eyes that asked ‘who the fuck is this guy?’.
“How much pay?” persisted Diego.
“Dunno. Couple hundred bucks maybe.” said Gus accepting his steaming hot coffee, “Thanks Dimitri.”
Gus was a few years older than Paco but both of them were in their 30’s. Over the past few years they had been on a few projects together. Gus liked Paco but didn’t make friends on the job because when push came to shout Gus couldn’t have any favourites. But there was that one time when the concrete guys saw his name on his hard hat and started talking shit like, ‘Paco, where’s the taco?’ and all of them laughing. Gus in a very calm voice actually said to their foreman.
“If you and your fuckin clowns don’t shut it and say sorry to my guy then there might be an engineering report that says the drainage is not to grade and this whole slab needs to be repoured at your expense. And I don’t think your butt ugly money grubbin boss is gonna like that. Are we clear?!” Said red faced Gus staring the foreman straight in the eyes.
“We are,” said the pissed off foreman.
“I want to see you in the site office now.” Gus yelled at Paco,
At this point Paco had been with the company only a few months so he wasn’t sure where he stood with management. Once in the trailer Gus keeps talking,
“Did you hear what they were sayin? Calice” Gus swore in French. His French is still really good but he only uses it for choice swear words.
“Is no big deal,” said Paco.
“I am not going to school those fuckin morons on Latin cusine am I?”
“No,” agrees Paco, having no idea where this was going.
“Guatelmans don’t eat peaches tacos,” said Gus pacing around the trailer with the awareness of his poor pronunciation but in the moment he felt he had earned some cultural credibility by trying to swear in Spanish.
“You are so right Gus,” said Paco wondering if this out-of-character burst of Latino solidarity maybe came from a previous life when Gus was a Mayan curandero.
So now when Gus gave the ‘kill it’ signal with his hand at his throat Paco took it off speaker.
“Diego, come back and I will help you later,” said Paco and hung up.
“Hey Paco, what did you think I said?” asked Gus.
Paco laughed at himself and shook his head.
“I thought you say, tell Diego he’s a fuckin toad.”
“I said – tell’em if he doesn’t move they’ll fuckin towem”.
Maritza was gonna kill him. It was Diego’s first day on the job and he was losing more money than he was making. He relieves his self inflicted stress by comforting himself they will start receiving the child tax credit very soon. Diego says once the baby arrives she will want a car. But she says they have a bus stop right out front and the No Frills supermarket is 3 blocks away. She keeps repeating that you don’t need a car in the city. It’s a waste of money according to her dad.
Maritza remembered her dad being there in person for her eighth birthday. While he worked in the US for 6 years they would Facetime but it felt weird. It was sad when he would sing Las Mananitas on her birthday. As he sang her mom would bring the gift that he sent money for from Oregon where he was driving a tractor in a vineyard. He was close to Canada but never went there. He figured the Americans would grab him at the border before he crossed. He should have tried, he says to his wife now that he has been sent back. If they wouldn’t have let him travel to Canada then they just would have sent him back and it is the same result.
He got deported when he got in a car accident in town with a lawyer who had been drinking. The car accident meant he came back home which made her happy but that is where Maritza got the idea cars were a bad idea. Plus the maintenance. But when you get one, if you can’t afford a good one – don’t buy one.
Her dad taught her English even though he and Diana, his wife, knew that meant she would be more apt to leave when she got older. Also he wanted to prove that being away so long has brought some benefit to the family. He had sent more money than he could have made if he stayed in Mexico but he hadn’t been there for the childhood of their daughter and son. Or for their marriage. At least he came back. He was faithful to his family – to his wife not so much. Reynaldo, his son, was bad at school but good at soccer. He was a good striker being tall for his age. He didn’t show potential so he had no future as a pro player. It was fun for now but difficult for later. Maritza was the bright light of the family.
Before she gave birth Maritza worked as a Cook A in a restaurant for 2 years while Diego would spend about 6 months in each job. She worked till she was 7 months pregnant and then couldn’t handle being on her feet all day. The restaurant liked her from the get-go and had offered her a full time job after a few months. That way she could apply for a work permit. Diego also got a work permit being her common-law spouse.
She was really scared when she got pregnant. But now they had to rely on Diego’s income for the whole family. Maritza knew that was a recipe for a stress fueled, argument filled disaster. She needed something she could do while the baby was sleeping.
Also she didn’t know, maybe they would cancel her work permit and it wouldn’t give her enough time to apply for permanent residency. Rhonda, the manager of her restaurant location was so supportive but it was not her decision – it was the owner’s: Mr. Jackes. But she would speak to him. He had various restaurants and other businesses on the go. Maritza knew Mr. Jackes was a lawyer and had met him briefly once when he came to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
A few weeks later Maritza was tying up her apron and looking at her belly when Rhonda called her into the tiny, cramped office. Rhonda motioned to the only chair in front of the desk.
“Have a seat Maritza. How are you doing?”
Feeling fine,” she said, seated on the edge of the plastic chair rubbing her belly. “We just had other doctor’s appointment, all good,’ she said, putting two little thumbs up in front of a weak smile. “But obviously I’m nervous.”
“Yes, of course. Obviously no heavy lifting. Get Clifton or someone to help you,” said Rhonda.
“Yes, thank you very much.”
“Listen Maritza, I talked to Mr. Jackes last week. I explained to him your situation and I told him you were an excellent person and an excellent team member, fast learner and that it would be a good idea to find a way to keep you on board. And of course for your work status right?” Rhonda looked into Maritza’s dark anxious eyes. “So he called me this morning and he had a very interesting idea.”
Maritza nodded as if she was riding a bike on a bumpy road and wrung her hands.
“His idea is for you to transition out of the kitchen into an IT role. Updating websites with promotional materials for his restaurants and stuff like that. What do you think?”
“Wow, sounds amazing. Thank you so much. Because…”
“Because in a few months you can’t be in the kitchen all day on your feet.”
“Yes, of course,” Maritzasat back and laughed, then she breathed a huge sigh, then she cried as the stress left her body and joy germinated – all in succession over the course of ten seconds. She looked at Rhonda and smiled and suddenly she hiccuped. They both laughed.
It was Diego’s first day on the job and he was excited. Not so much that he found a job. That was good too. It was the first day he had driven his car to work. Sunday night he texted Paco offering to pick him up even though it was 20 minutes out of his way. Paco said he was good taking the bus. Diego parked close enough so he could keep an eye on his car but not too close so it didn’t get splashed with mud. At 7:30 in the site office he showed them his certifications, took his orientation and then tied up his work boots while Paco waited for him outside the trailer. Through the open door he could see Paco outside talking with Gus the site supervisor.
“Qué dijo, el jefe?” asked pudgy Diego.
“Que eres un sapo,” said skinny Paco.
‘Raro tu jefe.”
“Mira, como ellos me pagan entonces ‘no complaints bro’.”
At 10 am the coffee truck driver honked his augmented air horn so they dropped their tool belts and Diego took off to check on his car. It’s like taking your headphones off when D leaves. The guy talks nonsense nonstop, mostly about his car and rarely about work.
The house they are working on today backs onto an established neighbourhood with mature trees. Standing with his tool belt dangling in his hands he breathes in and holds his breath to maximize the impact of the autumn morning fragrances of wet leaves and mineral mud. Since they cut down the majority of the trees there are only two little pockets of trees on the site. He is on the second floor and looks right into the back yards flaming red maple leaves and the tragic yellow from the aspen.
You could say its not worth it walking all the way to the gate, lining up for coffee and then walking all the way back. There is no time to even drink your coffee. The point is to get coffee and everything that goes with it. Giving your shoulders a break, stretching your legs and shootin the shit with Dimitri the coffee guy. He should teach marketing classes or something because he makes the whole experience uplifting. He wears an apron over his heavy sweater today but it’s funny to see when he wears it under his winter jacket. He has a personaized brown baseball cap that says DC Coffee whe nthe ‘DC’ actually means dimitri’s coffee. Somehow he remembers how you like your coffee out of the probably thousands of guys he sees each week and he knows when to up sell you a sticky danish with an extra coating of heartburn. He talks hockey with the Canadian guys but Paco doesn’t really care about hockey.
Paco walked alone for ‘a block’ along the muddy/gravelly road towards the gate. The smell of the mud transports Paco to when he was six and seven years old. Swimming with his brother and cousins in the Motagua river thet squeezed the silty mud between their toes, brought it to their hand and threw it at each other. He misses the emotional logic of being with his family, part of his land and living his culture. If he can’t get them to come here in the next two years then that’s it – he will go back to El Porton and start a business. Some kind of tourism because he sees there is so much money here that people have no idea what to do with it. Just look at D and his stupid car he doesn’t even have money.
Gus fell in step with Paco as they turned the corner and got in the short line for coffee. Gus was great until he wasn’t. He was cool 80% of the time and red faced maniacal when he felt he could lose his job because of some dumbass sub-contractor.
Gus’s first ex-wife divorced him exactly because of that explosivity. His second ex-wife would have said the same thing but she up and left him right before their second anniversary. She didn’t need or want anything from him. Ex-2 wasn’t going to let herself get impregnated by this guy like Ex-1 did. Then she would be divorced from the guy but still get infuriated dealing with him about things like who is going to pick up the children from daycare.
Ex-1 and Ex-2 knew each other because of the weekend visits with Gus Jr. so it was funny but the second person Ex-2 called after walking away from Gus was actually Ex-1. They got together for coffee to commiserate and so Ex-2 could dish the truth about Gus. Before he tried to micromanage the weekend visits now that he was single with no maternal figure in his home for Gus Jr.
Gus’s construction management skills had not helped him express his desire to make his wife-of-the-moment happy. The honeymoon with Ex-2 was over before the wedding reception finished. Six months later Gus drove solo the six hours up north to attend his grandfather’’s funeral. Gus was named after his grandfather Angus. His grandfather was a hardass from Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec who worked the copper mines and didn’t seem to say much to his wife in French or English. Maybe that had something to do with Rene, Gus’s dad wanting to work on the railroad – to get out of town and get a fresh start.
Manon, Gus’s sister, had already driven home because she lived close by. Gus was staying the night and driving back in the morning. He sat in his funeral suit on the living room couch where he watched Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday’s he opened up.
“Hey dad… How do I even say this?” Gus moved his bum to sit on the edge of the blue velvet couch. “How did you cross that threshold from wanting her to be happy, to making her happy?
Rene held Gus’s eyes as long as he could with a look of love that needed to be listened to.
“Son, I don’t know if the X-factor to our marriage was that I needed your mother more than I loved her or the other way around. Or maybe we were just a good match as a man and woman.”
“But there was, is an ingredient, that in the moment,” Gus searched for the right word. “Secretes understanding into your brain so you understand. Or at least do the right thing.”
“Things have gotten that bad?” asked Rene.
“Ya.” Gus fidgeted.
“So this marriage is based on love… not like the last one,” the locomotive engineer drove his train straight ahead.
“That hurts but I can’t really …” then Gus interrupts himself, “I am lost. On the job site I tell guys what to do based on the blueprints and they do it. If they don’t, they get a tongue lashing. They know it, I know it – no need to argue. No grey area. Only blue.”
“Well, that’s useful,” said Rene, hearing his wife’s voice in his head, ‘Help Angus honey, talk to him – he’s doing it again.’
“I just focused on work when it was time to work and on family when it was the priority. Maybe it skipped a generation but you turned out more explosive – like grandpa.”
“This is the kind of stuff I need to hear, I need to know this.”
“Maybe my work gave me the kind of satisfaction that allowed me to be the man I needed to be. I know you like getting stuff done, but does your construction management, in the city, bring you satisfaction?”
“It’s a little late to be asking that. I mean I bought into the whole industry, the training, the contacts I’ve made.”
“You can pivot. Picture it – you’ve got the puck in the slot but you don’t have a clear shot so you send a quick pass off to your winger down low, pivot on your back heel to get around the defenceman and he passes the puck right back to you and boom it’s in the net – top cheddar.”
Gus was reliving the rush of his hockey days from his dad’s analogy and losing the whole point.
“Have you ever tried skating in figure skates?” Gus figured that his dad knew that the answer was no. Gus had been a good hockey player growing up in New Liskeard and his parents would drive literally hours in northern Ontario from town to town through crazy snow squalls at all hours. Because his dad was away for work a fair amount his mom did the bulk of the driving. Sometimes other parents would give Gus a lift so his mom could stay home with his sister instead of dragging her along on school nights because she wasn’t staying home alone.
“Figure skates have a coupe of sharp points in their pick you can use to do graceful twirling jumps. Manon wasn’t a poster child for graceful figure skating but she did quite well. My point is you can use the pick to fly up, or if you catch the pick on the ice you fall flat on your face. Or you can kick someone in the shins if you really get angry at them.” Rene paused again, waited for the light to go and then he spelled it out.
“It depends what you want. What kind of man you want to offer those in your life”
Gus nodded his head as he was impressed at the clarity and poetry of his railway engineer dad.
Rene felt guilty that he didn’t know his son and that his son had no inkling of how emotional scrabble worked.
“I don’t know if you ever met Mark, he drove train too. Way back in the early days we would go where they sent us and sometimes have a layover at the same time. Well, he said the funniest thing to me, and this was some 30 years ago now. He liked games n actually brought a mini scrabble board with him. If you didn’t keep yourself busy on those layovers it just became a booze fest and that was not a good mix with having to drive a train the next morning. So we were playing Scrabble which he would always win n so he is gatherin all the letters, those littlewood tiles, n he says, ‘but I think you are better at emotional Scrabble’. Obviously I asked him what the hell is that. So he says,
‘Emotional Scrabble is when you want to communicate something of value in the moment so you access the resources available to you. In emotionally Scrabbling, you share your resources and it helps others as well as generating fresh ones for you. If you don’t use your emotional energy creatively and sincerely,’ He paused as he sorted through the tiles, turned a few over as he searched for the letters he wanted, and then put them on the two wooden tile benches and showed me, ‘then you get random letters like: n,o,l,o,s,t,w and u,b,i,t,t,e,r. ‘I have seen it happen’ he says.
So when it came to dealing with Gus, Paco just kept his head down, his mouth shut and did his work. His dark green hard hat has his name on the back was his security system so no newbie can show up hungover and steal it.
Gus fakes remembering Paco’s name but actually just reads it on his hard hat.
“Hey Paco, how was the weekend?”
“Love this weather bro, not too hot, not too cold,” said Paco.
“It’s the bugs man, hardly any. That’s why I moved to the city.
“Where you from?”
“New 6-hours-north-of-here. Hey, how’s the new guy workin out?” asked Gus.
“He knows his way around a job site.”
“Cuz if he is any good you can bring four more guys like him tomorrow.” Then Gus lowered his voice a bit as if he was privedeging Paco with the inside scoop, “We gotta fuckin knock this one out fast and dirty if you know what I mean.”
Paco and Diego met last year at the Plaza Latina when they both went to get their haircut Saturday morning.
Diego stepped into the barbershop with his untied work boots and unzipped orange winter jacket with its hi-viz reflective stripes. Even though he wasn’t working he wore his work clothes. Diego did it as a signal to his girlfriend Maritza, that he was serious about getting a good job. It didn’t fool her.
The basement barber shop was a tiny 10’ x 20’ space with two red barbershop chairs. The two plastic chairs for the people waiting were squished together in the corner so it was easy to see what the person next to you was looking at on their phone. Paco was watching videos of high speed trains in China going 400 km/h. Diego was watching the construction bloopers of building materials falling off of a forklift. How do people catch that stuff on video?
“Nada más se están filmando los forkleaf con la esperanza que algo se cae o que?” Asked Paco peeking at what Diego was watching.
“Si guey. No trabajan – se quedan con el pinche celular en la mano todo el día para hacerse un famoso Youtuber.” The Carpenters’ and Allied Workers Local 16 strike had just ended. Neither of them had been allowed to work as a framer for almost two months. Paco wasn’t never going to risk it and take on any non-union jobs. So in the meantime his buddy squeezed him onto a crew working commercial demolition. He liked the change of scenery and it gave his wrists a rest from swinging a hammer. But he needed more money and wanted less dust so he was happy when he got the call to go back to work. Diego picked up work here and there, mostly painting. Paco was back at work the day after the strike was called off but Diego was still looking. Which was strange considering the need for framers. Paco should have taken it as a sign.
from the Short Story Series Tool by Kevin McNamara
The rain was neither here nor there. The thing was, which was becoming irritating, Gerry. How is he going to react?
“D’you check how long the rain is supposed to last?” asked Oddie
“All fuckin morning,” said Gerry.
“Gerry, we’ll be in there,” said Oddie over his shoulder as he ran to the trailer. “Let us know if you go on a coffee run,” said Oddie from the top step.
“I’m gonna leave the door open cuz otherwise it gets too steamy,” said Oddie.
“Bro, that guy sucks the energy right outta the room,” said Manuel.
“Jou know what I mean, moron.”
“How do you say moron in Spanish?”
“Imbecil,” said Manuel motioning to Octavo to take a seat in the trailer, “Sientate guey.”
“Imbecil. I was expecting something with more, you know, meat, less English. More insulting.”
“That’s more like it,” said Oddie smiling.
They took off their wet hard hats and shook off their jackets putting them over the back of the plastic chair.
“Si nos pagan por estas horas verdad?” asked Octavo.
“He’s asking if they pay us to sit on our asses?”
“For an hour. Any longer than that and Gerry will panic and send us home.”
“Que tiene en contra del Herry?” asked Octavo.
“He’s asking what you have against Gerry.”
“Nothing really. It’s just ya know. Nothing wrong with therapy but the construction site isn’t the place. He panics, usually for no reason and we always deliver results regardless of what he fears or thinks.”
They broke out their lunches even though it was only 9:30 am and ate to the sound of crinkling aluminum foil and slurping coffee.
Oddie’s phone pinged on the dirty, white folding table so he picked it up and disappeared into the screen.
To Manuel rain meant mud which smelled of the minerals of home which transported him fast and far. He leaned forward in his chair as he picked at the dry skin around his fingernails.
Octavo leaned back in his plastic chair, joined his hands on his belly and closed his eyes, soaking up the peace he got from being on a good team and the satisfaction of working with his hands.
Octavo was sliding into snooze mode and Manuel was staring out the open door when he heard Oddie talking to himself.
“Yashmal kula shay,” said Oddie.
“What’s that bro,” said Manuel.
“I’m no exper but was that English?”
“Are you doin an hechizo on me?
“Hechizo, you know, like magic n all that.”
“No, no no. I’m learning Arabic.
“Cool. Are you going to Arahbia?”
“Is Arahbia coming here?”
“No, Arabia! Is not coming here. Stop being stupid.”
“But is so easy for me.”
“I’m… Listen,” said Oddie and he paused as he breathed in deeply.
“My uncle got me into studying the Quran.”
“What’s that like?”
“Cool. But …. I am lost. It’s so .. big and ..”
“What jou say? A minute ago in Arabic”
“Oh. Yashmal kula shay. It means ‘encompasses all things’.”
“What does encompass means?”
“Does that bring jou closer to God?
“Less call him,” said Manuel, spreading his hands apart above his shoulders like it was a banner, “‘The big guy, in the sky.”
“Well I want something more than this shit,” Oddie kicked some mud off his boots.
“I’m with you bro.”
Octavo yawned and stood up, stretched as he put on his jacket and went out to the port a potty. The rain had let up a bit.
“So, tell me abou the Quran.”
“I don’t know. Its ancient, is huge it’s mystical and its confusing.”
“Sounds like Gerry,” said Manuel laughing.
“Ya! Minus the mystical,” said Oddie smiling.
“I listen to a couple of these guys talk about their experience and they reference the Quran. It helps to guide them in some kind of higher purpose they say. I don’t know if those are my kind of words. But, anyway, I can feel something.”
“Impulse. Ya, I guess. It’s an urge but it’s not mine.”
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know – who else could it be?”
“Is annoying no bro?”
“It’s annoying but, annoying like when you’re in high school there is a cute girl but she is really stuck up, but you still are attracted to her, you want her. Why do that?”
“What is stuck up?”
“Your God is arrogant?”
“No bro, not at all. It’s the feeling I have that annoys me. Like I need to do something that takes me beyond. But what?”
“Beyond, that sounds far out.”
“Ya . Beyond the daily grind.”
“Was daily grime?”
“Trabajo bro,” said Oddie. “That’s why Gerry is so annoying. Not him. But the feel of the cloud that is always over his head. That there is nothing more to life than a shitty job bro.”
“Bro you need a anger management session at the pub.”
“That’s the thing. It’s not anger at anyone. It’s, it’s frustration that I, there isn’t a person I can talk to, you know, someone to…”
“The church has priests.”
“The church also has lawsuits because those priests can’t keep their hands off little boys.”
Octavo stomped back into the trailer, shook the rain off his jacket and took his seat. His entrance broke the flow of the conversation so they just sat there in the musty yet gritty trailer air. After scrolling for a bit Manuel spoke,
“I read the bible.”
“You read the bible now or you used to,” Oddie sought clarification.
“When I was jung.”
“What did you get out of it?”
“Well it was the bes way to talk with girls because the mamas approved of bible class.”
“Honestly, is like I remember nothing. But I have this residuo of believe.”
“Residue of belief. I like that. And how does that impact you? My point is do you have, do you feel an impulse, impulso?”
“For answering the call. It’s like I can hear my cell phone ringing,” said Oddie, putting his hands in and out of all of his pants and jacket pockets. “But I don’t know which pocket it’s in,” said Oddie, hunching his shoulders.
Octavo understood very little but the conversation caught him. He listened to them with his eyes closed as if it was the World Cup finals on the radio. Manuel pulled on the various hairs in what passed as a beard and sat up straight. He hadn’t thought about this stuff in a long time so it was really clearing away cobwebs in his mind.
“Bro, is like the daily grime is analog and belief is dihital,” said Manuel.
Oddie sat there a while with his elbow on the table and his chin on his fist digesting Manuel’s pronunciation and then the concept.
“No. Is like Defi.” continued Manuel with his next analogy.
“You mean like crypto?”
“What does Defi mean again?”
“Decentralize finance. And that iss what I think you are talkin about. Taking control of your shit, your destiny. That way bro, jou discover what has value for jou, here,” said Manuel as he sent his right hand into the air imitating lift off. “ And for jour beyon.”
Autumn rain fell on the trailer roof as the soundtrack to this episode of connection. Their phones forgotten, they could hear their own breath as they picked at dirt on their boots for a while, sipped coffee.
Oddie walked to the trailer door and looked at the lumber skeleton of the house they were framing. He associated with the wood and the precision and instinct it called him to use. He hadn’t realized that before. That was why he liked his job. Not so much his job but the work: the feeling of building something – and working on a team – and needing vision to complete a project.
Octavo looked at Manuel. From behind Manuel looking at Oddie framed in the doorway. Manuel could tell Oddie was engaged by something.
The rain had let up. The air was clean as Andre the project manager pulled his SUV up to the curb. Gerry jumped out of his pick up where he had been this whole time and said,
“Quit playin with yourselves and get to work,” as he walked to greet Andre. Nobody in the trailer moved. Gerry shook hands with Andre.
“Now,” Gerry yelled at the trailer.
“Alan,” said Oddie standing in the doorway as his mind landed back in his reality.
“Who is Alan?” asked Manuel.
“Alan? I dunno.”
“But jou just said his name.”
“Oh, Alan. Wow. I said that outloud? Alan means now in Arabic.”
Alan – From the Short Story Series: Tool by Kevin McNamara
I spent a couple of delicious hours yesterday at my library, soaking up the ambiance as well as a cranberry scone and black coffee, perusing the newspaper and a copy of Canadian Geographic, and came across this article:From Canadian Geographic I did not succeed in taking a ‘readable photo, but the article says that the […]
Mondays and Fridays Tim drops the refilled ziplock bag of pistachios onto the lunch table in the jobsite trailer. Manuel picks at them during their 30 minute lunch. Oddie prefers them like dessert. Those hard shells, the dry mauve-coloured skin and the light green flesh: only an idiot would say he couldn’t feel the resonance they shared from the simplest plastic bag. It is the kind of love that is shown not spoken. It is a need and not passion. It is reliability. It is salty healing and $2.75/pound of brotherhood.
“I was the guy who wore his pyjama bottoms to school with a wad of gum stuck in his pocket,” said Tim.
So..? said Manuel.
“Two weeks in a row,” said Tim.
“That’s commendable and disgusting at the same time,” said Oddie.
“Yo bro just by looking at your low budget face I can tell you were the guy who punctured the principals tires on the last day of school,” said Tim.
“No, that wasn’t me. I was the guy in high school that put my shoulder pads on backwards at the first football practice. They fuckin had a fuckin field day with that all season,” said Oddie.
“Bro – how did you not notice your shoulder pads are on backwards?” said Manuel.
“I know. But I am glad they did because it made me see wanting to be part of the football crowd was fuckin futile. Once I started making money in the summers driving dump truck and showin up to school in my fuckin steel blue camaro those fuckers could fuck off and die. Chicks just opened that passenger door and slid in oozing sex and sexy,” said Oddie rekindling his high school status.
“Whoa, big man on campus,” says Manuel.
“What’s the fuckin difference between sex and sexy?” asked Tim.
“Dude. That is the whole fuckin point. It’s like what ice cream is to gelato,” said Oddie, liking how that sounded but not even sure what it meant.
“What the fuck does that mean?” said Manuel.
“Bro. Despite the fact that Oddie has the poetic tact of a parking ticket he is right,” said Tim
“I am lost,” said Manuel.
“If you don’t know what it means, start asking around for a good divorce lawyer,” said Tim.
“I’m not even married yet.”
“Not on paper.”
“Everyone shut up. Shut up. Ok. Sex. and Sexy. This is how it works. XY is a boy and XX Chromosome is a girl. We all know that one right? Or were you too high in biology class?”
Tim shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows to enter a guilty plea.
“So when a guy, hopped up on hormones, looks at a woman he sees XX – he sees sexx. With two xx’s. But she feels what she is offering is sexy. Ya see what I’m saying? When she goes out lookin for love, she has on her XY glasses. She has to inhale bad cologne and swat aside the sleazy pick up lines in the search of the right pickle for her grilled cheese.”
“Even coming from you bro that made no sense,” said Tim.
“Oddie don’t worry, you have a future writing romance novelas,” said Manuel.
“But did you know the whole genetic code is being uncovered so you can live like 150 years.”
“Bro – genes and chromosomes are not the same thing,” said Oddie.
“For our purposes I don’t think it really matters,” said Tim.
“What are you a doctor bro,” said Manuel.
“Actually, I wanted to be a doctor. But I can’t deal with seeing blood or causing people pain and all that shit ya know,” said Oddie.
“So be a chiropractor or something,” said Manuel.
“Naw. That is all hourly wage stuff,” said Oddie.
“And framing …?” said Tim.
“Ya but I got plans,” said Oddie lowering his voice even though there was no one else in the trailer. “I’m not going to stick around with these jokers longer than I have to.”
“But bro – the pay is regular and the work is constant – what’s the issue?” said Manuel.
“Gerry,” said Oddie.
“Forget Gerry,” said Tim. “He’s an idiot whose ambition is to be an assohle.”
“That’s my point. If Gerry is running one of your job sites, what does that say about your company,” said Oddie.
Out of his peripheral vision Tim saw Manuel look over at him.
“Did you have this conversation with sleek Reek before he left,” asked Manuel.
“Not in so many words,” said Oddie.
“What does Ricky care – he is set for life,” said Tim tossing a few pistachio shells on the ground.
“Listen,” said Oddie. “Guys, if we don’t look out for ourselves …” then Gerry opened the door to the trailer and yelled even though the guys were right there,
“We can’t get the skid steer back there behind the house to support those trusses and the neighbour is being a dick. We are gonna have to do it by hand,” said Gerry, putting an end to their lunch.
“We need to use the guy wire,” said Manuel, trying to offer expertise.
Tim glanced at Oddie.
“Guy wire! Are you setting up a tent for a wedding reception we don’t know about?” said Oddie.
“Dude – it’s called a come along. You do know the difference,” said Tim.
“Sure, dude. It’s a language barrier. You guys think I understand everything but no,” said Manuel.
“Let’s get on it. It’s gonna rain later,” said Gerry holding the door open.
Tim stood up smiling to himself and said to Manuel:
Sandoval, pointing his tanned index finger from atop the conference room table, told his VP of development Andrea to make sure there was a fresh shitter onsite for when the engineer visits. Andrea emailed Andre the project manager to take care of it. So Andre texted Gerry the site supervisor to take care of it. Sitting in his pickup truck in the curving line of the Tim Horton’s drive thru waiting for his large double double coffee Gerry got an idea. He was going to get Ricky to take care of it. Ricky has this inborn arrogance that makes it seem when he asks you for something it is more like a fact than a favour. But Gerry was scared of Sandoval’s son Ricky one on one.
“Hey I need one of you two geniuses to order a new port-a-potty.”
“What the fuck for?” said Oddie.
“Don’t those guys just show up on schedule every like ten days?”
“Ya, well it’s potty time,” said Gerry, making Oddie smirk.
“Fuck that farmer Joe, that’s your job and you know it. You’re trying to pawn that off on us because you don’t have the huevos to do it yourself,” said Oddie. In mid sentence Oddie remembered that it really annoyed Gerry when someone threw in phrases from their mother tongue. Spanish wasn’t his mother tongue but it still slid the job.
“You tell Ricky he has to order the new shitter,” said Oddie, imposing on Gerry the 4 inches taller he was to punctuate his point; then walking off.
Gerry was fuming because he didn’t have what these assholes did. Oddie had an x-factor. He had a way to receive a problem and without doing anything crazy; without yelling and droppind f- bombs all over the job site, he got stuff done. 50% Mike Holmes + 50% Macgyver but with better hair than both of them. Ricky had money.
“We make that dumbass’s life way too easy,” said Oddie, including Ricky. “Dude I’m getting tired of Gerry not givin me any recognition. Does the office even know I exist? What Gerry should do is tell his superiors that Oddie is a man who can think on his feet and is great with managing people on the job site,” said Oddie with Ricky nodding his head and just trying to stay neutral.
Oddie didn’t like complaining to Trina but he needed to vent. Trina was more surprised at the level of pettiness than bothered to have to hear about work drama from her boyfriend. She told him “Just speak your mind on the job site. But do it in a way that highlights your ability and your effort. Especially in front of that Ricky in case he can go over Gerry’s head and say something to his dad.”
“Just look at how I basically transformed Sandoval’s son into a young man who believes in his ability to do shit. He is outgrowing that insecure spoiled brat his dad dropped into Gerry’s lap and Gerry passed off to me,” said Oddie to Trina as he cooked dinner. She looked up from building the app on her laptop and saw his afro grazing the bottom of the stove fan and wondered how a hard hat could actually stay on his head all day without falling off all the time.
“Gerry is such a weasel. The least he should do is throw a few gift certificates my way: $200 for a nice steak dinner,” Oddie talked to himself while seasoning the onions. He liked how the grains of rock salt gave his finger tips a mini massage. He loved the sweet fragrance of frying onions but today he couldn’t smell anything because he was stewing in his own thoughts. “Ya know, Gerry is like a house cat: he is afraid of the outside world,” said Oddie.
The outside world for Gerry is anyone under 30 years old, an assertive woman, anyone whose first language isn’t English, doesn’t approve of his e-cigarette or has creativity and leadership.
When Ricky ordered the new port-a-potty he got the day wrong.
“Where’s the fuckin port-a-potty Ricky!” said Gerry inviting cardiac arrest.
“What’s that Gerry?” said Oddie. “You’re not happy with how someone else did your job for you? Then instead of sucking on your phallic e-cigarette why don’t you dial Justin Time?”
“Ricky!” yelled Gerry.
“Sup Gerry,” said Ricky, taking off his orange hard hat and wiping his forearm across his forehead.
“Where’s my fuckin port-a-potty?”
Oddie took a step back and watched as this moron turned purple in the face thinking that we waste so much of our emotions on such silly things.
“I dunno Gerry, I ordered it so it should be here. Relax, the engineer doesn’t get here till tomorrow, right?” said Ricky with his moneyed coolness.
“Fuck it,” said Gerry as he pulled his cell out of his pocket and called Justin Time for himself.
“What!” Gerry yelled at his cell phone pacing down the suburban street where they were putting up new 5,000 square foot homes in a cul-de-sac. “I need that port-a-potty here today. Now.”
Gerry got to the job site at 6:15 the next morning just in case their port-a-potty was the first delivery of the day. He leaned on his truck, took a pull off his e-cigarette and a sip of his coffee. The morning in the cul-de-sac was cool and quiet and the sky was clear. For some reason he looked over his shoulder in time to glimpse two deer bound down into the ravine. He thought of just quitting and moving back to Manitoba and taking care of his parents. He felt guilty everytime he e-transfered money but wasn’t there to help out.
“Gerry looks like shit, how do you think he slept?” said Oddie in a mock conversation with Ricky so Gerry could totally overhear it.
“It’s just a toilet,” said Oddie.
“What’s his problem?” said Ricky, putting on his gloves.
“Last year Gerry phoned Justin Time yelling at them, droppin f-bombs that he needed a new port-a-potty right away because Jean was totally hungover and he puked all over the inside of the port-a-potty. It was a stinkin hot August day and the shitter smelled like shit.”
“What happened?” said Ricky adjusting his safety glasses.
“Their boss called someone at our office who emailed Andre who yelled at Gerry. So Gerry is ashamed to talk with them.”
“Did they give you a new port-a-potty?”
“No. Gerry made Jean clean it up. After telling me to do it of course. I told him to go to hell.”
The engineer is scheduled to arrive at 9:30 a.m. and the architect should arrive around then too. Andre the PM was already on site and looking pleased with the progress.
No one thought to reschedule the lumber delivery so Peter from Access Lumber was walking on site with a purchase order in his hand and trivia in his head.
“Where do you want me to put it down? Same place as last time,” said Peter. His last delivery to this site was about two months ago.
“Who are you?” said Andre.
“Access Lumber bro,” said Peter.
Oddie started to hum a song that made Ricky giggle but a glare from Gerry shut them down.
“Why is he here?” asked Andre.
“I need the lumber or my guys are gonna be just sittin around all day playin with themselves,” said Gerry in an attempt to sound like a decision maker.
“What’s your name?” said Andre.
“Pete,” said Peter quickly while taking a step forward.
“Ok Pete,how fast can you get that lumber unloaded?” Andre asked Peter.
“I can be pullin outta here in 90 minutes if nobody gets in my way,” said Peter.
“It’s 8 am. I need you outta here in 60 minutes. These guys can help you,” said Andre motioning to Oddie and Ricky.
“That’s right Peter of Access Lumber. We are at your service. We got 60 minutes together,” said Oddie with a wry smile. Andre could tell there was something going on between these guys but he didn’t care. He wanted the lumber offloaded and this guy off his job site before the engineer arrived.
“Get it done Oddie,” said Andre. With that comment Oddie felt that the people in the office might know that he wasn’t a bobblehead like Gerry.
“Why the fuck is everyone so tense becaue of one fucking engineer?” Ricky whispered to Oddie. Oddie was directing Peter to back up the truck onto the front lawn, chewing it up a bit more.
“Ya I know. It’s complicated,” said Oddie. Ricky had learned the vocabulary of evasion on site when the guys didn’t want to talk with him about shit the company did or rumours about his dad. Ricky stood between Oddie and the space to get out from the back of the truck with a stance that declared that he was not his dad. “Dude. Now’s not the time,” said Oddie.
“Is this guy a real fuckin hard ass or what,” said Ricky walking with Oddie.
“No. Not really. She’s pretty fair from what I understand. Not being an engineer myself. She just doesn’t take bullshit – and therein lies the issue,” said Oddie.
“Right,” said Ricky as they walked around the truck.
“Now level out that area where the plywood goes. And I want the 2 by 4’s over there,” Gerry gave redundant instructions to Oddie and Ricky who already knew what the drill was.
They got the lumber offloaded and Peter pulled onto the street at 9:15 and he sat in his truck doing paperwork or on his phone.
“I just got a message from the engineer. She can’t make it today” said Andre.
“Fuck me,” said Gerry.
“Not today,” said Oddie.
“So when?” asked Gerry.
“We’ll let you know. Just keep on schedule and don’t fuck up or we’ll have to tear everything down,” said Andre.
Gerry was exhausted. “I’m goin for coffee,” but then he saw he was already holding a large coffee in his hand.
Peter jumped down from the cab of his truck and walked across the street to the job site.
“Hey guys,” Peter said.
“Is that you Peter?” said Oddie.
Peter loved his job because he would visit different job sites all the time and could use the same trivia on all of them but get a new reaction each time. He ached to overcome his sense of lack of accomplishment as a man by bringing his own Jeopardy show where he is the host and the contestant. He just kept talking when the guys rolled their eyes or he heard others laugh at him. He was like a comedian who came to practise his routine on the guys before going on stage.
“Brother, I think you’ll like this one,” started Peter. “The original Zeppelin, the LZ 127 Graf…”
Oddie got a kick out of giving Peter a hard time but also admired his spirit to do his thing regardless of what others think. And he occasionally had a good story to tell. He was pretty sure the trivia Peter came up with was determined by his children’s homework assignments. Ricky now used wrist braces because his wrists weren’t used to the framing. He pretended he was adjusting his braces so he could listen to Peter.
“Knock it off guys. Get to work?” said Gerry, breaking up Peter’s seminar on airships.
Oddie laughed to himself and started singing so Peter could hear as he walked to his truck:
“There’s a skeeter on your Peter knock it off. There’s a skeeter on your Peter knock it off – there’s a dozen on my cousin I can hear the fuckers buzzin, there’s a skeeter on your Peter knock it off.”
From the Short Story Series: Tool by Kevin McNamara
“I can’t believe someone would be so stupid to pay $280 thousand for a freakin NFT,” said Matt. “It’s a measly pdf.”
“Who paid that much?” said Hector.
“Eminem,” said Matt.
“He’s got too much money,” said Hector.
“They aren’t just payin for a pdf,” said Andy.
“Well that’s what they get,” said Matt.
“They are backed up by the blockchain,” said Andy.
“That does Jack shit,” said Matt.
“You don’t know what you are talking about,” bluffed Andy.
“What the fuck is a NFT?” said Hector squeezed between the other two on the work truck seat.
“It means a non refundable ticket,” said Matt as if that closed the conversation on the topic.
“No it doesn’t,” laughed Andy. Even though Matt could hear everything Andy spoke in a hushed voice to Hector on his right, “Don’t listen to that kindergarten drop out. He was so in love with Kristen what’s-her-name from the Twilight movie he quotes the movie whenever he can. But then she came out as a lesbeen and now numb nuts over there has PTSD.”
“Good morning can I take your order?” came a cute voice over the drive-thru speaker.
“Ya, can I get 3 large double doubles. Do you guys want a breakfast sandwich?” Then Andy turned back to the outdoor speaker, “I’m gonna get a bacon egger – no cheese.”
“Did you want a hash brown with that?” said the nice voice.
“What the hell,” said Andy.
“So then that makes it a combo,” said the bored voice.
“Hector, you want some chow?” said Andy.
“Ya gemme a bacon eager too,” said Hector.
“Another eager bacon,” said Andy, playing around with Hector’s accent.
“Was that a second bacon egger?” said the tired voice.
“Yes please,” said Andy then turned back towards Matt. “Yo, numb nuts, quit holdin up the line.”
“Ya make it a combo for me too. I need the grease to take my morning dump,” said Matt.
“So it’s you stinkin up my truck with beer farts,” said Andy.
“Sorry chump, that’s just your bad breath,” said Matt.
Hector laughed hard at everything.
Hating to be laughed at, Matt elbowed Hector in the ribs.
“Watch what you say, pipsqueak,” said Matt.
“I didn’t say anything. I only laughed”
Andy saw that Hector didn’t grasp the meaning of ‘pipsqueak’.”
“Pipsqueak comes from the old Ojibwa phrase meaning ‘ye of large penis’. Did you know Matt here is part native?” said Andy.
“Hector, did you know that gorgeous Andy over there is 100% dumbass?”
Being the first day of spring work the guys hadn’t been together as a group since early December so their banter was especially vigorous as a way to say ‘I missed you’. Instead of doing snow removal, for the past three winters Matt surfs in Mexico. Andy and Hector would bump into each other at the yard when they drove snow plow. As the winter wound down Andy took March off this year and Hector hung drywall with his cousin.
They couldn’t slide out the plastic cup holder because Hector’s knees were in the way so the tray with coffees and the bag of food were on his lap. Over the winter Hector had pretty much cut out coffee but didn’t want to open himself to the circus of ridicule from Andy and Matt if he ordered a green tea so this morning he just let it ride.
“Rub-a-dub-dub, where’s the grub?” said Andy rubbing his hands together as he drove. The paper bag warmed Hector’s thighs as he listened to the song on the radio. He had no idea the band was Lowest of The Low and the song was called Salesman, Cheats and Liars but he liked the tune. He had no idea Andy was asking for his breakfast sandwich.
“Oye guey, reparta la comida,” Matt translated. As he worked over the years Hector had learned English yet many sayings escaped him. On purpose Andy would use colloquial sayings in a passive/aggressive way that helped Hector broaden his vocabulary while portraying himself as cultured and wise.
“How was Parco el Escondera bro? Some big surf and a bevy of hotties?” said Andy through a mouthful of artificially round sausage.
“Que vergüenza ese pinche guey,” said Matt making Hector laugh.
“It’s Puerto Escondido. And I’m not telling you anything because then you will want to come down there one winter and you will ruin the vibe and scare off all the bikinis,” said Matt.
Hector took a bite of his breakfast sandwich, then looked to his left in expectation of Andy’s response.
“Las nenas guey, una chulada, te digo,” said Matt.
“Orale,” said Hector. Hector likes working with Andy. But Andy has this way of joking with Hector’s English that Hector can’t figure out. So he likes it when Matt speaks his Spanish to kind of even things out.
Out of nowhere Andy slammed on the horn because some idiot didn’t put on their left turn signal. He squeezed his coffee so tight with his right hand that the brown plastic top popped off and hot coffee soaked his leg and crotch.
“Asshole! Learn to drive! Even better, don’t drive at all,” yelled Andy.
“You really told him. I don’t think he is ever going to drive again,” said Matt.
“Gimme your coffee,” said Hector so Andy could dry his pants.
“Great, now it looks like I pissed myself,” said Andy, steaming.
“So what does Eminem get for $280k?” asked Hector.
“A bored monkey,” said Matt.
“Exactly. That’s what Matt sees when he wakes up in the morning,” said Andy.
“No Seriously,” said Hector.
“Google it,” said Andy. Hector pulled his phone from his inside pocket.
“Not board you Mexican midget. Bored,” said Matt watching Hector type.
Matt knew Hector was from El Salvador. Matt was born in Poland and came to Canada when he was one year old so he had no accent but spoke decent Polish.
Hector’s belief in himself as a man was in flux but his spine was strong. He loved Canada. He loved that his daughter could walk to school. He loved Matt and Andy because they looked at him with eyes that demanded results from a peer. Hector was having trouble with his wife because he was having trouble ridding himself of a third world mentality.
“How do you spell NFT,” joked Hector.
“I’ll let Andy tackle that one,” said Matt.
“Bro, it’s a cartoon!” said Hector looking at the picture of the NFT on his phone.
“Hector hermano, but actually you should see some of these NFT’s; they are like a psychedelic trip. But without the drugs. They are really cool. It’s a whole experience. Not just a static image.
“What’s the point?” says Hector.
“Money,” said Andy.
“Yes, money. But the tech behind it can root out forgeries because if you cannot connect your pdf to the blockchain it is a fake,” said Matt.
“Fake what? It’s right here in front of me,” said Hector.
“That’s what I’m sayin,” said Matt.
Andy had reached his limit of his Google search sound bites and succumbed to the most comfortable defence; “Fake news,” he said.
“Blockheads like him,” Matt motioned towards Andy, “Don’t have the mental bandwidth to grasp blockchain implications. De hecho hay un guey que me está ayudando con todo eso. Se puede ganar un chingo de dinero,” Matt confided in Hector about his investment.
Hector’s wife would pummell him and then divorce him if he were to risk their savings on a bored monkey.
He was impressed with how much Matt’s Spanish had improved. Matt just got back last week and was all tanned. He could tell Matt loved tossing around slang and swear words but it resonated as an empty cool. Plus his gringo accent made him sound like a congested substitute teacher.
“What the hell, why is Fields calling me?” said Andy looking at his phone and putting it on speaker.
“Ron, what’s up?”
“Kurdak is calling me wondering if you guys are coming today. What’s going on?” said the boss.
“Nothin. We’ll be there in like 20 minutes,” said Andy.
“Hey Ron this is Matt. First day of the season ya know. We had to find where everything was in the sea can,” said Matt.
“Where the fuck is Hector?” asked Fields.
“Right here boss,” said Hector.
“Ok good. Well, welcome back boys. And let’s get this Kurdak thing done and get outta there. He’s drivin me crazy,” said Fields.
“You got it,” said Andy.
“Should be maximum five days work,” Matt said smiling at the other guys as he leaned towards the phone on the dash.
“Five days!?” said Fields.
“Ya the ground is probably still frozen in parts at the side of the house. If we can wait a few weeks then it will probably only take three days,” said Matt trying to muscle Andy out of being team leader.
“I can’t wait any longer. I need this done. Go rent a jackhammer to break up the frozen shit,” said the boss.
“Ok,” said Andy, knowing that he would drop the guys and the tools at Kurdak’s place and spend half the morning going to get the jackhammer.
“Update me at the end of the day,” said Fields.
“Roger that,” said Andy feeling good about his position in the tug of war with Matt for the team lead.
“Hector bro, sounds like Fields is grooming you for upper management,” said Matt.
“Fields wouldn’t even recognize me if I ran him over with my car,” said Hector.
“You have a car?” said Andy looking across at Hector.
“Ya bro. Didn’t you see me all winter pull up in that blue Nissan?”
“What year is it?”
“2015. Runs pretty good. Got it off my cousin so I can pay it off by hangin drywall for him on weekends he said,” said Hector.
“Nice,” said Matt.
“Last week Fields told me Kurdak had called him like 5 times to confirm we were going to be there today because he wanted to ‘monitor our work’ is what Kurdak said,” said Andy.
“Kurdak. That’s the spooky guy that stands behind the curtains all day to watch us work?” said Hector.
“No. That’s Mrs Moosavi. She’s a whole nother kettle a fish,” said Andy.
“Do we have to go back there?” asked Hector.
“Nope. We finished her driveway in October I think,” said Andy.
“Don’t these people ever work!?” said Matt.
“Who knows,” said Hector.
“Man they come here with wads a dough and buy a passport,” said Andy, throwing around his sayings again.
“Not like Hector the Erector here who works for his money and pays his taxes,” said Matt.
“Hector the erector, is that your porn star name?” said Andy.
“Hey, there goes a Pyramid Landscaping truck. Those guys man, they work fast and dirty. They have the worst Yelp reviews,” said Matt.
“Those guys offered me a job in January,” said Andy.
“As what?” asked Matt, both jealous and curious.
“Territory Manager,” said Andy.
“Obviously you turned it down because here you are. What kind of money did they offer you?” asked Matt.
“More than what Fields pays,” said Andy
“So why didn’t you take it?” asked Hector.
“My wife sat me down and showed me the on-line reviews and she told me there must be a reason they are looking outside the company when they need a territory Manager,” said Andy.
“It must be a real shit show,” said Matt, convincing himself where he worked was alright and his feelings weren’t hurt that he didn’t get a job offer over the winter.
Shit show; Hector liked that saying. He was going to use that.
“Basically it’s sales and customer service,” said Andy. “Putting out fires and dealing with Kurdaks. I wanted the money, of course. To buy a house and stupidly chain myself to a mortgage for 30 years. But my wife told me I would have become exactly like my father. And we don’t want that for her or for me. So now I am stuck with looking at your sad faces everyday.”
“I know, I am getting these bags under my eyes,” said Matt checking out his tanned face in the mirror in the passenger sun visor.
“You sound like a woman,” said Andy.
“You look like a woman,” said Matt with an instant response.
“No seriously, you remind me of one of those women in her flowing dressing gown,” said Matt as they turned onto Kurdak’s street. “You know the 1960’s kind who sit at their boudoir with a cigarette and their Martini to put on their makeup to go out for dinner with their aloof husband,” Andy continued. “Their young daughter stares as her mother gets ready, ‘you are so pretty mommy,’ and mommy smiles to hide her sadness.”
Hector typed boodwar into google translate.
“It’s tocador guey,” Matt told Hector then to Andy he said,
“That’s a whole lot of Disney princesses you got going on in your head bro”.
“I’m an artist,” said Andy.
“You’re an idiot,” said Matt.
“Now Matthew quit teasing your sister,” said Hector in a scolding voice.
Matt turned toward Hector, “If you were a woman Hector, you would be …,”
“If Andy was a woman …,” interrupted Hector nervously.
“What are you talking about, Andy is a woman! I mean have you ever seen him take a piss? Me neither. You know why, cuz he’s gotta sit down,” said Matt.
“Now who’s got the rabid imagination?” said Andy to Matt as he put the truck in park.
Mr. Kurdak was waiting for them in his garage with the garage door up.
“Good morning Mr. Kurdak. How are we today?”
Also from the Short Story Series: Tool by Kevin McNamara is Jerry Rig
Entering the Mind by C von Hassett PURCHASE . . . Read Chapter 3 Excerpt: The View . . . Back Cover Blurb In these extraordinary teachings that speak to the way one confidently enters the mind and observes it in its natural state, C von Hassett…
“So you’re telling me you’re angry at your wife because she bought you a pair of work pants,” said Tali.
“That’s right,” said Bruno.
“No, that’s wrong.”
“They’re not the right kind,” whined Bruno.
“I don’t want them.”
“Who cares?” said Tali.
“No you don’t.”
“Fuck you. You can’t tell me I don’t care,” said Bruno.
“Sorry. You’re right. You do care. You care what the fuckin hammer heads on the job site might think of you if you aren’t wearin Carharts. Instead of caring that your wife loves you. And wants to buy shit for you.”
Tali put on his hard hat and got up to take a leak then turned back to say,
“Bro, didn’t your dad teach you that whenever you can say yes to your wife just say yes.”
“That makes no sense. And my dad never taught me anything about women,” said Bruno, screwing the cup back on the red thermos his wife bought him.
“I. Don’t. Know,” said Bruno.
“I do,” said Vanessa.
“It’s not never. It’s just not now,” said Bruno.
“I’m not waiting till I’m forty to have children.”
“Who’s saying you have to wait till you are freakin forty.”
“You’re a fuckin broken record,” said Vanessa.
“I need to feel more stable in my work.”
“Then stop getting fired,” said Vanessa as she turned and walked to the cramped kitchen.
“Let go is the proper term. And it isn’t my fault.”
I don’t care if it’s your fault or your boss is an asshole. Deal with it. Your buddy Tim does. And Manuel does. Why can’t you?”
“I don’t work with them anymore.”
“My point exactly,” said Vanessa.
“Why can’t you stop hounding me?” Bruno’s posture slid from tired to defeated.
“Hounding you?! I’m …,” said Vanessa, shocked that Bruno couldn’t see what she wanted.
“Ya. Where are the children?” said Bruno in a falsetto voice imitating Vanessa. “Don’t get fired,” he continued, karate chopping his right hand into his left palm. “Tim is better than you.” Another karate chop. “Just say nothing to your stupid supervisor when he wants to cut corners all over the place,” said Bruno out of breath.
“You seriously think I am criticising you?” said Vanessa.
“All I can hear is how I am not good enough for you,” said Bruno glaring into Vanessa’s back. Vanessa spins around,
“I am supporting the man I think you are!”
Bruno grabbed his coat and his phone and slammed the door.
‘I am not going to chase that loser’ thought Vanessa. As she banged utensils around the kitchen Vanessa heard the pitter patter of little feet from the ceiling above her.
Bruno and Vanessa were living in the house where he grew up. They occupied the basement apartment and rented out the bungalow above them.
“And if that baby isn’t crying all night, it’s running around all day – pumpum pumpum,” said Bruno about the same little footsteps that make Vanessa edgy. But for a different reason.
“It’s like the only thing Vanessa and I agree on these days,” he said.
“You know I know the total layout of the upstairs so in my mind when they are walking around I picture it. I can’t turn it off. I can’t focus on anything because as soon as they move it’s like I become their tour guide or something. But only in my mind.”
“Take it easy bro,” said Massimo Bruno’s older brother.
“That’s the point, I wish …. I take the wrong things easy and make easy things difficult or whatever. Anyway that’s what Vanessa says.”
“Ok. Breathe Bruno. If I had a beer I would offer you one but I don’t keep any in the house anymore,” said Massimo.
Massimo shoves his hands in his jacket pockets and leans against the frame of the open garage door of his home literally 4 blocks from Bruno’s place. Bruno had walked here in a huff on a crisp November evening. He loved the clean fresh air but tonight he was too busy running his revenge movie in his head of the stupid things he would do and say.
Instead of selling their parents house they had all agreed that Bruno and Vanessa would live there and pay his parents rent for the whole house while collecting rent themselves from the tenants upstairs. Bruno would attend to the tenant’s needs or complaints with the enthusiasm and customer service of a teenage tree sloth. Bruno and Vanessa lived there almost rent free because the rent from upstairs covered the mortgage payment. They just had to pay utilities. Still the mortgage was in Vito’s name, Bruno’s dad. The plan that Vito and Massimo put together was for Bruno to buy the house in 2 years from the date of moving into the basement. Three years later Bruno was still flailing professionally and financially.
Vanessa didn’t bring much to the table. She had learned from her vitriolic parents that, upon their immature version of divorce, she was a commodity that had value even if she did nothing but breathe. Up to this point she had found sufficient success with this model so that it didn’t occur to her to have initiative. So for her it didn’t make sense to her to invest in a career if they were going to start a family and then move upstairs.
“Bro, take her some flowers, kiss her like you love her, go for a tumble in the sack.”
“Ya, you’re right,” said Bruno.
Bruno let himself get drawn quickly into an abyss of fear you could see in how his eyes went distant in an instant. The flowers were a great idea, Bruno thought, but having sex would only reinforce his place as the one guy who can’t get it done. Massimo had seen this look many a time before;
“And find some fuckin sunshine in your day. If there aint no sunshine in the vicinity – fuckin make your own. Dude. It’s life. You’re young,” said Massimo punching Bruno in the shoulder.
“You have a woman who loves you, bro. Make any mistake you want but don’t make that mistake – of not loving her. And being loved by her. I will slap you so hard if …”
“Ok, I get it,” said Bruno.
“We’ll see if that is true, Romeo.”
Massimo was tired of Bruno’s broken record of woe is me.
“I really appreciate … I know I just dropped by and you’re probably about to have dinner and,” Bruno went on.
“Dude,” said Massimo. “This is getting old. It’s so old it’s stale. Ya know. Not stepping up to the plate and then complaining you’re not on base. Bro …”
“Bro, I came here for a little commiseration,” said Bruno.
“What does commiseration mean?”
“It means, like to be, on the same page.”
“No it doesn’t.”
“Drink wine from the same bottle?” tried Bruno.
Massimo didn’t want to be the perfect older brother but he couldn’t help shaking his head. In a flash he had visions of their dad and childhood; and the stupid teeenage things they did together amazingly all fitting into a few seconds in his mind.
“Ok, so then what does it mean?”
“Bruno. There is no perfect time to have children. Bro. Make your wife happy. Make us all happy. Fuck – make yourself happy. It doesn’t fuckin matter what you do! Just get her pregnant as you do it. That will answer 90% of your imaginary problems.”
“Ok it’s time for ….”
“You don’t have any issues?”
Can you get it up?”
“Yes, I can get IT up.”
“Then are you shootin blanks?”
“Fuck if I know.”
“Well, If your Vanessa isn’t pregnant in the next 6 months you gotta get your junk analysed.
In the cool silence of the dusk the honest cold of the night lovingly takes over. In that bare moment teasing intimate conversations Lisa, Massimo’s wife opened the door at the back of the garage.
“Hi Bruno, good to see you.”
“Hey Lisa, you too,” said Bruno.
“Are you gonna stay for dinner? I am reheating Massimo’s for him now,” said Lisa looking at her husband.
“Thanks Lisa, I gotta get goin,” said Bruno.
“Thanks Babe. I’ll be in in a minute,” said Massimo before Lisa could close the door.
”You see what it is? It’s the whole package. It’s a marriage. It’s a family. It’s a circus. Everyday there is a ton of bullshit if you are gonna count the cost. Bro – the point is to make important things important. If Vanessa is important to you, make her happy, give her a baby.”
From the Collection of Short Stories: Tool by Kevin McNamara
“Oksana asked me what Haka meant,” said Oddie, “So I gave her my best version of it.”
On his first day Ricky had seen the word in black marker on the back of Oddie’s hard hat but figured it was his last name or something. That was when he hadn’t asked questions because he feared it would only have shown how little he knew.
“What is Haka?” asked Ricky.
“It’s the warrior dance the All Blacks do before each game.”
“Who are the All Blacks?”
“New Zealand’s national rugby team. Watch this,” says Oddie as he stands right in front of Ricky and starts slapping his forearms as he squats and shouts with his tongue out.
“What the fuck … are you two love birds talking about now?” asked Gerry the supervisor out of breath.
“Nothin,” said Ricky.
“What in the world could possibly motivate you to get out of your truck and climb that ladder?” said Oddie.
“Sandoval is coming later today,” said Gerry, feeling awkward talking about the boss to the boss’s son. “He hates a messy job site and he will yell at me saying the minister of labour is just around the corner …”
“The Minister?” said Oddie.
“Yes the fn’ Minister of Labour is comin down here to find us,” said Gerry.
“Fine us,” said Ricky, the boss’s derelict son.
“Fine,” said Gerry.
“Ok we’ll clean up your job site Gerr Bear,” said Oddie.
“Now,” said Gerry.
Sandoval got his start in Quebec 30 years ago renovating apartments when the tenants moved out so the owners could jack up the rent. To avoid the unions in Quebec he brought his guys to Ontario. Two of his best men, Rejean and Frederick, were machines 20 years ago. They had forgotten more about how to build a house than these young guns would ever know. Frederick became a supervisor years ago but Rejean had framed himself into a corner. He told himself he couldn’t do anything else.
“Tabernac, Jerrie. Kick doze feckin punks inta gear.” said Rejean.
“Relax, Jean. I got em cleanin up the job site. Nothin you need to sweat your little French balls about,” said Gerry.
Gerry found himself squeezed between this wrinkled and weary red seal swearing at him in French and these newbie cowboys knocking in nails as they gabbed about energy. Oddie could see Gerry stressing because he didn’t have skills to get the team to work together. Oddie loved sitting back and watching Gerry squirm.
Strapping on their tool belts after tidying up the job site, Oddie wondered,
‘Why is it that some people are just so easy to make fun of?’
“Ok Gerry-atric,’ Oddie yelled down to Gerry, “Looks real cute your job site.”
“If by cute you mean tidy then get back to building my fuckin house,” said Gerry.
“He’s not coming,” said Ricky.
It took Oddie a few seconds to realize that Ricky was referring to his dad; the boss, Sandoval. Ricky obviously had the inside scoop. Oddie inched a 2 by 4 stud until it was on centre with slow taps of the side of his hammer trying to think of something to ask.
“It’s Tuesday. We won’t see him till Thursday. Chill,” said Ricky. Seeing Gerry leaning on his truck, checking his phone and pulling on his e-cigarette he said “It’s like watching a rat in a lab experiment.”
“Bro, who are you tryin to kid. Ya gotta shorten up on the handle so it will be easier to get the nail in the middle of the block. Shorten up,” repeats Oddie. “You never played baseball as a kid?”
Ricky purses his lips.
“Fuck,” said Oddie. “Gimme that thing. With all your money you couldn’t get yourself a real hammer. Who made this thing? Fischer-Price? Watch me; it’s like this.” Oddie shows Ricky and Ricky gets the hang of it.
“That’s better. Now you only look like a spaztic rookie instead of a complete moron,” said Oddie.
Oddie does anything complicated and Ricky works around Oddie. Oddie is the only one who isn’t afraid to whip Ricky into shape:
“Ricky don’t be picky – grab a couple of those lovely 2 by 4’s and let’s frame the shit outta this wall.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph Ricky. That’s not how I taught you to put in the blocking. You’re makin me look bad.”
“Ricky, you don’t have to advertise you’re a rookie. We already know.”
Ricky was still slick; hair coiffed down to the nanometre. But now his boots were nicked and scuffed; the leather on his tool belt was softening up and wrinkling. His posture was strong; his gait potent.
“Who is Oshkania again?” asked Ricky.
“Oksana. She’s Tali’s girlfriend. He says she’s his fiance but I haven’t seen any rings yet. Anyway, Saturday morning she has a Zoom call about intention. with this group of people all over the world who are into well-being. You know, healthy living. What they do is they take turns sending each other good vibes. And apparently it cures people of diseases and other shit,” Oddie loved having an audience.
“Whaddya mean intention?”
“Intention. It’s something you want. Something you want to happen. Something you want to be in the world,” said Oddie.
“What have they cured?”
“I think she said cancer but I find that hard to believe.”
“Cancer?! What… what’s her group called,” asked Ricky. Oddie feigned needing to pick up a block and looked over at Ricky who, for the first time, was radiating confidence. And purpose.
“I don’t know bro. But I’ll get that for ya,” said Oddie.
Oddie can see Ricky is just here till the waters calm between him and his family and he will move on to whatever project his father’s money can finance. In the meantime Oddie is a whole golf bag of services to the little prince; Oddie is the 3 wood of focus; the 7 iron of curiosity; the sand wedge of problem solving; the pitching wedge of nuance; the putter of belief.
“Where’s Reggie?” asked Ricky.
“You know you came along just in the nick of time. Reggie’s knees went a few years ago. Now his wrists are so shot to shit he really shouldn’t even be working. He has to take a couple of days off sometimes. So that would mean I would have to work with Rejean over there. You saved me from a long slow death.”
“What’s wrong with working with him?” asked Ricky reeling with the realization that his privileged upbringing was financed on the backs of these guys.
“I dunno. It’s just that he is so out of touch and out of shape,” said Oddie, hiking up his jeans.
Oddie could feel he was getting soft because everyday after work he would step up into Ricky’s Rubicon after putting his lunch cooler on the back seat. Now Ricky gives him a lift home when at first it used to be just to the subway.
At the traffic light a woman in cat eye sunglasses pulled up beside them in a yellow Jeep Wrangler. Ricky gave a casual three finger Jeep wave; she waved back. Oddie pushed his sunglasses down his nose to get a better look.
“Bro ….” Oddie loved this.
The yellow Jeep sped ahead while Ricky shifted into second on his own time.
“What kind of name is Oddie anyway?”
Shorten Up Ricky is from the Short Story Series – Tool by Kevin McNamara
“What the hell?” said Moe under his breath as the mall bench shook. He was ready to kick into survival gear thinking it might be an earthquake.
The guy on Moe’s left glanced at him; at his phone and back at Moe.
Realizing what happened Alex said, “Bro. Sorry.” Alex showed his cell phone screen to his bench neighbour. “I just couldn’t help it. Robin Williams man. He is crazy funny,” said Alex explaining how when he laughed so much he made their bench shake.
“Comedy. That’s some of the best therapy there is,” said Moe
“Amen to that bro,” agreed Alex.
“Oh, boy! Hnhn,” Moe laughed despite himself.
Alex had asked him why he was sitting on a mall bench waiting for his wife to appear laden with shopping bags.
“When my wife found out I had a second Instagram account she freaked. So here I am paying for it.”
“How’d she find out?” asked Alex.
‘My 6 year old daughter has a friend whose dad followed one of the accounts I followed and somehow the 2 girls outed their dads.”
“What happened to the other guy?”
They both swallowed the loneliness of being in a place with thousands of people yet feeling alone. Seeking community Alex asked;
“What’s all the fuss about shopping anyway?”
“I hate shopping,” said Moe as the elevator music played Dua Lipa.
“What is it about shopping malls; they just suck the energy right out of me?”
Ya, I know what you mean.”
“Usually I can swing it so I only have to drop them off and pick them up,” said Alex.
“I look forward to that day.”
“Hey man, I’m Moe.”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Alex.”
After their fist bump it felt weird to meet someone when you are sitting down.
“What do you do for a living Alex?”
“I’m a carpenter. I’m up for my red seal in a few months. How about you?”
“I’m in sales for a loading dock systems company,” said Moe.
“It keeps me outta trouble.”
“So do you do any of those huge Amazon distribution centres?” asked Alex.
“Ya,” paused Moe, breathing life into the doubt that blocked the sun out of his life. “I put in a bid a few months ago and they should be deciding. Any day now.”
In life there are beautiful pauses. Like, just before he says, ‘Will you marry me?’ as he is on one knee outside the restaurant. This pause wasn’t beautiful; it felt like it was filled with itchy scratchy fibreglass insulation.
“How did you get into dock systems?” asked Alex.
“I hurt my back framing and couldn’t do physical work anymore.”
“You didn’t want to continue in construction?”
“You know I did but my wife kiboshed that,” said Moe.
“Hmm,” Alex looked at the shiny floor between his boots.
“Ya, I know. Sounds pathetic,” said Moe.
“I didn’t say …”
“She was right.”
“Carrie, my wife, said, I can remember it vividly. She was standing sideways at the stove. She moved the chicken in the frying pan with the wooden spoon and said,” remembered Moe. “You have two tasks: the first is to get off the painkillers. The second is to get a job that pays.”
“Shit,” said Alex looking at the floor and then at Moe who was looking up at the ceiling.
“She was right. Again. I had been shafted too many times by general contractors. And I was hooked on codeine”
“So, whadya do?” said Alex.
“I got the pills from my truck, under my shirts in the bottom dresser drawer and the bathroom and poured them all down the kitchen sink as Carrie watched me. Then, I turned on the fan over the stove as she cooked the chicken and gave her a kiss.”
“Sorry man. I shouldn’t have vomited my crazy life story. You’re gonna think I’m a…,”
“I can think for myself,’ said Alex. “So you stayed off the painkillers?”
“Ya know I did. I have.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Like 5 years. Hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Moe. “But ya know what I miss the most? Talking smack on the job site. And the smells, believe it or not.”
You mean the sweet smell when you saw a piece a lumber. Or the porta potty?” asked Alex.
“Ya right! Nothing like the fragrance of a portapotty that has been on the site for a week baking in the August heat,” joked Moe. “But with two young children ya gotta do what ya gotta do.”
“I hear ya bro,” said Alex.
“So how long till you get your Red Seal?”
“By the end of the year I’d say.”
“Cool. What keeps you motivated to keep going?” asked Moe.
Alex was getting a little weirded out by how quickly Moe could get so personal.
“Same as you. Family,” said Alex.
“But what’s in it for you?”
“I love my family bro. It gives me satisfaction to provide for them” said Alex
“I believe you 100 percent. The thing is your life can pass you by and you didn’t live it.”
Moe had touched a nerve in Alex.
“Ya know who you remind me of bro?” said Alex detouring the conversation.
“Who?” said Moe.
The sailor in that poem Ancient Mariner.”
“I thought you were gonna say someone like Mike Holmes. Who the fuck is the ancient mariner?”
“He’s the wrinkled old man who stops the young people arriving at a wedding. He needs to tell them his story. Check it out,” said Alex.
“I’ll Google it,” said Moe. “But that’s a bit of a weird reference,” he said as he was used to a different reaction to his desire to help.
“Hey man, it was grade 11 English class. Mrs. Downs. Great teacher,” said Alex.
“Nice to meet bro, take care,’ said Alex as Moe saw his wife come out of the store with children and shopping bags. ‘You’re a bit of a weird random guy I talked to in the mall’ thought Alex as he watched Moe walk away.
Alex had related the conversation with Moe to Rebecca, his wife, as they were on the drive home from the mall. As he was merging onto the highway Rebecca asked him,
“Ok guys, another session of Hot or Trot. You first Andy,” said Matt.
“OK, give me a second …Gigi Hadid or Scarlet Johansen?”
“All blondes! I like it bro. Gigi obviously. She’s a sultry minx,” said Matt.
“I agree,” said Hector. Matt didn’t trust Hector. Matt didn’t know why yet. Hector knew why he didn’t like Matt.
“Ok Sally,” said Matt using the nickname for Hector he takes from the fact he Hector was born in El Salvador. Nobody else uses it. “Your turn.”
“Selma Hayek or Eiza Gonzalez?”
“Hector and his smokin hot Latinas. Cheers,” said Andy.
“Who the hell is Aisha Gonzalvez?” asked Matt.
“It’s Eiza Gonzalez, you uncultured hack.”
Without hesitating Matt launches an immature missile back at Hector, “You know what the problem with …”
“Hey, Isn’t that the new guy right there,” squints Andy.
“Across the street. The guy who just came out of the fast cash place.”
The three of them look across the street and drink from their pint glass.
“Yup,” said Matt. “That’s him. He’s the guy prancing around in those Carhart overalls he doesn’t need. There he goes into that coin laundry place. Bubbles.”
“Cute name,” says Hector.
“Hector. Since when the fuck did you say something was cute?” asked Andy.
Matt, Andy and Hector were enjoying Friday afternoon beers on a patio picnic table. Monday to Thursday they worked hardscaping projects 12-14 hour days so Friday Fields, the boss, could leave the city early to beat traffic getting to his cottage north of the city.
Though they make decent coin, they do not have cottage bound incomes so they find a friendly patio and flirt like idiots with the waitress: Andy loves her perfume, Hector her eyes and Matt her boobs; all of them mentally promising a huge tip so they earn her wink as they leave. Today they were happy bread to the toaster of 4:30 pm June sun. That Tom Cochrane tune was finishing.
“Jerry,” blurts Andy.
“Jerry? Quien chingados es Jerry?” asked Hector.
“That’s the name of the new guy.”
“My man Jerry. He’s alright,” says Matt, wanting to be drunk.
“Listen guys …” Andy grabs his phone and puts a twenty on the table.
“No bro, not again.”
“Gotta go guys,” said Andy.
“But we just ordered our second pitcher.”
“I’d love to, but duty calls”
“Ya I know. I get that call all the time and I just send it to voicemail. Deal with it when I get home.”
“Not this time …,” hesitates Andy in a way that disarms all their ridicule.
“Whatever bro,” said Matt. “See ya Monday.”
Fridays are for grabbing a beer on a patio so, instead of driving to work, Andy rides the bus in the morning. Post patio Andy loves looking out the window at the scenery from the back of the Uber and disconnecting.
As the Uber waits at the light, Andy sees Jerry, the new guy coming out of the coin laundry, walking past the fast Cash place and going into the 2 for 1 pizza place. It’s pretty good pizza. But all they do is cut a regular piece into two pieces. Voilà: 2 for the price of 1!
Monday morning they couldn’t find the key to the Bobcat.
“Who the fuck has the key to the fuckin Bobcat?”
“Try Fab fuckin Fields.”
“He probably took the key Friday because he feared in a neighbourhood of homes averaging $4 million someone would steal his heavy machinery over the weekend just for kicks.”
“If he arrives and we haven’t done jack shit he’s gonna fuckin lose it.”
“Mother fucker. Start offloading the interlock up to the top of the driveway.” Fields was on his way. Driving south from cottage country he saw the calls on his Bluetooth but didn’t answer on purpose.
Using the wheelbarrow they were getting it done as if they had all just converted to being Amish. Having pulled back a bit the chiffon floor to ceiling curtains in the living room, Mrs Moosavi was observing the chaos outside her home.
“Mother fucker! Start offloading the interlock up to the top of the driveway.”
“Fuckin fields does this on purpose to reduce us to fuckin manual labour so he can justify not paying us more. He is the master of ‘an accident – on purpose’.”
“It’s brilliant and sociopathic.”
“You think that is an exaggeration but you have to see that he sets himself up to be the hero.”
“Relax. All I know is my paycheck arrives on time every two weeks. Baboom.”
Seeing that the two summer hires were setting the lines and had a handle on the task at hand Hector leaned on his rake.
“Andy, hermano, how’s your wife?” Hector loves strategically dropping Spanish into his conversation.
“What? Oh Ya she’s doin alright. Thanks for asking.”
Hector was fishing for gossip because Andy didn’t usually offer up to much info about his family like the other guys did.
Andy hesitated “My wife has serious menstrual cramps. They just knock her right out. So I can’t just sit there Friday afternoon at a bar drinkin beer while she has to get up and feed the kids dinner and keep them from destroying the place.”
“Wow. That’s brutal.”
“For her, ya. But Xochi must have to deal with that too,” said Andy.
“Ya. She and her sister, apparently their cycles are synched or something so they just talk on the phone. I bring home chocolate and ice cream and she seems to get through it.”
“Hey guys, did you need anything?” asked Jerry encroaching on the supervisor bubble.
“Ya. A medium double double and a French cruller,” said Hector.
“Ignore that ridiculous, brown gnome,” said Andy.
“Thank you brother Andy. Now. Jerry, when the Guiness Book of World Records comes searching for the smallest Canadian penis in the history of Canadian penises – you just point them in Andy’s direction, will ya?” said Hector.
“Jerry-rig it for the moment brother.”
Not a chance! Get the fuckin come-along,” said Matt.
They needed to hold the 40 foot white pine back at the side of the house to get the Bobcat into the backyard so they could resurface the pool area. Since the client couldn’t peek out from the window to see what they were doing two of the crew said fuck it just yank on the tree and if it returns to its original position great; if not then Fields and his insurance can deal with it and yell at him later.
The three including Matt said no. Either they said no because it was a lazy solution to a small problem. Or they simply feared Fields’ rath once the customer complains.
“What he meant was to get Jerry to hold it. He’s standing right behind you.”
“Ok Jerry. If you’re the arborist in the family, what do you think?”
“I can make it happen. We just need a couple boards and the hand saw and we will wedge the space open. Also the ten foot ladder,” said Jerry.
“Ok, Jerry. Make it happen. We’re gonna take lunch and need this ready when we come back. Capiche?” said Matt who today was driving the Bobcat.
Driving to Tim Horton’s with nouveau riche mansions on either side there was a Filipino nanny wheeling a stroller and walking a schnauzer. In this neighbourhood because nobody who actually owned a house walked on the street there were no sidewalks. So the babies and their nanny’s walk in traffic.
“You know my neighbour got a ticket for not pickin up his dog’s shit”
“My neighbour was telling me he got a fine for not putting his dog on a leash. Then he went on this rant saying that he was going to submit a proposal to Elon Musk.” Matt told the story:
“You know what Elon Musk should do. He should program his Nueralink chip to…
What is the fuck is a Neurolink chip my other neighboour asks.
Neuralink. I corrected the guy. You haven’t heard of this? It’s another one of his big ideas to insert silicon chips into people’s heads to monitor their thoughts and help people with diseases like MS to be able to move because they think it, the first neighbours says.
So it can listen to your thoughts and do what you want. That sounds cool I said
Ya but the government is gonna want to listen to those thoughts too. You know it’s only a matter of time said another neighbour as we stood there watching our dogs play in the dog park. Anyway, back to my idea. Have the chip geo identify with your home and then have posts, kinda like charging stations, at various points, like in parks around your municipality that you have to get within say 3 metres of every so many days. Basically making you exercise – he says.” said Matt.
What if you have a broken leg – does the chip know that? And you can’t make it.
“No you have to go,” Matt whips out his sarcasm.
“Ya, even when the snow is 2 feet deep.”
“What’s the point?”
“He is saying, my neighbour, that why penalise the people who actually are out there with their dogs getting fresh air and exercise. Make the lazy twinkies get off their couches and take their beer belly for a walk to the park at least once a week.”
“And if they don’t?”
“And if they don’t then he says there is an automatic fine of like $15- 20 bucks,” said Matt.
“Holy shit!” and they all laugh like the time Hector told them he was thinking of importing exotic birds from El Salvador.
“Big Brother doesn’t need our help.”
“We need to shut your neighbour up!” said Hector.
“Shut im up or shut im down!”
“Ya he is a bit of a nut job,” said Matt
Jerry Rig is from the Short Story Series Tool by Kevin Mcnamara
“I’m gonna start my own home services company,” declares Oddie as he and Reggie load the morning batch of 2×4’s onto the forks of the loader to lift them up to the second floor to start framing up there.
8 am on a chilly September morning, the summer heat has peaked and subsided.
Oddie imagines he is an angelic combination between Chris Rock and Lenny Kravtiz; funny and suave. If you saw him you would probably think he looked more like a cross of Kevin Hart and Danny Devito; short and obtuse.
Reggie, the ragged yet loyal employee, smirks out loud and pauses to straighten his back for a moment,
“Right you are.” The clean Spruce fragrance was a weird source of Reggie’s optimism over the years.
Oddie stands for Odd Man Out which is the lengthy nickname the forming crew gave him in his first week. They just had to look at him: his boots were too skinny, his hard hat was on crooked, his face was puzzled. He just looked odd. But he was quick on the job site.
“What’s your company called?
“I don’t know yet. It’s a service that connects the trusty handyman with homeowners needing odd jobs.” said Oddie as if it already existed.
“Right,” repeats a smug Reggie and turns to grab an armful of lumber.
Reggie loved yankin this guy’s chain. He gets so hot under the collar at the blink of an eye. With his grey gloves he touched his left index finger to his right baby finger and started counting,
“First of all, you do know there are like at least 5 of those apps out there that provide those services and seconofall they have like, just a little bit of a head start on you. Third they have millions in financial backing and…”
And .. they aren’t you.”
Reggie straightens up again and looks Oddie directly in the eyes and says nothing.
“Fuck you!” says Oddie.
“I don’t care what you think.” Declares Oddie.
“You don’t want to care but you do,” Reggie exhibits his clarity of mind as he straps on his tool belt..
“Fuck you, get to work,” Oddie orders Reggie
“Get to work, Fuck you”
“Hey Reggie, Gerry the site supervisor yelled from ground level, “Ya gotta sec?”
Reggie undid his tool belt saying under his breath “What the hell does this dipshit want now?”
Gerry was squinting up at Oddie framing in a door as Reggie got down there. Gerry starts speaking to Reggie while still looking up at the second floor.
“You have to be weird and know it to get a nickname like Odd Man Out and live with it.
And that the shoe fits says everything.”
“He loves it.” said Reggie staring at the side of Gerry’s ugly head. “We gave him a back door to being part of a team of foul mouthed framers and he took it,”
“Are you a fucking psychologist?”
“The guy needs what you need. He is shit at how to get it. About the same as you are at dropping in a plumb door header. That’s why they made you supervisor,” said Reggie.
As soon as Reggie heard Gerry say “Listen Reg.” His bullshit detector went off.
“I gotta bit of a situation. Sandoval’s son needs a job and the office threw it in my lap. You worked with him before, right?”
“That pip squeak would carry the same 2×4 from one end of the job site and hide on his phone for 30 minutes. Then carry the same 2×4 to the other side and do the same thing all over again.”
“Ya well he got in some kind of trouble. It’s either cars or drugs. Maybe both. Anyway the message from Sandoval is to keep him busy so they know someone is keeping an eye on him,” then Gerry laughs as he reads the text message he received from the office this morning. “So he learns the value of work.” Gerry looked to his right for confirmation from Reggie but didn’t get it.
A wave of humility and appreciation ran through Reggie. He realised what he already knew: that Rhonda, his wife, was his hero. She had been super strict with their son and daughter and that is why Cherise their daughter was on academic scholarship at McMaster University and their son Malcolm was in grade 10 following in her footsteps.
“He’s not the only one …”
“What’s that supposed to mean”
“What can that miserable little shit do here without fucking up my job site.”
“Ya I know,” agreed Gerry. “Wait. Let’s put em with good ol Oddie.”
Gerry pulled a purple e-cigarette from his inside jacket pocket and hauled on it.
“Oddie and I have a decent rhythm if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Listen Reg …” Hearing that phrase again Reggie just turned to walk away. “He starts tomorrow,” Gerry yelled at Reggie’s back.
Ricky parked his 2022 metallic blue Jeep Rubicon beside the portapotty at 7:45 because he was afraid that his dad would take away the Jeep if he was late. His dad was the owner of Sandoval Developments. If the forming crew thought that Oddie looked out of place, Ricky looked like he was modelling for the Home Depot website. Everything he wore was functional, just like Oddie and Reggie.
But the function for Ricky was to look good. New construction boots, tight hi-viz black sweatshirt with silver and yellow reflectors, shiny black hard hat with a Sandoval decal on the front, fresh yellow leather gloves and tinted safety glasses. He never took his ear buds out. He was instantly labelled Slick Rick. Reggie loved how this clown brought comic relief to his day.
Oddie hated working for $24 per hour for some rich fuck. He hated that the same rich fuck didn’t give a fuck for his own son. He didn’t hold it against Slick Rick. Oddie adopted him like a younger brother even though they were the exact same age.
“Bro, you’re holdin the hammer all wrong,” said Oddie.
“Ricky. What did I tell you about holding the nail between your fingers?”
“Dude, did you even put your level on this stud. From here I can see that the thing isn’t plumb.”
“Wow. Nice. Look at that. Fits perfect. Reggie did you see? Our man Slick Rick is good on the saw.”
“Dude. Look at me.” Oddie schooled limp Rick on the reality of belief in yourself. “Haven’t you realised that they think I am a freak. They have more in common with you than they do with me,” said Oddie even though it wasn’t true. As a young man lost at sea Ricky instinctively grabbed his phone to ground himself cyberspace.
People didn’t understand Oddie’s sense of tribal inclusion. In truth, neither did he. He simply felt like we are all in this together. Oddie had no reason to question because that was who he was. He also knew he needed to accomplish something everyday so he got some satisfaction. He wanted to share this.
Slick Rick was a textbook spoiled brat. A tragic teenager. His parents weren’t on the same page about children, marriage or money. His mom’s love wasn’t going to magically make him into a man. His absentee dad supplied everything but the intangibles.
Sandoval pulled up in a white Mercedes SUV to see how his son was being made into a man. To get out of the vehicle would have been to break the macho archetype he loved more than his son. The back seat tinted window came halfway down. Ricky looked at Oddie, looked at his phone, undid his toolbelt and climbed down to talk to the tinted window.
Reggie and Oddie unabashedly stood at the edge of the second floor watching the father/son debacle.
“For the last 15 or so years Sandoval has shown he doesn’t give a fuck about the well fare of his own son,” said Reggie.
“Dude, we are providing a babysitting service to Richie Rich,” Oddie said to Reggie. “The fuckin father needs to know that.” Reggie looked sideways at Oddie and said,
“You are not going to pity Richie Rich. That’s not gonna pay your bills much less fulfil your crazy dream of your Odd Man app.”
Oddie nodded at Reggie’s name for his odd jobs by a handyman app.
“Ya bro. Or do you want to be in the business of handy jobs?” Reggie laughed at his own joke.
Odd Man Out is from the short story series Tool by Kevin McNamara