Jake kicked the living room door shut with the heel of his scuffed sneaker and threw his jacket into his father's old recliner. His mother, hearing the sound of the old oak door being so harshly treated, stuck her head around the corner of the living room wall and looked intently at her youngest son.
Surprised that her usually mild-mannered child was mistreating the door, she looked at him for a couple of long minutes, "What on earth ails you now?" she asked. Jake threw himself down on the sagging sofa and covered his eyes with his arm. "I've been all over hell and back and there ain't a job to be had in this whole rotten town" he complained, rubbing his sweatshirt sleeve across his brow like a petulant five year-old.
His mother raised her eyebrows and said. "Jake, you know what your father told you. He can get you in at the mill if you ain't too proud." She stood there by the kitchen door with her dish towel wrung around her hands and looked at her youngest child, waiting for his response.
Jake slid his arm off his deep blue eyes and looked at her. "Ma, I told you once and I‘m telling you again. I ain't going to work at Pinkham's mill! That place is a shithole and I didn't graduate from high school jist to go work there."
His mother eyed him silently for a couple of minutes longer and swallowed several retorts that rose in the back of her throat, then she disappeared back into the kitchen. "That kid will be the death of me yet," she thought to herself. "He nearly killed me being born and he hasn't let up in the eighteen years he's been here either."
She dropped some hamburger into the frying onions and stirred it all together. It was nearly five o'clock and her husband would be coming home for supper in about twenty minutes. She hummed softly to herself as she slowly added macaroni to the swiftly boiling water and stirred it until it disappeared.
Her husband, Tom, loved American chop suey and that was what he was going to get. He could eat that three times a week, along with her hot, homemade biscuits. Thinking of those, she hurried to the oven and opened the door a crack to have a look. They were jist beginning to brown and she sighed with satisfaction at the sight of them as she softly closed the oven door.
She had jist finished setting the table when she heard the sound of her husband's old rattletrap pull into the driveway. She looked at the clock over the kitchen sink and smiled to herself, right on time. You always could set your watch by Tom. If he said he'd be home at five o:clock, five o:clock it was. She quickly dumped the hot biscuits onto a plate and covered them with a towel. Then she drained the pot and stirred the macaroni into the simmering ground beef mixture. Everything was ready.
The old screen door gave a protesting screech as Tom pulled it open and stepped inside. He smiled at his wife as she came into the living room and then he looked from his son still slumped dejectedly on the sofa to his wife and she raised her eyebrows slightly to let him know that Jake wasn't too happy with his ongoing job search.
Tom instantly understood his wife's unspoken message. Tha kid still hadn't found a job. Two months out of school and there were no jobs to be had in the whole God-damned Aroostook County or in tha whole friggin State of Maine either! Tom walked over to the sofa and gave his youngest son's sneaker clad foot a slight nudge. Jake jumped and opened his eyes. His father reached down and rumpled his hair, "so, how's it going, Jakey old boy?' His father asked affectionately. Jake pulled his head free of his father's work-worn hand and shrugged. His father knew without asking what the problem was, still no job.
"Well son, come on, it can't be that bad. You've got a roof over your head, food in your belly and a vehicle ta run around in. When I was your age, I was married and your brother was on the way. Ain't that right mother?" He asked as he turned and looked at his wife.
Jake, tired of hearing this family history related for the thousandth time, struggled up off the sofa and headed for the table in tha kitchen. He didn't want to hear another lecture about how hard it had been when his parents were young and jist getting started. Here he was, eighteen years-old and he was still struggling.
He pulled a chair out and slid into it in one fluid motion. Grabbing a couple of hot biscuits, he pulled them apart and slathered them with margarine. He scooped a huge spoonful of chop suey onto his plate and dug in. His mother seeing all this, slapped him lightly on the back with a dish towel and said, "You could at least go and wash your hands." Jake jist shrugged and continued shoveling the food into his mouth.
Tom and his wife talked about the day's events all during supper and Jake jist let the conversation go over his head. Then, something his father said caught his attention. "And I heard that Perley Voisine had to let that young feller go that he jist hired to run his trash truck pickups."
Jake stopped shoveling in the food, waited a moment for this information to sink in and then he looked at his father. "Did you say that old Perley fired that Snow kid already? I though he jist hired him last month."
His father nodded without taking his eyes off his plate. "That's the scuttlebutt around the mill today, son. Old Perley told folks that the kid jist couldn't do anything right. It must have been all that wacky tabaccy that he's been smoking for so long because tha damn kid nearly ruined the gears in the garbage truck and he's only been driving it a month. Customers told Perley that the kid would come tearing up the Garfield Road like a bat outta hell, slam on the brakes and the old truck would lurch to a stop with gears grinding and brakes squealing. Perley said he had to replace all the bearings in the front end jist last week and the week before that, he had to replace all the front brake linings." His father stopped talking long enough to bite into a fluffy white biscuit and a small stream of melted butter ran down the side of his chin.
Jake couldn't believe his ears! There was a job to be had in this godforsaken town after all! He wiped his mouth across the back of his sleeve and said, "Dad, do yah think old Perley had found a replacement for tha Snow kid yet?"
Hearing Jake's question, his father stopped chewing and looked at his youngest son. "Don't tell me that you'd be interested in driving that old garbage truck?" Jake flushed at the sound of disapproval in his father's voice and dropped his blue eyes to the table. "Wouldn't you rather take a job out ta the mill with me? I told you that I can pull some strings and get yah on at the planer mill. You might have to work the second shift for a while though. After all, they owe me something; I've been working there thirty-two years come spring."
"Dad, do yah think yah could call old Perley tonight and ask him if he's found anybody yet?' Jake asked his father. Tom looked at the boy and something in the way Jake ducked his head, made Tom's heart clunk a little. No matter which way you cut it, he had to admit that he did have a soft spot for that kid. He couldn't exactly tell anyone why, he jist did.
"Jake, are yah sure that you've thought this through enough? Driving a garbage truck ain't as easy as it seems. You never know what you'll run into when you have to go and pick up other people's trash. I still think you'd be better off out ta tha mill with me."
Hearing this familiar beginning, Jake, knowin that another round of his father tryin to reason with him about workin at tha mill was comin his way, shoved his chair back and headed for the door. "Wait a minute Jake," his father called after him. But Jake was already out the door. He crossed the yard in a couple of quick steps, wrenched open the door of his battered old Ford F150 and threw himself inside. If his father was going to continually harp on him about working at tha mill, he'd go and see old Perley himself. He'd get that friggin job or he'd want to know the reason why.
Jake drove down the Portage Road, across the Aroostook River bridge and up over Station Hill into Ashland then he turned right onto Main Street and headed through town until he reached the Masardis Road. He drove another mile or so and then he turned into Perley's driveway. He pulled up behind the old trash truck and parked. When he jumped down, he could hear the sound of metal hitting metal coming from the direction of the garage that was located off to the right side of the house. Jake walked in the direction of the hammering and saw old Perley working at his bench in the rear of the gloomy, grease filled garage.
Jake had to shout to finally make old Perley aware that he was standing there beside him. Surprised, Perley dropped his wrench onto his greasy, cluttered work bench and turned to look at the boy. Perley instantly knew whose kid he was and he was taken aback by how much tha kid resembled his father.
Perley shifted his dead cigarette to the other side of his mouth and stuck his grease-covered hand out to greet the kid. "What kin I do for yah?" He asked. Jake, normally shy, gathered his courage and said. "My dad came home from work tonight and said that you'd fired the Snow kid. What I want to know is, have you hired anyone else for tha job?"
Old Perley stepped back from the bench, slid his grease-covered hand into his coveralls pocket and fumbled for his lighter and cigarettes. Stallin for time, he thumped the cigarette package against his other grease-stained hand until a crumpled cigarette slid from the pack. He stuck it in his mouth and flicked the lighter a couple of time until it lit then he drug the lung-killing smoke deep inside, kept it there until his face turned a slightly darker red and then he exhaled loudly.
He studied the kid through the haze of exhaled smoke, picked his nose with a grease filled thumbnail for a couple of seconds, buying for time, then he said. "I don't rightly know what I'm goin to do at tha moment. That Christly kid has fucked up this truck so bad that it's going to take me a month of Sundays to git it back in operatin condition. Why do you want to know anyway?" The old man slid his watery brown eyes onto tha kid and waited for an answer.
Jake felt his heart give a mild jump at hearing the old man's question. "Well," he said. "My old man is tryin to git me to go to work with him out ta Pinkhams Mill and I jist ain't interested. My dad's been workin there over thirty years and he ain't got shit to show for it. I want to do something where I can be my own boss."
Old Perley drug on the lung-killing smoke again, coughed deeply a couple of times and then he flicked the quarter inch stub onto the grease covered floor. "Well, number one, if you worked for me, you wouldn't be your own boss, you'd be working for me! I'm tha boss! Is that clear?" Tha kid nodded his head and kept his clear blue eyes fixed on Perley. "En number two," the old man said. "Tha next little bastid that drives my truck, better treat her like his own or he'll have ta answer to me." Again Jake nodded his head.
The old man picked up his rust-covered wrench, hefted it a couple of times and then he turned back to his bench. "Do yah think that you'd be able to start on Monday?" Jake couldn't believe his ears! He had a job! He finally had a job! It was all he could do to mumble the word, yes. The old man didn't even turn around, "Good enough!" he said. "Be here at six on Monday and I'll go over all the rules with yah en show yah how to drive tha monster." Jake tried to thank him but the old man simply waved him off. "Jist do the job right and that'll be thanks enough for me. Oh, by the way, you'll be earnin ah dollar and a quarter an hour ta start."
It was a totally different Jake who drove back down the Masardis Road, through town and down the Portage Road towards home. He had so many differing emotions running through his body that he couldn't think straight. Even his tires seemed to be singing the same refrain as he punched the accelerator with his foot and the old truck picked up speed. "I've got a job!" "I've got a job!" "I've got a job!" That's the song his tires, his head and his heart sang all the way home.
He jumped out of the truck even before the sound of the engine had died in the still night air and hurried across the grass to the front door. The house was dark except for the light coming from the old black and white Sylvania television that was located on top of an old chest in the living room. He opened the screen door and the sound of the protesting hinges woke his father who'd been asleep on the sofa.
His father drug a weary hand across his face and looked at his son and then at his watch. "You weren't gone too long. No action in town tonight I take it." Jake dropped into the recliner next to the sofa and looked at his father. "Don't know. I've been too busy ta find out." Hearing this cryptic answer, Tom slid his legs off the sofa and pulled himself into a sitting position. "What do yah mean, too busy. Did yah have trouble with that old truck agin?" Jake shook his head no and looked at his father. Jake, normally shy, didn't know how to tell his father about finally finding a job. Tom, sensing that something important had happened, waited for Jake to tell him.
"Dad," Jake began, "I went out to see old Perley Voisine and we had a talk." Tom looked in surprise at his youngest son and waited for him to continue. "I start work for him at six o'clock Monday mornin." With that final announcement, Jake slid down into the recliner cushions and exhaled a long breath as though with the advent of a job, all his life's worries had finally disappeared.
Tom looked at Jake and laughed a little to himself at the proud and satisfied expression on his son's face. Jake was watching the television program but his mind was a thousand miles away. "So, yah landed tha job! Well, that's a start. Now, do yah want me to wake you when I git up to go to work on Monday?" Jake, hearing the last part of the question, turned and looked at his father. "Do you still get up at four dad?" His father laughed at the question and said, "Jake, you know that I've always gotten up at four even on my days off. What time do yah need to git up?" Jake thought it over for a couple of seconds and replied. "Not too much before five, I would imagine." Tom chuckled to himself at the innocence of his son. "Well, if it was me, I'd be up at four thirty, have a nice breakfast and then off I'd go. It's going to be a long time until lunch if yah start at six." His son glanced at him, shrugged and then turned his eyes back to the television program. As his father slowly made his way up the stairs for bed, he knew that his son was going to have to learn a lot of lessons come Monday en to his way of thinkin, old Perley would be jist tha man to teach him by Jaysus.
On Monday morning, Tom was already out of bed and into the shower long before the alarm on his bedside table went off. He whistled as he made his way down the dark stairway to the kitchen. He flicked on the overhead light and started the coffee. He always got up first every morning and took his wife the first freshly brewed cup of coffee while she was still in bed. It was a custom that they'd had all their married life and it was too ingrained to change now.
When the coffee maker beeped that the coffee was ready, he poured the coffee into a mug and carried it up the stairs for his wife. When he reached Jake's bedroom door, he kicked the bottom of the door gently with his foot, "Rise and shine son, time and trash wait for no man." He called through the door to his son. Listening for a reply and not getting any, he kicked the door again and said in a louder voice, "Okay Jake, you'd better git a move on, you've got to eat and a half hour drive ahead of you and son, welcome to the real world." Tom laughed to himself as he made his way down the hall to the bedroom.
Jake half fell, half crawled out of the bed and he groaned as he looked at the clock on his night stand. It was four thirty-five and the horizon was jist beginning to turn light as tha first rays of a hesitant sun slid into the Eastern Time Zone of northern Aroostook County. Jake scrabbled through his closet, found an old shirt and cut off jeans and pulled them on. He ran a quick hand through his hair and walked to the bathroom. Then he walked slowly down the stairs to where his father waited in the kitchen.
His father had already eaten three eggs, six slices of bacon and a side of beans with biscuits slathered in margarine and honey. He was sipping his second cup of coffee as his son came into the room. Jake poured himself a glass of cold milk and grabbed a couple of his mother's cold doughnuts and sat down at the end of the table.
His father, seeing what he was eating, slid a plate of eggs and bacon in his direction. "Don't yah want ta have some eggs and bacon? That milk and doughnuts won't carry yah too long. That stuff's jist empty calories yah know." Jake shook his head and stuffed the reminder of the doughnut into his mouth. He gulped the rest of the cold milk, swallowed a couple of times and set the empty glass down on the table. Jake glanced at the clock and his chair made a scraping sound as he pushed it away from the table. "Gotta move, gotta go." He half sang to his father as he made his way out the back door. "What about your lunch?" His father asked.
Jake paused with his hand still on the doorknob, "I don't know who said it but like you said dad, time and trash wait for no man." He winked at his father and with a grin on his young face, he went out the door. Tom laughed out loud and thought how nice it was to see his boy so happy. But he couldn't help wonderin what kind of smile would be on his son's face when he got home tonight.
He heard the slam of the pickup's door and he listened anxiously as the motor in the old junk caught, turned over once and died. He felt his pulse quicken as he waited for the engine to start. He resisted the urge to get up and look out the kitchen window and then he heard the engine roar to life. He heard the tires skid on the gravel as Jake floored the accelerator and backed out of the driveway into the tarred road. And then he heard the sound of the pickup as it flew down the Portage Road towards town. He looked at his watch and headed for the door. His day too, had begun.
Jake glanced at his watch as he pulled into Main Street in Ashland as he nearly slowed to a stop and then he turned right and made his way through town. Upon reaching the beginning of the Masardis Road, he floored the old truck and roared up the road towards Perley's garage. The hands of his watch slid onto five fifteen as he came to a halt in the driveway and he jumped out of the truck and tried to walk slowly as he got to the garage door.
Old Perley, hearin the sound of the pickup door slam, turned around and looked at tha kid and then he looked at his watch. Right on time. "Well," he thought to himself. "Not too bad a start, not early but not late either. Maybe there is hope for the world after all."
Perley slid his eyes over the kid's clothes and decided that he'd start there. He walked over to the closet and pulled out a pair of long, blue coveralls and tossed them at Jake. "Yah might want ta wear these for a while. This job can git kind of messy sometimes and yah jist never know what folks will throw in tha friggin trash."
Jake took the cigarette-reeking coveralls and drew them on over his clothes and as he buttoned them up, he noticed that Perely's name was embroidered on the front left of the suit. "Someday, maybe I'll have a pair that has my name embroidered on them," he thought to himself.
Perley swilled down another gulp of cold, black coffee and then he began tellin Jake all tha things he had to know before he could drive the big trash truck. He went over the operating instructions carefully and then he asked Jake if he had any questions.
Jake walked slowly around the monster truck and then he shook his head. His mind was filled with all the dos and don'ts that Perley had jist told him. He really hadn't thought about trash at all very much before. He's always thought that all you had to do was to put the stuff in the friggin trash bag and leave it out by tha road. That was it. Now he knew the difference.
Perley went on and on about how some folks always tried to fool him or cheat him. "Folks know that they can't throw paint or oil in with the regular trash but they still try anyway. One time, these fools, who shall be nameless, tied two paint-filled cans together and threw them in with the regular trash. I was jist about to go on a dump run and my truck was pretty full so I picked up tha bag and threw it into the pile en pushed the button to compress it. The compressor arm came down, swept the bag in with the other trash en crushed it. I heard a loud pop and knew exactly what had happened. Then the paint started runnin out of the loader en dripped onto the tar in front of their house. I waited until the drippin had slowed up a dite before I drove off. I could have cleaned it up a little but I wanted to let the bastids know that they hadn't fooled me at all." Perley, stopped, took a long drag on his Camel and snorted. "Tha bastids know they can't fool me. I've been in this business too friggin long but they still keep tryin." He took a look at tha kid to see how all this information was registering. "I tell yah kid, you jist never know what all these dumb-assed folks will toss into tha trash. I once found an old picture that had been thrown out. I thought it might be valuable or somethin so I picked it up and put it in tha cab. When I gut home that night, I cleaned it up a dite en looked it over real good and I discovered that it was a drawin of old General George Washington, crossin the Delaware. I took it down to Bangor and sold it to an antique dealer. Easiest three hundred dollars I ever made." Old Perley smiled to himself at the memory of the easy money.
Perley eyed the kid again. "Jist so's you know kid. I ain't cheap. If yah find somethin, it belongs to me. If it turns out to be worth anything, I'll split it with you fair en square. Any questions?" Jake shook his head. He really didn't expect to find anything of value. Not in other people's trash anyway.
Perley opened the door and pulled himself up into the seat on the passenger's side. "Okay, kid, let's see if you've got as much of your father in you as I think yah have. In case yah don't know it, your father is one hell of ah worker!"
Suddenly, Jake's heart was in his throat. He was really going to drive that old trash wagon! He pulled himself up into the seat and was surprised to see how the huge truck dwarfed his small pickup that was parked off to the side. He stepped on the brake, punched in the clutch and turned on the key. The engine struggled to catch, whined a little and died. "Pump tha friggin gas!" Old Perley yelled and Jake did as he was told. Finally, tha truck roared to life like a dragon comin out of a cave. Heavy black, diesel smoke permeated the air around them and Jake punched the accelerator a couple of times more jist for good measure.
Perley looked at Jake and smiled. "Remember one thing kid," He said. "This old truck is jist like a woman; yah have ta warm her up a little before she gits hot en then she'll be rarin ta go." Hearing this undisguised sexual reference, Jake flushed a deep red until his skin matched the color of his hair. Seein the way the kid's face glowed at his remark; old Perley punched him in the shoulder and gestured for him to take off. Jake punched the clutch again, shifted into low range and the old truck jerked its way slowly out of the driveway. "Not too bad," Perley commented. "It jist takes a while to get used to all them gears that's all." He leaned back in the seat, thumped out another Camel and stuck it in his mouth. "Yes sir, it sure is nice ta be tha boss en be chauffeured around tha County."
Their trash route took them up the Masardis Road to the Fenderson Road, across to the Goding Road, back out onto the Masardis Road to the Garfield Road and back around to Ashland and out through the Portage Road and back. In between, when tha truck was full, they made two quick trips to the Sheridan Dump.
As the morning sun rose in the eastern sky, Jake gradually lowered the window. Not only was it beginning ta git hot in the cab, but tha greasy smell of Perley and his constant cigarette smoke swirling around his head, was beginning to make him dizzy. Around nine o'clock his stomach began to play "Yankee Doodle" on his back bone. His father had been right, that plate of bacon and eggs sure looked good to him right now.
Finally, jist when he thought he couldn't stand it anymore, Old Perley, motioned for him to pull over at the Quick Stop in Ashland. Jake pulled the truck into the far side of the driveway, jammed on the brakes and turned off the motor. "Come on kid, lets git us a little lunch under our belt." Hearin this, Jake brightened up a dite and he didn't have to be asked twice. He quickly slid down out of the cab, adjusted the crotch of his uniform and hurried after Perley into the diner.
The waitress, who'd know both of them all of her life, looked up as they came through the door and waved them towards a booth. As they slid into the seats, she grabbed a couple of glasses of water and with an exaggerated hip-swinging gait, sauntered over to where they sat. After setting the glasses down on the table, she reached out and cuffed Jake behind the head and his hat flew across the table and landed in Perley's lap.
"Jaysus," Winnie," Perley said, "Give us a break will yah. We jist need somethin to eat, we don't need to be beat up!" Jake retrieved his hat from Perley's outstretched hand and put it down on the seat beside him. "Well, Perley. Don't tell me that you've gone and recruited another garbage collector so soon?" and she turned her brown eyes on Jake and gave him the full once-over.
Perley looked at her and then he winked at Jake, "Yup," He said. "Time and trash wait for no man and I've always gut trash waitin fer me. But now I've gut this young feller en he seems mighty keen to learn tha trash haulin business and if I do say so myself, he seems to be right good at tha job too!" Hearin this unexpected compliment, Jake's face glowed in the dim light of the diner.
Winnie, turned to Jake and said, "I don't doubt that one bit. If he's anything like his father, he should be ownin that business of yours in a year or two!" Jake's face turned a deeper shade of red at hearin all that praise about his father and himself and he busied himself with the menu, he was so dyin hungry that everything he saw listed on the sheet in front of him, made his mouth water.
Jist as she was about to take their order, Winnie stopped, looked them over real good and said, "I don't know about you boys but if I were you, I'd wash up a little before I ate anything. Yah never know that tha hell yah might of picked up in all your travels this morning."
Perley looked at Jake and then he winked, "Yes mummy, we'll do as you say," and as he slid out of the booth, he motioned for Jake to follow him. As they quickly washed the morning's accumulated dirt off their hands, Perley, a lifelong bachelor, said in a soft voice to Jake, "Jist for your information, that little woman carries a mighty big fire. Yah might want ta try her out one of these days." and again he laughed and snorted as Jake's face lit up at the implied sexual implication.
When Perley finally stopped laughing, he wiped his eyes on his sleeve and Jake said, "Jaysus Perley, what do yah take me for, some kind of sex maniac? That woman's old enough ta be my grandmother!" Perley laughed again and said, "That may be true en all but don't yah know kid, some things never git old, they jist git better!" Jake shook his head and headed for the door. He could see the writin on tha wall, this job wasn't goin to have a dull moment, ever.
As they slid into the booth, Winnie appeared with a mug of black coffee for both of them and a large basket of hot rolls. Jake's stomach, upon smellin the food, grumbled real loud and Winnie laughed. "Guess I'll have another good customer here Perley, thanks to you. So, what'll it be boys?"
Perley ordered a bowl of fish chowder, a side of fries and a large beer while Jake ordered a large side of fries, two cheese burgers, a large coffee milkshake, coleslaw and a piece of Winnie's famous blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream. Perley, upon hearing this large order, gaped at Jake and said, "Jaysus kid, where in hell do yah think you're going to put all that friggin food?" Jake pointed towards his grumbling belly and waited impatiently for his order.
It wasn't too long before the food was on the table and it also wasn't too long before the food was gone too. As Jake slid the last piece of Winnie's luscious blueberry pie into his mouth, Perley watched him as he chewed and swallowed then he said, "Jaysus kid, I'd ah laid a bet with anyone that yah couldn't really eat all that stuff in one sittin. But yah proved me wrong." Then he paused and said, "Say, yah ain't going to git sick when yah start drivin and upchuck that stuff all over me, are yah?" "Naw Perley, you kin ask my mother, I ain't never been carsick in my whole life!" "Thank God fer small favors!" Perley replied as he paid the check and left Winnie her tip.
The afternoon was spent pretty much the same way as the morning had been, drive and stop, jump down out of the cab, open the compactor door, heave the trash-filled bags up into the truck and slam the lever into gear until the trash was swept up and compacted and then run around the truck, hike yourself up into the driver's seat, slam the truck into gear, lurch off down the road in a cloud of black smoke until the next stop. On and on it went until they were in a section of the Garfield road that was pretty isolated and Perley motioned for him to pull over. "I don't know about you kid, but my kidneys have been screamin fer the past hour. Don't yah ever have ta take a leak?" Again, Jake's face became suffused with red at the bluntness of the talk and Perley had to cross his legs before he pissed himself. "Jaysus Kid, did yah grow up in a nunnery or somethin? Ain't nobody ever talked to yah like a man in yer whole entire life?" Jake rubbed his face until the embarrassment went away and said, "Guess I've got a lot ta learn, huh Perley?" "En I'd be jist tha man ta teach yah en don't think I won't, by Jaysus! Now let's find a spot and spray tha bushes before we call it a day." Upon hearin the last part of the sentence, Jake opened the door and ran across the dirt road for the bushes. His first day of work was finally over and he was goin home.
It was a different kid that drove up the Portage Road that night. He was dirty, he was filthy and he was way beyond tired but he had a job and even if all the other kids ragged on him about drivin a trash truck until his ears fell off, he was employed! He was one happy camper that's for sure!
He slid to a stop in the driveway of his home, turned off the ignition and leapt down out of the truck. He swaggered up to the door and before opening it; he adjusted his filthy coveralls, smoothed back his red hair and turned the knob.
His mother, hearing the door open and close, stuck her head around the door frame to see who had come in. Seein Jake, all dressed like the trash collector he was, she had to laugh as she watched him come towards her across the floor. As he got closer, she, not only could see how dirty he was but she could also smell him and she waved him towards the bathroom as she covered her nose with her hand. "You've jist got time to take a shower before your father gets here." She yelled at him. "En for God's sakes, don't leave that coverall on the floor or in my dirty clothes hamper either. Take it out and put it in the garage. I don't want that dirty thing in my nice, clean house."
And that's the way it went from that day on. Jake was happy, Perley was happy and Jake's parents were happy that tha kid had finally found a job. Jake's behavior changed overnight. He no longer stayed up watching television till all hours. When his father shuffled off to bed after the seven o'clock news every night, his mother couldn't help but laugh as she watched father and son head up the stairs to bed and the sun hadn't even begun to set.
Four months had passed when things began to change as summer in "Tha County" quickly began to wend its way towards fall. Jake's honeymoon with the trash truck was coming to an end and Jake began uttering frequent and often incoherent mumblings about "people who had no respect for what a trash man has to go through jist ta do his job." He'd mention little things here and there about "folks who jist threw their trash out beside tha road with no regard about who had to pick everything up after every wild animal in tha whole friggin county had torn it all apart and their crap was scattered across the entire road to hell and gone!" Or what it had been like after an hellacious thunder storm with tornado-like winds had blown trash bags and trash barrels all over a half-mile section of the Presque Isle Road.
Or how he'd forgotten to lubricate the compactor the night before and it had nearly driven him insane as metal screeched against metal every time he pushed the lever to scoop up and compact the trash. Or how Perley would drag him into his garage and bend his ear for hours about all the wimmen he'd known and loved and lost. Things were decidedly not on the upswing in Jake's job. Yes, he'd gotten his six month's raise and yes, Perley was happy with his work but Jake wasn't happy, he wasn't happy at all!
Once again, his father tried to interest him in a job at Pinkham's Mill but Jake jist wouldn't listen. "Naw dad, thanks en all that but I'll jist have ta look for somethin by myself." His father, seein the handwritin on tha wall, told his wife that Jake was doing a lot of growin up and it was a terrible painful thing to see and not be able to do anything about it.
Jake held on through the mosquito, black fly and no-see-em seasons and the heat and humidity of the summer right through the rainy fall and potato harvest and when the first frost of the season came on a bright moonlit night in early October, he could see the handwritin on tha wall. Summer and fall in tha trash haulin business was goin to be nothin when compared to what a long, cold winter in "Tha County" had in store for him.
The wind had shifted out of the north during the night and there was a heavy layer of frost covering the windshield and the weather bureau over to Caribou was predicting at least a foot of snow come nightfall. He jumped into the truck and after several tries, it finally roared to life with an outpouring of black, suffocating smoke. He switched the heater to high and flicked the switch to defrost and waited impatiently for windshield to defrost and the cab to warm up. He tuned the radio to the station in Caribou that normally carried the up to the minute weather forecasts and was just in time to hear that "folks in tha County ought to turn their furnaces and chuck more wood in tha stove because a cold front from Canada is dipping down into Maine and the mercury will be heading downwards by nightfall."
That was all he needed to hear. He'd made it through the long, hot Aroostook county summer and fall and now he had the hellacious Maine winter to contend with. Somehow, when he'd first accepted this job, he hadn't given any thought about how it was going to be when the mercury was eight clapboards below zero and slidin lower.
Noticing that it was taking a long time to defrost the windshield and for the cab to warm up, he slid down out of the truck and headed for Perley's garage to ask him why the truck was taking so long to warm up.
Hearin his question, old Perley, shifted his mud-colored eyes to a distant horizon, shifted his cigarette to the other side of his lip, slid a grease covered hand down inside his coverall to fondle himself a little, gazed at him like he was foolish for a long moment and then he said, "Well, ta tell yah the truth, that's one thing that I've been meanin to git to but I jist haven't had tha time." Jake knew what all that bullshit talk really meant, "tha truck ain't broke and I ain't goin ta fix it!" It was going to be a long, cold winter. He'd better invest in some heavy underwear and some real good boots and gloves. He was goin to need them.
The seasons changed overnight and the winter of 1963 was the winter to end them all! If it wasn't snowin, it was blowin and if it wasn't rainin and sleetin, it was gittin ready to and if the snowdrifts got any higher, they'd be reachin the telephone wires and that's a fact. It seemed as though each miserable day was havin a competition tryin to outdo the others.
It got so bad that Jake hated to open his eyes every morning because if he went and looked out his bedroom window all he could see was miles and miles of that Christly white stuff! And the only good thing about all that friggin snow and cold was that it brought out the laziness in people. If they were too lazy to shovel their driveways, then they couldn't carry their trash barrels out to tha road and that meant that he didn't have to make so many stops and jump down out of the cab and freeze his ass off quite so often. "Sometimes," he thought to himself, "it's good to be lazy."
No matter how often he complained to Perley about ha heater not workin, Perley jist turned a deaf ear to it all. If Jake complained that it had been so cold in the cab that he had to keep scrapin the frost off the windshield in order to see tha road ahead, that didn't cut any ice, pardon the pun, with old Perley. If Jake told him that some fools had put their trash out the night before the scheduled pickup and the snowplow had pushed the trash, barrels and all over the top of the snow banks and he couldn't make the pickup, that didn't get a rise out of old Perley either. If Jake said that it was so cold that the compactor refused to work and that half of the trash had fallen out onto the road and the Town of Masardis was goin to send him a bill for tha cleanup, Perley simply drug a little harder on his ever-present cigarette, took a suck on his steaming hot cup of coffee and waited to hear something that Jake or another driver before him hadn't told him yet. Or if Jake told him that it had been so cold that when the compactor lever had gotten stuck and that the cold had been so intense that the nut had cracked right in two when he'd tried to loosen it with a wrench. Old Perley would absentmindedly pick his nose, listen to tha litney of complaints and make a mental note to start lookin for another driver.
Night after night, Jake came home with all the day's built-up aggravations still on the tip of his tongue and his parents grew tired of hearin how poorly Old Perley treated his drivers. He'd stagger through the door on feet that hadn't had any feeling in them since seven o'clock that morning and spend half that night tryin to thaw out his toes and then he's spend hours in pain as the circulation tried to come back into his feet. Or he'd soak his hands in a bowl of ice water trying to coax some feeling back into his fingertips. Or he'd take a long, slightly warm shower afraid to have it too hot because his toes and fingers screamed with pain when the water hit them. He began to have white patches on the tip of his nose and cheeks where the skin had frozen after being exposed to the terrible cold for too long.
Jake nearly made it a year in his trash collectin career and the final straw came one morning around the end of May when the sun had heated up enough to drive the last fingers of snow out of the woods. Jake was headed down the Masardis Road to begin his regular Wednesday morning pickups and it seemed that every house he stopped at had loaded their trash cans with extra stuff or there were numerous bags at every stop. What made it even worse, Perley kept harpin at him that all the customers knew that there was a weight and bag limit. Each customer was limited to two barrels or two bags per pickup and every customer would fill the bags or barrels to the brim and then pile on some more. And every time he drove the monster into the dump to unload, he was told that he had to keep his trash weight down or Perley was going to be charged more.
As the morning wore on and the temperature began rising, Jake's temper began to rise too. Upon arriving at the next pickup, he'd grind to a lurching stop, throw the trash into the back, chase whatever windblown pieces that had scattered across the road, pick them up and throw them into the back, compact it all and then run around to the front, jump into the driver's seat, wrench the truck into motion and tear off down the road in a cloud of blue-black smoke to the next stop. It seemed that at every stop, the customer had tried to put one over on him.
He'd pry the top off the trash barrel and a whole load of shitty, disposable baby diapers would fall off onto his feet or a huge bag of animal crap would be staring him in the face. It got so that he would automatically gulp in a huge mouthful of fresh air before he moved on to open up and empty the next trash container.
The final straw came when he'd reached the end of the Garfield Road and the last house on his list. As he made his way past the end of the truck, the stench of something rotting in the trash crawled over to where he was standin. "Must be something dead in that friggin heap," he thought to himself as he slowly drew on a pair of raggedy work gloves. He reached out and held the barrel in one hand as he pulled the top off and he started to gag as he recognized what was in the barrel.
On the top of the pile were five newborn puppies, all in a state of decay. Jake could see that they had been there for a while and his belly rebelled at the smell and his mind was inflamed by the inhumanity of it all. Blind with rage, he left the barrel where he'd found it and marched up the driveway to the house and pounded on the door. When nobody came to open the door, he finally kicked it a couple of times before he marched back to the truck.
Enraged that someone would let some puppies die and dump them in the trash, he pushed the barrel aside and then he kicked the other trash-filled barrel and its contents clear across the road. He picked up a trash-filled bag and flung it onto the owner's lawn and watched happily as the bag split open and the trash spilled everywhere. It might not bring the puppies back but tha bastids would certainly have a mess to clean up when they got home!
Even though the monster was still half empty, Jake gunned the huge truck and he never picked up anymore trash as he made his way back up the Masardis Road to Perley's garage. Surprised at hearin the truck coming up the road, Perley came out to meet him when he pulled it up in Perley's driveway that afternoon. He took one look at Jake's face as he slid down out of the cab and he jist knew that he'd be hirin a new driver real soon.
Jake handed Perley the keys, unbuttoned his coveralls and stepped out of them and handed them to Perley too. "It's been nice and all Perley but tha trash business jist ain't made for me." Perley couldn't help but smile as he watched tha kid climb into his old pickup and drive away. "No," he thought to himself, "Tha trash business ain't fer everybody, but some of us ain't gut no other choice, that's all." And he knew that it wouldn't be too long before the kid would be racin up tha Portage Road, headed fer Pinkham's Mill to work alongside his father.
Martha Stevens-David Column Magic City
The Most Recently Republished Articles include:
The Manure Spreader
Aroostook River Fishin
Vengeance is Mine Pt. 1
Aroostook County Memories
Childrens Stories include:
See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
All works by Martha Stevens-David published at Magic City Morning Star News are her copyright property and may not be reproduced without her permission.