I guess it was the sound of the locomotive banging cars around in the scrap yard that woke me up. I didn't mean to sleep so late.
Well, so what? I have all afternoon.
When I stand at the kitchen sink, I can look out at the sky and see a few wispy clouds. The lady across the way is hanging out wash in her backyard.
Mixing up a pitcher of orange juice makes me think. I open the cabinet hanging to the left of the sink and see the better part of a bottle of vodka there next to the shredded wheat.
Let me drink my juice while I come up with a plan. It's a good idea to schedule your day, to make the best use of your time. I was always a big believer in that.
I have some old boards in the garage and I want to sort though that pile. There should be enough good pieces to fix the back porch stairs.
I keep a pad and a pen on the counter and I am going to make a list of all the things I want to get done today. I will have some more orange juice, and it wouldn't really hurt to pour some vodka into the glass.
Just enough to get me started.
I need to check and see if I have the right kind of nails. I should write that down. And I have to find my hammer. It's out in the garage, I think, on top of the workbench.
I'm not sure I remember where I put the tape measure.
Before I go looking for my tools, I better have another glass of juice, and I'll pour a little vodka in this one too.
Just enough to fill a hen's tooth.
Maybe I'll sit in the living room and watch TV for awhile before I go sort through that lumber. They're showing this movie with Paul Newman in it. It's pretty good. I've seen it, like, ten times.
You see, it's best to plan my day out, I feel, to make the best use of my time.
Because I have the whole afternoon.



A photo of my new digs in Reading: I have an apartment on the top floor looking south over the Schuylkill toward Shillington.


the Reliable Painting Company

Living at Sanatoga Lake in an old cottage without hot water is no picnic, but the rent is cheap and Jan and I learn to grab showers wherever we can and she keeps telling me that it helps to be in love.

Look, I blame myself for telling her all about this nice house Billy and me are working on and how the owners are gone during the day. We have enough to worry about up on ladders painting the eaves of this place when Jan shows up with her towels and lotions to take a shower. Well, Mister comes home early to find Jan upstairs drying her hair with the bathroom all fogged up and he fires us on the spot, all the time giving us this big lecture that we didn't need to hear while we're loading paint cans and tarps into the truck.

At first I feel sorry about what happened, but, within a few weeks, Billy hires on down at the scrap yard and then Jan moves in with him and soon none of it seems very important anymore.

I usually remember only one thing about the day we get kicked off the job, and that's how in the evening, after Jan and I run out for something to eat, we drive back to the cottage but I don't feel like going inside yet. I take the cushions off the porch furniture and put them in the bed of the pick-up truck and lie down back there and fall asleep, I guess. When I wake up, it's dark and I hear crickets and see the stars flicker overhead and I am thinking that she's right: it does help to be in love.


denver blues again

"They say they call me on the phone, they lay me off. No money, man!"

We heard all that talk in coffee shops with steamy windows, we seen it happen…..guys pouring ketchup over eggs and hash browns, waiting for the morning papers to hit the streets.
The word gets around: hey...they need carpenters in Phoenix!
Drywall finishers in Reno!
Railroad brakemen in Laramie!
And the next thing you know, you're loading tools and duffel bags into the back of a Chevy sedan and hitting the road.
Okay, if you travel with a woman, it might be easier:
See, you pay for the week in advance at a motel and now you're just about broke but the place has a kitchenette, she can put a meal together while you're out cruising for work and then maybe she gets a job real quick as a waitress in that diner down the street and even brings home leftovers at the end of her shift.
But you got to figure that something might happen, some words get said that can't be taken back, and you lie in bed one night watching headlights swing across the ceiling, guys just like you driving out into the western night to look for other towns and better times.
In the morning you stand at the front window for awhile just looking out at the traffic and smoking a cigarette.
Later drop her off at the Amtrak station and she will go back home and you'll drive on to Denver where you hear they are looking for roofers.
What next?
What follows.



FOR SALE: 1949 Cadillac Sedan de Ville. Needs new tires and maybe a good vacuuming of the interior. With some elbow grease and a little imagination, you can turn this car into a fine cruiser!
$250 or trade for a seal point siamese kitten.


happy hour

Parked in the turnout at the end of the rail yard, we are sitting in Beekman's Impala, watching a freight train creep in from the north. Setting sun behind us casts long shadows across the tracks, hints of red sky are reflected in the chrome dashboard trim.
Beekman pulls a bottle of Jack Daniels out of a paper bag and starts pouring it into some plastic cups, passing one to me and one to Billy. I'm sitting beside Beekman in the front seat. Billy, he's in the back.
"Got a mixer?" Billy asks.
Beekman hands Billy a bottle of some kind of cola then digs down into the bag for a box of crackers which he offers to us. "I got these at Trader Joe's," he says. "They're pretty good."
We sip our drinks and watch two crows fighting over an empty potato chip bag that tumbled with the wind in front of the car and into the weeds by the abandoned cough drop factory.
"There was this TV show on last night," says Beekman. "What the story was, there are two truck farmers selling vegetables by the side of the road. See, it's illegal to do that without a permit inside the town limits of Mayberry. So, this Deputy Fife drives out to send them on their way. Those fellows look pretty scared when the deputy drives up, they throw everything into the back of their truck and get out of there real quick."
"You know," says Billy, "Barney is not allowed to carry a loaded gun. He has only one bullet, and he keeps it buttoned up in his shirt pocket. He's not really someone to be afraid of."
Beekman just sits there for a moment before reaching into the bag for the bottle and refreshing his drink. He takes a long sip and settles back into the seat.
"Yeah, I know that," says Beekman. "But those farmers don't know that. At least, not at first. That's what makes it so funny, don't you think?"
Nobody says anything for a few minutes. As for me, I am watching this one crow; he grabs the potato chip bag in his beak and starts shaking it.
"What I think is that I'm hungry. I could go for some Chinese," says Billy finally.
Beekman starts the car and pulls out onto the road. The sun is just now dipping beneath the horizon and we head toward the lights of downtown Reading.


same as it ever was

The morning comes around pretty fast.
Last night, Billy was meditating with his Buddha buddies and you would have found me at the bar of Johnny’s Grandstand Grill, worshipping at a different kind of altar.
By the time we drive up to the yard, men are already standing in the circle of light outside the foreman’s trailer, stamping their feet against the cold. You can see their breath rising into the air.
After a while the foreman steps out with a clipboard and begins reading off names. One by one each man heads off to his assigned job until it’s just me and Billy standing there. Now the sun is beginning to poke through the smoky dawn.
“I don’t have anything for you boys today, try again tomorrow,” the foreman tells us. We climb back into the truck but it won’t start.
I sit slumped in the passenger seat with my hat pulled down over my eyes while Billy fiddles under the hood. Before I even realize it, he hops in behind the wheel - the engine turns over once, twice, three times, and then it fires up with a roar.
I ask him how he did that, where he learned how to fix motors and stuff.
“When I was living on this big commune in Tennessee,” says Billy, “we had these tractors and farm trucks and old school buses that we needed to keep running. We used to say that you have to be yin to figure out what’s wrong, yang to fix it, and unattached to the results.”
Billy turns out of the yard and heads up Canal street while this Talking Heads song I like is playing on the radio. The sun has fully broken out of the clouds by now and is flooding the alleys and back yards with a clean, bright light.
“Let's go get some breakfast,” I say. “I have a feeling this is going to be a good day.”