By the time we got on Route 25, it was sunrise. The house we were supposed to paint was a no-name thing near Falmouth, extremely valuable, but the owners had to keep the doors locked constantly. Prowlers, Ted explained over the assaulting Nirvana coming out of the sound system; it made me feel real good about sleeping on the porch.
"Maybe you should..." I began, trying to tell Ted to slow down a little...
He answered with a push of the gas pedal that took us up five miles. I felt my guts draw down low and the hair stand up against my collar and braced for the screech of rubber and the rush of blinking yellow tape along the center of the road that would mean Ted's starting to push his luck; then nothing; and nothing more for half a minute or so, by the time we'd slowed down to sixty miles an hour I was relatively sure that Ted wasn't trying to run us off the road.
I felt my head start to spin and my guts start to tighten up. The music was too loud, my ears were starting to get real sore and in between the songs I could half-hear the normal sounds of the highway, the rush of the pavement and the air outside was so low I had to really concentrate to pick it out from the constant ring in my head... I jammed my thumbs into my gums and counted to twenty. When I was done I felt better.
Then I tried to pick Allie's voice out of all this stuff: "What ... you ...?"
"What am I doing?" I shouted into the phone.
"Oh, well, it's a long story," I said. I was talking at normal volume now. I had given up trying to be heard. Nirvana was turning into AC/DC. A decibel fight with them would be a bit one-sided.
"Well, I don't really know what the hell I'm doing. I'm in a speeding car on Route 25 heading east, that much I know. There's a minor at the wheel who I think might have lost his mind a long long time ago. As you can hear, the volume of this music might be affecting his attention to the road in a not-so-good way. Follow?"
I couldn't hear what Allie said to this. Hell's Bells was coming on. The toll of the bell shook in my ribs.
I wasn't entirely sure of what I was saying, only sure of the weird way my throat vibrated while I talked. "For some reason I'm going to paint a house in the middle of fucking nowhere that belongs to the uncle of a guy I haven't talked to in several years. This man will pay me eighty dollars for two days of work. This guy could also be the Boston Strangler. I don't know what the fuck I'm doing or what the fuck I'm doing here. How bout you?"
Allie had hung up.
"Fuck you," I said to the useless phone. I slapped it shut and sat back in my seat, comfortable for the first time that morning.
"How's your lady?" Ted shouted at me.
"She's the biggest bitch you'd ever hope to meet," I shouted back. "How's Daisy Duke been?"
"Dry," he shouted back.
I nodded to this before I actually got what he was saying. "You're shitting me."
"Like a bucket of sand."
"You're so full of shit."
Ted laughed and rolled down his window to spit.
I laughed and shook my head. "You rat bastard."
Hell's Bells gave way to Black Dog. In the lull between them I said, "You even know her name?"
He ran a hand through his hair and spat out the window again. "Don't matter. She's hot."
The guitar line blew open like slow dynamite. We waited for it to pass.
"What are we doing after we're done working?" I said.
"You're going home."
Guitar line again. I love the line in that song. It's incredibly easy to play, but if two people play it at the same time or it's just coming out of two amps it sounds perfect. It's the only song I'd do if I played in a garage band.
"Yeah, that's it."
"No -- what? No weed or anything?"
"Am I supposed to do a little reefer dance every time I pick you up now?"
"Well, I just assumed you -- "
"I thought you'd brought something with you, man."
"You sound like a junkie."
"Shut up, man!"
Guitar line again.
Ted was laughing now. "You sound like Cheech and Chong, dude," he said, "hey maaan, thought you brought something with you maaan, what the fuck, maaan ... "
"Shut up," I said. I leaned my seat back a little.
The lights were on and the drive-through window was open at the McDonald's on 25, but we weren't that dumb. We were hungry, though. Ted was, at least.
The rest of the ride went slow. I stopped noticing what the music was once I stopped noticing the places we were passing on the road.
We pulled up into the house a short while after I fell asleep again. I got out of the car. There was an extraordinarily fat man standing in front of the car. He was wearing a white muscle shirt and white pants that stuck to his form in disgusting folds. He was four or five feet wide and five foot six or seven.
He walked/waddled over to me and shook my hand, saying he was Ted's uncle, he was Drew Gordon, pleased to meet you, and all that happy bullshit. I tried not to look too long at his breasts and told him my name, asked him where to start working.
The other people on the job were a bunch of Holy Cross kids, three of them. The tallest one was Bill Carson. He was starting to bald at the back of his head, but you couldn't notice it unless you picked through his hair trying to find it. He played guitar with the two other guys working with us. The other guitarist was his brother Nate. When Nate told his other brother to hold back, he'd hold back. Nate was the only talent in the band, he could play Manic Depression, which is a gift of its own, but he could play it on one hand.
The other guy was Charlie Cavanaugh. Nothing special. He was their manager. He did the talking when they played at clubs.
Their band did AC/DC covers because the drum parts are ridiculously simple ... mostly for the benefit of Cavanaugh, but also because Nate could take over most of the song while Bill did the vocals and the easier guitar part, maybe put on a pot of coffee when Nate started melting faces.
As house painters, they got one side of the house and we got the other.
The first half of the day was dedicated to scraping every chip of paint off the thing. The house only had two stories and four sides, but I got about a pound of paint chips in my mouth and nose and I got big, long splinters of wood siding in my hands that I had to pull out quick before the dry chips of lead paint got in. I took over the side above the front steps and got so angry at the paint that wouldn't chip off that I ended up doing some damage to the sides. By nine in the morning most of the white paint had fallen off where I'd been working. All you saw of the house was the brown wood underneath the paint. Drew, the Boss Man, came over and told me not to chip so hard. I said yessir.
The day warmed up quick. By ten it was seventy degrees. It was going to be a bitch of a day to work outside. I shouted this over to Ted, who was still chipping away on his square of wall. I waited a while for him to yell back. When he did he just gave a sort of frustrated yeah, then he started scraping like mad, you could see splinters of wood flying around the corner...
Scraping paint is the worst part of painting a house. Anybody who's done it will tell you. You get little chips of it in your eyes and you end up eating some of it and the dust that gets kicked up goes under your fingernails and stays there for the rest of the summer. You can't dig it out of your fingernails. You have to wait for the nail to grow around the little paint particles, then it's a longer wait for the nail to grow long enough for you to cut it off with the paint attached... The easiest way to do it is to get five or six people, give them all paint scrapers and tell them to move out. Industrial paint removers are a load of sorry bullshit. They're expensive as all hell and heavy and once you've gotten the damn thing up on the roof, you've wasted more time than would make it valuable ... it does about the same amount of work your average person would do with the average paint scraper, and in this heat that's not a whole lot.
We weren't done with that until three in the afternoon. When the work was done we all packed into Ted's car (The Boss Man drove, Ted got in front and I had to pack in the back with the college kids, who weren't Chinese triplets themselves) and headed off to the McDonald's Ted had passed on the way here.
On the car ride there, we hatched an elaborate plan ...
I felt like something wicked, a giant triple quarter pounder and a supersized order of fries, just to convince myself that a pound of beef and a pound of fat-boiled potato peels weighs more than eight hours of work. I was bushed. Food would wake me up a little. My shoulders and my upper back felt dead and stiff. I could have forced myself to keep working, but I decided not to push it too far. We'd be at the house into the next day, so why get sore now?
I ordered my food with the others and tried to give The Boss Man a ten dollar bill. He refused. I said I felt obligated and pushed it into his face, almost, but he wouldn't take it.
The Boss Man walked in first and ordered for all of us. The cashier was a young kid, a girl. She didn't take our money before we got our food. Fatal mistake.
The place on 25 has two exits, one on either side. It's maybe twenty feet from the cash register to the exit. We spread out in that space and as out food came up we passed it down a line of us like old-time firemen. When the last bag of food came up, the girl asked for the money.
"Wait a second," said Cavanaugh, fifteen feet from the register.
The Boss Man turned, his face an expression of pure surprise and his waddle drawn out perfectly. "What's the matter?" he said. He peered into the bag Cavanaugh was holding.
Cavanaugh was studying his food. The five of us crowded into a tight circle and stared at the bags with confusion on our faces. Nobody laughed. Nobody slipped or smiled. Pure improvisation. It was perfect.
"I thought I got the two cheeseburger meal with coke ... Bill, what do you got?"
"Quarter pounder ... I thought I had the double ... "
"They gave me a medium fry ... I ordered large ..."
We stayed huddled like this as Nate toed the door open. I was five feet from the door, safest from capture ...
I can imagine the girl was looking at us like we were all insane. "Is there something wrong with your order?" she asked.
Ted yelled go, the five of us ran like bats out of hell, Ted in the lead and The Boss Man in behind. I held onto my food like it was my child and dove into the backseat of Ted's Celica, which had been idling the whole time, right outside the door. The other three squashed in there a second later, then Ted slammed the front passenger door and The Boss Man punched it in reverse and flipped the gear into foreward before Bill, Nate and Charlie had closed the back door. I saw the girl at the cash register shouting for the cooks, manager, anybody to write down the plate numbers, but it wouldn't help. Our beaten-up Celica was gone before she could get a look at us.
After a few tense seconds of hellish flight we started to laugh. We couldn't eat or drink for a while because we were laughing so hard, not at the expression on the girl's face or the idiocy of what we had just done but because that was what we should have done, laughed our asses off, because we had just stuck it to the man and laughing at him with his pants down was what you did after you were safe from his anger.
I bit into my burger and took a drink of Coke. I rolled down the window and stuck my head out. We were doing eighty or ninety, easy. God, I thought, this was living. Eight hours of work and an hour of food, then a couple more of painting houses. I took a look around for the first time that day. I was in Falmouth, mere miles away from legions of beautiful, sun-baked girls and the bitterly romantic saltwater smell of the ocean, I was eating stolen food and I was saying a big fuck-you to the man with every bite of it, my belly was full and I wanted to get in a fight and win, I wanted to punch out every bully I'd ever known, I wanted to go back to my middle school and ask the principal for a cigarette. I wanted to blow smoke in that bastard's face. I looked around and everything I saw was loud and bright and beautiful and totally unashamed. Why? Cause fuck them, that's why.
This is glory, I thought. This is triumph. I've conquered something today.
The sun was out. There were a few white clouds in the air. The sky was so blue and brilliant it almost hurt your eyes to look. Everywhere there was the stuff I had been missing out on the day after my Boston adventure, call it insanity or call it life or whatever, but there was a lot of it. I felt young. I felt best as I ever have.
... To be continued ...