Sunday, January 27, 2013

A pipe fitter's dream

A pipe fitter, tell me poot, what in god's name is a pipe fitter? With those big forearms and tattoos. Smokin dope, throwing ashcans down into the groundhog's tunnel behind the tool shed. What does a pipe fitter do? Go into the Army maybe. Sure, he killed that son-of-a-bitch who was eating my daffodils. But that was leisure. We laughed like crazy and tossed our empty beer cans into the creek. All those blue-collar occupations, what are they any more? Are they still useful today? Do people continue to go to work and fit pipes into each other -- is it possible we live in such a world? And when they get the pipes to fit, what goes through them? Gas? Water? Steam? Beer? Or a slew of effin hot effluence? I mean, what do they say? "Good pipes fit tight." Goodnight, Irene.

Up here, half of them are out of work. And the ones who still draw a check -- they don't fit pipes any more, they walk around with clipboards and printed-out lists and make little check-marks on 'em with cheap pens as vehicles go past. Goddamn dignity. It's all a bit of a daydream, walking up and down the aisles, pretending to be busy. Lunchtime, smoke a bit more weed. And get fat. There may be another America out there, but in this one, the pipe fitter gives thanks for the TV. The vacuous stupidity of it calms him down. He stops thinking about rust, about leaks, about vast systems going to shit. His union card isn't worth the paper it's printed on. He can hear the fat accumulate around his midsection, globs of it. His big arms, wide shoulders, thick neck -- all of it going slack.

It's not enough to say that a pipe fitter is necessary. Water is necessary. Air is necessary. Pain is necessary -- but so is love. You read too much poetry, poot.

I'm sitting on a chaise lounge near a burbling hot tub on the west coast of Florida, sucking on a piña colada. Someone says, "Life is good." Willie Nelson is coming over the patio speakers. My Own Peculiar Way. Dolphins, pelicans, and a swallow-tailed kite hovering over the glittery bay. The poor bastards may be freezing up north. But down here we're doing important work. I can't tell you what it is, because I don't know, but it must be important otherwise we wouldn't be here. With our powerpoint slideshows, reams of bullshit, projectors, video cams, and booze. A. said she saw a ray in the Gulf while walking over on the island yesterday. Meantime, the boys roused a couple of gators on the golf course, looking for someone's ball in the rough. It was funny -- Freddie almost swallowed his cigar. "Suckers were watching us. Scared the shite out of me." They had to take R. to the emergency room -- he'd fallen into an empty pool and broken an ankle.

After the hurricane a couple of years ago, pipe fitters descended on this coast. There was tons of repair work. The place was crawling with laborers. HVAC specialists living in trailers. Going up to the strip clubs in Tampa every Friday night. Effin money burning a hole in their pockets. Ten dollar beers and sticky pants in the shadow booths. It's all mob. There's that restaurant across from Ray Jay on Dale Mabry -- unbelievable ossobuco. Effin gnocchi and limoncello cheesecake. Sure beats the Burger King on 94. That place was a pipe fitter's dream.

A couple of months ago, I heard him and his girlfriend packing up a U-Haul trailer. Chairs, clothes, dishes, appliances. You could barely make them out in the dusk. It was just before Sandy hit. They hadn't paid their mortgage in months and a couple of days earlier, the dog disappeared. He told me that here was something wrong with the septic. It would've cost thousands to fix it. I remember him standing on the back porch in a t-shirt smoking, looking out glass-eyed over his yard. I called to him but he didn't answer. I watched them wait until it was nighttime, lock up the cabin, get into the pick-up, and take off. I haven't seen him since. What in god's name is a pipe-fitter? What the hell do they do today?

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