Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Unlikely Redemption of Andrew Dempster (Part One)

     A morning kitchen is just a minefield of angry noises waiting to happen. Andrew Dempster, age 59, was trying right at this moment to tiptoe through his. There was always the possibility that he might wake up his wife, who slept the sleep of the innocent away back in their bedroom. Every morning was like this for Andrew. He had a lot of time on his hands but it was all taken.

     Andrew didn’t mind things being the way they are. He felt it was a cruel world, and simply put, there must have been a good reason behind it being so. He would sometimes get into great philosphical disputes with his young colleague, Thaddedeuce, about these types of things. They weren’t much though, they weren’t often, and he wasn’t put off at all by the reasons others had their doubts. Andrew just knew things are the way they are because they are the way they are, and if he seemed distant, offhanded, and slight to other people, that was just their problem.

     While he fiddled with the makings of coffee and rustled up the chicken abortions and sliced pig corpses for his breakfast plate, he toasted a slab of ground crushed processed wheat in his antediluvian, antique, 1930’s toaster. It was one of a few treasures from his parents, dead these thirty five years, killed in an airplane crash outside of Oklahoma City on their way to a Masonic convention. Andrew’s father had been a third degree of 30 master Mason, and his mother, while not one of the boys, had always accompanied him everywhere they went. Their deaths sent young Andrew into a terrible depression, not to mention, an orphanage for adolescent boys. All that was light years away and back in the past, now, because Andrew had fought and scratched and clawed his way to something of a place in the sun of his own. He owed nothing to anyone and didn’t care if it showed.

    Now while Andrew often seemed to his colleagues and his associates as a ‘devil may care” type of guy, to his wife he was “surely one of the most fascinating men in the world.” As it happens how most happy wives do feel toward their husbands, in a manner of speaking. Some are content to let their husbands mind the bank, others not only mind the bank but furnish the nest right out of house and home. Life is like that sometimes.

     And on this particular morning, nothing was really bothering him much. His bank account had been feathered well, he had made the proper investments, he even felt he knew enough of the right people that whatever might happen to him in his life, on this particular day, he was going to come out a winner. Because that was the way it had always been. Sorrow and weeping were for losers. You only had so much time. There could only be one way out of life, and he was in no hurry to get there.

     This was supposed to be the day he and his young partner were supposed to get a new shipment of books from an esteemed publisher. Andrew didn’t really enjoy publishers, but he liked thinking of himself as a patron of the arts, and cultivated frienships with novelsits, poets, and “ciritical thinkers.” In some people’s minds, he was like a literary groupie, but they were wrong, ever so wrong. Andrew’s keen eye for talent should have placed him in an editor’s seat at just this very same publisher he’d be signing the bill of lading for. But it hadn’t, and for that, well, it was the world’s loss.

     When he drove up to the loading dock he found Thaddedeuce already wrangling pallets off the bobtail truck that had driven up for the delivery. The bill of lading was right there on his chair as he entered his office, set his coat on the corner hatrack, and put his portfolio on the desktop. He picked up the papers and filed through them. Siteen of this, seventeen of that, eighteen, nineteen, twenty percent of 2000 equals…
 He didn’t mind crunching the numbers, but this was perhaps the most dreary part of his job.

     Tires squealed as Thaddedeuce swung the forklift back into position to bring up another pallet. The pallets themselves were being unwrapped by a third man, Romero Cistercian, a patient, quiet, unassuming immigrant son of a Oaxacan stevedore. Stevedorianism ran in the family, and so far, Andrew considered, it didn’t seem that Romero had a destiny for anything but.

     The forklift shimmied under the new weight, however, and the pallet crashed to the floor.

     “Thad! I thought we had this better organized! Don’t dare try to put too much on that old beast! Haven’t I told you?” Romero was hopping mad, and you could see the beads of sweat forming on his brow as he awaited the expected storm that would be Andrew, once Andrew appraised the new situation.

     But Andrew surprised him today. No storm, no gnashing of the teeth nor curtness of word. Andrew just smiled, and with a wave of his hand, returned back to the office.
There was something else eating at him.

     The night before, he had had a most unpleasant dream. In this dream, voices and faces and places he knew came through in a terrible stream. Was he accused of a blasphemy? Had he been living life unrepentant? Was he unexamined, heedless, careless, demonic?
     The dream had set him in a large meadow. It had reminded him of a certain meadow overlooking the Pacific, on the hillsides behind Mount Tam. He and his wife had picnicked there once. That afternoon had remained with him as one of his most perfect days…

     But this Elysian memory now was only a fragment in a larger tapestry, that he called his life. And his life, at least, his dreaming life, was being challenged by powers he felt he didn’t need to believe in, indeed, he had not believed in since childhood, if ever.
     He was mulling all that over when drawing a fresh cup of coffee from the office coffemaker. Stirring in a packet of stevia (for he preferred it to sugar- at his age he didn’t care to become diabetic) he sat at the desk, looking out the warehouse windows to the wide green expanse beyond. For ten years he had run this warehouse, and for those ten years, he had never had a single employee he didn’t like. Until, of course, Thaddedeuce.

   And wouldn’t it just be fate but that at that very moment, who entered the office but Thaddedeuce. Sweat, worry lines, and extreme blush constituted his countenance, his long hair beneath his baseball cap wet and lank. “I’m sorry, boss. I didn’t mean to let that pallet get off-line.”

     “But are the books OK?” smiled Andrew. Of course they were. There was no need to wrestle with Thaddedeuce’s ass over things like bent book boxes. Bent book boxes were dime-a-dozen. He could afford to be gregarious. It was a new day. Save hassles for the
times later on, when we hash out what is going where and how much we are going to mark them up to generate our own cut.

     “So I’m off the hook?” Thaddedeuce was known for his self-deprecation. Andrew thought of it as Thad’s biggest fault, but there must be more to him than met the eye.
He knew that to be true of most people to begin with. It was whether or not you could see eye to eye with them at all on anything that mostly fixated him. Certain things, Andrew knew of course to be true.

   Like this idea that some supreme being, some invisible friend, got to ride beside certain people and not others. Andrew didn’t have any invisible friends, and barely got along with many of his visible ones,  at times. Apparently Romero and Thaddedeuce could rely on their invisible friends to provide for them. Andrew provided for himself. He provided for his wife. Not a lot beyond them, maybe, mattered, but staying the course, staying on track, and getting to the end of it without having to step on too many toes.

    “I have to make up with Romero, boss. He has been on me all week about where we have been filing the nonfiction. I tell him, there’s room over here for a whole new section, and he says “no, we have used this section here for nonfiction, ever since I get here!” and now that that side has been filled completely, he wants to keep on piling them up to the ceiling. I tell him “but the whole stack will come down on someone if you’re not careful” and he’s telling me because that’s how you want it. I can’t get a compromise, and so…”

   “And so you need me to tell you what I think, or, you want me to tell Romero what I think. I see.” Andrew had hoped that the issue of floor space could be saved for the afternoon, but, there it was now, impinging on his fine personal moment. Sometimes to keep from flying off the handle I have to take the reins.

     “Well Thad, this is where I am at with it. I want to be able to find things when I need them. Tell Romero he is wrong. You can use the new space for nonfiction. I need to get both of you guys in here this afternoon for a conference on just what I want, what we need, and who is going to do what. OK?”
    Andrew could tell Thaddedeuce was now visibly relieved. The blush had started to fade from his face, and the young man was standing a little taller in the doorway. Andrew dismissed him with another wave of the hand, and Thaddedeuce was off to wrestle with more pallets.
     But to get back to Andrew’s dream. Something about it troubled him. If there were no such thing as spirit and the voices were imaginary why did they take over, hijack his dream from him? He thought ideas of ancestor worship and the like to be nothing but superstition, yea, contemptible ‘fairy tales.’ Anyone who’d take such primitive anthropological evidence to be more than such was toying with flake material, so much as he had ever previously considered it.
    But the voices that night seemed to be winning his trust, as unlikely as it happened to be, or not.
    For the next week, he tried ignoring the voices. But when he did it seemed they only came again, insistent louder. It wasn;t even really llike they were actual “voices”- that was only how he chose to define them for himself. More, they were like forces of nature itself, apparent within the walls, the floors, the stone retaining walls, the flagpoles, the waters… Almost as if the very quarks of existence had been attempting to “SPEAK!” with him. And try as he might to turn off their insistent yammering, they only returned.
Not even seven cups of coffee in a day could drive them out, not even six martinis, not even a hit on a joint passed at a party. Nothing did the problem- for he was beginning to realize it was a problem- any good.
    One afternoon sitting in the office listening to Jazzbeau Collins on the public radio station, he had an idea. “If I can’t fight them, why not join them? Why not attempt to figure this out by allowing my mind to be a spectator, and just see where things take me? After all you only live once.” And so he decided.
     “You win, whatever-you-ares. You win. You can have my thoughts, I don’t care. Just shut the fuck up for a while. I need to concentrate on reality. You bug the shit out of me. I’m the boss here. But if you want you can rent the corner of that left hemisphere, if only you promise you’ll shut the fuck up and let me work!”
     At that very moment Thaddedeuce stomped in off the warehouse floor. “I have a problem, boss. It looks like that entire flat we got last week is teetering on the platform. If we don’t get some guys up there by tomorrow, the entire flat could tip over and we’ll have hella trouble getting things back where they were. Not to mention all those boxes that are going to spill and break. I am freaking out already just thinking about it.”
    “OK. Here’s what- you and Romero go get Schoenberger and Orenbow up there. The first thing we do is get the gravity off the top. Once you have most of those transferred down to the bottom floor, start rearranging things so there are more surface areas. What we will need to do is have a special sale over next weekend and get more of the stock out so there won’t be so much. I know it is off-schedule, but if we keep on overloading that platform there will be trouble.”
     “OK. I guess I will call around and see if I can get those guys to come in and some more folks to work the sale. It is not the right time of year- but we don’t have a choice do we?”
    “I agree. Wrong time of year, and yes, no other choice. But if you guys can get the top layers off and onto the floor at least we might have a litle relief.”
     Thaddedeuce went back out on the floor to talk it over with Romero. The entire operation depended now on the timely transfer of boxes. A lot of the stock would need to go into brand new boxes, and they would need people working on that, as well as hurrying the process it would be easy to pick out stock to set out for the sale this way.
     Either way, it involved more people than Andrew felt like speaking with already.
    After a full day of oveseeing as much moving and rearraging as he could stomach Andrew got into his SUV and headed back home over the bridge. When he got home, there was a letter waiting in the mailbox he had no expectation of.
    The letter was from his brother Michael. Michael had lost, gained, and lost again, a large fortune in securities and equity bonds. His penchant for gambling with his investments (partially, the money of Others) had given most of the family reason to hold him at arm’s length. If Michael ever needed money from them, they’d certainly burn his ears with complaints.
    But this was relatively good news. Michael, for once, was offering to help Andrew.
There would be a one-time non-obligatory check arriving in a number of days. He had hit it big again, and was just feeling generous. Five thousand dollars woul dgo a long way to helping Andrew feel a little less pressured. Maybe he could even go on vacation again.
    But there could be no vacation with this space and storage problem. Andrew decided to to do the one thing he always did when he needed to take his mind off work- he jacked himself up in his bed and read. There was always a stack of books in the process of being read on the bedside table. This week he was reading Rimbaud, and next week he thought he might try going back and reading Swift. There were times that he felt like nothing in this modern world held a candle to the places that the early Romantic era could give him. And few people, with the exception of his wife, could give him the relief that the minds of yore allowed him. Sometimes he felt they were the only company worth keeping.

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