Rick is a new carpenter and he thinks his alcoholism is a big secret, makes up excuses to visit his truck every half hour or so. Says he needs to consult the blueprints about the layout, or he needs a certain tool. On a real bad day, heíll come out and say he needs a break to get away from the job. If you go out front while heís reading the paper in his truck, he wonít see you until youíre close. Hang back by the spruce tree in the yard with the low branches and watch him not move. Itís like an adventure, almost. Pretending that you know a secret, except everyone knows. Rick must know the word is out because how does he think is breath smells? It smells just like whisky.
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The other lead carpenters complain about how extraordinarily slow he works. The way he moves reminds you of a tree that has fallen partway over in the woods, and is held up by the other trees. It continues to fall, gaining inches in severe wind storms. He once spent an entire day putting in three pieces of trim. Another time, three days on a single door. Itís the way he moves. He kind of shuffles around with his feet always landing with full contact, like elephants feet. Itís like heís trying not to make a sound or to sneak unnoticed. When he uses his arms to work a tool, it is as though his arms are heavy with the kind of weight that comes with the numbness of limbs.
It doesnít matter to you. Youíve been trained to accept the popular attitude of the hourly paid by the very ones who complain of his slowness. They work at a good pace, when they work. Masters of the fifteen-minute break, the coffee run, the five-minute rest, the other carpenters donít realize Rickís acclimation to this work crew has emaciated the entire concept of productivity.
Now come our from behind the wide spread of boughs and approach his truck, not knowing what to say, hoping he will notice your approach. He waits in the stupid condition of not knowing he is about to be fired any day now for lack of performance. Itís been an hour since lunch ended, and Mike, who is another lead carpenter, waits anxiously behind the house, sitting in an upturned wheelbarrow. Heís not the lead of this job, so he canít bring himself to Rickís truck to let him know break is up. That would communicate an intention to overpower, and Mike is very sensitive that way.
Youíre sensitive too, but perhaps in a deeper way because you care to see Rick keep his job and this is all that is on your mind at the moment, so the words you canít find are not important. Donít use words. Walk straight to the driverís side door and give the window tow quick taps and walk back before he sees that you noticed the beer can nestled between his legs as he slept.
Report back to Mike that he was sleeping with a beer in his hands.
ďPassed out drunk, you mean,Ē he says.
Mike tightens his eyes and lips, searching. ďShouldíve called Mark get him over here so he coulda seen that.Ē
Itís not your place to defend Rick with words that would be slapped away like a childís fists. Actions are mechanical forces that humble their object to voicing distain. Laugh and wonder if you are laughing at yourself.
Rick comes around the corner while you and Mike are still waiting, doing nothing. ďWhatís up?Ē he says. ďI told you I was goin to sleep at lunchtime.Ē
Pull your hammer out and set a roofing nail through a wrinkle in the Tyvek and into the plywood. Let the sound of pounding be your reply. Rick waits but then understands and walks over to the sawhorses where he prepares to cut sheathing. Usually sheathing us cot on the pile to save time, but Rick must bring each piece to his station so he can use the saw at chest level and not get down on his knees. Heís fifty-two but he seems much older.
He says, ďI donít know what it is. Ií just feel like shit today. Just total shit. I just canít seem to get it together. I donít know how to describe it either. ItísóI just feel like shit.Ē The whites of his eyes are yellow as cheese and the pale areas of his arms are yellow and green. He canít find his tool belt so he crosses the yard, so slowly. From a distance he sees the belt was under his cut station. ďMy brother had two heart attacks and a stroke in the same week and he says with all my symptoms Iím a prime candidate.Ē As he comes slowly over tossed pieces of two by fours and plywood, smell the whisky on his breath. He is fifteen feet away, and itís a horrible stench. He must know itís liver failure thatís wrong with him. He doesnít need to hear it from you. Remember, you are like one of the trees holding him up with your branches. Itís not your place to say anything.