Friday, February 15, 2008

It's an old story but it's new to you.

A Hare’s Tale.


Redmond Wallace

I know of the men but I know nothing of the hare’s tale so I am forced to deduce it from the men involved and the circumstances of the situation I know of from personal life. Honesty and moral fiber force leave me no other choice than to tell that this story is from a past I have only present knowledge of. I have taken considerable efforts to verify all necessary details but I am only a man and not capable of God’s perfection. I merely wished to tell this tale in the real.

The hare ended his life under the paint shed at Steel America, Inc. The shed was on the backside of a building originally erected by United Warehouse, but long since abandoned. When land was worth something around here, they built tall warehouses of brick and windows. Thousands of squares of glass walled whole floors, letting in an abstract light of antiquated difference. Jerry Hallowell leased out the first floor in 1982 and started up Steel America. Originally, he was the company’s only employee and boss, working 80-hour weeks to make a name in a trade of masters. He could not afford his first help but he could less afford to not have it. Slowly, the shop grew in all ways, filling out a space far too vast for a one-pony show. When the hare came along, the 11 men worked in the shop and a one masterful woman handled all the office affairs.

Steel America and several other shops shared the lazy blocks with shotgun houses and churches along Ohio Street. Some blocks were grown over fields while others were chained off parking lots to long closed manufacturing houses and stores. A candy plant covered the cheaper scents of piss and alcohol with the chemical sweet smell of bubble gum. In the right light, one could see the natural order of entropy breaking down the geometric forms into organic piles of rubbish. The leaning churches appeared to have grown from the soil; the empty lots were small meadows in that light. Under the suffocating noon sun, one could see them for the wrangle of weeds they were. That magic light was forgotten, as the skies had been mean and gray for the past two weeks. An endless cloud spat rain just long enough to make concrete sweat oil.

The hare lived in a stack of railroad parts. He had more twists and turns than even he knew what to do. The long rain had soaked his hole and he could find no way to be comfortable in spite of his handsome pelt. Steel America was about two hundred yards from his hole, which was an awful distance to be going. If the dogs found him that far out, it would be a nightmare but his curiosities got the best of him. He moved in short hops so he could keep track of the world around. His dapple brown coat did not look like much but when he stood stock still in the shade he was almost invisible. In this tortoise fashion, the hare made his way under the shed of Steel America, Inc.

The hare had been around the two-legged animals to know a few things. They jumped about and hollered, flapping as they shouted all manner of weird things to each other. And the dark-skinned one under the shed was still drunk. The hare could relax some for the teetering man was as harmless as a two-legged dog, for once, he could explore the world beyond his world.

He hopped onto the gravel and smelled his way around the perimeter, one eye on the man at all times. Half of a peach rewarded him for the first part of his adventure so he continued his path along the back wall. There was no easy escape from this place so he would have to be sneakier. The journey along the corrugated metal wall yielded nothing but a small patch of clover that tasted of nothing he had ever tried and of such foul proportions that he almost developed a concept of evil from it. Of course, he knew nothing of paints, thinners, cleaners, primers, pre-primers, or any of the other concoctions spilled, sprayed, or otherwise disarrayed all over the shed.

The search was becoming uncomfortable, no longer could he suppress escapist instinct with curiosity. And so he began the sneaky march back to the known world. Just past a set of sawhorses holding up a swirling nouveau handrail, he found most of a salad. The pieces looked so delectable on the ground, no hare could resist. Sugar crunchy emerald leaves of lettuce made a lovely bed for pieces of light crimson tomato and the medley of vegetables and nuts that make a salad more than an appetizer.

He never had a chance to wonder what might have happened, there was no pulse racing escape. In fact, the only thought he had was for a piece of lettuce followed by nothingness.

A rock was lodged in his skull and the drunk was running toward his him as the red came swirling down before his eyes. Something grabbed him by his ears but he was too close to death to know.

“Ha!” Ernest Clark shouted as he picked up his prize, admiring the rock lodged in the rabbit’s skull. The excitement washed away his hungover drunkenness and now he was dancing about the yard whooping and hollering in quite a state of triumph tempered by insanity.

“What in the hell is all this commotion about?

Duwayne Smith, the shop foreman, came out of the shop glaring at the raving lunatic. Having worked with the man for five years he was accustomed to such antics but they had work to be doing and he could ill afford his painter wasting time. Duwayne was a real steel cat to whom the clock was the divine interlocutor in the church of work. Growing up in Crawfordsville, he learned to drink whiskey and chase women from his father. He chased one of them to town where he soon found himself a high school dropout father. “I needed the paycheck so I went to work unloading barges. I found the harder and more I worked, the less folks bothered me. Ain’t nothing like solitude and sweat.” For the past eleven years, he had worked his way up Steel America until he was running the floor. With a voice like a grinder, he started to tear into his painter whose back was turned to the world in his celebration of his triumph over the mighty rabbit.

“Ernest, I’m sick of this. I don’t know what I’m gonna do about you dancing and lollygagging when these handrails gotta be out today.”

“I was just having a little fun,” Ernest exclaimed as he turned around to Duwayne with the hare in his hand.

“What in the?” I can’t believe you finally got the bastard, told you it would go after that salad.”

“Sorry boss, but I got to get this thing on a fire.” He was not one to care what his boss thought. To tell of Ernest’s past would only serve to reiterate the truth of his present. He was a man of the world but these few lines will be perhaps his only remnant. Ernest Clark was born in the delta but he managed to break from his family and the alluvial fields and paint Oldsmobiles in Lansing. He still drives his ’73 convertible. 56, lean and mean, head shaved bald, he wears a closely managed gray beard. Was a pimp, always a hustler. He did time for lots of things but most of it was for robbing a liquor store after his partner forgot to fill up the gas tank before the stick-up. Lives with his old lady…sometimes. Drinks nothing but blue top vodka. He always loved making things look good and that is what painters do.

Ernest had pulled out a small folding knife and cut a small hole in the rabbit’s stomach. With that hole, he could grab the skin and tear it around the body. Grabbing the fur on both sides where he separated it, he pulled until he unpeeled the tail like a lab glove. Next, he set the animal on a piece of cardboard and cut the head off. He wielded the knife with great skill but it was still difficult as the animal’s head was far bigger than the dollar store blade. At last, the blade cracked the neck and he was able to work the two sides apart. With a quick slice, he opened up the rabbit’s stomach and chest. Entrails spilled out and he set to the task of removing everything he could get. The eerie smell of blood and feces mixed with the paint fumes to create an unholy bouquet. After he threw the rabbit guts into the trash he found a hose and cleaned the remaining headless form. The muscle tone of game is always perfect and Ernest admired the iridescent striation radiating along and through each piece of muscle wrapped around the small skeleton. He was not a churchgoer, never finished the Bible, and distrusted preachers with a passion but he found God in the places that mattered.

“You better hurry cause I got food but I ain’t got time for you to be dicking around.” Duwayne hollered from the shop.

“Man, can’t you tell I’m about done. Why don’t you go do some paper work or whatever it is you do,” Ernest snapped back as he walked into the shop. Inside was the usual array of equipment for tearing and mashing steel into useful shapes. It was a cramped room and Ernest had to twist and dodge his way through the pieces of iron scattered between the men and their welders.

Beyond the hulking masses of dirty equipment, Ernest found a small alcove that housed a few chairs and a refrigerator. Back here is where most of the shop took breaks and where Ernest stored the necessities if such an occasion would rise. Once the animal was prepared and wrapped in foil, he made his way to the steel table closest to him. There, he found Calvin Williamson bent over a welding machine, trying to untangle a ferociously twisted mess of wire from the machine.

“Look here, I got a proposition. You let me hook up that heater of yours you can have a piece of this rabbit.”

“It’s too hot to be setting any more fires in here. Besides, what if I don’t like your shop style cooking of something I’ve never had. I think you’re trying to pull one on me.”

“You ain’t ever had rabbit? Well you don’t know what eating is until you had a good piece of cottontail. I’m sure it’ll be better than peanut butter and jelly of yours. You got to be getting some groceries in you to do this type of shit. But you’re young and don’t give a damn. When I was your age I’d drink all night put three or four women to bed and still get fifteen hours in. Can’t do that now, now I’m lucky to finish a pint and real lucky to keep it up long enough for any type of fun.”

“I guess you can use the heater, Graybeard.”

The idiot scholar was none other than Calvin Williamson, a living refrain for the chore that life is. He knew he wasn’t doing the right thing but didn’t understand what that was. 28. 5’10. Short dark hair. Coffee eyes. He painted oil derricks in Oklahoma and silos in Nebraska. Bike messenger in Chicago and a bartender in Baltimore. He had an earring ripped out in a bar on the Pine Ridge, and a woman took his sanity at the Mandarin Oriental in New York. Climbed any mountain worth a damn in Glacier. He hates USA Today and the New York Times as they only published pop crap. Avid sports fan but prefers to read about it in the local daily rather than watch it on TV. Owns no CDs but listens to radio incessantly. Wants nothing more than to spend his life hiking the Appalachian Trail. Fell into steel while he was waiting to get a job for a towboat outfit. It was out of season and they wouldn’t call back. He needed cash and Steel America Inc. would pay him on Friday.

The two rooted around until a pile of dirt smeared objects until they found an open face propane heater. Ernest hooked it up to a tank that had been there since the final cold days in March. A prior worker had attached a small grate to the top so he could warm his gloves and once the he got the thing lit, Ernest set the metal wrapped meat onto it, explaining, “You don’t need to watch it real close but it’s got to be turned every thirty minutes or so. If it starts flaming up, make sure it don’t blow nothing up. Got it?”

“Hey Elmer, if you spent more time painting and less time hunting wabbits I wouldn’t be yelling at you for my damn handrails.” Duwayne shouted from the office door.

Ernest pretended not to notice while he made his may back to the paint shed.

When Calvin first turned the rabbit, precisely one half hour after it touched the fire, he could just start to smell the sweet flavor of roasted game. An hour and a half later, he was ravenous and could barely stand to not look. Work was getting ever more difficult while hearing the fat sizzle as it dripped into the flame. For Calvin, it was almost less the thought of how good the meat would taste and more the idea that it came from the Earth. He felt a sense of liberation swell up that he had searched the continent for. His greatest hope was to break from the twisted vice of society and he saw an opportunity in this moment. His overeager thought process leapt at the chance, “We think we’re rats in the cage only because we let ourselves be. How do they do that? How does the system coddle us and make us feel safe walking into their shop, doing their work, making them rich? The individual is the one with the strength. I can become master of my world through the right work. If we all do such, if we all grow our own food, write our own stories, sing our own songs, build our own houses we will tear the meat from the system and leave nothing but a stack of bones for the wolves to fight over...”

His beeping watch awoke him from his insanity, reminding him to attend to his culinary duties. When he got back to his paying job, he lost track of his rant and found himself thinking about the most mundane of things. The nothingness had reminded him of a pimple he popped back in high school. His greasy teenage skin had created an extra feature on the side of his face. When he squeezed the infected lump, it looked like a bowl of custard exploded in the bathroom. Calvin chastised himself for wasting his memory on such things but could not shake himself of his lesser qualities. He would never be the great man he dreamed himself to be; great men don’t waste their time on zits. They’ve got things they gotta be doing. Where are they? What happened to the T.E. Lawrence’s of the world? It’s tough being a renaissance man when you’ve got to have three years experience or an advanced degree to do anything beyond the mindless.

“Hey, you ready to eat some of that rabbit. I been thinking about that all morning. Man, that rock hit it clean as you please.”

And so Calvin dropped his monologue to save the world and decided it was time to try some of this delicious smelling concoction of God’s abundance. Ernest opened up the foil Calvin’s layout table, letting the steam pour out and drawing half the shop over to see.

“Try some. That’s way you do this up. Good meat, real game, you don’t need all them spices.”

“Really?” Tony, one of the other fitters, asked.

Mr. Hallowell had come out from the office to witness and answered for Ernest who was busy demeating the bones and handing out choicest morsels to all who stuck their hand out, “You didn’t know, the meat we get at the store, they feed those animals all kinds of mean and awful things so you’ve got to cover it up.”

“Damn, that’s good.”

“Man, I can’t believe you got that with a rock.”

“You a regular Annie Oakley.”

“What? She used a pistol. Don’t you know nothing.”

“Of course I know she did but I’m just saying he can hit what he aims at.”

“Not when he’s painting.”

“Hell naw, then he hits everything he ain’t shooting at. Park your car over in West Memphis and he still gonna get that shit on there.”

Ernest handed Calvin one of the rear legs, “Tell me what you think, baby boy.” It was too hot to eat but he could not wait after standing next to it all morning. The meat was a little tougher than he expected. It wasn’t tough as leather, but it was no veal. Of course, this was a real animal, not some monster created by our freakish whims of intelligence. The trash talk kept going as he enjoyed the authentic meal.

“It’s good, ain’t it?”

“Best meal I had since breakfast.” Another wave of laughter rolled around the table as they all held cruel reality at bay for a just a little longer.

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