My Cardboard Box


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“I’m going back to Idaho.” Those were the first words from the Mechanic when I walked into the Laundromat at the Center of the Universe.

The Mechanic’s been here longer than me. He moved to California at twenty-one with the firm offer of a job in the oilfields. Now he’s in his forties, divorced, did a couple of years in jail (“for being stupid”) and unemployed when the axe fell on his contract job out at the base a couple of months back.  We’ve talked a lot during the waiting times, usually about cars, The Professor’s health issues, doings in the town, getting pulled over by the CHP, the joys of working for the government, the joys of working through the California family-court system,  his neighbors’ stealing his cable (and the Mexican lad across the way calling the cops on them), his moving out to a new place after a nearby meth lab blew up. The usual stuff for a little town out in the Mojave.

We seldom talked politics and religion came up only once, when his kids wanted to head off to church with a friend’s family. ‘Going to Idaho’ is something he’s talked about over the past half decade, while we sat on the benches and watched the crazies go by. Then last Christmas he made a trip up there to see his family, the first time in six years, and he took his kids along.

The supplemental information came hard and fast. A friend landed a huge long-term contract working in the forests and called him, saying the Mechanic’s skills were a fit and could he start soon, like the beginning of next month. It would be a Spring-through-Autumn deal, meaning the hunting season would be unimpeded. Mom wasn’t doing too well. She was moving in with one of the siblings and the family home was going to be empty.  The Mechanic paused to take a drag off his cigarette.

“And my son wants to go, too.”

The boy was the Mechanic’s pride and joy, twelve and fast growing out of the pudgy-lad stage. There’d been the stories about the problems with his school and the struggles to stay out of trouble.  I remembered the Mechanic talking about how the kid had taken to the woods and the mountains, going hunting and hiking with his cousins. There’d been a change in the boy since that two-week visit. There was something in the eyes, awareness and even thoughtfulness.

“I checked the school up there,” the Mechanic continued,  “It’s small and it’s got good ratings. He’ll have to do some catching up, but my brother’s boy is in the same grade. And he can stay with family while I’m at work”

There was a break in the conversation as we watched an ambulance came screaming up the highway, followed by a fire truck. Not unusual for a Sunday morning in an area where age, obesity, respiratory problems and heart attacks were common. Moments later a Highway Patrol car roared by. So much for the cardiac arrest theory.

“I gotta get him outta California,” the Mechanic said through a haze of cigarette smoke as the sirens died away, “He deserves something better than this. He deserves to have a future.”

We didn’t say anything for a while, then he excused himself to retrieve his laundry from the dryer while I sat and watched a gaggle of hipsters stroll to the vegetarian restaurants down the street.

“You still got my number, right?” I asked him when he came back out with his bags.

“Yeah,” he replied as he threw the bags in the back of his truck. “I’ll see ya around, there’s still a few weeks.”

“Yeah,” I replied back, “see you around.”

Thirty minutes later I was heading home when Billy Joel came over the satellite radio, singing about a time when he wasn’t old and gray and hadn’t drunk the bittersweet  dregs of success.

 Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s someplace that he’d rather be
He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me.”
As the smile ran away from his face
“Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place”

La la, di da da da dum


Written by PappyBro

March 24, 2013 at 17:35

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