Wherein our intrepid hero proves once again that he has no qualms about being a serious asshole.
The day after Elwood came to despoil my sofa was like any other Sunday in my life at that point: We were turning Portland, Oregon so we’d leave bright and early — if I were Salt Lake City, we’d leave in the afternoon, if it were Phoenix we’d leave nearer sundown, and so on. From there it was always the same: My father would drive until we cleared the LA basin, we’d stop to tank up, and then his weekend would resume with the truck full of fuel and him in the sleeper with enough Burgermeister beer to drink himself into a coma. I’d get a sandwich when we stopped for fuel, and then drive all night. At the next fuel stop I’d get another sandwich and refill my thermos with coffee, and then just before we reached our destination I’d pull off so my father could get behind the wheel. He always had to be behind the wheel when we arrived at and departed from our destinations unless it was on the weekend when there would be no one there. The narcissistic prick.
Before we left I retrieved the Sunday paper from the end of the driveway, plucked out the help wanted section, then went into my room and dropped it on Elwood’s face. He awoke with a start, asking “What’d you do that for?”. “I wanted to be sure you got the classifieds before they ended up in my sister’s bird cage”.
We turned Portland twice that week and rolled back into town after dark on Friday night. Elwood came out when he heard the Kenworth backing into the driveway, which fouled my mood. I’d almost forgotten about him being there. As I stepped off of the ladder I asked him if he’d managed to find a job.
“Nah, I looked, but there was really nothing in the paper I’m qualified for.”
“Dude, everyone is qualified to work at Burger King.”
“What good is minimum wage going to do me?”
“What good is no wage at all going to do you?”
Of course there was nothing in the paper he was qualified for. You have to go to college to get recruited by the FBI to become a professional panty sniffer.
Saturday was the same old same old. I did some yard work, then washed, waxed, cleaned the interior, and did routine maintenance on the tractor. Then on Sunday it was on the road again. The following weekend was one of those “my father has proven to be a less capable moron than I’d given him credit for” weekends. He wouldn’t try to line up return loads before we left, so we always had to scramble to find loads out of our destination cities. It was bad enough everywhere else, but the only things coming out of Salt Lake City were Mormons going to Nevada to get drunk and cavort with those known in trucker jargon as “commercial company”. We always ended up deadheading to northern Nevada for a load (in fact an overload) of potatoes or to southern Idaho for apples. The fun part about the potato loads was that the crafty bastard who was the shipper always made sure the bag count in the trailer was just short enough of the waybill that the fraudulent shortage was just a bit more than the freight contract price. We never got paid for hauling those loads but took all the risk of sneaking around the scales so we didn’t get caught rolling at 110,000 pounds.
The worst part was that when we got into Salt Lake late in the week we often ended up laying over for the weekend to load out on Monday. It might not have been so bad, but my father didn’t believe in hotels and restaurants. We couldn’t even hole up at a truck stop because there would be a restaurant there and I might want to have something that wasn’t a packaged sandwich, so we sat in highway rest areas until Monday morning rolled around. It didn’t matter to the old man at all because he could drink himself blind anywhere and be just as, well, not happy, but anesthetized. We spent that weekend in a rest area outside Winnemucca, Nevada, and one that was more boring than most because being so close to town it was rarely used by travelers.
That rest area was my least favorite of them all. In addition to being boring as hell because it was usually deserted, there wasn’t anywhere to walk to that was a pleasant enough place to sit and become semi-catatonic. I had to get away from the truck because (a) it was too hot to sit in and (b) I was sick to death of my father’s incessant repetition of riveting tales of courageous heroism, grand adventure, and sexual encounters with nymphomaniacal bombshells. The fun had gone out of bagging him on inconsistencies in the current telling and previous tellings; neither hurting his delicate narcissistic feelings nor sending him into a fit of rage held any interest for me any more. I spent the days sitting under the overpass in the shade where it was slightly less scorching, and considered deepening the initials I’d carved into the concrete on a previous visit but I just didn’t see any point then of immortalizing Amethyst and myself as a couple since she’d broken up with me. It was awful nice of me to torture myself by leaving those stylized initials all over the western US so I could always see them, I thought. Later, when it was certain that the old man had drunk himself past stupor and would be passed out, I’d go back to the truck and sit in the empty trailer with the doors open, where I’d eventually sleep for a while and be awoken when the heat became unbearable. Being a natural night owl in the desert with no air conditioning can be a real bummer.
The next weekend when we rolled back into town, I again asked Elwood straight away if he’d managed to find a job yet. Of course he hadn’t. I asked if he’d even put in any applications, and when he said he had I challenged him to tell me where. He named a full service gas station there in town, so I went there the following day in the truck. I asked the guy who appeared to be in charge, “Hey, is that job still open?”. “What job?”. “A buddy of mine told me you had an opening, said he put in an application himself just the other day.” “We haven’t had a job opening or accepted an application in months. You sure it was here?”. “I thought so, but I guess it must have been some place else. Thanks.” “Good luck, man”.
Elwood was not happy to know I’d checked up on him, but insisted that it was the station I’d just visited where he’d put in an application.
And so it went for the next couple of months. We’d blow into town, Elwood would still be without gainful employment. To make matters worse, he wasn’t even contributing a bit of labor to the household — I was still doing all of the yard work, and my mother was bitching to me that Elwood not only didn’t volunteer to help around the house, he refused. Every time she bitched at me about it, I told her, “Well then throw his ass out”. This was the same woman who’d been hammering on me since I was a small child about the need to “earn your keep”, a thing I’d been doing since I was a small child. My father’s taste for mowing lawns had lasted as long as the novelty of the new mower, and the same was true of the pool maintenance equipment, the garbage cans that had to make weekly pilgrimages to he curb, and everything else related to home keeping and maintenance. But our tools, equipment, dish cloths, and so on weren’t built to fit Elwood’s hands.
To say that I was pissed off about the fact that I was working as a slave while Elwood’s contribution to the household was keeping the refrigerator stock rotated (out) and warming a space on the sofa would be an understatement. I wasn’t just pissed off; I went into a fuck it all rage. I confronted my parents and gave them an ultimatum, with Elwood looking on: If Elwood didn’t have a job in two weeks, he was going to get on the truck to be the house mouse and lumper (one who loads and unloads trucks), get out of the house, or I was going to take my chances on the street and would laugh my ass off when they lost everything to their creditors.
You see, I knew by then with certainty that my father truly could not make a go of it on his own. He was the worlds shittiest truck driver, and his primary interest was in getting away from the house so he could get blind drunk every day without my mother bitching at him about it. At that point I was lucky if he drove more than six hours per day, and I was behind the wheel the rest of the time the truck was moving. He had a truck that he couldn’t afford to keep because he was afraid to leave the western US in it, and once winter arrived he was afraid to go where there might be the least bit of snow — despite a big chunk of the purchase price (and crushing monthly payments) of the truck being due to its being outfitted in every way imaginable for snow country. If I took myself out of the equation, sure, I’d be homeless and jobless for a little while, but I was willing to gamble that by then one or more of my friends would be able to take me in, and I knew I could have a job within a week. I could be outdoors for a while if need be and had done it before.
Two weeks later, Elwood very reluctantly crawled his ass into the truck because if he didn’t get in, I didn’t get in. My parents were angry with me, and thought I was being way too much the asshole. I hadn’t even got half started. Put me in the driver’s seat, I’m going to drive. That’s what it’s there for.
It wasn’t but a couple of weeks later that I told Elwood to take up the 12 volt coffee pot and get it started because I needed more caffeine to keep me going, and he flew off the handle. “Why should I make your coffee? I’m not your fucking slave!”. I told him that his choice was to make the coffee or be left on the side of the road. He made the coffee, but a few days later the scenario repeated. I pulled over, got out, walked around to the passenger side, opened the door, and told him to get out. He sat there looking at me, wide eyed and speechless. I pointed out to him that if I grabbed his leg and pulled he was likely to be injured in the fall, and he said he’d make the coffee for me. Good.
When we had the same discussion about a sandwich some time later, I told him, “Fine, then don’t make the sandwich. It’s your decision to make and they’re your consequences to suffer”. So he very defiantly didn’t make the sandwich, and an hour or two later when I pulled to the side so he could relieve himself, I waited until he was in mid-stream and pulled away. There he stood on the shoulder of a lonely highway on a moonless night in the middle of the Nevada desert, with his pecker in his hand, watching the clearance markers on the rear of the trailer disappear into the distance. I can only imagine the terror he must have felt as a life long city boy in the inhospitable wilderness with nowhere to go but no reason to put off getting there.
As I said, I have no qualms about being a serious asshole when my good nature is abused. Don’t worry, though. He didn’t die. Last time I checked he was a school bus driver in some desert town in California. I’d have thought that the last two things he’d ever want to have as significant parts of his life would be large vehicles and deserts, but there ya have it. Life is funny sometimes.