bout an hour into my work shift I was on the verge of doing something productive when the tornado sirens began blaring. I'd been living in Alabama long enough to no longer be alarmed when those metallic beehives mounted atop slender steel obelisks screamed apocalypse. Following the other Hydra employees I meandered with the serenity of a Buddhist monk on Quaaludes past the hulking machines, these five axle prison cells I'd served fifteen years of a thirty year sentence.
The first fifty machine operators squeezed into the designated storm shelter which doubled as a men's bathroom during non severe weather hours. By the time I reached the door the bathroom looked like a third world gay club, large men wearing muscle shirts and steel-toed boots packed elbow to elbow, wall to wall. I stood in the doorway studying the sweaty mass of unskilled laborers.
By the time I reached the door the bathroom looked like a third world gay club, large men wearing muscle shirts and steel-toed boots packed elbow to elbow, wall to wall.
“I guess I'll wait until y'all are done,” I said and shut the door behind me.
I slipped into the maintenance office where the cool cats with little regard for the sanctity of their own lives sat on upturned five gallon buckets, swapping survival stories from tornado seasons past.
“Remember Sid? Useta work in warranty about ten years ago?” George said. He directed the question toward me since I was the only other long timer in the room.
I scarcely remembered him. It was a vague name made murky by the repetition of days. “What about him?”
“Well you remember that F3 that came through Joppa in the summer of '03 and decapitated his little six year old daughter?”
“Poor bastard was never the same.” This coming from Ryan who had never met Sid but felt the urge to enter the conversation nonetheless.
What I did remember about Sid, now, was the constant funerary sadness surrounding him. I avoided him every chance I got. My usual drug induced euphoria clashed audibly with his dead child instilled despair.
I could hear the storm raging outside the factory walls. It sounded as though God were using his celestial meat tenderizer to hammer the outlying area into a shitkicker schnitzel.
George reached back to his childhood to recount the story of the worst tornado he'd ever seen way back in the summer of '74.
“That F4 killed something like a hundred people. It ripped the roof right off the Highland apartment complex, spinning niggers all over the south side of Huntsville. First time in Alabama history, white man had to pull niggers out of trees they didn't put them in to begin with.”
My balls began tingling and I thought, this is an odd moment for racial slurs to excite me, before I realized it was my cell phone misbehaving in my pocket. I checked the screen. One missed call. One text.
I knew what the text said before I flipped open the phone. Need money. She was a one-hit wonder and never waited for the encore to sing this tune. It's a sad fact with those on the brink of divorce, a woman accustomed to receiving a man's paycheck is slow to adapt to half-checks. She was perpetually in need of my cash. It's also a sad fact, children in the habit of eating routinely are slow to embrace an existence of half-rations.
The text read: CALL QUICK. TORNADO HIT TRAILER.
What tornado? She lived not fifteen minutes from the factory, on top of the same mountain. There was no tornado. The ex was a world class exaggerator. I have sex with six women and she brands me a cheat and a liar and the most wicked man in the world. Total over reaction.
I tapped “whatever” on the keys and hit send just as Waldo launched himself from his chair.
“What the hell's got into you, Waldo?” George asked.
“Tornado just hit my mom's house,” Waldo said, holding up his cell phone as though it were some sort of scrying device. “I gotta go.”
Waldo's mom being one of my illustrious six who led to the unfortunate dissolution of my marriage, I knew she lived only a country mile from my ex's trailer, my heavily and ignorantly mortgaged home until last month.
I opened the phone and found my last statement questionized. “Whatever?”
Pay no heed, I typed out. I meant that for someone else. How are the kids? How bad did it hit? I'll be right there.
The drones were filing out of the bathroom, shame-faced they spent so much time crowded in such close proximity without so much as a near death experience to show for it.
Observations of a Dumb Polack #5 continues...