"The Chandelier in the Shithouse" by Tom Fillion

Tom teaches mathematics and coaches golf and tennis at a Tampa public high school in Florida.


© 2009 Tom Fillion


That was one thing about Dave Hamilton. He never quibbled about cashing the checks he wrote to me even though I was just a non-employee, a diaphanous soul in the underground economy, and didn't exist as far as the IRS was concerned or anybody else for that matter. Thanks to him, I always had my own Andy Jacksons and a Ben Franklin or two, but to earn them I had to go to some strange-ass places like 'the second telephone pole with red reflectors past the chicken farm.'

Yep. That's what the directions said. Dave wrote them on the back of the invoice. One Econo King waterbed with a particleboard pedestal to go.  Hold the headboard and the vibrator and thank God, Nature doesn't pass on the acquired traits of a parent to its offspring. That's all I had to give to the little dobber. A five-year, pro-rated warranty.

            Anyway, I drove up and down that fucking country road for half an hour, forty miles from home, trying to find the telephone pole with red reflectors on it. Where was it? Was this a wild goose chase for a chicken farm? Why would anybody out here buy a waterbed? Find that telephone pole! Pronto!

And there it stood, camouflaged in an indifferent landscape, the telephone pole with red reflectors on it, exactly where the directions said. I had driven past it several times before I actually saw it, and with the wind blowing the way it was it didn't take someone with a bloodhound's nose to smell the chicken shit emanating from the metal-roofed chicken farm.  It was all there, just like the invoice said.

I didn’t see a house though, but there was a dirt road that led towards a secluded, capitalist glen surrounded by shady, idyllic trees. I drove the waterbed van on the uneven trail into the thicket. The Econo King bounced around in the back until I spied a sprawling, single story house guarded by man's best or worst friend, depending on your circumstances, an attack dog, a large Rottweiler, tethered on a chain to a stake. A young boy stood nearby. Nice puppy.

I parked Dave's van in the front of the house. The dog's head swiveled on his massive body, but he stayed alongside the boy. I expected to find an energetic young couple inside, but when I knocked on the front door it was an old man and a young woman. He was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and his belly thickened like an inner tube around his midsection. The woman was trim and wore pastel slacks and a white blouse.

"Wilbur Dobbs, dream mechanic," I said, introducing myself.

            The old guy led me to their spacious bedroom in the back of the house. Sliding glass doors with beige drapes covered one whole side.  Beyond the glass doors was an open patio area where they parked their anti-nature vehicles. A Jeep with roll bars and huge tank tires; alongside it was a jacked-up pick-up truck and a camping trailer that didn't fit into their two-car garage, already stacked ceiling high with boxes and junk.

            He motioned to a nearby freestanding, maple headboard with book shelves.

            "We want the waterbed centered on the wall and use that headboard."

            I walked over and examined it.

            "Nice piece of furniture," I said.

"Bought it off a fella. He was moving and had to sell it.  Gave him fifty bucks for it," he said, proud of the bargain he had struck.

The lady had other concerns.

"What about leaking? Do waterbeds ever leak?" his attractive, dark-haired companion asked.

            "Only if they get stuck with something sharp," I said.

            "So what do you recommend?" the old man followed up.

"No guns, knives, or scissors in bed. Nothing sharp."

            "I see," she answered like she had just bitten down on an olive pit.

           "Bunny, we're not going to worry 'bout that, huh?  I mean, I ain't missed yet with old Ironsides," he said.

            He roared with laughter.

"Jesse!" She looked at him sharply.  "Be serious now," she said.

            "I am, honey bunch.”

I could see the setup already.  Jesse was her Sugar Pops, and Bunny was his sweetie. I knew what had to be done with the headboard and the waterbed too. Make an alloy, like this odd-matched couple, of the Econo King waterbed and the finely crafted, maple headboard that Jesse had lowballed out of someone, and center it on the wall. No problem. I could do it. After all, I was a seasoned dream mechanic by then. I had set up a flotilla of plastic and particleboard.

Before I could start though, there were logistics to take care of. Mainly, I wanted to avoid man's best or worst friend, descended from the Hounds of the Baskervilles, in the front yard.

            "Mind if I pull the van around back so I don't upset the puppy?" I asked politely.

            "Whatever'll make it easier for you.  Just get it set up. I ain't been asleep for two whole days," Jesse said, looking a bit haggard and showing his age.

            "He has back problems," Bunny said.

            "Sorry to hear that," I replied. "A waterbed will help. It's all about Archimedes' Principle."

           I drove the van around to the back yard and parked it next to their anti-nature vehicles. Jesse opened the sliding glass door for me. It was a delight they had such a big bedroom.  It gave me plenty of room to work. I brought all the things into their bedroom.

"It comes in parts, huh?  I'm glad I decided to have you set it up. I'd be at it until hell freezed over," he said.

            Jesse looked over everything.

            "Hey, this is particleboard!" he shouted, startling me more than the Rottweiler.

"The Econo King comes with a particleboard pedestal.  That's why it's in the lower price range," I explained.

            His face reddened. Circles appeared on it like sunspots.  My words didn't soothe the old grizzly.

            "Your boss told us it came with a stain finish.  That son bitch!!"

            Jesse scratched his chin.

            "Honey, this is particleboard.  It ain't worth a shit!"

            "It'll hold up anything," I reminded him, "as long as it doesn't get wet."

            That was true too. In fact, it was an axiom, a postulate, a given of twentieth century dream mechanic philosophy that twelve hundred pounds of water were to be suspended above water soluble supports whenever and wherever possible. 

            "Jesus! That son bitch!" Jesse muttered.

It took him several minutes to cool off. 

"Go 'head.  I'll call him tomorrow.  I wanna sleep tonight."

           The old grizzly calmed down so that I could start the assembly process.  The current ruckus wouldn't ruffle Dave Hamilton at all. He had been in the furniture business too long. It would roll off him like nothing. He was back at the store in his Lazyboy, probably into his third bag of cheese popcorn.

            "I'll help you center the headboard where we want it," Jesse said.

           His offer surprised me considering the tirade. We carried the heavy, maple headboard to the wall.

            "That's good, don't you think, honey bunch?" he asked.

            Bunny had joined us a few moments earlier when she heard him sonbitching Dave.

            "Yes, that's fine."

            I looked at the sturdy bookcase headboard pressed against the wall.

            "I’ll put a shim under the headboard. Just to keep it from tipping over while I work."

           "That thing's heavy as lead.  It'll stand by itself without a shim. It's been over there for a week with no problem," Jesse said.

I was skeptical, but I didn’t want him going grizzly

on me again.

"Okay," I acquiesced.  

           A telephone rang in the adjoining bathroom. It must have been attached to the telephone pole with red reflectors out on the road past the chicken farm. I couldn't believe it! A telephone in the bathroom. No shit.

He walked a few steps to the door and turned on a bright light that transfigured and completely illuminated the coal-black bathroom.

           "How the hell you doing?" he shouted.  "I’m having my waterbed set up by a boy," he said loudly to the caller.

           The boy looked at Bunny after Jesse's remark. Being a non-employee like I was, I heard stuff like that all the time.

            "Jesse put the phone in there when we added the bathroom.  Some people read.  He talks on the phone. You'd be surprised how much work he does in there."

     I could only imagine him sitting on the crapper talking to other high rollers.

After a few moments he walked out of the bathroom.  I had lined up everything on the floor.  The particleboard lay flat on the carpeting. What a breeze this had turned out to be!

            "Mind if I use your bathroom?" I asked.

            I didn’t really have to use it, but this boy was curious and wanted to see what it looked like to have a telephone in a bathroom. 

           "Light switch is on the right," Jesse said. "Let's get a beer, honey bunch."

           They left. I closed the door after flicking the switch. Light flooded the room.  Small, bright lights blazed around the vanity. The smoky, black-tiled shower and bathtub were sunk below ground level.  Three steps led down into the black lagoon where I pictured the old grizzly submerging himself with Bunny. Maybe he dipped the Rottweiler in there too.

The main lighting hung from the ceiling several feet off center from the toilet.  I looked up at it and couldn't believe it. Not only a telephone but a chandelier in the shithouse! Like a sparkling earring full of cats' eyes, the light reflected off the tile and the large mirror that covered the front wall.

This place was a perfect place! It was the Taj Mahal! Everything was dazzling and well-lit, where the old grizzly didn't have a worry, where he and Bunny were secure and protected, where life's vicissitudes were overcome by the light, where I didn't have to duck my head to walk like in my own apartment, where...shit!

A loud crash shattered the silence. Sounded like a bomb went off. I wondered if someone had shot the old grizzly. I rushed back into the bedroom. Jesse and Bunny had also raced there where I was examining the pieces of crushed particleboard.

            "Fucking A. The headboard tipped over," I said.

            They stared coldly in disbelief at the pieces cut in half.

            "I knew I should have shimmed it."

            "You carry extra particleboard?" he asked.

            "No sir."

            "How about Super Glue?"

            "That won't work," I said.

            "Get me that Super Glue in the kitchen," Jesse said to Bunny.

          She returned with a small tube. He applied the special salve to the broken pieces of particleboard then waited an awkward ten minutes for it to somehow heal the crumpled pieces. When he lifted one of the boards, it fell apart.

            "Ain't worth a shit either," Jesse grumbled.

Forget it. I knew I had to climb into the van for the drive back to the store. Dave Hamilton would be in his Lazyboy. By then night had fallen. When I reached the main road, the telephone pole that I couldn't find earlier, with a line back to the old grizzly, stood out, transfigured by the red reflectors on it. Couldn't miss it. It'd be easy to find when I came back later, tired, haggard, used-up and used. Some things only come out on a dark night of your soul, I guess, like red reflectors on a telephone pole or a chandelier in a shithouse.










All work is copyrighted property of Tom Fillion.





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