I went out and latched the door behind me. The scene had changed and the great brick and asphalt sprawl of Burgess Point had gone dark on me, sharp-diamond edged cutouts against the horizon, the sky a madman’s yellow, a day ending too soon. Street lights stuttering awake, lights appearing in the windows. Business was picking up in Bruno’s and I could hear the sound of voices and laughter through the half-open rear door.
Walk in there and you’re bound to sink some more, my old friend. You’ll have one and then another and soon you’ll be as dumb as a post. Eventually people will pick you up and put you in a corner somewhere and toss a rug over you. Walk and get this crap out of your system, work it out, whatever that sinister drug is. It was the dreadful laxness that his ex Molly had when they put her on the gurney. You’ll move no more, never get irritated with me again. Say a good confession. Father Reilley, I seem to have screwed up once again. I’m going to have her with me for awhile; From time to time I’m going to twist that knife in myself until I yell and my wife will turn to me, three weeks three months three years from now and she will say what’s wrong Pete? and I’ll say nothing.
So I walk, walk for peace, walk for universal synchronicity. Father Reilley isn’t around to take my confession, to offer me some phony absolution, to say that all is forgiven. I’m guilty as sin of something. So I walk, take one step and the next , walk through the bombed out area of South Commercial, pass the ghost of the old Magellan warehouse where my grandfather once had his trucking firm. Open foundations, parking lots, a new Pride gas station with bluish bullet-proof glass and computerized pumps. Convenience. Beet sugar and unleaded coming in by pipeline through contested areas, metastasized onsite into cola syrup and unleaded. Not my America.
Its their America. Fortified strong points, ATMs, food warehouses, everything run from a deep command bunker under the plains of Delaware, staffed by brutally polite mercenaries. “Have a nice day.” say all the robots in unison.
A few lights still glimmer here and there in the vast comforting sprawl of our building, people working late. Our old fortress,sanctuary to all who can’t afford real world rents. Pray to God that its great unsprinkled mass will never burn because it will be an unstoppable inferno. Chemicals both old and new, oil-soaked floors, oak aged and seasoned.
I was home. I had the key to the lock on the gate. It still fit. You get in a mood like mine, you’re wide open and ready for any incident to turn into a disaster, ready to be locked out everywhere, ready for hostility and rejection. You hear voices, see faces, start at shadows, dread the hobgoblin. At any moment you’re ready to put aside all the usual work and convene a drum-head court martial for Doyle. Guilty the only possible finding. You want disaster to happen, in the worst way, so you can really get furious with yourself. Get hysterical.
So right now I figure this would be a good time to lose my keys, and its not for nothing that I haven’t been hanging onto them ever since I stepped out of Baron’s truck. I don’t know why I’m so depressed right now, but there it is. Longing for a little frolic in the garbage, this terrific yearning to tear myself up in the wake of Molly’s death and Jason’s suicide attempt. Suicide is going around. When you’re living on the ledge, all you have to do is to push away slightly and let go. All you have to do is forget all the shit about consequences, about what happens to everyone left alive.
As of right now, though, I’m going to try to stay alive. I have four copies of this set of keys, this set, one in the shop, one at home, one in a magnetic box inside my front bumper. Here’s to the physical universe. I swung the gate back and locked it open, then walked down the alley to the shop. The phone was ringing inside. Go away and drop dead.
I unlocked the door, and turned the lights on. Things were clean for a change. The other day I went on a long overdue throwing away rampage and cleaned the desk, swept up and washed all the coffee cups, and vacuumed the floor and the lint-infested couches. The waiting room looked good. After awhile whoever was trying to reach me gave up and went away.
I flipped the lights on in the shop, got the compressor, heater and blower going, got the coffee dripping, and laid out the tools I needed on my little rollaway. I turned on the radio. Up three floors and down about 300 feet into the studios of WRSI, Betty Marcus, the sweetheart of the six to ten shift was working, reading her Pet Patrol notices she got off the answering machine. There was a lost Boxer on East Street, three free tiger kittens to any good home, 1000 fighting watts of radio power getting the message out to the 1250 loyal subscribers of Album Radio in Burgess Point and Elizabethtown.
I looked at the answering machine. 21 messages. Forgive me Lord, when I feel stronger I’ll return your call. Home was on the speed-dial and I hit the button.
Jessica picked up the phone.
“Boy Pete, are you in trouble with mom. It’s Pete, Mom” she yelled out into the background. “We all thought you were up in bed, she got dinner all ready and I went up to get you and you were gone. Where are you?”
There was a click from the extension.
“At the garage. Working on a truck. Be home in a couple of hours.”
“How come no note?” It was Suzie. “You all right? Goodbye Jessica!”
“Bye Pete, bye Mom” she said, “I’ll clean out the doghouse for you, Pete.”
“The last time I saw you,” my wife said, “You had a glass of water and two Tylenol PMs in your hand. I thought you were up there dead to the world.”
“Yeah, I didn’t take them.”
“You all right?”
“Yeah.” I heaved a huge sigh. “ I should have left a note.”
“You going to be working late?”
“Yeah. I’m going to finish Charlie Masek’s pickup tonight so I can get back to the paying work tomorrow.”
“I’ll send your stepson over with dinner. Do you think it’s a good idea for you to working with so little sleep? “
“I’ll be careful.”
“You better be very careful, Pete.”
“OK” I said. “After I wrap this up, I am going to go to the meeting at Saint Nick’s. I need one. I’ll be home before ten. I love you.”
The big old GMC pickup was up on jack stands. The passenger side was done; I just had to finish the driver’s side. The rust damage here was worse. The cab corners and some of the floor had rotted away, and it didn’t make it through inspection. Charlie had seen the problem coming and had ordered replacement cab corners from J.C. Whitney. All I had to do was to weld them in and dress the seams a little, and Charlie was going to finish the job and paint it flat grey to match the old paint job. ‘Work it in when you can,’ says Charlie. Charlie has done a lot for me over the years. New cords for the grinders and sanders, drill overhauls, ordering me stuff from his catalogues. He takes care of our grinders and sanders, he and his brother have a little shop over on Bridge Street. Its a dark dingy male haven, bad days its a business, good days its a social club. Most days its a little of both. The other day when I was in there his father was playing the violin and they had a full audience in the waiting room.
It’s a fucking struggle to spend more money in his repair shop. It’s nice to work for reasonable amiable people like Charlie, although you can’t pay the rent with work for friends. Got to go after trouble, all the moneyed neurotics with old classics, people with big bucks and perfectionist expectations. The ads in the trade magazines bring them in, but boy do you have to go through long elaborate courtships over the phone before they finally show up with their old BMWs and Mercedes.
I got down on the creeper, pulled down my Halogen work light, and skidded underneath. If rust were a fiery fungus, the old GMC would have been scratching and glowing beet red. Fire in the metal, reduction of nice soft steel to old red ash. Rustaceans. I aimed the brilliant light up inside the pillar. The rust line was about nine inches higher in back, where you couldn’t see it, inexorably chewing its way up. I pushed my depth gauge up and put its point about 1/4” up into the healthy metal. I skidded out and did some measurements on the outside and on the patch panel. I was going to have to use all of it and do a little sandblasting besides.
So I scribed a cut line, double-checked and triple-checked fit questions, bringing my mind out from the things I cannot deal with to the things I have to deal with and get right the first time. When I’m upset like this I may end up measuring stuff a half a dozen times. I struggle with the fundamentals; I pause, and pause once again. No Pete, you shouldn’t pick up the grinder with the cutting wheel until you are suitably armored, yes you should probably rig another light so you can see what you’re doing, Yes, bring over the fire extinguisher before you start. Gradually I got back into things, and soon an enjoyable hour ensues. I cut off the corner of the cab, dressed it up, and hosed the inside metal with the sandblaster. Everything pearly white, ready to undercoat. Then there was lots of sweeping up to do. Sand and bits of rotten metal everywhere.
After she read the eight o’clock news, Betty played “My Turn” I stood for awhile, remembering nights with Molly in the Rusty Nail long ago..
“As all of you probably know,” said Betty, “Molly Crane is dead. A loss to all of us. Tonight on “Perspectives at Eleven” we’re going to play her Dark History LP in its entirety. ”
I primed the inside metal and stood there, waiting for the paint to set. I reached over and shut the radio off. Enough was too much. I got the new metal flanged, drilled and screwed into place, and set up plastic screens around me to buffer the light from the arc in case someone walked in on me. I got dressed in my leather. My privates were safe from the showers of hot metal, and I was toasty warm under my leather jacket and chaps.
I looked at the work area, nodded and the helmet dropped into place. When the welding helmet goes down, you’re in a different world. You’re deep in a prehistoric prehuman world of lava flows and volcanic explosions in the deep cerulean night, clouds of evil-smelling smoke always in the air. Snarf up all those carcinogens on this mean planet brother, clear your head of all this anxiety and garbage and settle into the important stuff. Watch the trailing edge of the boiling puddle of steel, keep the white-hot igniter moving sagely. After some short edge butt welds to hold the new sheet metal in place, I was firing the amps into plug weld holes along the seam. Leaning into the arc, feeding the steel to my little puddles of bubbling magma. White hot rippled flows. Flipping up the visor to see what was what, flipping down to work. Having a wonderful time. I turned the radio back on. Now she had Steely Dan on. Nice clean welds, most of them. Very little grinding needed. I took my favorite bodyhammer and hit the area a few light blows. Great deep bell-like bong of continuity. Two melted into one. May what Doyle put together, no man put asunder.