Picture Postcard World
Working at the rock quarry, moving the pile, no one said this would be easy. I carried a stack of cinder blocks, two at a time, from one end of the site to the other. Building rows of homes in shifting sand, just north of Flagler Beach, I was lucky to have shoes-too-small, and jeans-too-big, courtesy of Thomas the bike mechanic. Jeremy had pitched in a belt—one of those macramé things that were popular for a minute before they died. I sweated a lot for one not carrying any reserves, like a camel, weighing in at a featherweight of 120 on a good day. So, I begged and pleaded for water breaks. Florida sun and the construction foreman born under it didn’t care. But I was smart enough to get the task of reading blueprints for laying rebar in the foundation ditches we dug out by hand all day . . . on my third day.
“Playing, playing in the band; daybreak, daybreak on the land.”
Thomas seemed to handle the work better than me . . . by doing less of it. Foreman was on my ass, not his.
“C’mon, college, two at a time! That pile’s not gonna move itself.”
“But why does the pile have to be moved over here?” I squinted through sweat stinging my eyes.
“Cause that’s where the concrete mixer truck is gonna park and pour tomorrow morning . . . I don’t pay you to think.”
“You don’t pay me to read blueprints, either, at minimum wage,” I muttered to the sand.
“What was that? Speak up, college, if you don’t like it,” he Lorded over me.
“I was just saying to myself, I didn’t realize that, so now it all makes perfect sense,” I gave him a sarcastic wink, unintentionally, as a big drop of sweat was about to roll into my right eye.
Yeah. Really. Welcome to Florida. It’s the picture postcard world versus the dark, savage underbelly of man vs. man, man vs. nature, and nature vs. man.
By three, I had managed to move the pile. Longer tenured workers had been shooting the breeze since 2:30, waiting for Boss Man to send them home. Not me. Thomas helped me out, but he only had to carry one at a time—a much easier task since they weighed about 25 pounds apiece. Two were close to half my weight.
No quit in me. I would keel over face-in-the-sand before I let Boss Man best me. Like a Florida chain gang, sand in my shoes, my eyes, my crotch, my ears, my brain, but the Boss Man is not my problem today.
Just a few miles inland and the temperature climbs, especially middle of the afternoon. My brain screams, “I need water.”
But the water truck already came and went at two.
I can hear Onny laughing. “You jus’ a weak college boy,” carrying a stove on top of her turbaned head up the steep, pitch black, muddy hill.
No, Onny, I’m not a mule, a pack animal, and I can’t keep up.
I’m fantasizing about 3 a.m. sloppy joes at the College Diner, College Avenue, State College, Pa, stoned on hash, spreading around my social security and loan money liberally.
My friends in Pittsburgh and State College both ripped me off. That’s why I’m here. And broke . . . down. Yeah, I could have just gone to class and got the grades, save for March of 71. Dad died. Mom bounced down to the booby hatch. And my girlfriend since junior-year-high-school picked that week to start balling my best friend at old State College, living down the hall from me at the East Towers. No one ever congratulated me for not taking the dive, as others did, from my seventh floor window. Music on drugs saved me. Or drugs on music. No way I was going to let go and go down easy, then or now.
So, bring it on Mr. Boss Man and the beautiful billboard world that couldn’t care less. Give me your worst. Call me a worthless drug fiend. Dirty hippie. Bum. Yeah, I’m all that and a bag of shitty weed. And I don’t care.
“All right, college. Don’t have to prove anything around here. Tomorrow morning, seven sharp. We pour these houses!”
I collapsed right there, knees dropping in sand.
“Hey man, you all right?” Thomas blocked out the sun, putting his hand on my shoulder.
“Yeah. Just. Let. Me…for a minute. I…can’t move.”
“Sure. We’ll eat like kings tonight. No canned sardine sandwiches. Tomorrow’s pay day, partner. Whole weekend off! to fuck off, drive around, and get into trouble.”
“Thanks. Help me up.”
“Sure,” his hand scooped under my arm, pulling me up out of the sand.
“I’m such a burden to you guys.”
“Are you kidding,” Thomas laughed, bumping my shoulder.
Thomas practically carried me to the parking area where Jeremy would be waiting by now. “You know we don’t have enough bread to make it back to Toronto, man. Without you, I’d be out here working this shit alone, and taking all the heat, too, as the only Canadian, “ he laughed.
“Yeah. This way I get to wear the target,” I shrugged, not quite ready to give up feeling sorry for myself.
“You’re just taking one for the team, that’s all,” Thomas gave me the Buddha perspective as he like to call it. “Karma gonna repay you some day soon, little brother. Make it right. Balance the scales back in your favor. Spinning Wheel…”
“Sure don’t feel that way these days with the kinda run I’ve been on,” failing to see how much of it had been caused by me.
As we stood next to the van and Jeremy yelled, “Get in, damn it,”
Thomas said, “You’re just trying to outrun the devil these days. For some strange reason no one understands, he got you up in his sight. But he isn’t gonna get you, man. It’s not that you’re the toughest one. Those are the ones that fall. It’s more like you’re too slinky for him to grab onto,” I had now received Tomas’s sermon of the day, a regular occurrence when he wasn’t drunk or sulking.
“So, you calling me Mr. slinky,” sliding open the van door and jumping in the back.
“Yeah,” Thomas said, hopping up into the shotgun seat and slamming the door. “Hey Jeremy.”
“Meet Mr. Slinky,” Thomas cracked.
“Pleased to meet you,” Jeremy smiled. “Where to?”
“Well, Mr. Slinky and I want cold bottles of Coke from the bait store, the tall ones, showers at the Trailer Park…and then…What’s it gonna be, Mr. Slinky.”
“I-talian,” I announced.
“And then Italian at a real restaurant,” Thomas relayed to Jeremy.
“Where’s that,” Jeremy laughed.
Flagler Beach was not exactly a bustling tourist trap.
“I don’t know,” Thomas was not going to give up that easy. “Maybe down at Daytona.”
“I’m not stepping foot in Daytona, “ Jeremy shouted, holding up his left arm, cast and sling.
“Okay. Fine. But we’re having Italian tonight,” Thomas would not let go. He was like that, too. “You should see the way Erik’s slaving away every day, taking all the heat from the boss so I can come in under the radar. As you well know, it ain’t legal for me to be working here.”
“I know,” Jeremy softened.”Okay. I’ll ask Marge back at the Trailer office. They’re open till four.”
“Maybe we can head up to St Augustine,” Thomas offered.
“Let’s just ask Marge. We owe rent tomorrow and I can’t pay till end of day after you guys cash your checks,” Thomas guided us out onto highway 100 and headed back to Ocean Shore Blvd.
Sleeping like a rock to the sound of the ocean, our bedding laid out on sand grass next to the camper. Stomach’s full. Picture postcard world, goodnight.
(Excerpted from: “Have a Nice Day, Man, tales from the dark side of the 70s.“)