While I set up the tables and chairs in a high school classroom, what would become extra’s holding, my two bosses, John and Dean, sat on the windowsill beside the teacher’s desk. Watching me as if watching a fly buzz around the room, they discussed their plan for the day, positioning production assistants onset, at the Circus, at Crew Park a few blocks away.
Sweat soaked into my fleece toque as I thought, Are you two fuckers just gonna watch me work?
I had, by myself, hauled five six-foot-long wooden tables and fifty metal chairs off a flatbed truck, down a never-ending, locker-lined hall, and into the room. I slammed tables and chairs down against the floor, forcing John and Dean to raise their voices. I grinned with my back to them and eventually drowned them out completely with my racket.
“Hey Shayne,” John shouted.
I swung around and knocked a stack of chairs onto the floor, the crash and clang making all three of us cringe. Feeling like a little kid about to get scolded, I stiffened and glanced at John.
“Jesus,” he said. “You’re a real wrecking ball sometimes.”
I apologized, finished setting up the room, and left. Later, I heard Dean’s voice crackle through the walkie on my hip, “Wrecking Ball, go to two.”
I switched to channel two and said, “Go ahead,” into the walkie.
“That’s it man,” Dean said. “You’re Wrecking Ball from now on.”
I got fired from FedEx a week after I’d given my two weeks notice. Now I’ve been fired twice in my life.
It happened on a Thursday. Groggy and blurry-eyed, I strolled into work late, as was my custom. I wasn’t fired, this second time, for habitual tardiness. But the first time—by Ron the blotchy-faced heart-attack-prone breakfast restaurant manager—I was.
Phil’s Restaurant was my first job. It was a pancake house a step above fast food. A baby step. At the height on my career at Phil’s I made gourmet microwaved oatmeal, mushroom gravy that was two parts Campbell’s chicken soup one part mushroom, and grilled dollar-sized beef and pork patties called chubbies.
I started out as a dishwasher, running through thousands of dishes a week, scrubbing dried egg yolks off plates, picking gum out of dirty ashtrays, going home soaked to the crouch with filthy dish water and reeking of ash and bacon fat. Eventually I moved up to cooking bacon, which meant getting burned by the grease exploding off the grill, and cooking toast, which meant having my hands saturated with butter for hours at a time.
When Laura, my real boss, went to Indonesian, Ron stepped in. He had recently had a heart attack and looked, as his slow movements and pallor attested, as if he might never fully recover.
Ron, unaware as Laura was, of my tendency to roll in ten minutes late, sat me down during his first week as manager.
“We’ll have to do something about this the next time you’re late,” he said.
I left the office wishing Laura back.
The next time I was late and tried to clock in, Ron stepped between me and the computer and said, “Go home.”
He smelt like the ashtrays I used to wash, his face redder than usual, his forehead glistening with sweat. I sensed his heartometer move up around palpitation levels. Wearing my white uniform, red newsboy hat, and matching red scarf around my neck, I froze, my hand still extended slightly to punch in.
“Are you serious?”
“Go home,” Ron said again, loud enough for all the servers and cooks to hear, most of whom I’d be working with for two years.
So I left. But because Ron never actually used the words, “You’re fired,” I didn’t realized that I had been until I showed up the next day and found that I’d been erased from the schedule, my name and hours still etched into the paper.
I thought of Ron when I was fired, twelve years later, from my job as a courier for FedEx. The day before the incident, the day before the firing, Kelly squeezed my shoulder and said, “You’re a little lighter today than yesterday. So it should be a much easier day.”
“Cool,” I said, thinking, Finally I won’t have to work a twelve-hour day and deliver ninety packages all over the city.
“And just so you know,” Kelly continued, leaning in and lowering his voice, “today’s an all clear day. That’s what FedEx is calling it. They don’t want any accidents across North America. And if that happens, there’ll be a bonus.” He grinned and raised his eyebrows like a child about to have a birthday party. “I’m not saying what it is but it’ll be awesome.” He took a few steps backwards, pointed at me, and said, “No incidents today. Not that you have anything to worry about with your clean record.”
I smiled and pointed back at him before stepping into the back of my truck. The FedEx truck I had been driving wouldn’t start, so I was stuck with a lousy rental, a gigantic cube with tons of blind spots. The FedEx trucks were luxurious compared to the rental; they had cameras for reversing, mirrors that showed every angle, huge doors that slid open, and shelves. How I longed for the shelves in that rental. After organizing my packages for an hour in that truck, all it took was a few turns and a couple of bumps for the packages to be thrown into chaos, making it impossible to find anything.
Cardboard boxes of every imaginable shape and size were there. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and began organizing the packages and writing down every address. I only had forty stops. The idea of a half day made me smile. I made my deliveries all morning while singing along with the radio. But the music stopped when I backed into something at the Superstore loading dock. My head jerked forward then back. My heart was stopped.
Nothing in the mirrors, so I hopped out and found the bumper wrapped around a pole. After pulling forward, I grabbed hold of the bumper and yanked on it, trying to Hercules it back to normal. It didn’t move, but the pole was only scuffed, so I delivered the packages and drove away.
The world seemed still, eerily so after that. It was my first accident in almost ten years, first one for FedEx, other than nudging a couple of horribly scuffed up posts inside the terminal.
Paranoia consumed me. I kept hearing my mother say, Bad things come in threes, as I waited for the next incident.
When schools let out, kids were everywhere; I thought one of them was going to run out in front of me. I couldn’t stop picturing the ‘Drive with Care’ poster in the FedEx terminal with the huge truck about to back over a five-year-old kid holding a teddy.
As the kids disappeared into houses rather than under my wheels, my sweaty grip on the steering wheel loosened. With three stops left, I pulled into the driveway of house with a rickety, weatherworn fence. Parked on an angle, I grabbed the packages, jumped out, left the packages at the front door when no one answered, hopped back into the truck, checked the mirrors, rechecked, and reversed.
I stomped on the breaks as soon as I heard the strange crunching sound. At first I thought it was the bumper scraping against the street because that happened sometimes. I pulled forward and tried again. Once off the driveway, without a crunch, I looked back at the house—the fence post and boards closest to the driveway were drooping towards the grass.
Was it like that when I pulled in? I thought. It had to have been. I couldn’t have done it. I would have noticed. But that crunching sound. It sounded like ...
Grade eleven, behind the wheel of my orange ’79 Toyota Celica, I sped towards my parents house with Tyler and Jackson. About a block away, a carload of giggling girls zoomed past us going the opposite direction. I instantly stopped the car and reversed.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” Jackson yelled.
I stopped. We all jerked forward.
“Dude,” Tyler said. “You just backed through someone’s fence.”
I glanced back—the Celica was up on the sidewalk with its bumper rammed through six fence boards.
“Didn’t you notice going up on the sidewalk?” Jackson asked.
I shook my head and said, “Should I drive away? How bad is it?”
“Pretty bad,” Tyler said. “And there’s a lady in the backyard.”
I couldn’t see the lady so I shifted into first and sped up the street to my parents’ house. The three of us went inside and watched out the window as the family from down the street walked up the driveway. When the doorbell rang, I let my dad answer it. A few seconds later he yelled, “Shayne!”
Sitting in the rental truck but feeling as if I were back in my old celiac, I glanced around to see if anyone was on the other side of the fence. Nobody. Just a woman right across the street pushing a stroller carrying a sleeping child with its mouth hanging open. She cautiously pushed her stroller down the sidewalk, griping it tightly as if worried that I might run over her child. There was also a guy directly across from the wounded fence, shoveling the snow off his lawn onto to the street. He wasn’t looking at me. At first I wondered if he witnessed it. Then I wondered why he was shoveling snow onto the road.
Not knowing what to do, I climbed into the back of the truck through the little sliding door between the seats, closing the door behind me. I stood there for a moment in the dark cube. Sunlight spilled through from the cab. I started moving the remaining packages around. I stacked and unstacked them while hoping the mother and baby would disappear and wishing away the damage I’d caused.
When I poked my head out into the cab, the street was deserted. I got out of the truck, made sure no one was around, and mended the fence; I wedged the split post in place with a large stone, reposition the boards, and got back into the truck. From the cab, the fence looked fine, so I started the truck and drove away.
As I drove back to the terminal, a meteorologist on the radio said that winds gusts would reach ninety kmph that night. I figured the wind would blow the fence back down and the owner would blame the gusts. Old fence, strong wind; it happens.
When I finally got back to the terminal, without any other incidents, I parked, signed my paperwork, and left as fast as I could.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. The dented bumper and the run over fence were all I could think about. The next day, sleep deprived but completely alert, I entered the terminal. Kelly was talking to another driver. He turned and gave me a nod as if to say, I know everything. I walked over to my truck; it was completely empty and the bumper was fine. For moment I thought I’d dreamt the entire thing or that there was a God and he loved me. I felt like singing opera and clicking my heels together. Then I noticed the dented bumper off in the corner, heard footsteps approaching me and wanted to run.
“Good news man,” Kelly said, appearing behind me.
I turned to face him, his friendly smile was unexpected and disarming.
“We’re short a trailer today so we don’t need you,” he said. “But,” he began, his smile transitioning to a flat line. “We need to talk.”
He led me over to the dented bumper and said, “So there’s some significant damage to this truck, hey.”
“Yeah I know,” I said, staring at the bumper. “I backed into a pole at Superstore yesterday.”
“Did you report it?”
“No. I didn’t think it was that bad. But it is pretty bad isn’t it?”
“Did you get out and look at it after it happened?”
“Yeah, but the post was fine so ...”
“So you just drove away?”
“Well,” he said. “I need you to fill out an accident report and then come see me when you’re done.”
Was anyone injured? No. How many vehicles were involved in the accident? One. What were the weather conditions at the time of the accident? Clear.
When I finished filling it out, I stepped into Kelly’s office.
“Have a seat,” Kelly said, closing the door.
Don’t cry, I said to myself as the door latched shut.
It was grade four again, and I was back in Mrs. Diudaddie’s office. Mrs. Diudaddie was a large woman. Whenever my class would go to the library for her monthly storytelling time, I’d watch the tiny legs of her chair and wait for them to buckle. I never made fun of her though. Nobody did. She heard everything and her yell had made a few kids pee their pants.
I sat in her office, my bus driver standing in the corner with her arms crossed, her dark, frizzy hair puffed up, her eyes on me. I suddenly felt bad for saying, “If I take a Tylenol, will you go away,” to her after she made me sit up front beside her one-year-old son whose sat car seat reeked of digestive cookies, soiled diapers, and chicken noodle soup. He had moist chunks of food all over his hands and face, and I couldn’t even look at him without gagging.
Mrs. Diudaddie looked even bigger sitting there behind her desk in the principal’s office. Her eyes were wide and she wasn’t smiling the way she did before reading a story. Her expression reminded me of how my dad looked right before I went over his knee.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
I nodded, glancing at my bus driver.
“Fine.” She interlaced her chubby fingers and let them hit the desk with a thud. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
I shook my head, tried to speak, and started to cry. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t want my parents to find out. I didn’t want a spanking.
“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice hyperventilated from sobbing. “It won’t … happen again.”
I stared at the floor.
“I appreciate your apology,” Mrs. Diudaddie said. “This is your first warning.” She held up her huge index finger. “One more and you’re off the bus.”
I nodded and wiped my nose on my sleeve.
“Now,” she continued, sitting up straight, “go compose yourself in the bathroom before going back to class.”
When Kelly sat down, I handed him the accident report. He examined it, pushed it to the side, and then looked at me.
“So, you got into an accident, which is no big deal. But you didn’t report it, which means you can no longer drive for me.”
“Oh, really,” I said, feeling like a failure. Like someone who can’t even reverse without hitting something.
“I’m sorry but that’s our policy. Do you have anything you’d like to add?”
I thought of the fence and wondered if he’d just gotten off the phone with the cops.
“Well, I didn’t report the accident because …”
“You didn’t want to be a spoiler,” Kelly said. “The one person to ruin the bonus for everyone.”
“Its partially my fault too for putting that pressure on you. Is there anything else you’d like to add?”
His face was calm and friendly again, but it also seemed suspicious. He reminded me of my junior high school vice principle, Mr. Wakeford, who had once entrapped me.
“Please report to the vice principle’s office.”
It was a regular Monday morning in grade nine, but only because I’d had an entire weekend to forget about saying, “Check this out,” to Nelson while standing poised to pee in Kim’s locker after basketball practice on Friday night.
Nelson told me not to, but I went anyway. I went until piss leaked out the bottom of her locker. Nelson and I laughed. We were the only ones left in the school, other than the girl’s basketball coach. She’d led our practice that night.
When I rounded the corner and saw her standing by the office, I thought of how she taunted me during practice.
“You afraid to take it in,” she said as I dribbled with my back to her. “Afraid I’ll stop you,” she said, her forearm against my back. “If you can’t drive to the net on me, how are you going to do in a game when you’re playing against bigger boys.”
I turned to take a jumped shot, but she smacked the ball out of my hands and began dribbling.
“You’ve gotta learn to take it to the net,” she said, before faking to the outside and driving past me to make a layup.
Sitting in the vice principle’s office, I remembered Friday.
“Nelson told me you peed in Kim’s locker,” Mr. Wakeford said. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
My mouth fell open, and I shook my head.
“Why’d you do it?”
I shrugged and slouched in my chair. I hated Nelson, hated myself, hated Wakeford.
After receiving my suspension, I went back to class to get my bag. Nelson followed me out into the hall and said, “What happened?”
“I got suspended because you told on me. That’s what happened.”
“What? I didn’t tell him anything.”
“But he said he knew so I …”
“You what? You told him you did it?”
“But he knew.”
“Oh man, you fucked yourself,” Nelson said, before leaving me alone at my locker.
Looking at Kelly, his expression just like Mr. Wakeford’s, I told him I had nothing to add. Then he stood, shook my hand, and sent me on my way.
When I left the terminal for the last time, I drove directly to the fence. I had to see it. Driving past slowly, I saw that half the fence was lying on the grass, the post duct taped together. I parked a block away. Nobody was around.
I sat there waiting for the cops or Kelly to call. So, in the mean time, I wrote an apology note to the fence owner. When I got to the, Sorry for any inconvienence … inconveneience part, I couldn’t think of how to spell inconvenience. Inconveinence? Nothing looked right.
“Come on. You’re an English major.”
Then I rewrote it and closed with, Sorry for any trouble this may have caused.
I approached the door with the note in my pocket. I knocked and rang just like I had when delivering a package to a house. I didn’t hear any footsteps so I reached for my note. But then, the door opened. A middle-aged man with a crew cut answered the door. He looked like a retired army general. I swallowed hard before noticing the multi-coloured Cosby sweater he was wearing. I didn’t know if he was going to tell me a joke or to drop and give him twenty.
“Can I help you,” he asked, stepping outside.
“Yeah, I ah,” I said, scratching the back of my head. “Well, the thing is, I was using your driveway to turn around yesterday and I hit your fence.”
He looked past me at the fence and said, “Really, I thought the wind did it.”
I suppressed a laughed and said, “No, it was me. I’m really sorry. And I’m here to pay for the damages.”
“You know what,” he began, “don’t worry about it. The fence is old. We just moved in. I’ve got to replace it this summer anyway.”
“Really,” I said, restraining myself from kissing him. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I was blaming the wind anyway.”
“Well, I’ve built fences before so can I come by and help you build a new one this summer?”
“No thanks. It’s fine. Really. Don’t worry about it. But thanks for coming by,” he said, extending his hand to me.
When I took his hand he said, “I know how hard this must have been for you and I really appreciate it. Take care.”
When I got home, I flopped on the couch. Too tried to sleep, the moment the crew cut man’s door opened replaying over and over in my mind. Each time someone different was behind that door. First it was Kim. Then Mrs. Diudaddie. Mr. Wakeford. Kim’s parents. My parents. Kelly. Faces I didn’t recognized greeted me. Faces I’d forgotten or blocked out. Then finally it was the crew cut man again. He smiled, shook my hand, and shut the door.