Friday, January 18, 2013

Pick up the Trash!

This story comes from my collection US Delivery. Please consider reading it. You can find US Delivery here.

                         They had just left Corky's. Their stomachs were puffed up with extra carbs and sweet animal fats. That was the food they fed you in heaven—brat on a bun, home made potato salad and beans, and Rolling Rock draft. Eddie, the owner and only employee of US Delivery Co., was continuing on his rounds with Tom, his friend, driving right hand seat. The rags, The Boston Gay Weekly, weighed on his back like a thousand bulging sandbags. On the front page Jack and Jackson, ecstatic, hovered naked, their eyes unglued.
  Eddie said, “Probably ought to head down to City Hall while we're fed and in a good mood and all the hormones in balance. That way dropping off Jack blowing Jackson won't bother us so much.”
  “If our hormones were in balance, we wouldn't be going to city hall,” Tom said.
  “Maybe somebody over there will ditch them. I just deliver.”
  When he delivered The Boston Gay Weekly to City Hall, he piled them on the far corner of the receptionist's counter. Why did the whole world have to be exposed to Jack blowing Jackson? The photo was front cover, forward, impossible to ignore. What did the editor expect to accomplish? Eddie imagined a florid, smiling little man, well fleshed, assured editor to the world.
  “Besides, there's the receptionist woman,” Eddie said. “She'll ditch them the minute she sees them.” Eddie had run across her numerous times when he delivered financial documents. She was a blunt, middle-aged woman, very businesslike. But that didn't make him feel any better.
  “Why don't YOU ditch them?” Tom said. “Ditch them in the river, and we'll go somewhere, take a break and reason it out. Once you start reasoning, you can find a good reason for anything.”
  “Then somebody else can reason. I'm gonna deliver.”
  “Suppose you were on your way to Treblinka...”
  “Now wait. What the hell brought that on?”
  “It's vaguely similar, isn't it?”
  “Anyway, what would you do? I mean Treblinka. Deliver?”
  “I don't think I would.”
  “What would you do then?”
  “Try to figure a way out.”
  “You're killing me, man. I'm not gonna pursue this matter because it is an inaccurate analogy.”
  “Inaccurate analogy?” Tom giggled. “Where'd you learn that?”
  “Guy on the radio.”
  As he drove his delivery van, Eddie listened to the radio. He had been in love with the radio since he was a little boy. David Brudnoy on HGH was into books, he was a real scholar, that guy, and Jerry Williams on RKO was a gentle loudmouth. What else had he to do, driving around? It was Jerry Williams kept saying, “That's an inaccurate analogy!” Short. Glib. Solid. Delivery man Eddie sounds like hot shot Jerry Williams! Inaccurate analogy? They could get on at length. Talk, talk, talk. Couldn't they? Pain in the ass. Why not silence? No! Even noise was something.
  “Treblinka? Go on. Decide, Eddie, decide!”
  “No, ya pile of shit.”
  “Then dump the stupid rags in the river.”
  “That's different.” Eddie was Polski. No doubt Polish Uncles had engineered the locomotive. He could just hear them now, the scumbags—“They killed Christ!”
  “Because,” said Eddie, “there's a big difference between those rags and the showers.”
  Eddie drove inbound on Boylston, crossed the old saintly Public Gardens onto Beacon. Then he drove up the hill and turned onto School Street and drove around Gov Center, approaching from the rear. It was a big glassed in hole in the rear end of Gov Center. Finding a place to park and getting past the security guard might be a problem. Depends on who was covering. Eddie knew them all.
  By now the traffic was beginning to pick up. There was a loading dock, a slot into the back cellar: up the old asshole of big city government. Eddie always expected a toilet to flush. Watch out! A big brown wave of politics rolling down the staircase!
  The uniformed security guard stood on the sidewalk just outside the loading dock. Eddie parked out of the way nearby, half on the sidewalk and the road. The guard was Ralph Kelly, Chief of the Security Guards for Government Center, city of Boston, USA. His brother was Walter Kelly the well to do lawyer and Mayor White's chief of staff. There was a lot of that kind of thing in the last years of Kevin White. Eddie was convinced Mayor White was a good man, but after awhile it takes a saint to ward it all off.
  Eddie had never seen Ralphy boy here on Saturday. He came from a big Southie family, and Friday night, you know how it is. When Eddie did run across Ralph, he was always noisome in a big city way. He was a smallish man, but rugged and straight. He had quick hands that he delighted in putting to use when he figured he was good for it. 
  Eddie was getting out of his van, and Ralph Kelly ambled by.
  “Hey, you can't park here,” said Ralphy.
  “I'll be only a minute,” Eddie replied. “I need to take something up into the lobby.”
  Eddie had the rags in his hand, but Ralphy boy didn't seem to care about them.
  “What did I just say?” Ralphy exhaled suddenly, blasting Eddie with hot alcohol fumes.
  “Donno. Just two minutes, then I'm back and outta here.”
  “What did I just say?”
  “You said your sister was a slut?”
  “I said, idiot, you can't park here.”
  “Well, tell it to the judge. No, I'll see you in court. No, you got an affidavit?” The affidavit one was Eddie's favorite. It made it better because he didn't know or care what an affidavit was.
  So Eddie turned around and he was heading to the entrance, and Ralph was close behind.
   Says Ralphy more loudly. “My brother is advisory to the mayor.”
  “Really? I feel sorry for your brother, and your sister, too, the slut.” 
  Then Ralphy grumbled, “Do you know who I am?” He grasped Eddie's arm. “Do you know who I am? I can make it really hard on you.”
  In fact, Eddie did know how close he was cutting it.
  Ralphy went on, “This spot is for Mr. Diamond of Chelsea. He has an appointment with the Mayor. He is not going to be happy. I always watch Mr. Diamond's car when he is here.”
  Eddie left Ralphy out on the sidewalk, steaming.
  There was another guard at the guard desk. He was more friendly. He was a black dude. He was struggling not to laugh or smile. He lifted his hand to his mouth, tipping back his head in the universal gesture that indicated you know what.
   Eddie hustled up the staircase to the lobby, and he dropped the handful of rags on the reception counter. Nobody was at the counter or in the lobby. The lobby was big, dark, cavernous. He was very happy nobody was around. Eddie left in a hurry, worried that the guard might tow his van, though Tom was in it and he'd drive it away. But the van had not moved, and the guard was still on the sidewalk steaming. Tom was hanging out the door window, his eyeballs rolling. “'Mon, Eddie. A real weirdo is bugging me.”
  “Invite him for the ride to Auschwitz,” Eddie said, jumping in.
  “Say anything?”
  “Yeah, his brother is the King of Siam, and that makes him Prince what's his face.”
  “I wonder what that means, though? Think about it. Like anybody should care.”
  “Deluded? Your favorite word?”
  “I mean where did he learn that anybody should care? Family love?”
  “No kidding? Fuck the family!”
  “Just drive, Eddie. Don't think. You don't do very well when you think.”
  “I wasn't thinking. I was just adding up one and one.”
  “For you that's thinking.”

This is where Eddie argued with Ralph Kelly that day 30 years ago.

   But Eddie kept on thinking anyway. Sure, Ralph Kelly was politics as usual. But Eddie had noticed driving that a big chunk of the city north and east, especially east of Dover Street was no longer the hell hole that it had been but almost livable. There were pots of flowers out on the brick walls. Tiny front yards were little gardens. Everybody knew about the North End marketplace and the Back Bay around the Prudential but few except Eddie, who was tied to the streets, a kid of the streets, would know about the row after row of broken down brownstones that had been for years bedeviled by bitter poverty and had been made by some iron will better. The gangs were gone, the litter. If Ralph Kelly was politics as usual, what was the rest of the stuff? How had these frail men, with all that corrupting power and money, actually managed to make things better?
  Maybe the people in the neighborhoods just said enough, and it wasn't the politicians at all. Maybe it was the people who cleaned up the void.
  Eddie remembered meeting Mayor White one day. He was standing on the loading platform, white shirted, walking around, waiting for the document Eddie was delivering from Providence. His sleeves were rolled up, his tie loosened sideways. Eddie handed him the package.
  “Mr. Mayor, what's the hardest job,” Eddie had asked.
  He snapped out of his thoughts, as if waking up, “Pick up the trash!”
  Salvation? Just pick up the trash!

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