Eddie Earns a Wage
Eddie cruised the truck stop just to the west of town, one of those ultramodern places, all plastic and stainless steel, with acres of parking lots out back for staying overnight, truck wash and diesel pumps, cafe and convenience store, complete with doorman cadging tips. Help Wanted signs were hanging out, so Eddie parked and went inside, offering apologies to the beggar at the door.
He was all dressed up in black, just as he’d described, expecting to be recognized and walk right into a job offer. But he seemed downright invisible. Hungry as he was, he would have eaten road kill, but, fearing what he might do for food, he stayed away from the service counter and approached the cashier directly. Her appearance had the quality of the unassimilated other and he guessed her to be from eastern Europe. He wondered what she was doing there when he was out of work. When he asked to see the Manager, he was even kept waiting a while. It was not what he was accustomed to, so he sat and simmered at an empty table where he heard the cable TV news yammering in white noise.
“…it’s terrorism pure and simple. Regardless of who did it. We need to fight the War on Terror right here at home.”
“Are you suggesting unions are terrorist organizations?”
“I never suggested the unions did it. That was your suggestion.”
“And you didn’t disagree. ‘You said regardless of who did it.’ Like you’re playing both sides of the fence. I think the union might ask you, which side are you on, Sir.”
“Back to you, Fred.”
“Recapping the top story, the bodies of thirteen people, including twelve men and one young woman, were found a short while ago at factory building in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Company officials said they were engaged in retooling the plant. Protests were held outside the gates earlier in the day, and the company said its union work force might have been responsible. Management says it is trying to save as many jobs as possible by -”
“Was someone looking to speak to me?” A heavily accented voice called out.
That would be the manager, Eddie thought. He turned around to size him up before he stood and approached him. The Manager was a gristly old cuss, with a face as craggy as the coast of Norway, and eyes as hard as a stone in your shoe. Eddie stepped forth with his hand held out, only to pull it back untouched. “I’m Ed Conover,” he said, in the voice of that cracker he’d heard at the track, to a counterpoint of wolf tones from his acrimonious gut.
The Manager looked him up and down as if he’d done hard time somewhere and Eddie knew he didn’t fit in asking for work in a truck stop. His lordly looks and presumptive airs were things his outfit couldn’t disguise and plain folks just didn’t take to. For him to be down and out like that was a bit like wearing a ‘kick me’ sign. But he would go down fighting.
“I saw that sign in the window there and figured you could use somebody. I can give you about a week, until you find some permanent help, and I’ll do just about anything as long as it needs doing well.”
“Well, I don’t know,” the Manager said, giving him another once over, apparently waiting for Eddie to make the next move.
What do you mean, you don’t know? Eddie needed the money and there was no way he could gamble for it. He had nothing to gamble with. Word might get around besides, and then he’d be in real trouble. He had gotten out of town before his bookie roughed him up and he wasn’t about to push his luck. He knew he’d have to work for a change but that didn’t mean he’d have no say in the drudgery he’d do. “I was hoping you might need a cook since I can do some fabulous food -”
“It’s washing trucks. You want the job?” the manager interjected. “You don’t quite look the type.”
But Eddie talked right past him, “…Prize winning Chili and Seafood Gumbo, like of which you’ve never tasted. You might’ve even heard of me from some of them truckers passing through. Got me a reputation too, and one hell of a following. I’m telling you, sir, I’d keep this place full up day and night, I would. Known some boys to go out of their way as much as fifty miles or more just for a plate of my chili, so what do you say, we -”
“Got no time to dicker, you want to wash them trucks, or not?”
Eddie let go with a wide, winning grin that pulled a little to the right, and his eyes sparkled as they always did when he turned on the charm. “What the hell, I’ll take it. How bad can it be? But I only work for daily cash, twenty-five bucks an hour, so have we got a deal or not?”
The Manager eyed him even harder. “You know,” he said, “I could use a good cook. Might’ve been willing to try you out, you’d held out for it long enough. But I don’t let no drifters in cause critters like that would rob me blind. No one wants to wash trucks no more, even with times as bad as they are, so you can help yourself to that, long as you’ll take the minimum wage.”
The Manager waited for him to speak. Eddie thought how he needed to eat, but he didn’t like being jerked around, nor had he worked for the minimum wage and he wasn’t about to start. “Thanks just the same,” Eddie said, “but I think I can do better elsewhere.”
“Good decision,” the Manager said. “Cuz the truck wash is automated. It don’t need you anymore.” He walked away with a lift in his step that spoke like an audio book. Thanks for making my day, it said, like he’d just shot down a Rockefeller.
“You suck the bones of your dead,” Eddie yelled, a curse he’d learned in Naples many years before. Though it lost punch in translation, there was no mistaking its meaning. But Eddie’s words had no effect, except to shock the patrons. He was so inconsequential he couldn’t offend a truck stop boss and he didn’t like the feeling. But he was abashed at the customers’ glares, and afraid of what they’d do to him if he overstayed his welcome. Unless he was going to kill the man, all he could do for his pride was leave.
Eddie returned to his Cadillac car and drove the strip from end to end. There were no restaurants needing help, but there was an auto detail shop advertising help wanted, so Eddie thought he’d give it a try. He walked in, shook the man’s hand, and explained his situation.
“Just a few days is all I need. No paperwork, no deductions, ten bucks an hour, cash money, under the table at the end of the day, and I’m happy.”
“You’ll take eight, I could use your help in the morning,” he said, with tips you might make double that.”
“I would gladly come in the morning,” Eddie said. “But is there some place I can work tonight?”
The man looked at him like one accustomed to hard luck stories, and probably had a few of his own. He took nothing away from the dignity of people looking for work. “Not unless one of the restaurants is looking for emergency help.”
“I’ll see you in the morning.”
As Eddie turned away from the desk he heard his stomach grumble again and noticed the windows needed cleaning. “I’ll tell you what, twenty bucks to do those windows would tide me over till morning.”
“If you’ll take five you’ve got a deal.”
“Split the difference, I’ll take it.” Eddie said.
“That’s my highest offer.”
“Guess I’d better quit while I’m ahead.”
From Eddie’s Journal
October 16 – 26
Cash on hand .77
Blow job 25.00
Cards & Craps 350.00
I have a dream about Muffy. She’s calling me from Santa Fe, where she’s living in sin with some New Age dyke she met at Betty Ford. She speaks with her usual turgid tones.
“Oh, Edison,” she lows, “didn’t you get my letter? Things are so awful you’d never believe it. Josie and I are fighting, always over little things, the dishes, the garbage, the Kitty litter. AA’s so political now I can’t deal with it anymore. My gluten allergy support group does nothing but bitch and moan about how they miss their fresh croissants… I’m dying for a drink… and I really miss you, Edison. I want to come home so badly. I’ll make it up to you, darling. I promise you I will.”
“So, pull out the crystals and meditate,” I tell her.
“Crystals?” she intones. “I don’t do those any more…”
I’m in an apartment in Tokyo, high above the city, partaking of the evening meal with a woman of my acquaintance. Sachiko turns the TV on, in time to see Flight 175 slam into the South Tower. I tell Muffy, “Turn on the television, now…”
“…I’m into Chakra plates…” she says.
“A plane just hit the World Trade Center…”
“…they’re way more powerful than crystals…”
“Did you hear what I just said? A plane crashed into the World Trade Center. The other tower was hit too.”
“…they’ve helped me to focus my energy -”
“I need to call my brother, you do remember him, don’t you?”
Sachiko prostrates herself before me, says some words in Japanese, then slips out to the balcony.
“…which tells me I need to come home.”
“Turn it on, you stupid cow…”
“How dare you call me a stupid cow…”
“…and please hang up so I can call my son.”
“…you lousy, self-centered fuck.”