Wednesday, June 06, 2007


By the end of that week I knew why I should care. My co-workers, frat boys all, whose sole exposure to tools came from watching Sears commercials during football games, were completely useless. The Blackstone home stood rotting before us. It needed to be burned to the ground, not painted. Every known species of wood munching pest infested its clapboards and trim, ants, termites, wasps, birds and probably a beaver or two from the look of things. One morning I stood at the top of a ladder, caulk gun in my right hand, reaching under the eaves in a ridiculous attempt to fill a hole the size of a three pound coffee can lid. As I squeezed a strand of caulk into place—I knew this wasn’t the way to fix the hole, but I had orders—an angry swarm of wasps poured from the eaves. I considered the irony for a moment, that furious wasps were attacking me as I worked on the run-down home of WASPs, and then I realized that dumb puns are even dumber at moments like this. They began to sting.

Falling is a state of being, not an action. You fall, and you realize that you are falling and you realize that there is nothing you can do to change this transitional state. You will fall until something stops you from falling. In the meanwhile you have a surprising amount of time to consider all the choices that led to this eternal moment. In an instant like this one, you can evaluate the discrete pain of each wasp stinger plunging into your flesh again and again. You watch the crazed swirl of wasps following you earthward. Are they tracking your scent? Can they see you? Do they know what you are? Are people identifiable to these creatures, or are we simply larger animals that disturb their way of life from time to time? Have I just laid the foundation for future conflict between this wasp tribe and human beings? On a fifteen-foot extension ladder, accelerating at thirty-two feet per second, how fast are you going? Oh, another sting. Ouch. Will I need an anti-histamine shot? Oh, here comes the ground. Then it’s over.

The wasps clamored over my body. The wind slammed out of my lungs. I swatted lamely at the wasps. Their stings continued. I coughed and gagged. Finally my diaphram found its function again and I hollered, “Oh for Chrissakes!”

Blackstone came trotting around the corner of the house. As he came around the corner he looked at me. He said, “Oh.” Really, that’s what he said. “Oh.” As insipid an observation it may have been, it was enough for the wasps. A few dozen turned their attention to him. He squealed and swatted. I felt a sharp burning sensation in the core of my forearm.

Blackstone’s mother drove us both to the hospital. At the wheel of her battered Volvo she said, “So, John. How, uh, how did this happen. I mean are you okay?” My face had swollen up so that I looked like I’d been beaten with a sack of field stones. My arm was clearly broken, and I suspected that my collar bone and several ribs also snapped on impact with the ground. I glared at Blackstone. He gagged on his swollen tongue and looked away.

The hospital bill came to $5,285.62. And the Blackstones didn’t want to pay it. The young Blackstone stood in the treatment room, both of our inflammations calmed down a bit now, and tried to suggest that I was responsible for the cost of my treatment. “I don’t think it’s going to go down that way,” I said. He left the room.

I took a cab back to the Blackstone’s house so I could get my car. As I stood in the driveway fishing around for my keys, Mrs. Blackstone walked up to me.

“You know, Mr. McCloskey,” she said. “You might think that you can shake us down, but you can’t. Just because we live here in Hingham doesn’t mean that we’re made of money.”

“Lady,” I said. “I was working on your house. I’m on your son’s payroll. I think the law is pretty clear about who’s responsible for my injuries.”

“Oh sure, you come over to my house and you run around on a ladder, probably stoned or something, and I’m supposed to pay for the consequences. Sure. Great.”

I climbed into the car and drove away. When I got home I called my father. He called his lawyer. I ate four vicodin and went to bed.

After twelve hours of dreamless sleep I woke up to the sound of my telephone. I answered. It was my father’s lawyer. “Hey John, how’s your arm?”

“It’s great, under the circumstances. Do you have any news?”

“Well, I do. What do you know about these people? Do you think they’ve got any money.”

“Who can tell? They drive a ten year old Volvo. Their house is falling down around them. Why, they telling you that they can’t pay.”

“Of course they are. No one can ever pay. If you fell off Bill Gate’s ladder, he would turn up in court waiving a sheaf of food stamps and crying poor. No one can ever pay. But I’ll tell you boy-oh, you make ‘em pay one way or another. You make them pay.” I could hear his teeth clenching.

“Oh.” The vicodin haze crept back. “So, you’re gonna make them pay?”

“I sure will.”

“So what are we talking about here?”

“Well first I gotta ask what you want. Do you want to ding them for pain and suffering or negligence? I mean we could be talking serious money here.”

“I don’t really want to do that. I mean, lets get them to cover the hospital bills and a few bucks for the annoyance and lost pay and call it a day.”

“You’re a better man than I am John.” He sounded dissapointed. He sighed audibily, then said, “Ok. How would you like to own a painting franchise?”

1 comment:

GB said...

Nice bit of writing. Having painted a few houses in my day it all rang true.