I come into your house
and I cut through your floors and walls and ceilings. I take a roto-hammer
and I blast holes through your foundation. I swing a heavy steel pipe and
bash out parts of your flooring. I cut chunks out of massive, load bearing
beams with a powersaw, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident. Every
part of your house, I invade and penetrate, and you realize that youíve
made a mistake, but itís too late now, because you invited me here, and
this is my job.
First I tear out your
old furnace. It is rusted and filthy, an ancient electric relic. It is
installed by outdated safety codes and uses inferior materials. It is
worthless, and I will take it outside and set it on your lawn, and I will
stomp on it to flatten it down, to make it fit in my van so I can take it
to the dump. Its filters contain decades of your life.
After I dispose of
your furnace, I will rip down your old ductwork. It is wrapped in
fiberglass insulation that is yellow and tattered and stained like
infected bandages. There will be insect nests woven into it. I will tear
these ducts down, and dust will be everywhere. This dust is flakes of your
skin and hair, and the skin and hair of all your children. This is what
your life creates. It will explode out of the ducts like poison gas.
Why do you produce
waste like this? What is wrong with you and your family, that you should
produce waste like this?
I will have to cut new
holes for everything. Everything you have been living with for the past
ten years is inadequate. Too small. Not enough airflow, not enough BTUs
for you. It used to be enough, but not anymore. You have multiplied. You
have children, your children have children, and your grandchildren have
dogs and friends and girlfriends and boyfriends. You have added a new
wing, and a deck, and new bedrooms. You have expanded.
I will saw through
your floors. Your pets will eye me uneasily, and run in terror when I
press the trigger and the room fills with that rasping scream. The stench
and vapors from your carpets will make my eyes water and my nose run. This
will stay with me. I will be miserable long after I leave.
You will watch in
disbelief as I slice through your lush carpet with a crude box-cutter
knife. You will cringe as my powersaw grinds and shudders against your oak
floors. My saw becomes so hot it would melt your skin.
You called me from an
ad in the classifieds. I came to your house and inspected it briefly, then
handed you an estimate. You and your husband approved, and I smiled and
shook your hand. Did you wonder where I got the scar on my forehead? Three
vague lines, dark red and ugly. Did you know that my own house does not
even have heat? I do not pay my gas bill. I wear sweaters.
Now I climb under your
house, into your crawl space. The floor is stony bare earth, the ceiling
is insect nests and insulation. It is barely two feet high. I crawl on my
belly, shielding my face against thick curtains of cobwebs and dangling
fiberglass. I inch forward, dragging a heavy box of tools in one hand, a
massive roto-hammer in the other. Rocks dig into my ribs, and I hate you
Bracing myself on one
elbow, I start the roto-hammer and press it into the concrete of your
foundation. The noise is deafening, and rock chips pepper my face.
Occasionally the bit will catch, and the tool will spin violently in my
hands and strike me across the face like a tire iron. My teeth have been
pushed through my lips this way, and my blood has soaked the dirt under
dozens of houses.
You will witness me
cutting myself many times in many ways before this job is done, slicing my
fingers open on the sharp edges of ductwork over and over again. Your
garage floor will be permanently stained red. You may think this is how,
but this is not how I got the scar on my forehead. My work injuries
always heal clean. My body recognizes an honest wound, and erases it.
Other wounds remain.
After penetrating a
dozen small holes in your foundation, I will collapse in the dirt,
exhausted. Now, in the shocking silence, I can hear you. I am directly
under your bedroom, and I can hear you on the phone, discussing a highly
personal matter. Because you can not see me you think I am not here, but I
am, and I take a break from my labors to listen to you describe marital
infidelities to a trusted confidant. You sound ashamed and speak in hushed
tones, but your descriptions go into lurid detail. You talk size and
shape, you talk positions. Your syllables drip. I can hear your girlfriend
cackling on the other line.
When I arrived at your
doorstep, did you suspect that I had been divorced three times? Did you
shake my hand and consider asking if I had children? Did you wonder about
me? Did you look into my professionally smiling eyes and wonder what I do
when I go home? Is my life similar, or vastly dissimilar to yours?
In the darkness of the
crawl-space, my hand crunches into an old dead rat, and I curse under my
breath. Above me, your conversation hesitates, so I brace myself again,
and launch the roto-hammer into the concrete of your foundation. The noise
is like a shuttle launch. I should be wearing ear cups, but I donít, even
though, or maybe because, it hurts.
Later, when the
foundation is carved out large enough for an eighteen-inch duct, I will
return to your level of the house, and you will be aware of me. I will
take my large, straight, framerís hammer, and while you watch in horror, I
will slam a hole through your wall. This is for the new thermostat wire,
but I wonít tell you this, Iíll just pound the hole and walk away. In the
background, I hear your husband saying he thinks he is going to stay home
from work tomorrow. There is of course no reason for this. I would work
faster and more efficiently if none of you were ever around, but I can
feel your eyes on me. You watch me as I disappear into your bedroom. Do
you wonder what Iím doing? Do you, man of the house, long to follow me
around and watch over my shoulder, commenting on my tools and pretending
to know the difference between R4 and R8 flex-duct? Do you know that when I kneel
down to nail the duct terminations into your floor, I look under your bed
and see the babysitterís panties?
I can smell your
dinner as I stand on a wobbly ladder to cut a 2x2 hole in your ceiling for
the return-air duct. I comment on how good it smells and it feels like you
should offer me some, but you donít. You just laugh nervously.
I will go home today
without eating anything but a peanut butter sandwich on white bread. Not
peanut butter and jelly. Just peanut butter. I will go home and find my
shrewish fourth wife hunched over her craft table, scrap-booking. She will
spend two days creating a family photo album that looks exactly like one
that can be purchased at a department store for eight dollars. The album
will feature mostly photos of her friends and relatives. There will be a
few that include me, mostly taken around the holidays, and the occasional
dull shot of our son. My son. Result of marriage number three. He is
twenty-five, and lives in a shack he built deep in the woods behind our
house. He is pale and pasty, overweight, unequipped for life, perhaps
mildly disabled. He attends the Burning Man festival every year, and
dreams of being a DJ. His dreams will not come true. I can see this
easily. He will not move from point A to point B. His life will end
exactly where it began.
Now I am in your
attic, pushing my way through mounds of fluffy gray insulation. The clouds
of dust and fiberglass are so dense that my flimsy dust mask blackens. The
pollution collects in my pores and seeps under my eyelids. Itís the middle
of July, and the temperature in the attic is nearly double what it is
outside. I am drenched with sweat. I can barely breath. I wrestle with a
twenty-inch wide, fifty-foot long tube of flexible duct, like a giant
black serpent, flipping and coiling in the cramped, nail-spiked confines
of the attic. Sometimes I want to scream out, but I stifle it. I want to
appear professional. Sometimes I can not stifle it, and I scream, and down
below you cringe, thinking, My GodÖ
I have to move your
storage boxes to make room for the duct. Here are all your family
mementos, laid out before me. There are no scrapbooks, just photos and
memorabilia. I browse through your Christmas photos. You, lady of the
house, look tense. You, man of the house, look scared. Even on Christmas
morning, you look tense and scared. Who is this girl in these older
photos? I have not seen any photos of her downstairs. A dead daughter,
perhaps? But why would you hide her away if she were safely dead?
Finding the right
location for another heat register, I stab my hand-held sheet-rock saw
down through the ceiling, without warning. I hear a strangled yelp from
below. I imagine the white dust raining down into your black hair as you
look up, knowing that this is necessary but somehow feeling that you
should never have called me. You never expectedÖall this.
My son has a pair of
turn-tables. He has no power in his shack, so he uses them in my basement.
He plays two records, one with a drum beat, one with music, trying to make
the sounds line up in some remotely meaningful way, and he believes this
to be composition on par with Beethoven. Or maybe he doesnít. He sees the
club DJ with the blue sunglasses holding one earphone to his ear and
bobbing his head while the music plays, and he wants to be this man, but
he wonít be. He is short and fat, and speaks with a stutter. He has made
several weak attempts at suicide in the last few years. He sees many
counselors and therapists, who give him many brightly colored pills. None
of this will help. My shrewish wife and I just shake our heads. I go to
work and she scrapbooks.
When you sit down for
dinner, I will decide to start nailing registers in your dining room. I
will politely ask you to move your chair aside so I can reach the one
under your table. You will look at each other in surprise as I insert
myself into you dining experience and begin hammering. You will wonder why
I havenít called it a day and gone home yet, but you have never been to my
home. You imagine it to be warm like yours, but you are wrong.
When I finally decide
to leave, I will ask if I can leave my tools in your garage. On my way
out, I will pause in your hallway to look at the photos hanging there. You
will feel like I linger a little too long on your sons, with their white
teeth and graduate caps.
Sometimes, on the next
day I will bring an employee or two. They will be dirty, uneducated men
who I picked up hanging around the hardware store. They will be of an
ethnicity that frightens you, but you will greet them politely and maybe
offer them a diet soda. Their eyes will roam over every inch of your home
and your body, inspecting, assessing, casing. When you are out of
the house, they will sample your expensive liquor, your Remy Martin and your Chambord. I will see this, and my stomach will clench, but I will do
nothing. I hope that I will not notice when they pocket your family
heirlooms. I do not want to confront anyone.
During their lunch and
ten minute breaks, they will drink large cans of high-gravity malt liquor.
They will laugh and joke with each other, and sneer at me because I am not
a drinker. I do not drink a drop of alcohol all year, except on three
specific days. The days that I drink are my first three wedding
anniversaries. On these days I drink until I almost die.
In your attic again, I
overturn another storage box and discover more photos of the young girl.
Your dead or disowned daughter. These are close-ups, school portraits. She
is beautiful and appears healthy. I find myself wondering if you have any
scars like mine, or even any minor discolorations from minor injuries
sustained during minor moments of difficulty. Moments of excessive focus,
overthinking. Do you suffer from such difficulties? You seem to have
plenty of alcohol.
Near the end of the
installation project I will go down into your crawlspace again, and
insulate your ductwork. I will wrap your sheet metal with rolls of yellow
fiberglass. It will shower me with fibrous particles. I will wear short
sleeves and no gloves as I lunge across your ducts and embrace them,
twisting an insulation roll around and around. It will collect in my
clothing and embed in my skin and itch maniacally for days. I will shower
for thirty minutes when I get home, but it will not help. I will lean
against the shower wall and claw at my fore-arms while the water burns
nearly to a boil, but my arms will just redden, and inflame, and keep
itching. You will look at me and wonder why in Godís name I donít wear
sleeves and gloves. You might even ask me aloud. I will have no answer. I
will just grunt, and shrug, and go back to work.
There are some things
about me you will not come to understand during our time together. You
might offer me a cup of crystallized coffee when I arrive in the unholy
dawn hours, and I will smile and drink it, and if there is something
notable about the weather, I might mention it. But there are a few facets
of my life that you will not see during these interactions, even when you
offer me a light beer in the scorching noon hours, and I open my parched
mouth and refuse it. You will not see the three days each year where I
purchase a plastic gallon of discount vodka and sit in my house alone and
just drink it. My wife stays with a friend on these days. We donít talk
about this, we have never acknowledged it with words, but she knows, of
course. She knows all about everything.
Last year, on my third
anniversary, when she returned the next day and saw the blood, I told her
that I had overdone it. I told her I had bumped into some equipment in my
shop, and cut myself. There was blood on her kitchen floor, but she
accepted this. She had no suspicions, and I donít think my son ever said
anything. What would he say?
I have no idea where
my other sons are. They are long gone, separated, disassociated, moved on,
but this one remains. Heís using the shower and making himself breakfast.
Heís sitting on the basement couch, aging.
My shrewish wife has
done her best to embrace him. He was five when she and I married. She
treated him like a son and made every effort. She took him out of school
for two years and attempted to tutor him. There were a few years where I
joined in, reading to him, taking him fishing, taking him to movies. But
nothing happened. We sighed, and shook our heads. I sat in my office
tallying paychecks for my employees, sometimes looking down at his closed
bedroom door, listening to the bass thumps rattle the heating ducts.
stiffened. I stopped giving him money. I made him work for me. I sent him
into the two-foot crawl spaces and hundred-degree attics. He complained of
headaches and neck problems, but he was faking, I knew he was faking. I
forced him awake before sunrise, and I could see the despair on his face,
like a death mask. It enraged me. It beat down on my shoulders, slowly
pushing me to the ground. It told me this was all futile.
I stopped making him
work for me. Now he is sitting on the basement couch. He is borrowing my
gas card and buying beer, renting movies, endless stacks of movies he
doesnít even want to watch. My shrewish, asexual wife is cutting out a
paper heart with special scissors that give its border decorative ridges.
She is gluing it next to a photo of herself and two friends standing
outside a gift shop, eating cupcakes. And I am in your house, leaning
against your closet wall, surrounded by your dresses and negligees,
closing my eyes, taking slow breaths, trying to stop thinking.
If your timing is
right, you might walk in on me in your garage and find me on the phone
with my third wife. It will be near the end of the day, and I will be
sitting on your car's hood, clutching the phone against my shoulder,
wrapping duct tape around a deep gash in my hand. This will be my bandage,
to prevent any further staining of your floor. You will be alarmed at the
amount of blood, but I will not notice or care. If your timing is right,
you will walk in on me, and it will be the night of my third anniversary,
another suffocating hot day in July.
I will be speaking
soft and low to my third wife, who lives in another state. I will be
telling her about our son, and she will express her disinterest, and I
will scream, I will hold the phone in front of my mouth and scream. My
face will go red, and the blood in my hand will force its way through the
I will notice you
standing there, then. I will stand up and apologize, offering unconvincing
explanations for my outburst. You will nod, eyebrows knitted, and go back
into the house. I will wrap more duct tape on my hand, tighter this time.
I will call it a day and go home.
At home I will find
the house empty. My wife will have gone to her friend's house, as per
tradition. But something will be off. I will have neglected something. I
will have stayed at your house, drilling holes in your closet, until 7:00,
partially aware of what I'm doing, that the liquor store will be closed,
not caring, pressing hard on the drill, hearing its motor strain. I will
drive home and I will be sober, oh so sober.
My son will be lying
on the couch, asleep. His pale gut will hang out from his shirt, rising
and falling with each snorting breath. I will look at him, and my head
will fill with thoughts. I will reminisce. I will think long and hard.
About life, and time, and everything. His mother has red hair. Vivid red,
almost crimson. His hair is a noncommittal shade of brownish, like mine.
He is my height. Short and wide. He is me, not her. He is my skin cells,
caught in a filter.
Slowly, I will reach
out and stroke his hair. I will clamp my hand over his nose and mouth. I
will press down with so much strength. You would not believe how much
strength I have. Crawling in your crawl space is like doing a push-up for
each and every step. I have been doing this job for so many years, you can
not imagine. You can not imagine how long I have been doing this job. That
is why you hired me, because you knew I had more experience than anyone
else, and because I was licensed and bonded, and because I offered you a
very reasonable bid. I am so good at my job. Even the major heating
companies consider me a threat. I take home less profit than anyone in the
business, but that is because I make sacrifices for you, the customer. I
don't heat my house. I don't drink. I don't steal. I guarantee all my
work. I will service your equipment free of charge, for as long as you
and I are alive. Your house will be warm. It will never leave the Comfort
Zone set on your digital thermostat. My son will wake up, and struggle. He
will not make any sound, he will just look up at me with eyes that are at
first wide, then narrow. They will begin to fill with tears. Not fear, but
rage. I will clamp down, allowing no air. He will reach up and grip my
face in his hand. He will dig his fingers into my forehead, clawing three
grooves in my furrowed brow. I will pull my hand off his mouth and
collapse into the nearby easy chair, breathing heavily, blood trickling
into my eyes. We will look at each other for several minutes, there in the
living room, in the dark. Then my son will go back to sleep.
There are things you
will not ask me during the week or two we are together. You will not ask
me personal questions. You will ask me about the weather. Your husband
will ask me about last night's sports game. Traffic. Taxes. Television.
You will not ask me about my past marriages, choices I have made, or the
scar on my forehead. It is not the kind of scar people ask about. Its
shape and location are somehow ominous. They suggest the possibility of a
story you do not want to hear.
Thirteen work days
after our handshake, with your dead skin clogging my sinuses and my blood
staining your floors, I will finish your job. I will connect the final
wires, flip the breaker, and fire up the gas furnace. The smell of burning
oil and chemicals will flood your house as the flames ignite the virgin
components of the new furnace. Your halls and your bedrooms will fill with
hazy blue smoke. The fire alarms will all trigger, screaming at unbearable
volume in perfect, stereo unison, like trumpets at the end of time. You
will cower in a corner, hands on your ears, or flee to the front yard and
stare back into your home, horrified. I will assure you that all this is
normal, but you will have doubts. You will have doubts about me, I will
see it in your face, and I will smile.
When the smoke has
cleared, and you have written out my check, I will finally leave you. We
will exchange pleasantries and you will promise to recommend me to your
friends. We will shake hands, and you will silently marvel at the number
of calluses and small scars on my leathery palm. As I leave, I will pause
in the front hallway. I will stare at the glowing portraits of your sons,
with their white teeth and graduate caps. I will lift them off their
hooks, and set them on the floor. Then from out of my tool-bag I will pull
the pictures of your daughter, and I will hang them on your sons' hooks. I
will carefully straighten these, I will stand back to admire the
arrangement, and then I will drive away.