Home • Essays • Lost Articles • Loose Ends • Collections • Computing • Projects • Widdershins • Quotations • Links • Us


A Bad Day

Each day of existence marks out another step in the incredible journey that describes our human lives. Some days are akin to a picnic in the park. Others, like the one I had a couple of days ago, are like an excruciating voyage through the lowest ring of Hades.

I’ve been working very hard the last two years on a program to introduce a major new product line into our factory. I originally asked to be assigned to this project, since I knew it would be mentally and professionally challenging.  Nearing retirement, I wanted an opportunity for a final shot of glory -- a rousing swan song, so to speak. Now we are getting very close to our scheduled production campaign, finally arriving at a critical milestone: We needed to put a small quantity of simulated product down our fabrication lines to check out all our new procedures, processes, equipment, computer control software, and other manufacturing systems.

This did not go very well. After 16 hours of fighting bugs and problems, we were all exhausted, discouraged and just about brain-dead. My boss was quite upset with the way things went, and his boss was clearly disappointed. It was close to midnight. After wrapping up our notes on "what went wrong", we all headed home to grab some rest before re-engaging in the battle the next morning.

I limped out of the plant. My feet were no longer merely killing me; they had accomplished that task hours earlier. Now it felt as if they were jumping up and down on my flayed corpse. All I wanted was to be home where I could put them up. As I unlocked the door of my pickup in the parking lot, I had one of those dark thoughts that felt too disturbingly like a premonition: If ever there were a worst time for the damned truck to break down, it would be tonight.

This pickup has caused me a whale of grief in the last few years. I only keep it because it does come in handy for hauling stuff to the dump and moving dirt around my place. Our factory is out in the sticks. My home is way the hell out further out past that. There are miles of dark country roads betwixt the two. After motoring past half of those miles, my rear right tire decided it had fallen out of love with its tread, and proceeded to divorce it in the most spectacular way imaginable.

I suppose there’s an unrepentant optimist out there somewhere who could paint this event with a cheerful color. Certainly, the effect of the tire destroying itself kept me from falling asleep at the wheel. I guess I could be grateful for that. Stopped and idling by the side of the road, I mashed the emergency brake, hit the emergency flasher and got out. Standing there, dog-tired, in the absolute hot and dark stickiness of a mosquito-filled South Carolina summer night, I visualized our single family cell phone. The one that was nested pleasantly in its charger at home.

I was the last person in North America to buy a cell phone. I don’t have documented evidence for that, but I believe it to be true. Somewhere in Taiwan, I’m convinced a cell phone factory shut down because I single-handedly ended their reason for existence. I bought the thing a few months ago, mainly for Chris to carry with her and for us to take on long trips together. Neither one of us has ever used it. The poor little guy sits alone in the downstairs bathroom, all plugged in and ready to go. It chirps pleasantly once in awhile, to remind us of its potential value and willingness to serve. I could hear its happy little chirping in my mind’s ear, joining in with the mad fiddling of the cicadas which surrounded me in the darkness.

There was nothing for it, but to change the tire. Incredibly, the flashlight in my glove compartment was working. (I vowed to write a testimonial to the battery manufacturer later.) In pickups, the spare resides in a carriage under the truck bed. This particular spare had sat patiently in his cradle for 11 years, against this particular day of misfortune – and holding his breath all that time! But that also meant 11 years’ worth of accumulating rust and grime on the retaining eyebolt that held him there. Lying prone underneath the truck, I pulled for all I was worth -- not much by then -- on the lug wrench through its eye, to turn it. I counted the hard-fought half-turns of that screw thread until I lost count and damned near lost consciousness. The dirt sifting from the underside of the truck mixed with the sweat pouring from my face, forming an interesting -- but disgusting nonetheless -- amalgam of filth. After a seeming century of wrenching, the eyebolt fell free and the spare was released to work its magic.

I had reached brain-death hours previously, and my encephalographic trace was even flatter after I had spent my last precious molecule of glucose suffering this literally wrenching ordeal. I engaged the lug wrench sequentially on the wheel lugs, stood on it and broke the tightening torque free using a strange spiritual energy emanating from an internal organ I never knew existed. I laid back down in the road and positioned the jack under the axle -- trying all the while to keep the flashlight from rolling away -- and jacked up the wheel. Freeing it from the ground, I suddenly realized that I had jacked up the rear right wheel, instead of the rear left one that held the destroyed tire. I laid there in the dark road and wept for a long time.

I honestly can’t remember most of the details of what followed. Somehow I got the bad tire changed. I do remember dropping the flashlight once and groping in the darkness to find the separated pieces to assemble it back together. By that time, I had contributed several pints of blood to the local Mosquitoes’ Benevolence Society. My clothes were soiled too badly to put anywhere except inside a burning 55-gallon drum. My face, hands and arms were black with dirt. I was drenched with perspiration. I had reached the zombie zone.  I vaguely recollect shambling into the house and collapsing in a chair. Christine took one look at me and said, "Oooh, bad day, huh?"

A bad day. Yes, that, indeed.

   Back to Essays...    

Image at top by Les Edwards, used on the cover of The Year's Best Horror Stories XVIII (DAW Books, 1990).


First-time visitors -- including you!

Free Web Counter

Free Hit Counter The Foggiest Notion The Foggiest Notion The Foggiest Notion The Foggiest Notion The Foggiest Notion


Luck Favors the Prepared Mind...

Essays • Lost Articles • Loose Ends • Collections • Computing • Projects • Widdershins • Quotations • Links • Us

Site contents Copyright 2004-2008 by Gary Cuba       Email: webmeister at thefoggiestnotion dot com