I’m underdressed and under prepared for a drive to the mall, I tell Tammy, my ex, and yet she expects me to haul little Mike up to a lodge in the middle of Buttfuck, Michigan for a weekend? What happened to hockey games, I ask her, and backyard sledding? How much of that lost father-son time are we going to make up if I’m listening to my frozen balls clank together, I ask, and wondering how blue little Mike’s lips have to get before I can bring him home to thaw out?
No matter how hard I try to make do with the changes, the past is always ringing in my ears. I’m thinking back to our days in Los Angeles and Tammy’s words about the frozen Michigan-here-and-now are like so much yadda-yadda-yadda, like endless static.
“Don’t be such a pussy,” she says, “you’ve got to do more than just show up.” And I think this is what I get for being the nice guy. Frozen fucking stiff.
“Why don’t you take him?” I ask.
“Indian Guides are for fathers and sons,” she says, like it’s a rule anybody knows: stop on red, go on green. “I can’t do everything for him,” she says. She knows she’s wrong on that one.
“Do I have to remind you,” I say, “about the kind of pay cut I had to take just to move back to this iceberg and do I have to mention blah-diddy-blah?” I had it going on in L.A., but I’m a nice guy, and nice guys are ankle-grabbers.
I remember the first time I got up on the pole out there, in a new subdivision over the Valley. I could smell ocean. I could see for fifty miles, easy, because it was a green-light day, low smog, most everybody at work — including the Mexicans raising the timber all around me. I could hear the mumble and echo of their conversations off the very walls they were putting up. Esse, Hombre, Pendejo. I saw four of the men standing in the dirt and pebbles where a front yard would be in another month. They’re talking smack about me and Jeff because, somehow, they knew we didn’t speak a drop, and it felt like I was in a foreign country, but it felt right. Felt right for me, anyway.
Jeff told me to lose the ring while we’re on the job — gloves or not. “It’s no OSHA bullshit,” he said. He said he knew some poor schmuck who was up the pole one day near La Brea, gloves on, grounded to the pole, and not even touching anything when the hot white decided it wanted a piece of his gold and reached out and fused that raw gold to his metacarpal. I knew Tammy would feed me my balls, but I slipped the ring into my pants pocket and spent the rest of my time worrying about it.
“Do I have to remind you,” Tammy says, “what a lousy fucking drunk you were? And need I mention the drive I made all the fucking way back here with little Mike just so I can fucking this and you can fucking that?” Bitch swears like a sailor, worse than me even, when she’s hot about something. I let her blow off some steam, but secretly I’m up on that pole, stringing line as far west as I’ll ever be, as far west as anyone has ever strung line, and her words come at me like so much Spanish on a perfect day.
Little Mike is bundled up like a Pillsbury doughboy and I think I sure wish I had somebody bundling me up like that.
Tammy opens the door and I walk backwards into the hallway. “He’s very excited about this, you know.” I look down at little Mike and I can’t tell if he’s very anything. Tammy’s perfume comes at me through the chill of the hallway. It’s different now. She’s changed it; a spicy smell I decide I like even better. “You two are going to have fun. You’ve never done anything like this before.” I think to myself there’s a good reason for that but I nod. She’s trying, I can tell, so I’m trying too.
So that’s how it’s gonna be. I’ve got little Mike for the weekend and we’re driving up north on a perfectly freezing Friday night with a busload of seven-year-olds and guys I don’t even know. “I’ll call you when one of us drops dead from exposure,” I say on my way out. She hates that about me; the last word is always mine.
Not only do I hear it from Tammy about this trip but they’re really funny about me taking time off this soon at my job. I have very little clue about fallen lines in an ice storm and that seems to make me the most serviceable on-call for the weekend. Trial by ice, I guess. Seems everyone is out to do me in. Let the east side of Kalamazoo get an ear-full of static, too, until I get back, I think.