Archive for November, 2006


Right now, I can see the way I’m going to die. My torso will be crushed into the linoleum; my head will shatter beneath the three hundred pound man presently trying to reach the ceiling of the utility room. He puts his foot on the dryer and it rocks backwards. Here we go, I think. His hand grips the top of the partition wall; a shower of old sheetrock smashes on the floor around me. I cringe. His grip holds. The dryer rocks back to level with a metallic boom. We’re safe. For now.

Meet the Boss. We’ll call him “Boss” to preserve his anonymity, though not because I have anything disrespectful to say about him. The Boss is awesome. He runs the town: he’s the fire chief; he’s the road commissioner; he’s the solid-waste manager; he’s the oil delivery man. He also repairs furnaces—that’s why he’s standing on the dryer.

The furnace, you see, hangs from the ceiling. It’s a relic from the days when this house was a fire station, installed in the late 70s. It ran fine until a couple of nights ago, when the characteristic, roof-shaking roar of its blower gave way to a droning hum and some clicking.

“See the problem Inmate?” the Boss asks. He’s referred to me as “inmate” since before I moved here. The house I rent from the town serves as its police station in the summer; I therefore, am its inmate.

“I don’t,” I said.

“I do,” says the Boss. “I do. That’s why they pay me sixty bucks an hour.”

He reaches into the blower enclosure and pulls out a belt. Not a whole belt, but a cracked, dried-out, broken belt. Hence, apparently, my lack of blower.

“I’ll be back,” he says. “You’re not going anywhere.”

I hear his diesel truck roar away into the night and then, a few minutes later, roar back. The Boss returns holding a new belt, and proceeds to climb the dryer once again. I step back.

“You’re not scared are you?” he says monotonously. “I’d be pretty scared if I was you.”

After a few minutes of fiddling, he flicks the kill-switch and the burner fires. Moments later, the blower shudders to life. Warm air starts whooshing into the rest of the house. The Boss closes everything up and returns to the floor. But he isn’t satisfied.

“Didn’t do that before,” he says. The blower now emits a repetitive clunking sound. Up he climbs onto the dryer. He re-opens the shaking furnace and peers inside.

“Oh yes,” he says. “You’re going to need a new heating system.”

He closes up again and climbs down. Over the roar, we talk for a minute about where a new furnace would go. He points out possible locations. I notice that the tip of his index finger is missing.

“The best place for it,” he says, “would be right on the ceiling where this one is. All the pipes and everything are right there.”

“Yup,” I agree.

“But,” he says. “See those struts? God knows what they’re into. Looks like they’ve pulled out a little.”

“Oh,” I say. He means the metal rods that hold the furnace to the ceiling.

“You aren’t scared are you?” he asks again. “I think it’s pretty scary.”


Here is something you didn’t know. Apparently, Donald Rumsfeld is a poet . Neither did I. Right.


Imagine a fish that swims its entire life in mayonnaise. And then imagine catching that fish, and cooking it, and chopping it up into a paste of little pieces. And then imagine all the creatures in the sea—lobsters, scallops, crabs, squid—and imagine them all cooked and chopped and mayonnaised. And imagine it all going into a bowl, and then imagine taking a potato chip and cutting the surface of the paste, and trying to dig some onto the potato chip without it snapping. And then imagine putting it in your mouth, and chewing it, and swallowing, and then turning to the lady in the sunglasses with blinking blue lights on the rims and saying that thank you, you like it and it’s delicious.

And then imagine looking out over an industrial landscape. Imagine smokestacks, of all shapes and sizes, their dark mouths gaping up at you. Imagine blocky warehouses; imagine grain silos glinting. And then imagine that instead of gazing over roofs and silos and stacks, you actually stare over the top of a table—over the tops of many tables, one after another, down the hall—and imagine that the smokestacks you see are the necks of bottles, that the silos are beer cans, that the warehouses and factories are derelict 30-packs, ravaged and empty.

And imagine for a minute that this is your America, for in a sense it is. Wisconsin is represented here; so is Colorado. Microbreweries check in from many parts of the Northeast. Jack Daniels gives a holler from down in Tennessee. They all wink back at you in the twirling colored lights.

It’s hot. The furnace is trained for colder weather, and starts blowing unnecessarily. The band is good, but loud; or good and loud, or both. The moon is full outside. When the twirling lights die away between sets, you can look out the windows and see a view of the ocean that would cost several million dollars today. The lights of large homes shine on the far shore; cell towers blink behind them. The sky glows over the city.

A woman walks by, wearing a white robe with a large pouch sewn to look like an open toilet. Another woman in a satin wedding dress is showing off her shoes (with flowers) and you realize she is actually a man. Several pirates gyrate at each other off to one side. Many people wear sunglasses with flashing lights—some blue, some red, some purple. A number of women wear large plaques painted to mimic scrabble tiles. Some people have stuffed their costumes to appear morbidly obese, but one of the sad facts of rural living is that without prior knowledge, you can’t be sure who’s stuffed and who isn’t.

Imagine knowing almost none of these people, and yet being there anyway, and you’ll see how I spent my evening. Awkward, yes, but some things are worth awkward to see.