*** continuing the serialization of the novel Tollbooth***
click here to start at the beginning
I drove around the random neighborhood in an ever broadening circle that neared the tollbooth. The rain was letting up, the sun threatening to peak through the comfort of the black clouds.
I turned on one street, surveying. Suddenly there was Gena, walking with a pink back pack. My sweet sweet tigress. I pulled beside her, as she turned, I saw it wasn’t her.
“Sorry, I thought you were someone else.”
Fear was on her young face. It was happening more and more. I was beginning to see Gena in everyone and everything.
Up the road, there were vacant lots, the pine trees and sugar sand removed. New construction. A foundation had already been poured. Small wooden stakes with neon ties flapped in the wind. Some concrete blocks were stacked in neat piles.
I stepped out of the Subaru onto the lot. I wondered how these builders had been able to lay the blocks so perfectly. I didn’t know construction—I had no skill whatsoever, I didn’t know how to do anything else besides hand out the change of a dollar.
I couldn’t even be a fisherman, which, I assumed wasn’t very hard. I couldn’t even stand there at the edge of the surf with a fishing rod and catch a fish, I had no skill . . . I had dreams of being a fisherman, out on the vast sea, just me and the waves . . . but I had no skill.
That wasn’t true, I had all kinds of skill. I looked up at the sky, trying to name some of those skills, any skill. Thinking even harder, so hard, so hard, what skills? But, then looking at the concrete blocks, I thought: why couldn’t I learn how to do something like that? Set blocks? I could definitely learn that.
There was a tarp on the side of the property, I went to it, lifted it. All kinds of wood was beneath. Nails too. And Insulation. A box full of duct tape, surely the most important tool on any job site. I reached down, picked up the tape, so many people thought that it was called DUCK TAPE, but so many of those people were born looking like flipper babies. At least I knew that much about the construction trade, that duct tape was called DUCT TAPE and not DUCK TAPE!
I scooped the box up, carried it to my car. It’s for securing ducts, dipshits!
This would be all I needed to build my new empire.
I called Ted from a pay phone outside Great Wok of China. He answered on the third ring. “It’s Jimmy,” I said.
“Why do you still say that, we’ve been friends since Kindergarten.”
“My pre-school scores were better than yours. I didn’t eat paste,” I taunted.
“Still holding that over my head, I see. What’s up? You want to do something?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I’m at the Great Wok of China”
“Why did they ever name it that?”
“As opposed to the Great Wall of China? Wanna get lunch? Just come over here, quick too, I need your help with something,” I said.
“You still have those do-it-yourself construction tapes?” I asked
“The home improvement ones you gave me?”
“Did you ever watch them?” I asked.
“Perfect. Oh, and bring a level and a hammer with you.”
“To the Chinese restaurant?”
He sighed, “On my way.”
My Subaru had eight sheets of plywood on the roof, about 20 ten foot lengths of 4×4 lumber on top of that. There was also a door and a window, all secured in place by miraculous wrappings of super-industrial strength duct tape. In the rear seat of the car were large rolls of insulation—unseen under that, two packages of roof shingles. In the trunk was a roll of tar paper, ten penny nails, heavy duty screw, silicone, caulk.
I was at a table by the gum-ball machine when Ted pulled up. I waved to him through the window as he parked. He took a good look at my car, shook his head, coming into the hot salty unease of the Chinese restaurant. I sat smiling and sipping green tea from a small wax cup.
“Amigo are you out of your mind. That Subaru is grossly overloaded. You can’t just duck tape that much shit to the top.” Ted is like a dad to me. He won’t shut up with his wisdom and care for regulations. I need that, I suppose.
“It’s not duck taped it’s duct taped.”
“Well, I think I would know a little more about the gross weight capacity of a vehicle, since I work at the DMV. What are you going to do with all that stuff?”
“Have a seat, we’ll discuss it like gentlemen.”
“Did you steal all of that?” Ted asked, quietly.
“No, it was a gift.”
“Out of your mind,” Ted took a seat across from me. He said, “I really think that you should seriously consider talking to someone.”
“I’m talking to you.”
“Not that kind of talking. I mean, like a professional. A shrink. I think you might need some medicine. Ya know, Jim. You just seem plain off to me. Off.”
I ignored him. “I don’t know . . . I had a dream last night that I shot somebody for driving through the tollbooth without paying . . .”
He was looking up at the lunch specials, squinting, “Yeah, get a psychiatrist.”
I always ignored him when he said that I needed psychiatric help. “I have a plan, a necessary plan.”
“Concerning . . . ?”
“We’re going to build an escape from our boring stupid lives.”
“I don’t have a boring stupid life.”
A Chinese woman came out of the kitchen, sweating and carrying a large tray. Two lunch specials for us.
“I got you the boneless spare ribs, Dr. Jung,” I informed.
“I love boneless spare ribs,” Ted said with delight.
“You probably have never tried anything else off of a Chinese food menu in your life.”
“That’s not true. I just know what I like.”
“Well I have the same problem, as you can see.”
“The middle of the road is fine with me,” Ted said.
“I don’t like being married.” I said, “and I know that you don’t either. If I wasn’t a coward, I’d leave.”
“You’re fatter than you used to be. I’m balder, we can’t be that happy.”
I put some of my ribs into my mouth, began to slowly crush them in my werewolf fangs. I slurped my tea.
“I have a plan,” I said, manic.
“I have a plan too,” he explained, “I’m trying to get promoted at the DMV, to get my own office, a pretty secretary who wears nice perfume and colorful skirts.”
“Hold it right there!”
I held up the Chinese food place mat, showing the drawings explaining Chinese Horoscopes, “You know what this says? I’m a boar and I should avoid rabbits.”
“Sarah is a Rabbit?”
“According to this,” I said point blankly, shaking the place mat in front of his face.
“OK,” he said, leaning forward, “just a short stay in a nice facility? The Mayweather, out by the cranberry bog. Please, think about it. They’ll listen to you, they’ll talk to you about your problems . . . it’ll help.”
“Do you have a pen?”
“No, no pen,” he said, patting himself anyway. “No pen.”
There was a tea cup full of crayons next to a coloring book with Chinese cartoons of dragons. In a frenzy, I scooped up the red and blue and green crayons and I began to draw my detailed plans on the back of the place mat.
“What are you doing now?”
First I drew the far walls, and then the near walls, then the door, adding the windows. I carefully scrawled detailed dimensions, like any good architect would.
Munching on his egg roll, Ted asked, “And why are you off in the middle of the week anyway?”
“I might be quitting my job,” I said as I slowly drew the roof. “If all of this works out, I might quit my job.”
“Might! You can’t quit your job, you have a kid on the way. This is exactly what I mean!”
“Enough idle chit chat, check this out.”
I slid the drawing to him across the table.
“There you go, there are the blueprints.”
“For what?” he asked.