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Glory Days – Mark Putzi

Sep 18, 2021 | Fiction | 2 comments

My friend and I go out after the meeting to dinner on Fridays, usually talk about politics, sports, but tonight we were both going on vacation the next day and somehow, we mentioned how our wives sometimes say the most biting things because they know us and know how to hurt us. We were at Jose’s, up the block from the meeting, eating tacos. He said his thing, and it was pretty bad, and I don’t want to say because it’s my friend and all, but it had to do with attention both to her and to his son. “I mean yeah,” my friend said, “I work at home. That doesn’t mean I sit at home and do nothing. They expect me to work.” Then I told him about my wife and how she’s jealous of my writing and how she says little insults who knows why, maybe she thinks it’ll change the way I think. In this insult, she called my stories tales of “glory days,” referring to memoirs, and when she said it under her breath, I thought, “Wow. Now she’s comparing me to bad Springsteen, not even good early Springsteen.” My friend continued about his wife and how they’d been upset because they attended a wedding for his niece and at the wedding his father had his 35MM camera stolen. He said his father left the camera on a picnic table and when he came back it was gone. They looked everywhere for it: under the table, in the trash, all over the grounds. They couldn’t find it and his father was so upset he left without saying goodbye. And he didn’t say goodbye to his daughter who came all the way from Seattle, so she was hurt, and my friend was hurt. Then his cousin showed up with the camera and said he’d found it underneath the table. “What bullshit,” my friend said, “I wonder if they just felt guilty, whoever took it?” “Maybe when they found out whose it was, they did,” I said, and he said, “Why don’t they just admit?”
After a while I said, “Maybe some kid took it. You know how kids take things. And they lied not to embarrass him in front of the family.”
He shrugged and said, “Could be.”
Then I said, “I have a story about a grand theft if you want to hear it” and he said “Sure.”
This was my story.
When we were in business, a lot of times my old man would bid jobs that were way too big for us, and this was one of those times. I mean like way too big for us. We had maybe three guys on the crew. This was a sewerage manhole for the city of South Milwaukee, and it was 50 by 50 with walls 25 feet high, so high that we had to build scaffold just to set the forms to pour the walls. Anyway, they had this company of kids really, three brothers, who were using a crane to set the sewer pipe and they were Good Old Boy types. Go out after work and drink themselves under the table at some bar, playing Alabama or some shit. So, the first week on the job, one of them borrows my father’s pocketknife I had given him on his birthday, and three weeks after that, we ask is this kid ever giving the knife back and he says it’s lost and if he ever finds it he’ll return it. It’s a really nice Buck knife that cost me $25 and me, my Pop and this kid all know it’s not lost, but my Pop just says, ‘Well have a look around for it,” and the kid says ‘Sure,” but we all know exactly what that means. So they’ve got these dewatering pumps all around the site because the manhole is set ten feet below the water table and they’re constantly running to keep the water out of the hole. I climb down into the hole, go to the farthest corner out of sight, unplug one of these $1500 fucking pumps and unhook its hose. It weighs like a hundred pounds. I drag it up the ladder, put it in the back seat of my car and throw a blanket over it. Well, in a couple hours they see the water rising, so they inspect the pumps and find out right away what the problem is. Then they call a meeting with the general and ask us if know of anything that happened to the pump, and I tell them, “No, but if you give back my father’s pocket knife, it might suddenly show up on its own.”
“So did they give the knife back?” my friend asked.
“No, in fact, I’ve still got the pump. I threw it in our garage, and now it’s in the basement at the folks’ house gathering dust but let me finish.
Anyway, we eventually get kicked off the job because we’re so far behind, just like we got kicked off of maybe ten other jobs, you know, because my father can’t stick to bidding for work we can actually do, and I’m loading up everything and taking it off the job site, and I come back with the van after dropping off a load of scaffolding, and I see they’ve taken that crane and put a boulder on top of a stack of about 50 sheets of plywood that cost about $40 bucks apiece. So I turn and look at them on the other side of the site and they’re all standing there, all three of them, laughing, and actually slapping their thighs. I look at the boulder and try to push it off the plywood, and it doesn’t budge, but I notice it’s got like a notch at the bottom, a kind of target, so I take two long 4 by 4’s about 8 feet long and another 4 by 4 about two feet long to use for a fulcrum, and I double up the long 4 by 4’s, slide one end underneath that notch and sure enough I pry it over and it rolls off the plywood and I turn and look at the fucking geniuses and they turn and go back to whatever the fuck they were doing. I mean these were the type of guys just as stupid as they could possibly be, do you know what I’m saying? Too goddam dumb to just give back the pocket knife and call it even!”
As my friend and I talk, he tells me more about his wife and we both agree it’s tough. You know what they say if you never want to get laid again, get married. “I mean,” my friend says, “is she done? Because if she is, she should just tell me. Because I’m not done. I mean, if she’s done she should tell me and I’ll just get a subscription of PornHub or something.”
At first I don’t say anything, because I’m pretty much done. My wife and I both, but maybe not my wife. Then I say, “Oh, let me tell you another story about these same three stupid sons of bitches from the same job,” And he says, “Sure.”
So this is the other story.
You know how some guys are so goddam dumb they can work the same job for years and not even get the terminology? Well, we had to, on this job, break a hole in the main sewer line for them so they could see the flow of the water, so we saw the top off this concrete pipe and smash the hell out of it and half the rubble falls into the water, and Jeff, we had hired my friend Jeff, was picking rocks out of the stream because I didn’t really want to put my hand in there with all the condoms and shit rolling round in that water, and then one of them yells, ‘Get a shovel!’ so Jeff gets a flat shovel and starts shoveling, and this kid yells, ‘Not that way, shovel that shit upstream!’ And so Jeff, you know, because he understands what the word ‘upstream’ means takes a couple of paces upstream and starts shoveling again, and this son of a bitch starts screaming, ‘Not that way! I said UPSTREAM, goddamit UPSTREAM!’ and Jeff and I look at each other and then I figure it out, what he means, so I yell, ‘Against the current, Jeff! He means against the current!’ and this son of a bitch comes up behind me and grabs me around the neck with one arm and sticks a screwdriver into my temple and says, ‘Tell your man to shovel that shit upstream,’ and I say to him real calmly, ‘Don’t tell any of my men what to do,’ and he repeats himself and I look down into the pit, you know, we’ve poured the base of the manhole about ten feet below where Jeff is standing looking up and on the outer edge of the slab we’ve got #10 rebar sticking up to tie into the walls when we pour them, just sticking up one foot on center and 16 inches high, these rebar with no caps on them, just their sharp edges, and I look over my shoulder at the guy, and down at the rebar and then over at Jeff, and I guess I must have smiled, because Jeff sees me and shakes his head almost imperceptibly and kind of makes a cutting motion with either hand and mouths the word, ‘No.’ And I just tell the guy real calmly, ‘Don’t tell any of my workmen what the fuck to do,’ and then I yell to Jeff, ‘He means against the current! Shovel against the current so the rocks don’t go downstream and plug the sewer!’ So, Jeff finally gets it and shovels against the current and the kid lets me go. But Jeff knew exactly what I was thinking and when he came up out of the hole he said to me, ‘It’s a good thing you didn’t do that,’ and I said ‘why?’ and he said, ‘you know why.’ But the point is you know how stupid these sons of bitches are. They work on the same job for 10 years can’t even get their terminology straight. Upstream, Jesus! What a stupid motherfucker.”
My friend says, “But if you’d done it, you’d have to live with yourself the rest of your life.”
I say, “How so? If he slipped and fell.”
My friend says, “It’s a good thing anyway.”
I say, “That’s true. I could have slipped and gone in after him. But I like to think about it. What he’d look like laying there with the rebar. Sometimes it’s nice to think about. You know one foot on center. There’s a chance he’d miss. He was a skinny kid.”
A little while later we’re talking about our wives again, and I tell my friend. “Those stories aren’t just glory days, you know. They mean something. About the culture, you know? About what makes people do what they do, even those stupid fucking kids.”
“Yeah,” my friend says, and just kind of shrugs and finishes a taco.
“Those dumb sons of bitches, they’re just not really capable of doing any better than that. I mean it’s the best they can do with no brains and no one else to teach them anything. Otherwise, they end up in jail or something.”
“Shit,” my friend says, “they might have wound up in jail anyway.”
“No they wouldn’t,” I say, “the cop told me I should have beat the crap out of him.”
“You mean you called the cops?”
“After the day was over with. He said there were no witnesses. I should have just beat the crap out of him.”
“So the cop wanted you to throw him into the pit?”
“I guess,” I say, “I just don’t know what I would have done if Jeff weren’t there. But the thing about glory days is it was calculated. It wasn’t spontaneous. She cooked it up and then she held onto it until she could use it when it was really hurtful. And then she gets mad and claims I don’t listen to her. Well, why the hell should I if all she’s gonna do is hurl fucking hand grenades.”
“Could be worse,” says my friend, “you could be married to some chick whose picture is in the post office. Like the one I dated.”
“Yeah,” I say, “did I ever tell you about Sara Vogan, the night she pinned that corsage on me and I pretended it pricked me so she’d pay attention when she told me she loved me. Then after the bar closed, I went to the bathroom and when I got out she wasn’t there. I found her on the street. There were three guys carrying her and loading her into a car. Carrying her for Christ’s sake.”
My friend laughs, “Don’t mind him. He’s my husband. He just likes to sit behind the curtain and watch.”
It’s cathartic these after meeting dinners we have sometimes. He’s not my sponsor. I’m not his. But it works out. We have dinner, split the tab. We talk.

Mark Putzi received an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 1990. He has published fiction and poetry in numerous online and print venues in the U.S. and in many other countries. Most recently, the story “It’s Rush Hour” was published by the blog In Parentheses. He lives in Milwaukee and works as a retail pharmacist.

2 Comments

  1. Todd

    Yes glory days, that’s what they were. It’s all in the retelling isn’t it? Man I have a few…

    Reply
    • Mark Putzi

      Thanks Todd. Funny how we’re both finding our niche. I like what you’re doing on canvas.

      Reply

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