July 2007 – September 2007
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have come to the beginning of the ACLU series, which, to many of you, seems like the end and are probably very happy. It’s been quite a long time, and you can have my apologies if you find them. They’ve been misplaced for some time now. For the new year, I promised myself to stop making promises. As for The Opiate, if you come around here looking for me, I’ll be around, sporadically. I can promise that I’ll be back before Newt Gingrich says something that’s not entirely fucking stupid or racist. I hope you all enjoy the fifteen minutes you’re about to waste…
There’s a lot you can do with a rubber mallet. I don’t keep one in the trunk of my car; however, because I think it would throw off the balance of crow bars and bricks. I’ve used them quite sparingly, actually, it being a tool that I could never justify buying. It’s not easy to drive nails with a rubber mallet, or smash through cement. There’s no claw to drive through the roof of a building if you find yourself falling, and hitting someone in the head, at the worst, would probably only result in a minor headache. When I left City Grocery, and the girl I was dating, there was a short list of things I wanted to do with a sledge hammer, nothing I could accomplish with a rubber mallet. Fortunately, my acceptance to grad school and the glow of new opportunities vanquished my needs for violence or lashing out.
I’d returned to Oxford, Mississippi, from an awakening ten days in Plainfield, Vermont. My perspectives changed, much like the Goddard administrators and faculty had promised during orientation. Suddenly, pouring drinks and taking shit from bosses, customers and girlfriends lost whatever luster they’d had before I went to Goddard. It’s hard to tell now, except that my attraction to them faded like whispers in a pipe.
In high school, my wrestling coach told us, “When opportunity knocks, kick the door down.” I added fucking to the quote, probably to no surprise to any of you. But that’s essentially what happened. I’d changed, and the first job I’d taken to begin this ACLU journey was, in fact, this one.
My uncle promised me work with his flooring business, a position that I’d held a few times before when I was down on my luck or hiding out somewhere and needed the cash. I’d called him a few weeks before and he offered me a job. I took it without reservations.
I packed the things I needed, leaving six years of gathering and furnishings with my roommate and fled the sticky heat of Mississippi to Presque Isle, Maine—a small town in The County, the land of Moose, wilderness, broccoli fields and, well, that’s about it. I got an apartment over a Pedophile Pawn Shop Owner for $350 bucks a month. The apartment was enormous, and with only a few stacks of books, my laptop, and a handful of pistols, it took some time to get used to the echoing.
Before I started working, my uncle invited me to the Northern Maine Fair which I expected to be just like any other not-shit-to-do-but-fight-and-fuck event with some horse pulls and fireworks, but I’d given my imagination too much credit. There was nothing after I’d arrived. I’d missed the two minute, two car demolition derby, and there wasn’t much else but a few cars, tractors and pregnant sixteen-year-olds chain-smoking and tapping their ashes on the baby they pushed around in a stroller. I realized why they called it The County. The other fifteen didn’t suck as much.
Work began, and I did my duties as a gofer. I carried tools, helped move carpet, but mostly watched my uncle in his work. I read quite a bit, so for the most part, the job was one of the easiest I’d ever had. I spent a lot of time with my uncle when I was a kid. I always enjoyed spending time with him. As an adult, I got a better perspective in his stories that omitted the censorship he’d used before. You know, to protect my innocence.
We took a job one afternoon doing a “drop” in a nearby town that I have since forgotten the name. A “drop” is laying one single piece of carpet without having to create seams. We got to the place, a small home that had been lived in by the occupant for the majority of their life, and the change in their flooring was probably the most they’d seen in decades except for people dying of old age or boredom. It was this job, while I had taken a break from reading Factotum to listen to one of my uncle’s stories, that I got the idea that would eventually become this series.
Like most smokers, every once in a while a misplaced pack of cigarettes prompts panic and discouragement. In New York, cancer sticks will run you close to ten dollars a pack unless you visit a reservation where you can buy cartons for around forty bucks. This inconvenience is even shittier if you misplace your pack of smokes at a job. Sometimes, though, that misplaced pack of smokes isn’t worth as much, especially if you dropped the pack under the carpet and didn’t realize until the carpet was installed. Even the simplest jobs take time, and at the end of the day, the last thing anyone wants to do is their job over again.
After completing the drop, Mark (as I will call him to protect his identity) reached into the cargo pocket of his khaki shorts for his pack of Marlboro’s. He gripped nothing but air. He tasted metal, craving that delicious smoke to celebrate the completion of his job. Disgruntled, Mark was about to check his van when he noticed a bump in the beige, Berber carpet he’d just installed.
“Shit,” he muttered, wondering how his pack of smokes had burrowed beneath the carpet.
He’d only smoked two out of that pack. His craving became a little more demanding. Mark picked up the frays of carpet, slivers of padding and his tools, eyeing the small bulge with resentment. He snapped a trash bag through the air until it had caught enough air to unfold. Mark was hurrying. The owner was at the house and he wanted to get out of there before she noticed. He tied the bag and was about to drop it next to his toolbox when the owner crept to the doorway of the room. Mark quickly swung the bag to his left and allowed it to fall over the bulge in the carpet.
“Oh, wow.” She said. “It looks so much better.”
“Yep. Easy-peasy. I just have a few things to check and I’ll be out of your way.”
“Okay. Just holler. I’ll be in the kitchen.”
The woman took a final glance around the room and winked at Mark with admiration for his work.
Mark huffed and wondered what to do. He didn’t want to pull the carpet up, not for a pack of cigarettes. He shook his head and bent over to retrieve his rubber mallet from his toolbox. He kicked the bag of scrap carpet materials away and knelt over the lump in his pristine work. For a moment, he listened for the customer and hoped she wouldn’t come back down the hallway. Mark gripped the handle of the mallet and brought it down in slow, soft taps until the lump was gone. He put his cheek to the carpet to make sure there wasn’t the slightest hint of unevenness.
Proud of his fix, Mark quickly grabbed his tools and the trash bag and made his way to his van outside. He tossed the bag into the back of the van and set his toolbox close to the side. Mark fumbled with his keys until he found the one he needed and started his van. He gripped the wheel and reached for the shifter when he noticed an empty pack of Marlboros on the dashboard. Annoyed, he swatted them away. The pack thumped against windshield. He’d held countless packs of cigarettes over the years and empty boxes didn’t thump. It was more of a pop than a thump. He snatched the pack up and before he’d opened it, knew by the weight of it that it was full. When he opened the pack, only two were missing.
He shut the driver’s side door and looked toward the woman exiting her house.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she approached.
Mark shook his head and thought for sure he’d be pulling up the carpet within a few minutes wondering what the hell he’d dropped—an empty pack he’d left in his pocket, maybe.
“My son’s hamster got out of its cage again. You didn’t happen to see it did you?”
Mark looked down at his smokes and shook his head.