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By Phil Temples
I round the corner and head up the street towards the neighborhood bar. That’s when I spot the utility truck. And the traffic cones. And the spectators. And a police car.
This can’t be good.
I’ve walked this far in the heat and humidity, so I might as well see what the hell is going on. As I get closer, I see what the fuss is about: lying in the street in front of the bar is a sheared off utility pole. The base of the pole -- approximately five feet of it -- is still standing erect next to a building in the parking lot across the street. Its top is splintered to pieces. The rest of pole, along with attached power lines and telephone wires, is strewn haphazardly onto the street.
Sweet Mary, Mother of Joseph! I make the sign of the cross.
It looks as though the Almighty has reached down and given the pole a hearty smack.
The cops seem to be making no effort in blocking pedestrians from walking down the sidewalk or in the middle of the street. I figure the power lines are surely not “live” but I avoid them anyway.
Better to be safe than sorry. I always say.
I enter the side door of Finnegan’s, where I run into one of its bartenders, Mick. He looks frazzled. I make the sign of an upended glass and flip him a “thumbs up/thumbs down”.
“What the fuck are ya’ tryin’ to say?!” He asks in a thick Irish brogue. The word fuck sounds more like fook coming from Mick’s mouth. He obviously doesn’t appreciate my sign language.
“Are you serving?
“We’re open. No food. Cash only.”
“For now, yes. Can’t speak for what it’ll be like in a few hours though.”
I walk around the corner and into the main bar area. It’s eerily quiet. And dark, too. No lighting. All the television sets that normally are blaring ESPN, or a baseball or soccer game are silent and black. No racket from the air conditioners. Thank God, it’s still quite cool. The foot traffic in and out of the place hasn’t let too much hot air come in. It’s around 5 PM.
I see the usual complement of locals: Jimmy, Sean, and Freddie, plus one or two others that I see only on occasion. The waitresses are all standing in front of the small windows facing the street, watching the crews working outside. No doubt they’re gawking at a certain utility worker. He is young and quite muscular, dressed in a sweaty, white tee shirt, chatting with a buddy.
I see no visible signs of working taking place. In fact, the linemen are all simply standing around talking to one another.
“How’d it come down?” I ask everyone and no one.
“Pat (the bartender) here . . . he doesn’t have the common sense to shut off Tommy Dougherty. Ole Tommy gets shit-faced, goes out, gets turned around in the parking lot, and knocks down the friggin’ pole.”
Faces turned my way to see if I believe the story. I’m not buying it though. Sounds like a typical dumb shit story that the guys would make up. I roll my eyes. After a few seconds, Pat replies with the real answer.
“Some asshole driving a Comcast bucket truck tried to turn around in the lot, and got tangled up in a low hanging wire. Brought the whole kittin’ caboodle down on top of hisself.”
Just then, Bernadette, a pretty blonde-bombshell of a waitress, passes by behind the bar. I catch the foul odor of stale beer wafting up from the rubber mat as she walks.
Gotta take the ugly with the beautiful, I suppose.
“That sounds more believable.”
I unconsciously exhale the stench from my nostrils.
“Hey, how come they’re not doing anything?”
At my question, heads turn again to peer out the window.
Wally, an obese accountant dressed in white shirt and tie, mutters something about fuckin’ union workers. The others shoot him dirty looks.
“They don’t have a full crew yet,” replies Sean. He seems to be more knowledgeable than the others. I think he’s a tradesman, perhaps an electrician, but I’m not sure.
“They don’t make a move until they have their truck operator, their utility assistant, their lineman, their supervisor . . . “ He pauses to down a sip of Guinness.
“Hell, you see that little bush next to the pole stump?”
Heads turn again to look outside.
“They’re not gonna lift a finger until one of their tree guys comes to clear it out with his chainsaw.”
“You’re shittin’ me, right? That scrawny little thing?” asks Jimmy. “Hell, I could knock it down with the force of my piss . . .”
My attention drifts for a moment. I’m normally glued to one of the many TV sets in the joint. But today, I let my eyes wander along the walls at all of the unfamiliar sights. In front of me are dozens of beer and whisky bottles of every conceivable brand. In a corner off to the left, I see the Irish flag predominantly displayed. Next to it is a reproduction of the famous Irish Declaration of Independence:
“21st January 1919, First Dail Eireann Enacted by the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland.
“Whereas the Irish people is by right a free people:
“And Whereas for seven hundred years the Irish people has never ceased to repudiate and has repeatedly protested in arms against foreign usurpation:
“And Whereas English rule in this country. . .”
I’ve read the Declaration in its entirety, and I’m not gonna do it again now. Besides, it’s too hard to make out the text in this poor light.
On the wall behind me is another flag. Funny. I’ve never noticed it before. It must be the flag of some obscure rugby team. It’s red with black stripes running diagonally across.
My thoughts return to the conversation in progress.
“. . . B, huh?”
Wally has challenged Sean to name as many countries as he can that start with the letter B. I’m telling you, the lack of television can drive grown men to play silly word games.
“Belgium . . . Brazil . . . ah . . . Bedford . . .”
“That’s a town in Massachusetts, dumbass!”
The game stops momentarily while Pat lines everyone up with a plastic cup filled with a free shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky.
“What’s it look like? Drink up, you poor sons of bitches.” Pat holds his cup high. “Here’s to the power outage of two thousand and fifteen!”
Plastic cups are quickly emptied, upended, and slammed down on the bar. Jimmy shatters his cup, and grinds the remnants into the shiny mahogany wood surface.
“Hey, HEY! Cut it out, asshole,” Pat shouts at him.
“How about Belarus?”
“That’s not a country! That’s a part of Russia.”
“The hell it is!”
“Actually, he’s right,” I butt in. “It’s been an independent country since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
“Dem fookers needed a stronger wall, if you ask me,” replies Kenny. He’s a stonemason.
“No one’s askin’ you.”
“Hey,” asks Jimmy, changing the subject. “You guys know how much those fellows out there make?”
He’s met with blank looks. One or two heads shake in the negative.
“A hundred, prob’ly one-twenty-five an hour. Whether they’re doing anything or not. You see, now, why they’re not in any big hurry.”
The pretty one outside--the one the waitresses were fawning over—I see he’s downing another bottle of Poland Springs.
“Yep, they’re getting good and hydrated out there before they begin their arduous labor.”
Just then, we see pretty boy and his companion are staring at the bar. Staring at us. Staring at us staring at them.
“I wonder what they’re thinking?” asks Sean.
“Eh,” responds Wally. “They’re saying to each other, ‘look at those poor bastards sitting in that hot, dark bar drinking their warm beer, whilst we’re getting ready to do an honest hour’s work.’ That’s what they’re saying.”
We see Felipe Rodriguez slowly go by on a bicycle. He’s steering his bike with one hand, while pushing another young wheelchair-bound Latino in front of him. The two crash over one of the power lines lying across the street.
“Would you look at those crazy spi --”
“--DON’T SAY IT!” exclaims Bernadette. She sounds really pissed.
“Don’t use that language in front of me! You know that my husband is Mexican.”
Jimmy looks dog faced. “Bernie, I . . . I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. I promise.”
Just then, another truck pulls up. A man hops out, and calmly walks to the back of his rig. He grabs a utility box and opens it. In the meantime, about a dozen utility crewmembers walk up and greet the new arrival. They have a brief powwow with the man. He must be the boss, I’m thinking. But then, he pulls out a miniature chain saw. With safety goggles in place, he pulls the rope and powers up the mighty weed whacker.
“See, I told you,” Sean addresses the multitude.
“They were waiting on the tree guy. Now they have a full complement.”
#Unreal #Fiction #Powerlines #Bartalk #Dialogue #Unions #PowerOutage
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