Nov 8, 2004

We laugh and we know that we lose

Dan-U-el my boss says, giving me the name he gives me when he’s in a good mood, gonna put you to doing the fence today.

So I shoulder the tools from the shop and he takes my job, jingling change behind the counter, leaving be the paperwork and the back office to stand here staring through the window to the gas pump islands, listening to the beeping bleeping whirring register registering the flow of gas and cash mobilizing in and out of the economy. He goes back behind the counter, back to doing what he started doing, 45 years ago, before he was a manager, before he was an owner, before he retired and unretired, back at the beginning, making change. He puts off his trademark expletive motto of F—ing people and does the demeaning little three-step repartee of the clerk, saying How we doing? How we doing? That’s good.

I have to dig out the four-by-fours first, the rotted out ones and the run over ones of the fence’s knocked out sections looking like knocked-up teeth, but the ground is soft and the posthole digger’s handles are new and I set in to the rhythm of work.

The sweat starts in, like something I hadn’t really forgotten, the wood loosens its hold a little from the dirt and the cars come in and out, in and out and I don’t care, don’t care about pre-pay or post- or drive aways or pump numbers or change and wha’cha need or wha’cha lookin’ for. It feels good. Real work. Unmechinized labor. For the first time in six months with this gainful employment I’m doing something that’ll be here, tomorrow. This fence, this is something that’s not alienating or degrading, that doesn’t make me want to fight back, walk out. This isn’t making change on the selling out of the American dream. This isn’t dealing numbers on the hopes of a fluke in your favor even though we all know the house always wins.

They pay you extra for the hard work? the garbage man says from his truck, eating lunch. They aint in the business of paying extra, I say. And we laugh and we know that we lose, and he’s here to play his triple twos - they all play triple twos, like it’s a trinity of hope - and I string out my twine in a straight line for a section of fence. The wood’s almost white, unweathered unstained, and I stand my panel of pine in the dirt kicking the dead leaves out of my way and leaning them against the old fence that wants to wobble.

The election results are coming in from Ohio, Ohia, ‘hia, the one place I lived this year without registering to vote, the one of the four swing states I stopped in that’s turning red, the radio said, and now I remember this is what I was doing when I heard the results of the first race I followed, eight years ago, back in California, back before, back at the beginning. I was tearing down a fence that time. I had to set the radio on top of a post to get the reception to hear the results. I was working behind a hill in back of a field on a corral that was falling down and not needed anymore. And it was Dole/Kemp, Clinton/Gore, and I watched a coyote walk through the fields in the late afternoon, watched him watching me and keeping a board-throwing distance between us.

Good fences, I thought then, and I think now, though I don’t know if anyone believes that anymore and can’t think
of when the last time was anyone voted for good fences. Good work I think I lean on my posthole digger and look at this work I can look at.

I bust my knuckle building this fence, and the red blood left a red spot on the white wood like a marking scent, like a signiture waiting to be washed away with the weathering into gray.

Dan-U-el, my boss says, how we doing?

I built a fence, I say, I built me a fence.