When the alarm goes off, I’m having a dream about piping. I’m teaching a class about it. I have everything figured out. “You can’t have all kinds of elbows and tees,” I’m telling the class. “You need straight runs. And everything needs to be plumb and level. It’s very simple really. Very very simple.”
We have one of those alarm clocks that’s not simple at all to turn off. I think the engineers do it on purpose. There are six buttons or ten on top. You can’t push the long, oval one. That’s the snooze. And you don’t want this fucking thing going off again in three minutes. You want it off. Completely off. There are two perfectly round buttons side by side. I feel them. One of them is alarm A. The other is alarm B. Then, to the right of the alarm A and B buttons, there is a slightly larger button which is the “alarm on/off” button. You need to push the alarm A or B button first, and then you push the slightly larger button. If you push them at the same time, the alarm won’t shut off. You’ll know you have activated or deactivated alarm A or B because a little red light will blink. What you want is both little red lights to be off. I push the alarm A button then the larger button. Then release them both. It’s almost impossible to sleep through this. Deb springs out of bed because she needs to get Mike ready for school. I linger in the chambers of the sea a little while longer, floating there. It is impossible, at the moment, to imagine being awake. Actually being awake. And being dressed. And going through all that shit you need to go through. I think of brushing my teeth. Impossible. And shaving. The cold water on my face. They are an insult to sleep. And they are impossible.
There was another dream. Before the pipes. Or maybe after. Mike was lying in a bathtub filled with trash. Banana peels and coffee grounds. The trash was floating on the water and sewage, which was also in the tub. And Mike. Lying there. He was younger than he is now. As he always has been. And he was absolutely calm. As he never has been. And he was looking steadily at me. And he didn’t speak. But I knew what he was saying to me. He was speaking to my mind. He said, “Why do you ignore me?” He didn’t seem angry about it. Very matter-of-fact. I began to explain, but I was bumbling. Because I had no explanation. There is no explanation.
It’s late October. There was a heavy wind last night, and I thought the leaves would be gone this morning, but a lot of them held on. It’s nice, the leaves still being here. It’s like they’re refusing winter. They say the leaves, in general, are holding on longer due to global warming. It would be nice if winter never came. I don’t give a shit about the glaciers or polar bears at the moment because I’m standing outside in my navy blue hoodie behind the Nixon Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. I’m supposed to be tearing down a large reciprocating compressor due to oil pressure problems. I suspect that the oil strainer is plugged. I don’t know what it’s plugged with, but I suspect it’s plugged with tiny bits of aluminum. The aluminum, I suspect, has come from the pistons and rods. The compressor is completely in shadow, and it will be in shadow all day, being on the north side of the building. The temperature is somewhere in the forties, which doesn’t sound cold, but it is cold when you’re standing there contemplating grabbing your steel tools and then removing these steel panels and the cast iron heads on the compressor. The leap from standing with tool pouch to tearing down compressor seems like an impossible leap.
When I was young, before I was married, before the kids, I did pretty much whatever I wanted to do. I wasn’t aware of my freedom. It didn’t feel like freedom. But it was. This is the way with most blessings. We are only aware of them when we are relieved of them. I remember watching this guy help another guy out of his car. He unfolded the wheelchair and set it up for the other guy. Then he helped the other guy out of the passenger door and into the chair. I was on my motorcycle at a stoplight. The guy in the chair was my age. Young. He seemed oblivious to the world, hands twisted around the wrong way, head moving back and forth. I was crying a little bit as the light turned green and I took off. I don’t know where I was going. It was a place I felt I needed to go at the time. I don’t think I was crying for the guy in the wheel chair. He was too far from me. Too great a leap to imagine what it must be like to be him. I think I was crying for the guy helping him out. And I wasn’t crying out of sadness. It was beauty that made me cry. The beauty of it.
Now I’ve got the panels off and I’m standing on the steel structure of the condensing unit, balancing on one foot, reaching up to remove one last 3/8ths bolt from a support column. I’m engaged in what I’m doing, and it’s not bad. It is, in fact, good. It’s fine. Forty something degrees is doable. Now I’m closing the liquid line valve. Now I’m powering up the unit. I’ll jump the contactors and run the compressor so the refrigerant will log in the condenser. Then I’ll drain the oil. Then I’ll…
When my phone vibrates, I check the text. It’s my writing partner, Lauren. Normally, we get together and write for an hour. Then we read what we just now wrote aloud to one another. It’s daring, to take something from the darkness to the light. To actually speak the words aloud. Lauren says she just finished her radiation therapy and she’s ready to write. I call her. “Hey,” I say. “I’m on a job in Cedar Rapids. Yeah. No. Listen. Why don’t we do this: I’ll go to a coffee shop, and then we’ll write. Then, we’ll call each other…”
I spread my tools around in a way that makes it obvious that I’m in the middle of something. I swing the gate closed and make it look like it’s locked. I think about the customer. The maintenance guy who never says anything that isn’t sarcastic. “It’s a nice day,” means it’s raining. “Great to see you again” means go fuck yourself. He’ll probably notice my absence. But I don’t care.
On the drive to the Starbucks on Blair’s Ferry, I notice the trees. “The world’s a bowl of Fruit Loops” a girl in one of my undergraduate courses once said. I think of the dream of piping. How everything was so simple. Like the truth. I think about Mike in the bathtub of trash. “Why do you ignore me?” I want to tell him I’m sorry. I want him to tell me it will be okay. And I think about the impossibility of writing. Of moving from this world. Whatever world you might be in. Sleeping. Driving. Eating. Crying. Businessman talking way to loud on his cell phone about stuff I don’t want to overhear. “Listen, Carl...yes...that’s why I like working with you people.” Tattoos covered with Band-aids per Starbucks employee policy. Headsets. White mocha. Each word representing something. Words drawing out the spirit of the thing. Word. Word. I can’t do it. It can’t be done. My mind wanders. I check Facebook. Yesterday, I sent a buddy of mine a note about having a beer at The Wig and Pen tonight. Game six of the World Series. Cards VS Rangers. The World Series was made for beer,” I wrote. “Word,” he wrote.
I will leave this world of Starbucks behind in a few minutes. These impossible leaps. The secret to everything is, if I were to give advice to one of my children, to not be afraid. There will be many leaps. Don’t be afraid. Everything will seem impossible. But don’t be afraid. I think that’s where God comes in handy. Reverend Dial says “If it’s fear, it didn’t come from God.” No fear. Like the bumper stickers. Sometimes we need to be assured that it will be okay. Even in the end. Especially in the end. After all these things we’ve done and left undone. After all these changes. It will be okay.