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Creative Writing Assignment

Followed a stranger again. Found this guy on the metro. He really was wearing a Gas Co uniform--and some magnificent hair.
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His name is Eddie, and he has the best hair of anyone who works for the Gas Department.

A few things about being named Eddie.
First: It’s a family name. His dad is Edward. His grandpa is Edward. His great grandfather was Edward. On and on. When Eddie was at a family get-together (once or twice a year, in a park, picnic-style), his least favorite aunt asked him over the potato salad if it wasn’t time they started calling him Ed, being as he was a man now. Eddie, who was 19 at the time, thought about it, then decided he liked Eddie better.
Second: it looks so perfect stitched on his greasy coveralls that people sometimes assume it’s a joke. “Nope,” says Eddie, “Eddie’s my REAL name.”

He took hell today at work. Usually, he doesn’t ‘do’ his hair just to go to work. Usually he just wraps a greasy red bandana around his head and that’s that. Work isn’t the place for hair; Eddie knows that. But today, his boss promised him he’d be able to leave just a little bit early. A little bit early wasn’t early enough to get where he was going on time, but it would help; and he knew he could do his hair and wear his nice clothes under his coveralls to save him even more time.

“Damn, whatchoo, got a hot date?” Victor whistles low and throaty at Eddie as he comes out of the bathroom for what was supposed to be his last 30 minutes of work. “Whatchoo, goin to the discotheque or some shit?” Eddie shakes his head and doesn’t joke back. Usually he would, and usually he likes Victor (even though he doesn’t like Mexicans, Victor’s okay), but Eddie hates it when people talk about his hair. “Shut it, Victor. Where I’m going, they don’t even let people like you IN.”
Victor watches the back of Eddie’s glistening curls, not knowing what to say. He hates not having comebacks.

“Alright, boss?”
Eddie’s boss hadn’t worked a day in the field—he’d transferred from management at some other utilities company. Eddie resents him for this sometimes but it also sometimes means he can pull a fast one on boss—get away with stuff that anyone who actually worked out there would be able to see right through. Take 2 hours to read the meter at one apartment building, for example, because that apartment building was right next to his buddy’s house and his buddy always had cold beer in the fridge.
“Alright what?” asks his boss. Eddie can tell this isn’t a good sign.
“Still alright that I leave early?”
“Oh, Eddie: I’m sorry buddy, but I forgot. Victor had some family emergency come up and I thought I could have you respond to this.”
Boss hands Eddie a piece of paper and as that white piece of paper is coming at Eddie’s face, Eddie has time to hope it’s something small, something manageable he can do on the way…
Eddie is having trouble breathing easy, because this?
“Is there anyone else, boss, that could do this?”
“Why? Bad?” Boss looks dutifully apologetic.
“Nah, not bad, just gonna take some time. There’s paperwork. Hand holding. Instruments and stuff.”
“Yeah…” says boss, trailing off.
Eddie considers whether or not it would be rude to ask what kind of family emergency Victor might be having. Not emergency enough to stop him from fucking around about Eddie’s hair. Eddie’s seen pictures of Victor’s girls: two cute girls, brown hair and liquid brown eyes. He knows the younger one’s been getting into trouble at school. He thinks it might be that.
“Alright.” Eddie exhales, turns around, and walks out of the office.
“Did you get a haircut?” boss asks, but Eddie is far enough away that he pretends not to hear it.

Out in the garage, Eddie undoes the latch and swings the two blue doors of the back of the van open.
“What the fuck, man, I’m doing inventory!”
Eddie hands Rob the white piece of paper and pushes past him, maybe a little too close, to get at the storeroom. He starts loading up the back of the van.
Rob’s not a fast reader, so Eddie is almost done by the time Rob finishes. On his last trip past Rob, Rob pushes the paper back at Eddie, laughing. “Sure your hair’s such a good idea? Could really go up, if this shit is real.”
“I’ll do the inventory for you when I get back.”
“Fuckin-a right you will,” says Rob, still laughing. “And don’t bother lubing up the tools—just rub em in your hair!”
Eddie slams the driver door and rolls down the window so he can give Rob the finger as he pulls out and makes a left onto the street.

He checks the address on the paper against the side of the building and almost drops his head to rest against the steering wheel. This was one seriously fucked-up night, and up until now he thought maybe he’d be able to make it, to keep his plans: now he knew it was over. Killing the engine, he grabs the clipboard and heads inside. The automatic doors swoosh open for him and he walks up to the beige counter, fluorescent lights making the woman sitting behind it look orangey. She looks up from her computer screen as he approaches, her eyes finding the name tag on his coveralls.
“Do you work for the gas company… Eddie?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“That was fast. Let me show you where the problem is.” She hits a buzzer and a door to Eddie’s right opens. Eddie follows the woman down a linoleum hallway that smells like bleach and piss. An old man sitting in a wheelchair stares at Eddie as he passes. Eddie hates rest homes. They remind him of going to see his great grandfather, Edward, every Sunday till he died. Edward lived to be 98. Eddie thinks that if living to 98 means you end up in a place like this, he doesn’t want to live that long.
“We had a resident complain about it earlier this week,” the woman was saying, her shoes squeaking on the floor. “We take these things very seriously, but I stuck my head in there and couldn’t smell anything. He wouldn’t quit, though. I think maybe if you can come in and take a look, he’ll leave it alone.”
Eddie nodded. They were turning into one of the rooms now. The blinds were open and he was momentarily blinded by the unexpected light; as his eyes adjusted, he could see a wasted man barely making a bump under the bedspread.
“Roger, this is Eddie. He works for the Gas Company. He’s come to see if there’s a gas leak.”
“Hello Eddie. You should smell my bathroom.”
This is just about the last thing Eddie wants to do, and he thinks about how he’ll tell his friend over a cold beer later what this old man said and they’ll laugh. But for now, he nods at the man and walks across his room to the bathroom. He feels like he is seeing something he shouldn’t, so he makes a point to walk in slowly. The toilet has a soft plastic cover. The soap is shaped like a shell. The bath mat is a fuzzy blue. There is a pair of the man’s socks balled in the corner: they look very small. There is no smell of gas. Eddie looks at himself in the mirror. He thinks his hair looks good. He thinks he looks ridiculous with his hair and these coveralls, though. He hates that he’s in this man’s bathroom pretending to smell for gas. He thinks it’s way too late to make his plans. He walks out of the bathroom.

“Sir? I can’t smell anything suspicious right off, but I want to be sure. If it’s alright with you, I’m going to go out to my truck and bring in some equipment. Really check it out.”
The man smiles at Eddie and nods. He looks at the nurse: “I told you so.”

Eddie walks out of his room and back past the man in the wheelchair. The man is still staring at him. Eddie thinks for a second of holding his hand out for a hi-five, then decides the man wouldn’t get it anyway and keeps walking. At the van, he pulls out an old-time reader with a face. He thinks Roger will understand this. He carries it back into the lobby where the nurse is waiting for him, holding the door open.
“Do you think you smell something? Really?” she asks him. She eyes the reader.
“No ma’am, not really.”
“I knew it. That man.” The nurse shakes her head, looking at Eddie as if to say ‘The things I put up with.’ Eddie normally would smile back, but he doesn’t know what’s gotten in to him: he doesn’t want to play along. He keeps his face still and walks past her, back into Roger's room. Roger is watching the door when he comes in, and he crosses to his bedside.
“See this? This gauge tells us what a normal reading should be. And this one? Will tell us what it’s like in that bathroom of yours. Now, if there’s any gas in there, this one will pick it right up.”
“What will we do then?”
“We’d have to evacuate.”
“Some of the people in here don’t get around so well. I don’t know…” says Roger, looking out the window.
“I could help,” says Eddie.
Roger looks back at him. “Are you a singer?” he asks.
“No sir. Why?”
“Your hair is much too nice for a gas man.”
Eddie wonders why, when this man says something about his hair, he doesn’t mind. He wonders why he actually kind of likes it.
“Thank you, sir. Let’s check out this bathroom of yours, yeah?”
Roger nods and Eddie again, respectfully, enters his bathroom. He makes sure Roger can see him and he takes some time fussing with the instrument; holding it in corners, pulling back the shower curtain, twisting the knobs. After a while, he emerges: “Sir? I’ve checked, and I feel sure there is no gas leak in your bathroom. See? This gauge would have changed, and it’s at exactly the same level as this one. See?”
Roger examines the two faces of the old time machine, and seems satisfied. He nods.
“Anything else you’d like me to do while I’m here?” He is not sure why he asks it, but he means it.
“Well, maybe you could move that chair? I’m tired of looking at it in the same place.”
“Where would you like it to go?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe just to that other corner?”
Eddie puts down his equipment and clipboard on the ground next to Roger's bed, then does as he asks. The chair is light and plastic. “Anything else, sir?”
“No, thank you Eddie.”
“You’re welcome.”

1 comments:

Ray Manukay said...

Fantastic stuff. Keep em coming!

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