The Woefield Poultry Collective (9 page)

BOOK: The Woefield Poultry Collective
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I’m not one of them real fine finishing craftsman like you see sometimes on the Home Network. But I built some things over the years. I can still remember the time I helped my brother Pride work on a bandstand at the old place. The High Lonesome Boys, which was just Pride and Merle at that time, was on a break and we were supposed to be getting the grounds organized so we could put on some shows during the summer. Merle wanted to start a High Lonesome Boys festival at our family homestead. He wanted a week-long deal with people coming from all over and camping out back and whatnot. But first we had to build a bandstand.

Merle didn’t help of course. He was too busy playing the big rancher
man with some little number he picked up in Dallas. She didn’t know he had a wife and kids living in an apartment in Nashville. Merle was always picking up girls on the road. I couldn’t tell you what they saw in him. So he was showing this girl the cows and the old farmhouse where me and Pride and our sister lived after our folks died and, I guess, the inside of his shorts. At least he wasn’t telling me and Pride what to do.

We were making out okay. My brother Pride had a good sense of humor. And he was showing me a few things about building and talking about some of them gigs on the last tour. He was taking a few nips here and there, truth be told. Not like Merle, who never took a sip. Merle’s vice was women.

Anyway, Merle come along and seen Pride with the flask and he give him shit right in front of me and the girl and everyone. Told him to get his butt in gear and get the bandstand up or he could forget about recording with Luellewan Norman, who was this big-shot producer who wanted to record with the High Lonesome Boys. Pride didn’t take to threats. In a lot of ways he was named right. After Merle walked away Pride decided he was going to stage what he called a work stoppage. Sat down on the job and got himself drunk as a skunk, right there on the half-built bandstand.

When Merle came out later, he damn near blew a valve. That was the day he fired Pride, even though Pride was a fine mandolin player and some people said a better singer than Merle.

Come on, Merle said to me after he told Pride he was through. You’re called up. Least you are once you get finished with this bandstand.

So that’s how I ended up on the road with the High Lonesome Boys when I was just sixteen. And that’s when things started to get bad for Pride.

As for the bandstand, well, that didn’t work out so good. Collapsed during the second set by the Trifling Snakes. There were six of them and when they all got to stomping the way they did, it was too much for that old bandstand. Frank Cart, the singer, broke his ankle, threatened to sue. But that’s a whole another story.

I hadn’t thought about all that old history in years. Especially not about Pride.

Anyway, I set the building materials on one of them big flat carts they got at that store. It was a little shaky and the hefty gal at the only checkout that actually had someone on it said, Why don’t you drive up front and we’ll load your truck for you? I said, Hell, no, I don’t need no help. Between you and me, I don’t like squeezing the truck into these tight spaces no more. There have been incidents. I pushed the cart out into the parking lot. The goddamn place was full of trucks and cars and walking ways and concrete barriers. And damn it if the whole works on the cart didn’t tip over when I got about ten feet from the truck.

It was too much trouble to load her up again and what was the point, so I started packing boards and sheets and the rest over to the truck, one at a time. Tell you the truth, by that time I completely forgot all about Chubnuts in his tight pants.

I had about half the stuff loaded and my nerves was getting a little testy from people driving around me, some of them honking until I give them the what-for finger. That’s when Chubnuts came running out of the store, huffing and puffing like a fat man running for the dessert table.

He was yelling, Earl! What happened?

I didn’t answer, because if he couldn’t figure it out from looking that’s too goddamn bad for him.

He said, Were you going to leave me here, man? And right then a blue Dodge half-ton come by and damn near drove over a sheet of plywood I was trying to lift. That just about did it for me and I told Chubnuts to stop his bellyaching and help.

He got a look on his face like I just took a shot at him. It kind of stopped me, tell you the truth. I don’t know. It reminded me of something I guess, or someone. I didn’t care to think about it, so I kept working the sheet of plywood until I got her upright and I started dragging her toward the truck. And do you know what that bastard did? Nothing. Not a goddamn thing.

He left everything where it was and got in the truck and stayed there while I finished loading it up.

And when we got back to the farm I called him a lazy bastard or something of that nature and he stomped off.

Funny how things go around and around. Maybe I was a little hard on him. But he’s not a kid and somebody’s got to tell him.

P
RUDENCE

The building of Sara Spratt’s chicken coop took approximately the same amount of sweat, swearing and human sacrifice as the Pyramids. Possibly a little more.

The first mistake was to send Seth to help Earl get the building materials. The second mistake was to ask how it went.

“There are a shitload of lightbulbs at Home Depot,” mumbled Seth. Then he stared into the middle distance. At least, I think he did. His ball cap was pulled so low I couldn’t actually see his eyes.

Earl, carrying building supplies from the back of the truck to the site of the chicken house, muttered as he passed, “Useless waste of space.”

I told Seth that Earl was probably talking about the merchandising techniques employed at the Home Depot, but Seth slumped his shoulders farther and said he was going to his room.

I looked at the pile of supplies lying in the yard and then at the long paper receipt Earl handed to me.

The materials for the chicken house cost over two hundred dollars. I hoped Sara’s parents would pay me back right away. It wasn’t a conversation I was particularly looking forward to, just as I wasn’t eager to try and convince the bank to give me a grace period before I had to start paying down Uncle Harold’s line of credit, which he hadn’t insured, and making payments on the outstanding property taxes. Of course, the key is not to procrastinate. Face things head-on.

I realized that our projected income consisted of boarding a small flock of chickens and my modest allowance, but something would
work out. It always does. Succeeding in life is a matter of making your own luck and taking advantage of all the opportunities around you. I told myself that before I knew it we’d have a table groaning with produce at the local farmers’ market, just like the vendors I used to envy in Union Square.

But back to the chicken house.

I had assumed that because Earl was an old-timer and a country person and so forth that he’d be extremely handy and able to follow an eleven-year-old’s building plans with no trouble whatsoever. This was an incorrect assumption.

After we’d finished unloading the building materials from the truck Earl found my list and realized all the things he’d forgotten.

“Where in hell are the goddamn nails?” he demanded. Then, “Who forgot the tar paper?” Followed by, “Where in Jesus Christ Almighty is the goddamn mesh?”

“Should we go back to the store?” I asked.

Earl stood in the middle of the bundle of plywood, boards, and bits and pieces looking like he wanted to kick something. “I knew that good-for-nothing little fart would forget half the supplies,” he said.

From what had been said earlier, I’d gathered that Seth hadn’t gone anywhere near the building supplies. He’d spent his time at Home Depot looking at lightbulbs. However, in the interests of keeping the peace, I didn’t point out that Earl was the one who’d forgotten the list.

“How about you tell me what’s missing and I’ll go get it.” “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” said Earl.

Ten minutes later I had a list of things and was reluctantly climbing into Earl’s old truck for the return trip to Home Depot. I hated to drive such a gas-guzzler and looked forward to the day I could afford to buy us a hybrid truck or perhaps one of those vehicles that runs on old cooking oil.

I asked Earl to get started on the job while I was gone.

I’d just put the truck into gear when Seth lurched, zombie-like, into the driver’s-side window.

“Prudence!” he shouted, smacking the window with the flats of his hands and pressing his nose into the window. “Prudence!”

This knocked his hat askew. His eyes were hidden behind his wraparound shades.

“What?” I asked, leaning way over to roll down the window. It took a bit of muscle power because the window was as creaky as the rest of the vehicle.

“Is that you?” he nearly shouted in my face. “Is it really you?”

There was a thin red crust at the edges of his lips and his teeth were stained, increasing the zombie effect.

“Have you been drinking?” I asked.

“Not much. I mean, I found some homemade wine in the attic when you asked me to clean it out. I think it may be what killed your uncle.”

“You’ll have to excuse me, Seth. I’ve got to go and get the rest of the chicken house supplies that you and Earl forgot.” I realized with a sinking feeling that I was going to have to let him go. I couldn’t have an employee, much less a live-in one, with a drinking problem.

“Can I come?” asked Seth, sagging slightly sideways. “I don’t want to be alone with Earl.”

I tried to get a handle on just how intoxicated he was. His sunglasses made it hard to tell.

I leaned farther out my window.

“Fine. But I’d like you to stay in the truck. You can help me load the supplies after I pick them up.”

Next thing I knew he’d leapt into the passenger seat and was leaning forward with his hands tapping out a staccato drum solo on the dash.

“Can you stop at the liquor store? I can’t drink any more of that homemade shit. I’m starting to feel like Helen Keller.”

I ignored his request and drove straight to Home Depot. When we found a parking space, I reminded him to stay put.

“What if a cop comes by and thinks I’m driving? I could get an impaired.”

“You’ll probably be saved by the fact that the vehicle is parked and you don’t have the keys.”

“The rules are different in Canada,” he said. “Loaded people here aren’t allowed in vehicles unsupervised.”

I was not looking forward to going shopping with him. He’d spilled a large quantity of homemade red wine down the front of his Judas Priest T-shirt. It looked like he’d been shot in the chest. For all I knew, all those metal guys I used to see at the club near my house looked like this at the end of the night. A fascinating subculture, but perhaps not one that stresses the sort of qualities one wants in an employee.

“Hey man!” he yelled after me when I walked ahead of him. “Wait for me!”

Seth lurched toward me, his skinny jeans making his legs look vaguely crustacean.

I turned and headed toward the big sliding doors of the store.

Behind me Seth kept up a stream of unintelligible comments. Every time I glanced back he seemed to be either in the process of falling or picking himself up. He stumbled over a speed bump and tripped over a yellow line painted on the flat pavement of the parking lot. It was really a bit embarrassing.

“This whole place is a liability suit waiting to happen,” he said, after falling to one knee in the middle of the crosswalk and staying there for a long, painful moment. “Shit like this is why I never used to leave the house. Until you gave me my job. Which I fucking love, I just want you to know.”

I went back, grabbed one of his arms and pulled him to his feet.

“Seth, this is unacceptable behavior. Please pull yourself together.”

Once inside, he seemed to sober up. Perhaps it was the harsh lighting. I steered him over to a chair just inside of the entrance.

“I’m going to get a cart and find someone to help me so we can get out of here faster. Please don’t move.”

He nodded and looked so tired I almost believed him.

“Sit here and wait for me. Don’t talk to anyone. You’re drunk enough that you could get thrown in jail.”

He said something about it being good enough for Lindsay and
Paris and those bitches, never mind the boys in the Crüe, so it was good enough for him. Then he lapsed into silence.

“Stay!” I repeated, and held up a hand.

I grabbed the first clerk I saw and asked for help. Unfortunately, she was from Plumbing and didn’t know about Building Supplies. She walked me up to a front checkout and asked the cashier on the till to make an announcement over the PA.

“Building to number four. Building to number four!”

As I waited I watched customers try, unsuccessfully, to check themselves out using the self-checkout lane. They would hold up an item and thrust it at the scanner a few times, look around, embarrassed, then slink back into the lineup. The only time that lineup began to move was when one of the cashiers stood there and helped the customers through, just like a regular checkout, only both customer and cashier stood on the same side of the till.

I attempted to get the attention of the cashier who’d called for help.

“Excuse me? Is someone from Building Supplies coming?” I asked and got no reply.

I waited another few minutes and then headed off. Obviously I was going to have to take control of the situation. The store was the size of an aircraft hangar, lined with tall metal shelves that seemed to disappear into the atmosphere overhead. After what seemed like a ten-minute walk I finally came to an aisle marked “Building Supplies.”

I consulted my list. Nails, tar paper, mesh.

A clerk in an orange apron stood at the far end of the aisle. I hurried toward him, but his head came up, he sniffed the air and he bolted.

“Damn,” I said. I looked around the corner, but he was gone. I made a right-hand turn up the next aisle and passed stacks of lumber and formaldehyde-smelling plywood. No nails, no tar paper, no mesh. I was nearing the end of the aisle when another sales associate turned in and stopped dead at the sight of me. She began to back up as though she’d just spotted a bear.

BOOK: The Woefield Poultry Collective
6.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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