Operative Phrase

The reason you hear
trucks' air-brakes at night
from the highway that's far
by the toils of light:
The ionosphere lowers
to bounce back the waves
that castrate our ears
and rally the slaves.
(He's not listening, Jim.
He won't sit down.)

A genius once
and again told me this
and I mumble his name
as I aim my clear piss
in a toilet that's stained
with the water that's hard
while the house crumbles down
disgraces the yard.
(Pull it, sir. He's Rogue.)

But the hours they lurk
while the weeks drag on by
through the months that tell tales
and the years that don't lie.
There's a snake in the grass.
There's a wrench in the plan
that lost a good boy
in the mazes of man.
(Engage target: John Doe.)


The Rising Tide Will Float All Boats

The day's almost done. The pipes are back together. Water runs steadily from Point A to Point B as Bud and I carry our tools towards our trucks. We are the sole reasons for its availability of use at each fixture in the building. Faucets, toilets, and drinking fountains have been given life again due to our careful craftsmanship. Don't be fooled by the assumptions of a lesser caste status; plumbers have a power perceptible in absence. One may not feel their omnipotence until gravity and physics don't suffice to tame the flow. It's a perk they don't teach in apprenticeship school. It's a reason to solder with pride. The middle-aged man to my left's been directing fluids for a living for thirty years and has another twenty left in him. I'll be lucky to learn half as much as he's forgotten.

"Get all the grease off your hands," Bud tells me as he wheels the tool cart towards our men's room pit stop. Its left rear wheel pleads for oil with a steady squeak. "I've got something to show you."

My curiousity is piqued. I ask him to tell me what it is as we rinse the day's grime from the webs of our fingers, saving the scrubbing of nails for our designated shower toothbrushes at our respective homes. He smiles at me in the mirror and stirs the mysterious pot. "It's nothing new to you, though you haven't seen it in its current state."

We dry our hands with the brown, industrial strength paper towels stripped from the roll that sits on a shelf in the men's room. The dispensers are empty. Housekeeping is lax. It's hard to find good help these days.

The sun beams down on the asphalt with promise of a few more hours 'til dark. Bud lowers the tailgate of his truck and returns his tools to their buckets, cases, and bags. I follow suit, then return to my friend's vehicle to see what familiar item he's brought for Show and Tell this week. He opens the driver's side door, plops down on his beaded seat, and looks me in the eyes.

"The gun you sold me's even better now that I've installed a laser sight," he says, conjuring the firearm from thin air before making sure it's unloaded and passing it my way.

I grip the familiar hunk of steel and activate the laser by depressing a button built into the grip. The eighth-inch red dot illuminates a safe portion of the ground in front of my non-steel-toed boots. In actuality I'm glad to be rid of the thing. It never felt right in my hands for some reason though others swore by the brand. It cycled properly and put tight-clustered groups on paper targets, but left me wanting more. There was something I sought instead of that gun. It behooved me to pass it along, and the one that came to replace it is now the pride of my safe. It's an older piece that has to be manually cocked with the thumb before each shot, but I've got time and patience. I've got loads of both. My mother used to tell me to become a teacher because of my abundance of the latter. I have, in a way, though the student's still the same and more stubborn than ever.

Out of respect I entertain his ego. "Care to sell it back?" I jest, regardless of the fact that I'm thankful for my decision.

"Not for what I paid for it," Bud says as he reaches out his hand to make his hardware disappear again. I pass it back, relieved to be rid of it again.

It's someone else's headache now. She's better off in his hands; I'm better off with mine. I know what I have and I want it. What else is there to happiness, aside from trusty plumbing?


Mousse Trail

Twelve consecutive days of carpentry can wear on a man, but Dave's been making up for lost time lately. This balmy June Saturday is a much needed reprieve from the morning's rat race and eight-plus hours of ten-penny nails. It's odd how the sounds of hammers and chop saws have blurred the edges of his hearing. Years on the jobsite have taught him to tune out background noise, for better and for worse. Sometimes this adaptation is useful on the home front like when Linda's on a tear in the next room, though it can also be limiting. Today it's the latter. The birds in the yard are unreasonably happy considering the weather, but Dave doesn't notice at first; nor does he let the overcast skies or mild temperature discourage him from opening the freezer for some ice cream. Linda's already two hours late in returning from her cousin's baby shower, but she'll be home soon. Home and fed and ready. The plaid print of Dave's boxers reflects in the chrome handle on the refrigerator as he stands mostly naked in this kitchen that's been half-his for four years, the longest place he's lived since high school. Dave misses high school, more so when he thinks about it. He misses a lot of things, though he'd only admit to a fraction of them. The logo on the lid of the ice cream promises familiar comfort, but the flavor is a new one that the two of them tried last week. It was a stressful selection at the gas station since he'd been trusted with the critical task of choosing the variety. A full three minutes went into the decision. Both he and Linda take their snack foods seriously. He didn't want to disappoint. When he tried making small talk with the clerk about his decadent woes it fell upon deaf, inbred ears. The woman stared blankly above rabbit teeth in silent prayer for No More Like This Guy until the end of her shift. Dave liked the ice cream that night, as did Linda despite its containing multiple forms of chocolate, and he likes it even more today as he stands in burly bewilderment. In a lazy effort to avoid dirtying a spoon he opts to scoop it from the carton with his left index finger. One bite, two bites, three and then four. The cream becomes sweeter as time drips onward. The birds in the maples come into aural focus. The moment is savored as much as the paycheck he received yesterday. If it was any more zen he'd be floating. Four bites turns to eight, turns to twelve, and he stops himself. The pint's quite lighter, he knows that she'll notice. If there's one thing that Linda's good at it's watching the stats, especially when they're decreasing. For a woman with four siblings she's not so good at sharing. Dave always laughs at the irony in that, though there's not a brother or sister of his own in sight with which to share the humor. In sight, he reminds himself somberly. But what is perception if not relative Truth? Dave pictures the cross-bar of the capital T in that last word dropping down to a humble lower-case position. He's learned a lot about that overrated factor, one of them being the misconception that it will set you free. Linda's delayed discovery of the missing ice cream is a prime example of his new stance on the matter. His pointer finger's cold and numb from being used as a utensil in the frozen debauchery. Dave sucks it clean after returning the carton to its shelter of ice and walks upstairs to his bedroom. Maybe Linda will come home soon and they'll do something that'll require him to put on pants. Maybe she'll strip down and they'll take a pleasantly unnecessary afternoon nap. Either one is an inspiring prospect that makes him miss her more, like the dull ache in his jaw when the ice cream took its toll upon his teeth. Sunday is Father's Day, he remembers. He'll have some phone calls to make. With the equivalent of a mental groan he climbs back into bed and waits; for what, as is often the case with a tired carpenter, he's not sure.