Ron arrived just three and one-half hours after I’d made the phone call, when they said he’d only be an hour, maybe two. Through the falling snow flakes, he looked like a round, purple, oblong-shaped Eskimo, because he wore a one-piece jumpsuit that was entirely purple, bright purple, like an Easter egg, hood drawn up over his perfectly spherical head. He was only outside for about three or four minutes and already there were clumps of snow embedded in his stringy beard. While he worked the socket wrench over the lug nuts, he whistled and hummed a song that sounded like something a sailor might sing. Ron didn’t seem bothered by the snow, or the slush, or the cold at all. He swung a massive sledge hammer against the tire, trying to break the wheel free from the wheel studs. He kicked the top of the tire with his big boot and then swung the hammer down at the bottom of the tire. He sang and he breathed heavily, alternating between kicking and swinging. People in the parking lot walked passed pushing their shopping carts, some stopping to look for a moment, to gaze in awe at the singing, purple Eskimo swinging a sledge hammer that was longer than he was tall.
“You don’t talk much,” he said.
“Honestly I’m not very talkative, but I’m not sure what I would talk about in this kind of situation, no offence to you, of course.”
“No offence taken. It’s just, I dunno, I’m generally around people who like to talk.”
“What sort of stuff do people usually talk about when you’re out here?”
“My hammer,” he held out his giant sledge hammer. “People go nuts over this thing. They say they’ve never seen one like this before. And I tell them, well that’s because it’s a very special, particular hammer used specifically for this type of work.”
“Just looks like any old sledge hammer to me,” I said.
“Take a closer look at the head. See that flat peace of metal? That’s actually tri-fabricated, temper-ionized Kevlar. It’s the strongest material on the face of the whole fucking earth. This shit will stop a rhino at full charge. They used to use this out east in the war, battle armor. But it got too expensive to order in bulk. But, ordered once, for instance for this hammer… and you have an only slightly-more expensive, but much more effective sledge hammer that I’m willing to bet my year’s salary no one else has.”
“Oh,” I tried to sound interested. Part of me was, most of me wasn’t. I didn’t know what Kevlar had to do with changing a tire.
“This yours?” He held up a small, two-feet in length bungee cord with a rusty, curved hook on one end.
“No, that was what was in the tire,” I told him.
“Where’s the other hook?” He asked.
“I don’t know. It only had one hook when I pulled over to see what was making all the noise,” I said.
“Well,” he said, “wherever it is, I’m surprised this was the thing that got ya. These tires are in shit condition, but they’re still thick. And this hook son of a bitch went right through the entire raised part of the tread and dug deep into the tire. Crazy. They tell ya stuff like this happens but it’s rare. I never thought I’d ever see anything like it.”
“I guess to you this is like running into bigfoot in the wild, huh.”
“No,” he said blankly. I’m not sure if he realized I was just being funny. I thought I was being funny.
I signed the papers and gave him the company info, because the company I worked for had an account with them, and he just needed a confirmation number.
“Be careful out on the road, and I don’t just mean about those bungee cords. Snow is making the road real wet and there’s a lotta hostile drivers out there driving like maniacs.”
“Thanks, man,” I said, climbing back into the front of the truck. I turned the heat up until the blower fan whistled. I looked at the time. Just after two in the afternoon. I heard Ron’s service vehicle drive off and I called the boss to let him know the tire was changed successfully. The boss said okay, good, now get back to work.
“We lost nearly five hours waiting for that tire to get changed,” he said, “that’s almost half a day’s work.”
I told him yea, I’m just as upset about it too, and drove back onto the highway.
It’s not often I cross paths with someone in management who is shorter than me. Most times they’re taller, or much taller. They usually played football in college. Or had their fraternity letters tattooed on their foreheads. Their faces were clean shaven, and sometimes worked out an arrangement that allowed them to work from home on Friday’s. I would keep it civil by asking them questions like “how’s it goin’” or “how’re the numbers?” because moreoften than not, I worked an odd schedule preventing me from ever seeing them in the flesh, so when we finally did happen to run into each other, the event felt more like an awkward reunion with someone you’d rather not carry a conversation to its fruition with.
I was at a remodel site for a location in one of the more massive burger joint chains we serviced and did other work for. The instructions were to place the oil tanks we had installed last week onto a set of tank stands that would raise them higher off the ground by about a foot. There happened to be a miscommunication, however, as the location of said tanks had apparently changed without my knowing.
Enter Roland (I don’t remember his last name), one of the managers, district or regional- whichever was bigger and more impressive, for the burger joint chain. He wore his hair like a gangster, like Ray Spigotta in that gangster movie from the 80’s… Swell Fellas… Good Guys… I dunno. But he looked just like him. The thing that defeated his stance, however, was quite literally his stance. Ray… I’m sorry, Roland, was about three inches shorter than me. Which was great for me because that made it a pure joy to say “no” to him, or to school him on the technical requirements of OSHA, or to illustrate to him with my words that if I positioned the tanks the way he wanted, our techs wouldn’t have any access to the tops of them, should we be required to come in for a service call.
“We got this guy Rico, real big son of a bitch,” I said, “huge, even. Kind of useless, actually. Not sure why they hired him. You can bet your ass that if he’s the one that gets the service call for this joint, he’d quit before climbing a ladder to the top just to climb on top of these tanks. You’re outta your mind.”
Before Roland could keep goin’ with his demands, this other, much older guy walked in like he owned the place.
“I’m Larry Mole,” he said, holding out his hand for me to shake, “I own the place.”
“I’m Dave Matthes,” I said. We shook hands. He had a good grip. Better than Roland’s.
“So, what’s the problem here? What’s the story with these tanks?”
“Well Larry I’ll tell ya,” I started, “I’ll install em however ya want, but I’ve just gotta go over this with ya because if I do it Roland’s way, there’s a possibility OSHA could get involved if they swing by for one their surprise inspections. See if we move the tanks horizontally, we’d have to move the grease funnel to the other side of the tanks. And if you look closely, you’ll see that the oil line would now cross over one of your drains. Now, again, I’ll put the tanks here. But god forbid there’s a leak-”
“Why would there be a leak?” Roland asked.
“Nothing is built to last, kid,” Larry told him, answering for me.
“Larry’s right,” I said, “a little bit of waste oil leaking down a drain isn’t bad. But if it’s a lot, you all could be fucked.”
They decided to go with my way. Larry Mole shook my hand, thanking me for my insight. Roland said thanks but didn’t sound sincere. In fact he looked like he hated me.
People have come to this town from all walks of life. And unlike the steam-rolled fakes walking the streets of the big cities back south, Philadelphia, DC, and New York City up north, everyone here is different. It seems they have each been created uniquely, whereas people from elsewhere look so alike and behave so alike they could have been shat out of the cunt of the same goddamn woman. Everyone in Bangor, Pennsylvania is their own person wearing their own colors and walking a stride with their own special twist attached.
Take Mary, for instance, the manager at “Flacco’s Shakes, Burgers, and Wings (BEST CRAZY FRIES IN NORTHHAMPTON COUNTY)”, only had one hand. That’s right, she was missing her left hand. She had a whole left arm, and it looked exactly like her right arm, except it ended at the wrist and rolled into two folds of skin. Damn thing looked like a sock puppet. While all the other employees screamed and shouted their orders and discontentments with life, Mary still knew how to smile. And even when I gave her the bad news that myself and another tech would have to come back with all new equipment, new oil lines, and a new oil tank, she still found a way to feel good about it.
Outside Flacco’s the roads broke away into an offbeat array of directions and one-lane roads cutting through the small, old town. Each building was colored a darker shade of some worn-out texture rather than an actual color; bricks were missing from the corners of many of them, giving the buildings an appearance that warned of impending collapse. All the window glass was faded, some cracked, some missing entirely and covered over with dull blue and beige tarps, their corners flapping in the breeze.
Each road was lined with one to two feet of snow, not plowed but rather pushed to the side by anyone or anything that had to get through, and the people left behind after the winter storm who couldn’t dig their cars or trucks out were forced to walk everywhere if they wanted something or had to be somewhere.
I stood outside for a moment before climbing back into my truck. I thought maybe I should come back here. Something about the place felt comforting. Comfort food, like comfort food is to the stomach and the soul and activities like breathing and thinking and absorption. This broken town, where winter apparently comes to stay, was a nice little surprise find.
The rest of the day was shitty, though. As I was summoned by the boss to go help out the new guy who couldn’t figure out why the customer’s fryers weren’t adding fresh oil from the tanks. When I got there, though, I spent an hour and a half confused myself. The oil in the tank looked like whipped cream, and all I could do was shrug and tell the kitchen manager the unfortunate truth.
“I just came from a place where I had to tell them the same thing,” I said to the new guy.
“That all this equipment has to be replaced.”
“Happen a lot?”
“No, just a shitty day I guess.”
“Get a lot of those?”
“In the grand scheme of things? Sure. But it’s a pretty grand scheme so there’s the offshoot of good days too.”
“What are those like?”
“For me? Long drives and few service calls. Cold days and no one else on the road.”
“I hate driving.”
“You picked the wrong job, pal.”
“Yea, maybe. I dunno. I think my wife might hate me.”
“What in the hell does that have to do with what we were just talking about?”
“Well she doesn’t see me much now that I work. She says it makes her feel useless. I can’t complain. The more I’m away from her the more useful I feel, if that sounds strange. I might not like this job too much but it keeps me away from her.”
“Sounds like you got it all figured out,” I said.
“Yea, sometimes I think maybe I do.”