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
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:
“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
“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
The boss explained to Roger it was the pandemic. His manager told him it was Artificial Intelligence.
‘Buddy,’ Rick, his colleague, relished saying, ‘ You just don’t fit in with the company vision.’
‘Vision for what?’ Wanted to know Roger even though it really didn’t matter as he was on his way out the door.
‘A vision, you imbecile, of making money off of paying clients.’ Rick the dick chuckled as he rubbed Roger’s face in it.
‘That was.’ Roger shook his head as his shoulders sagged, ‘Harsh.’
‘Yeah. Who cares?’ Rick stared into Roger with his legs astride as if he was on the podium having won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
‘So, you spineless piece of shit, how do you fit into their money making vision?’ Roger needed to know.
‘Me? I just count the stuff as it comes in. I transferred to accounting. I don’t want to be in the field anymore. I don’t want to be made obsolete.’
‘Like me. Right’
‘You said it, not me.’
Leann, Roger’s wife, made her younger brother Ryan give Roger a job. She has been working from home for almost a year and for 4 months of that Roger had been out of work and driving her crazy.
‘It’s like I didn’t even know my own husband until I spent time with him.’ Confides Leann.
‘That doesn’t bode well.’
‘It turns out the more time you spend with him the more Roger he becomes.’ Lets slip Leann.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Her mom needs to know.
Realizing she said that out loud Leann now has to reconcile it with reality.
It’s not really a bad thing.’ She tells her mom by Zoom.
‘Darling, meaning what exactly? That he gets all creepy and …?’ investigates her mom.
‘No, no no. Nothing like that. It’s just that, after a while, he lands on the annoying side of bizarre.’
‘How long is a while?’ Mom gets right to the point.
Leann sighs. Looks into the Zoom version of her mother’s eyes, drops her eyes to her computer keyboard and returns to meet her mom’s eyes again.
‘Half an hour.’
When Leann and Roger married they had an understanding there weren’t going to be any children. Leann would have been open to adopting if he was but Roger who didn’t want to spin the roulette wheel on someone else’s DNA. Over time Leann saw what he meant first hand. Twenty-nine going on thirty years old was not yet the prime age for a mid-life crisis. Leann would need to find another excuse to assimilate Roger’s lack of traction with daily life.
Straight outta calculus Ryan jokes when asked about when he started his company. In his final year of high school, 3 months before final exams, he slammed his textbooks closed, ignored his mother’s pleadings and walked out the door. With his rusting pickup truck, his best friend Mark and the family electric lawn mower he started a landscaping company.
In his first summer landscaping, he and Mark, with a bout of the munchies, were waiting in McDonald’s drive-thru aching to scarf down a few Big Macs. Back in the day you could drive high.
‘The company needs a name bro!’ Says Mark in the wait between placing their order and the pick up window.
‘To meet girls.’
‘What do you have in mind?’ An interested Ryan asks.
‘Except visions of Big Macs dancing in my head.’ Mark says grinning like an idiot.
Ryan turned down the radio and leaned forward looking at the big McDonald’s logo: those famous Golden Arches; ‘Golden Branches …?’
Golden Branches Landscaping bro! Whaddaya think?
I know right …?
Golden Branches Landscaping baby!
Ten years later, sitting in the driver seat of his warm white 4 x 4 pickup with the engine running, Ryan pulled at his scruffy beard as he mentally digested his odd brother-in-law.
My Roger doesn’t need dope – he can go interplanetary under his own steam – thought Ryan
On a podcast Ryan had heard that if you want to work things out try talking to yourself.
‘My Roger …’ Ryan started, which self-startled him causing him to stall.
‘Why the fuck is he My Roger?’ Ryan shook his head at himself.
He gazed into his blue and white Toronto Maple Leafs hockey player bobblehead glued to the dashboard that subtly wiggled and jiggled to the purr of the diesel engine.
Having slid into a pensive moment Mark startled Ryan by jumping into the passenger seat of the cab.
‘Dude we have to talk. We are falling way behind on this fucking project. Did you see the forecast? We are getting more frost 3 days in a row. We need to…’
‘I know genius!! I know what we need.’
‘Whoa! Bro oo… What the …? Let’s go for coffee. I’m buying.’
‘Ya know that small alien creature that crawled up your ass and took a shit must have been some ugly?’
‘Let’s go. Let’s show these guys this isn’t a babysitting service.’ Ryan jumps out of the truck.
No one on the team knew Roger was the boss’s brother-in-law. They just thought he was one of those flakes who finds work with them each season. The flotsam of society. Men that know what they don’t want. Guys who are connected to reality by gravity, government checks and little else. They want to be paid cash daily, they call everyone by a nickname after meeting them 5 minutes ago and you hardly ever see them eat. One day they never show up again and their work boots will stay behind the back seat of the work truck until the end of the season and then get donated.
Roger’s previous job as an insurance assessor was less than a year ago but felt like a lifetime away. The money was steady and the questions were few, the rules were clear and the creativity was zero. There should have been little chance for him to alienate himself yet they still found a way to push him out the door. Roger wasn’t sad or surprised because he easily could have told you he wasn’t living and working in the here and now.
In the bowels of spring are frigid February nights with minutes colder than hours. Roger needed to tell someone how, in the fathoms of darkness, cut loose by the leylines of sleep, he lay awake as sewer rats and hoary bats were gnawing at the sinews of his soul. And then he would quickly submit a disclaimer to whoever would listen that while all this was achingly paralyzing there was, available, an undercurrent of light that was freeing.
Sleepless and alone in the basement pull-out bed with his blue eyes wide open he had a 3 am epiphany about what gave him satisfaction: Delivering results while doing work that congealed in him a real here and now feeling. Unaware that he was picking at the earth under his fingernails he loved what he just learned he wanted.
Along a client’s side and front lawn they were planting a row of cedar trees. As he plants and rakes, weeds and waters Roger is fascinated by the potential of that root ball that the trees come with from the nursery. On his knees with his bare hands in the moist and fervent soil, Roger inhaled the poignant autumn air. It was like he was being paid to do downward facing dog.
Like roots drawing minerals into the plant – Roger spoke under his breath as he helped to guide Jose driving the Bobcat as it dropped one of the cedars gently inside the hole where it would be planted – parents draw minerals into their child’s life.
Roger’s insight continued – the challenge in the progression of a man is to mineralize his own life – with what he wants.
That is exactly what is happening to Roger. Whether he knows it or not.
To them Roger seemed to talk more with the trees then he did with themso the guys nicknamed him Rootball Roger. They needed to pigeonhole him in order to accept him as one of their own. They want to accept him as part of the tribal urge to work together. Then there is what goes unmentioned, and poorly understood; the importance of accepting a guy so he doesn’t feel the loneliness of no tribe.
‘Rootball. Mrs Crowsworth always asks us to knock on her door just so she knows we are working around her place.’ Robbie, the lead hand, told Roger. ‘Plus she likes meeting the rookies.’
The truth Robbie knew was Mrs Crowsworth hates when anyone knocks on her door. She patented peering out from behind her living room curtain at the people working on her yard. The guys pretended to be busy oiling the clipper and gassing up the leaf blowers in anticipation of the show. Mrs. Crowsworth did not disappoint.
‘Did your office not tell you to not bother me?!
‘I’ Stammered Roger taking a step back having rung the doorbell.
‘Are you new or dumb or both?! I‘ve never seen you before.’
‘If no one can knock on your door how do you see them?’ Roger got suckered in.
‘How dare you? I keep tabs on you people you know! I am going to call Ryan and cancel your crazy company.’
‘Crazy…?’ It slipped out. ‘What the hell?! No, no please don’t call Ryan!’ Pleaded Roger. ‘It won’t happen again, I promise.’
‘That’s what the last guy said.’ Scowled Mrs Crowsworth while sizing up Roger having sensed his sincerity.
Back at the work truck Robbie and Jose were almost pissing themselves with laughter. They couldn’t have had a better victim to offer Mrs Crowsworth.
‘Hook, line and fuckin’ sinker baby!’ Howled Jose watching from the truck and high fiving Robbie.
When Roger left at 6:30 am each morning Leann sent him off with a hot coffee and what was once a lukewarm kiss was now an air kiss. Once he was gone Leann breathed easier and could send off a few emails so her colleagues and clients would see she was working really early. The plan was to work a few focused hours then live her life while Roger was at work. Leann had found a great online yoga teacher that went at her speed. Her friend Rita recommended a great online cooking show with a spontaneous cook who made dishes based on a Mediterranean diet. She alternated days between yoga and cooking or watching travel videos.
Then around 4:30 pm he would open the back door, drop his backpack and say ‘Hey babe, how was your day?’ as he reached into the fridge for his first beer. Leann would make sure she was back at her work desk with her headset on to ask,
‘How’d it go today hun?’
‘Good, just working late with the west coast office.’ Leann would lie so they wouldn’t have to sit down to dinner across the table from each other. Which made a lot of sense as they were no longer sleeping in the same bed. Or the same room. Nothing wrong with separate beds but these two were on different tectonic plates going in opposite directions.
‘It just feels like I am losing money. Even though I know he paid the down payment.’ Leann confides in Rita.
‘Leann, honey. We all know that was $30 thousand from his parents.’ Rita reminded them. ‘And you have been basically bringing home the bacon for the last year while Roger does his pre mid-life crisis soul searching.’
Ya, I know.’
‘How’s that going?’
‘Well if his soul is in the basement then he may be on to something.’ Leann offered.
‘What – he moved down to the basement. I knew you weren’t sleeping in the same bed but this is new.’
‘Ya. He kind of lives down there.’
‘What the hell?! How long has this been going on?’
‘It’s been a few months.’
‘Leann? Rita was lost for words which she didn’t like. Have you talked to your mom?’
‘She knows but she doesn’t know the details.’
‘Do you know the details? Wake the fuck you stupid woman!! This is your life. And for what it’s worth, it’s Roger’s life too. He doesn’t have the capacity to give you what you want. And you have the capacity for love, young lady.’
Except for when Ryan called asking him to help clean up a whole bunch of broken branches after that violent windstorm in the middle of December Roger hadn’t worked since the beginning of November. Landscaping season leads to snow shovelling for guys with nothing better. Roger’s weakening back can’t handle shovelling snow for a living. It was now almost February and Roger could only think of having to contribute to the mortgage payments.
‘If I didn’t have the mortgage pressure hanging over me then I would be hating thinking about being 30 and living in my own basement.’ Roger admits to Dean. Dean and Roger were neighbours growing up. They bumped into each other at Canadian Tire so Roger invited him out for a beer.
‘So, how would you say Laura is dealing with your whole situation?’ Asked Dean, gradually embracing that he was being pulled into some guy’s uncomfortable marriage drama.
‘Work or relationship?’ Deflected Roger not correcting Dean when he got his wife’s name right.
‘The whole enchilada.’ Frowned Dean as a way to distance himself from participation in Roger’s reality.
‘Well out of some sense of weird self respect I can’t make my wife have to put up with me while I am like this.’
Roger lifts his hands to then point his fingers back at himself. ‘This. This is being lost. But.’ He raises his index finger as he lowers his gaze. ‘The good news is I know I am lost.’
‘How does that make you feel?’ Dean asks having gone full-on therapist.
‘I don’t like it.’
‘And I doubt your wife likes it either.’
‘She doesn’t.’ Admits Roger.
‘She doesn’t?! Then leave.’ You moron Dean says with his eyebrows.’
‘Leave. Pack your bags. Move out.’
‘Hey man, what the hell. I am looking for a little man to man compassion here.’
‘What you seek is compassion and what you need is a kick in the ass.’ Proclaimed Dean before taking a long sip of his crisp second pint.
‘Shit and fuck! Man you know I am just at the end of my no good Goddamn rope here!’
‘Dude, wake the fuck up!!’ Dean was sensing the best thing he could do for Roger was to rattle his cage. ‘From what I am hearing you don’t have a relationship. You’ve got a rental agreement.’
‘No relationship is perfect.’ Justifies Roger.
‘Exactly. That’s my point, numb nuts!! Yours has crossed the line from, what I imagine was a living connection with your wife to a business deal where your client is actually disinterested in your services.’
‘Did you fucking rehearse this shit before you came here?’
‘Dude. You invited me for a beer. You know man talking with you, it is frustrating. Infuriating. You’re such a …’ Dean doesn’t complete his thought.
‘Say it’ Begs Roger.
‘Such …. I mean from 20 minutes of swilling beers with you all I can say is you feel like a lost cause of a man.’ Dean gives what Roger asked for.
‘A lost cause’ repeated Roger. Both guys drank long from their pints.
‘How ya feeling now?’
‘Like I’m drowning.’
‘If you’re drowning then you swim straight to the surface, like a mad man. You become the fucking solution.’
‘Fucking solution.’ Repeated Roger unconsciously.
‘You.’ Dean aims the word as he tips his pint at Roger.
Roger downed the rest of his beer staring Dean in the eyes.
In a matter of days Roger pivoted. He cashed in his RRSP, gave Leann 6 months of his part of the mortgage payment during which he said she could sell the house or buy him out. He bought a 4×4 pickup like Ryan’s and got on Instagram promoting Trent Urban Farming. Or as Roger liked to think of it by its initials: TUF
Pivot was one of those buzz words like unprecedented and quarantine that hogged the vocabulary of the Global Covid Republic 2020 +.
Roger had pivoted out of insurance, paused in landscaping and set his sights on urban farming. About which he knew nothing (except 3 months with Golden Branches Landscaping) but he really thought having a lawn with grass in front of your house was stupid. Including his own suburban piece of paradise.
Yesterday walking up the moist front steps Tammy sniffed some mineral earthy air that her memory associated with the white quartz.
‘Let’s rent a car. Take the day off.’ Tammy offers Malik to agree with her fresh idea as she walks in the front door.
Malik stands up straight from his work desk, takes in a big breath and looks her dead in the eyes.
‘Tammy ..?’ His voice, simply saying her name, went through a 2 – part process of getting her attention with a strong ’T’ and dipping at the end trying to bring her back to earth. Her spontaneous whims always threw him for a loop. What’s wrong with planning? He says with his eyes.
‘Malik ..?’A It’s-all-part-of-the-package look was how she responded to his need for a plan.
After a two hour drive out of town the next morning they set off on a five km hike into the forest following the curving river lined with attentive cedar and spruce. On the riverbank the cedars’ gnarly roots suction themselves to the iron infused sedimentary rock that frames the river. On the forest side of the river bank tree roots delve quickly into the forest floor littered with spongy, green rock cap moss.
It’s a good 5 degrees cooler under all the verdant trees where the river quickly narrows and drops four feet through the effervescent rapids. Just past the brief rapids as the river widens again slightly is a massive white quartz. Although radiant and striking, it is so ensconced in the place it can be confusingly easy to miss. Tammy can’t remember how they found out about it. Malik remembers and relishes holding the mystery.
A mystery that the quartz holds is its size. The carpet of bright green moss acts like a receding hairline on the top and also grows on one side hiding where the quartz meets the riverbank rock. The outlines of the massive white boulder hinted that the beautiful crystal extended some metres beyond what was visible. In his enthusiasm to find out how far it reached Malik confused it with the pockets of snow clinging to winter under the tree skirts; playing hide and seek with the invigorating rays of the spring sun.
They came to dwell with the quartz, to remain in its presence, seeking to be transported deeper within and higher up. The quartz made you wonder. Wonder with confidence. Wonder up. The massive cool fresh quartz engages you as if you were on time and up to speed on your life trajectory. It draws your truth out of you.
They agreed to eat lunch in an hour and served themselves some steaming tea. They sat cross-legged on their yoga mats 10 metres apart on the river bank. Once settled in, breathing and clear of mind Malik found his faculties subtly intrigued. He was being pulled to grasp what was going on: it was the rapids. As the rapids bounced the water all over the place, they were challenging the river, asking the river how important the flow of water was to it. The river, regaining its composure a few metres downriver, always answered the same: I may bend but I will never break.
Tammy didn’t like a sudden burst of her bubble of connection when they were in nature. Malik knew that. But the words just popped out.
‘I don’t think nature…,’ Proposed Malik, impacted by the electrical wash of the huge quartz. ‘… knows the concept of: in the meantime.’ Hearing himself speak he realised he had broken the connection bubble but for him this was a pretty deep thought so he just kept going. ‘Nature is always in the here and now…never waiting… endlessly passionate.’ Malik liked how his poetic kites floated into the early afternoon cool air. Soaking up the moment with his sense of transcendence he sought, Malik breathed in deeply.
Tammy, chill, aware and reflective in the robust, rewarding afternoon was shaken by Malik’s declarations. Hearing him utter in the meantime jolted her out of her cozy emotional vacation and dropped her into an unsettling mental state. Tammy went from cupping the thermos cup of green tea to strangling it.
In six year old Tammy’s mind meantime was what she called the episodes of her parents arguing. She instinctively recoiled under her bed in her and Shelly (her half-sister’s) room. Her bookshelf was empty. Her story books were in piles under her bed. Tammy lay among the dust bunnies and socks turning pages until the yelling and screaming stopped. She found a corporeal focus that completely blocked out life in the meantime. Fifteen year old Shelly wasn’t around so much so Tammy ended up being the flag bearer of her own safety. It seemed her parents first had to be mean to each other before they could approach her smiling saying:‘Don’t worry sweetie, come out from under there. Everything is going to be ok. Mommy is happy.’ Nine months and two police visits later there was no more meantime.
Hey – He’s got a knife. Said the guy as he jumped down the 4 concrete stairs to get Joe.
Joe, scared shitless, dropped the bulging scab of fragrant sap he was cutting off the trunk of a gnarly blue spruce tree on these guys front lawn. Joe bolted from underneath the comforting skirt of the blue tree. Sprinting he glanced at his car parked across the street. After 4 blocks Joe stopped running, bent over heaving for breath and sweating in the cool November dusk. The sticky of the sap on his hand stuck the knife to his hand. In the panic of being hunted down he hadn’t dropped his knife.
Laura closes the door to their apartment after her shift at the restaurant.
Hi babe, um I need you to get my car; pick up my car. I had to leave it on McIntosh Street.
Joe didn’t even give her time to take her coat off.
You know I don’t have a license.’ Laura rattles her head.
You know I wouldn’t ask you if it wasn’t important
You know you have a brother you can ask to do this.’ Laura reminds him
You know I can’t
You know I have no idea what is going on.’ Laura deflates.
Joe explained his suburban sap stealing catastrophe.
You know you totally could have just asked those guys to…, to harvest their sap for your fabulous incense collection. Just fuckin knock on their door. Right? Laura bristles.
You know I know that.
You know…’ Laura stopped herself as she could feel the rock hard tension in her shoulders and sense the futility of generating a modicum of conversation. Laura’s instinct kicked in and said to her – You know if you don’t leave this moron right now you are a bigger moron than he is.’
Laura redid up the same three buttons she had undone on her coat while Joe was ordering her to get his car.
Her last ‘you know’ still hanging in the air like a silent fart in an elevator.
With her coat now done up she texted her brother Sam right then and there, ‘I’m done with this clown.’
Three weeks ago Sam was dropping Laura off at her and Joe’s basement apartment downtown.
‘Listen Laura, it’s your life and I respect that they are, basically, your emotions. And, and I am not going to even attempt to control you or anything. But with that said.‘That guy is a fucking clown.’ He was so infuriated he included the ‘g’ on fucking which not many people do. ‘He’s an angry, angry clown.’
Laura loved the protection love of her older brother for his sister as compared to some random boyfriend love jacked up on lust and of anti-loneliness.
Sam is awesome. Laura wants a boyfriend like Sam. His wife Bernadette obviously is awesome because she married Sam. Joe got wasted at Sam and Bernadette’s wedding. It was a classic, long August day and dusk and night. The wedding was at a lakeside resort where Sam had done some renovations so he knew the owners. They had wooden cabins painted white with green trim in a three season resort.
With Laura now staying at his place Sam knocked on the door to Joe and Laura’s (former) apartment and realized there was no point so he walked right in.
‘Dude – it’s over. Laura’s not coming back. Sam emptied Laura’s drawers with Black Friday abandon. ‘I Will be back on the weekend for her furniture. We both know most of it belongs to Laura.
Sam left the now bare drawers of Laura’s dresser sagging open and took 2 large suitcases without even offering a ‘later loser’ or anything to Joe. Joe, unable to process the moment using his smartass outlook, stood in the abyss of a lonely minute, turned around to face nobody, then he got high. Joe had a unibrow you could see from space but only an emerging moustache so soft you could have used it as a dust brush for your Lp records back in the day. He had jet black hair and grey eyes that everyone commented how they seemed to change in the light. That was what had won over Laura 11 months ago.
His husband love got overtaken by business. In the moment he justified his focus on growing the business. And his children’s inheritance will prove he was successful – was his mental argument he would have with himself, as he raked leaves or swept the driveway – as a way to assuage the discomfort of regret.
Gord felt he didn’t have the connection with his children for the same reason as when they were growing up he was growing his business. Selling plumbing supplies came easier to him than being there for his children. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be there. It’s that if he didn’t grow his business no one else would. Plus this business put food on the table and would pay for university as long as he kept his foot on the gas and didn’t let up.
‘There are different kinds of love, sweetheart!’ Gord remembers growling over his shoulder at Linda. His teeth were clenched down hard perhaps in an attempt to not let these silly words out. He can see it now. They were in their bedroom one Saturday morning when he was getting ready for work instead of taking Phil to hockey practice and teaching Martha to skate and buying the groceries with Sue.
‘Of course there are different kinds of love.’ Linda was paused by her absolute frustration that her good husband still didn’t get it.’ That’s the point!’ Linda schooled Gord looking him right in the eyes as he buttoned his shirt. Linda’s abstention from swearing gave her message that much more ummph. She was no longer in an argument with him but had already transported herself to how it was going to feel in the car later that morning as she drove Phil to Saturday morning hockey practice instead of his dad. Gord could feel Linda’s disappointment but he couldn’t somehow say he was sorry. Because, he told himself in the moment some 35 years ago, he wasn’t sorry because he was supporting his family. This memory, and others, were the life recordings that went through Gord’s mind as he would slowly sweep the clean front walk of its minimal weekday dirt.
In the few years since the death of his wife Gord had this urge to connect with his family so they know their unique value. Therefore his anchored vision project. Yes it would have been easier to say he loved them. And that if he had failed in some ways as a father he was sorry. But that would have been like the first route he walks in the mornings: short and simple and gets the job done without complications.
Mercifully Gord heard the toilet flush all the way down the hall which yanked him out of his swamp of regret.
‘It’s all very spiritual and transformative and, and, and earthy.’ Cedar vibrated her hands at her sides as she sat back down to show Gord how she was impacted by their chat.
‘Yes but without the sweat lodge.’ Gord fake laughs quickly. ‘ Or if you want the sweat lodge go for it. That was never my thing.’ Gord was trying to be funny in case he was coming on too strong.
‘What was your thing GG?’ Cedar asked, using her position as the preferred grandchild to be so direct.
‘I …’ Gord’s shoulders briefly pumped up and down as he gazed out the kitchen window looking out over the driveway and leaned back into his personal journey.
‘My thing would be whatever my thing was at the time. One thing at a time. When your grandmother was sick, that was my thing. When I started my business, that became my thing. When each child was born, that was my thing. But, as the years went on, with each child it was less of a thing.’ Gord paused and looked into Cedar’s eyes because Cedar’s mother Martha was his third and last child. They could both feel that this could be taken to mean that her mother’s birth and existence amounted to less than the birth of her two older siblings.
“You mom being the third wasn’t loved less by any means. There was just, I don’t know, more going on and as parents we weren’t petrified as we were when your uncle Phil was born.’
Cedar was the third child as well. By 7 minutes. Her twin brother Red went to the light before she did.
Was I less of a thing? Cedar had never even thought of it. In the moment she felt good about being a twin, or having Red as her twin because of how it echoed her existence. Gord saw her face quickly disappear inside of herself but didn’t grasp she was cherishing her birth not feeling any anger for getting the bronze medal. She was very happy to be on the podium.
‘You and Red were born at the same time so you were a big deal. A lot of diapers. Jack loved being your older brother, he was like a mini dad organizing your toys, helping you walk.
‘Actually when your mom told me she was having twins I thought it was great. But then she said, I have to confirm it with the doctor. And that always stuck with me. How did she know? Now Gord was lost inside his mind where fireworks were going off of beautiful family memories. And then, as it had come to be a recent habit, it circled quickly back around to Linda.
‘Your grandmother always loved the whole mystery of giving a child a name. It gave her joy and energy so for me I couldn’t see how others saw it as overbearing or imposing. Anyway it would be an innocent imposition. She would bring her little notebook and look into her child’s eyes for a clue – then look to the sky for inspiration. She really loved doing it and thought it was her role to participate. Martha says it was the only time she saw her mother write. That wasn’t true. Martha just felt that they were her children and she, plus her husband, had the ability to name them.’
‘So how did she know?’ Prompted Cedar for more information on her mother being a young mother. She wanted to admire her mom as the young, dynamic woman she could see in family photos before she was transformed into a bossy mom.
‘That she was pregnant with twins?’ The juicy confessional type of conversation with GG was so novel and satisfying.
‘I didn’t really capture that. Martha came up with your names before your grandmother could really process that there would be twins and get her motor running, so to speak, on what could be possible matching names. And truth be told, the names Red and Cedar that your mom had already come up with were so far off Linda’s screen that, well there was nothing to say really.’’
‘So my mom came up with the idea for our names?’ Cedar couldn’t remember asking and hadn’t really ever wanted to get into it. Her brother had a bit of a hard time because his name was Red but as life would have it Cedar got the red hair of the two. It confused people that a guy named Red didn’t have red hair but he had a twin sister who did. So they would get bullied in high school. That’s what teenagers do when they are presented with something that is beyond their grasp. They would stand up for each other but he was basically a wimp so he got brushed aside. Guys would even just hug him instead of beating on him. Beating on Red was so easy, it was comical.
As a result, sometimes they would play down they were twins, and a few times even siblings. There was no abandonment of one by the other. It was actually an effective teenage social strategy. It was a way to avoid ridicule. They would retreat into the fact that they were twins born Geminis. Twins squared. It made no difference to anyone who wasn’t them but it just made the route to get to them emotionally more convoluted so it provided an extra layer of protection.
But in the same breath, in high school her name gave her a way to sound different. Which she liked because it mirrored the way she felt. It also spiced up how she dressed and helped her come into her own style. Tall with her long, wavy red hair she took on a Boho look that seemed to work for her.
‘I remember your mom saying that she loved the red cedar trees because…’ Gord started.
‘Wait GG. Actually, I think I will ask my mom about our names. If you don’t mind.’ Even though she was eagerly soaking up the downloading of family history from her grandfather she stopped him.
‘We haven’t avoided the conversation, we just made sure we never had it.’ Cedar explained to her grandfather. As it came out of her mouth she could hear how lame it sounded, but it was basically true.
Cedar was glad she had dragged their good-byes outside because in that way it broke the proximity of the two of them that had grown around the kitchen table. She didn’t want a hug so Cedar fumbled with buttoning her coat moving toward the door. Cedar skipped down the stairs and they waved good-bye. Cedar put in her ears buds as she turned right to catch the bus uptown. As Gord stood on his front steps breathing the cooling November evening Cedar was reconnecting with the sound track of her generation. Gord, GG, dad, daddy, hesitated. He stood on the front steps of his fully paid off house, where 3 beautiful children knew innocence and joy; where Linda, his wife would bring each of them home from the hospital and nurture them with sincere service that inspired and humbled Gord.
Waiting till after Cedar had turned the corner he then headed back to his garage. The same garage where he started his plumbing business. The same garage that was his first warehouse for his plumbing supply business. This old man was in a negotiation with his own shoulders to determine if he walked back with the hunched shoulders of a defeated man who had nothing better to do than to test drive his coffin. Or if he was an aging man engaging the role of elder as he addressed mortality with humility/fear/awe/respect.
Gord was comfortable in his coffin. It was only the second time he had laid down in it. He kind of felt like a Formula 1 driver slipping into their sleek race car. He had used his yellow measuring tape to get his height and width and depth. Then he added 6 inches to each measurement. It was snug, not cramped.
In addition to her Foundation for AIDS and more than 40 movies plus television shows, the generational movie star Liz Taylor squeezed in 8 marriages from 7 husbands. This shows Liz Taylor was into recycling before most people on your block.
In her personal life Liz Taylor sought what her heart petitioned. To love and be loved; to receive and be received. In a personal relationship Ms. Taylor offered insecurity (when you are a good friend of Michael Jackson your life currency includes high frequency ego) and warmth. In a man she sought not only romance but a source of stability. She had a need which she felt would be satisfied by a solid relationship. Taylor wanted a marriage strong enough to support her as a woman yet flexible enough to be able to handle the whims and intrusions of Hollywood.
In the classic movie Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Taylor plays the empathetic yet tempestuous wife to Paul Newman as her failing husband. The 1958 movie could have been called ‘Lost and Found’. Newman’s character Brick Pollitt was lost in life and Taylor’s Maggie desperately wanted him found in her life; in her heart.
What you seek is almost certainly available in the person you seek it in. Ms Taylor probably found some of what she was seeking in Richard (twice) at some point, Conrad, Mike and Michael. After the proverbial honeymoon was over they may or may not have wanted to offer it up to her. Once she felt her man couldn’t, or wouldn’t, offer Liz what she wanted then she needed to look for it elsewhere. In one of her marriages it was only a matter of months before Taylor’s marriage had become unfulfilling . Although it makes sense that when the love is gone then why stay married, but it would be costly in divorce lawyers.
Maybe Liz didn’t know how to ask to be loved the way she wanted to be loved. Maybe the men she chose weren’t up to the job. A few of her relationships definitely were complicated by drugs and alcohol.
Unfortunately a common conundrum for a man is not knowing how to love his wife. He wants to but can’t understand what expression that takes. Love gets contorted by our handling of the emotional unpacking of our inner lives, life stages and development urges, professional success, physical health. So it is easy to understand how two confused adults can fail in a relationship. Especially if they had no guidance from their parents.
Without simple yet deep conversation sprinkled with wisdom we end up with men who are in fact lost with no idea what they seek and what they offer. That is frustrating for everyone. And can be dangerous because the man can think anytime he is being asked to do something it is because he has done something wrong. Which is incorrect. He is being asked because it is his responsibility to participate in a relationship and family.
Also, if he is being asked it says he is capable and can be relied upon based on what he offers as a man. We get this good reputation by doing a lot of small things, day after day. This repetitive signal that upholds our marriage is a practical way to seek love. As we grow and learn we can refine our seeking. Refining our seeking means that we use our experience and intuition to know where, when and how to seek. It means that our spouse can feel that embedded in our seeking is an offering of love and support for her as a woman.
What you seek can be found in what you offer. It’s almost like saying you already have what you seek – you just want it reflected back to you. And is reflected back to but just like in a mirror, it is reversed and is based on what your spouse seeks. You seek honesty and so your spouse delivers the truth; you seek happiness and your spouse offers laughter; you seek companionship and your spouse offers you conversation.
If you don’t get what you seek then perhaps before pointing a finger it is to ask if it is clear to you what you seek and offer. That can be as simple as writing it down on a piece of paper: 3 things you seek in your relationship and 3 things you offer to your relationship. Is one contingent upon the other? Yes and no. It isn’t tit for tat at the moment. We all have to put up with our spouse in the bad days and relish the good days. And they provide you the same service. However a living relationship needs the give and take of seek and offer to have a flow between both people that continue to define and refine their mechanism for loving and being loved.
By persisting in what you offer to your wife, offering her safety and your sentiment for her happiness, it will help define what you seek. Meaning you know what you want as a man and as a husband that is valid unto itself while at the same time strengthening the marriage. This requires understanding what satisfies you as a man and making yourself responsible for it. This involves learning what fulfills your spouse and supporting her in that endeavour. You seek being loved and someone to love.
Obviously not at all costs. With dignity for the person and their stage in life.