Bill and I didn’t meet at Home Depot until 11:30 AM. He’d been in court all morning, most likely because of some violation of his probation. He’d gotten out of jail early because of COVID-19, but he wasn’t too good about showing up to meetings with his probation officer or taking the piss tests. I thought it might be rude to ask too many questions. I liked working for Bill. He never took it out on me when he was having a bad day.
We loaded three sections of base cabinet into the back of my pickup. Bill was going to install them in a client’s kitchen, and he needed me to haul them over there. He didn’t have a truck. He liked his Jeep too much.
“We’ll have to come back for the rest of the pieces,” he said. “It’s too windy today to stack them.”
Experience had taught Bill how easily things fell out of my truck.
Last year or the year before, I’d been hauling some cabinets for him and lost a drawer out of one of them. I hadn’t thought to tape it in place. When I turned left onto Arapaho Avenue, the drawer slid out and smashed into useless broken pieces in the middle of the intersection. I just left it there and acted surprised when we unloaded everything on the other end.
I didn’t feel the need to mention it to Bill, but something similar had occurred a few weeks ago. My girlfriend’s dad had hired me to clear a bunch of junk out of his garage and take it to the landfill. There was all sorts of shit in that pile: broken tools, nudie magazines from the ‘90s, two dozen canning jars full of mysterious brown sludge, and some pretty nice all-weather tires. I needed new tires before the snow came, and I didn’t have what they were going to cost. I looked them over greedily before I realized they were too big for my little truck. Well damn, I thought, and I threw them in the bed with the rest of the stuff. I knew the landfill would charge me double if I showed up with an unsecured load, so I fastened everything down tight with ratchet straps. This was going to be the easiest hundred bucks I ever made.
But on my way to the landfill I started feeling guilty for taking money from my girlfriend’s dad. This was the kind of simple chore that you did for family for free, just to be nice. The problem was that as much as I wanted to help out, I really could use the cash. It had been a rough year.
Then I had a good idea: I’d keep the tires, sell them on Craigslist, and tell my girlfriend’s dad to keep his money.
I’d never been to this specific landfill before, but I knew the drill. I drove onto the scale and checked in with the attendant.
“Do you have an orange safety vest?” she asked.
I shook my head, and she gave me a disposable one.
“Keep this on any time you’re outside of your vehicle,” she said.
I guess she wanted to make sure nobody mistook me for trash.
I backed my truck up to a mountain of garbage, and a huge flock of fat landfill seagulls scattered nervously, but they came back once I put my orange safety vest on. I started pulling everything out. Out went the broken tools and the dirty magazines. I gently placed the canning jars on the ground. I didn’t want to be around when whatever was inside of them came out.
There were only three tires in the back of my truck.
I looked at all the stuff I had just thrown on the ground. No tire there. Again, I counted the tires in my truck. One, two, three. I had lost one somewhere.
I drove back to my girlfriend’s dad’s house real carefully, scanning every gutter and sidewalk, searching for that fourth tire.
I folded the check that he wrote and put it in my pocket.
I’ve been hauling stuff in pickup trucks for over a decade now. I’m a professional. You think I’d be better at it.
Back in 2014, I worked and lived onsite at a refuge for wolves and wolf-dog hybrids. It was way up in the mountains of southern Colorado, in the beautiful wild middle of nowhere. All the animals had been rescued from roadside zoos, the film industry, Craigslist breeders, and folks who were arrogant enough to think that having a wolf as a pet would be a good idea.
It turned out it never was.
So now there were 36 wolves and wolf-dog hybrids in the mountains of southern Colorado that needed to be fed. That was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. Somebody didn’t just pull the phrase “wolfing it down” out of their ass, you know. Those things could eat.
Ranchers would come up to the refuge with horses that needed to be put down. It only took a single .22 bullet to put a sick horse out of its misery. When that was over and the tears were shed, we’d hang the carcass by the neck from a gigantic tripod and butcher it. A few times giving the Circle of Life a hand this way and you start thinking that you’ll never smell anything but horse blood ever again.
Any leftover meat that there was we’d load into big plastic totes and take to town, which was about an hour away. The whole refuge ran on a few solar panels, which didn’t provide enough power to keep the meat cool, so we rented a freezer in the alley behind a butcher/taxidermy shop that mostly stayed in business by processing wild game.
Everybody else from the refuge hated going into town, but smoking cigarettes and listening to the radio have always been two of my favorite things, so I was often the first to volunteer. The truck we had was pretty fun, too. It was this old, green Dodge that ran on used vegetable oil. You’d get the Cummins engine warmed up with regular diesel, and then, after a few miles, you’d flip a switch and the exhaust would start smelling like French fries.
So there I was, smoking cigarettes, listening to country music, and smelling like French fries and horse blood, as happy as could be. Eventually the dirt road came to a two-lane highway, and the highway went into town. I drove past the landfill and the Ace Hardware and the Antler Liquor Store. Right as I was making the left turn onto Main Street, the tailgate of the truck popped open and the giant plastic totes went flying out.
Three hundred pounds of bloody horsemeat spread out across Main Street.
It looked horrible, like the site of a massacre.
I pulled over and jumped out. People drove by real slow to watch me scoop chunks of meat back into plastic totes with my bare hands.
A Jeep pulled up behind my truck. I was grateful. Honestly, I felt like an asshole, and someone giving me a hand would make me feel a lot better about the whole thing.
The window rolled down and this lady leaned out.
“Can I have some of that?” she asked.
When I told her I was sorry, but I needed all 300 pounds of this now-dirty horsemeat, she drove away without helping me. Some people are born selfish.
Eventually, I got it packed back in. I drove two blocks to the butcher/taxidermy shop and unloaded it into the freezer.
All of that because I wanted to smoke cigarettes and listen to the radio.
I never told Bill that story either.
After two trips, all the pieces of the base cabinet made it to Bill’s client’s house undamaged, despite the wind. This was a blessing. I didn’t want to make it any easier for him to come to the conclusion that it’d be cheaper to buy a piece-of-shit truck like mine than it would be to keep hiring me to drive things around town. I really could use the cash. It’d been a rough year.
Nathaniel Kennon Perkins is the author of the novel Wallop (House of Vlad, 2020), the short story collection The Way Cities Feel to Us Now (Maudlin House, 2019), the short novel Cactus (Trident Press, 2018), and the ongoing literary zine series Ultimate Gospel. His creative work has appeared in Triquarterly, Berfrois, Keep This Bag Away From Children, American West, Timber Journal, and others. He runs Trident Press. His website is www.nathanielkennonperkins.com
image: Natalie Allstead