Front End

7 Oct

On the job, they called him Alejo. He was a boy, maybe eleven, and so the diminutive stuck. He wasn’t Mexican or Dominican like most of the men, but he had darker skin and jet black hair due to his distant Middle Eastern heritage, and in the summers he could pass for a Latino easily. In the beginning they made him sweep and clean old, abandoned warehouses. He hauled out rusty equipment and dumped it into the gargantuan container outside, next to the dock where some of the men would periodically go to smoke and drink out of half-pint bottles hidden in brown, wrinkled bags. Many times he’d puncture his skin on the sharp points of outdated machines and parts, trying to dismember and dislodge them from the wooden floor (they were often bolted), but he didn’t know anything about tetanus then, so he didn’t care that the rusted metal cut him and made him bleed. Later, he would do it to himself with a blade on purpose. No one would question anything. The long days on the job were full of accidents, and cuts were part of the day.

At the end of his shifts he was usually covered in a microscopic fiberglass coating from the polymer products he was scattering. The first Monday on the job he ran his fingers down his cheeks several times during the day, wiping off the sweat, and the tiny particles on his face cut into the flesh leaving vertical trails of blood running from his eyes down to his neck. The men laughed and called him the Weeping Virgin Mother. The best way to clean off the film was to just stand in the hot shower forever, letting the water wash everything down the drain. He couldn’t touch his skin, otherwise it would start to bleed again. After the first day he wanted to quit and he cried. He went back Tuesday.

The boss’ sons worked on the site as well and they often cursed and spat. They were white Americans. They came to work in a 1969 Chevy Nova.
—350 V8 and new front end, ya foreign fucks, is what Terry said to the men one time. —You smoke?
And the boy nodded. He lit up Lucky Strikes with Terry at break times and listened to the rest of the sons fight about the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles that season.
—Fuck Brian Sipe and fuck Lyle Alzado, Terry said and spat on a pile of scrap wood and nails.
—He’s the MVP you piece of shit, said his brother. –Thirty touchdowns and over four thousand yards…
And they both spat in a weird duel of phlegmatic matter; their projectiles landing short of one another’s feet.

On the job, the American boys called him Al.
—You oughta get one of them bowling shirts, or like they got at a garage widjyer name on it. Al! You know what I’m saying?
One of them spray painted “2112” in large numbers on an interior wall, and made a pentagram within a circle.
—Neil Peart’s the best, he said.

After the winter the American boys stopped coming. Terry was the last of them because he owned the car. One morning he accidentally spilled coffee on himself from the styrofoam cup and he said: —Fuck it. Fuck this shit. You all are bunch of suckers.
And then he never came back.
The men started calling the boy Alejo again.

They all were paid on Friday.

(Author’s Notes)


6 Responses to “Front End”

  1. Geoff 08/10/2008 at 10:02 AM #

    Alex, the character of Alejo is a novel waiting to be written. In just a few sentences, you have me hooked. He’s a martyr (a “Virgin Alejo” perhaps, cutting himself, and being cut) — but for what cause? I want to read more. I hope you’ll keep going with this, either in this public way, or in private … for one of the books you’ll publish down the road.

    My writing hat is tipped in your honor.

  2. Slyboots 08/10/2008 at 10:32 AM #

    I think that in younger, crazier days I dated Alejo. Only this version was half Italian, half Polish. And all crazy. Whooo hooo. And the fact that you channeled this wrath of god element into the shortest of pieces, ah. Breathtaking again, my friend!

  3. (S)wine 08/10/2008 at 10:46 AM #

    Thanks all. I feel this boy’s story needs more development, of course, but then no one would read here if it went on and on and on…maybe he’ll make a longer appearance in the omnibus project.

  4. Derek Catermole 13/10/2008 at 10:57 AM #

    Dear Mr. Swine,

    Thank you for notifying us of your displeasure at our theft of your “identity.” We apologize and hereby acknowledge that you are the only swine on the interwebs. We also wish to notify you that we have notified PEN, the NYRB, and Adidas about your attempts to adopt the style of Raymond Carver and the abomination you are perpetrating upon language and literature in general. They have agreed that unless you cease and desist they will continue not to give a shit about you, nor even be aware that you exist. Of course, if you do cease, it’s also not so likely you’ll get big and famous, despite the praise you’re receiving from your semi-literate friends here. We don’t really know what to suggest. Perhaps you could take your writing hat and convert it into a woodworking belt and make some knick knacks for sale at county fairs or something.

  5. (S)wine 13/10/2008 at 11:04 AM #

    “Derek”: good. And I hope that settles that.

    And for those who have no idea what’s transpired: “Mr. Catermole” has been trolling the Internets leaving nasty messages (such as the one above) on other people’s sites, using my name. I have no idea who he is, nor do I have any sort of historic association with him (her?). I do not read his site, nor am I interested in doing so. This has happened twice, and I imagine will happen again, in some bizarre attempt to… discredit my reputation? (Good luck by the way…my reputation has been discredited and trashed a long time ago). “Mr. Catermole” has been reported to his ISP provider, as well as his Blog Service Provider as having impersonated me, an online no-no. While I don’t care what anyone’s opinion is and don’t much care for what they have to say about even the authors/bloggers/friends I read, I do object to this: the cowardice that is exhibited in hiding behind someone else’s name. In other words: don’t say it as me. Say it as YOU. I trust the recipients of your vitriol are “big boys” enough to handle it, and take care of it themselves. Because you know me, when the Revolution comes, I’ll be the one running the other way. Thank you, we love you…good night!

  6. Cliff Burns 13/10/2008 at 12:20 PM #

    Thanks for “Front End”, Alex. Love the range of your characters–I urge people coming across this site to seek out the other short-shorts you’ve posted and see the diversity your work exhibits (and celebrate it). You specialize in drawing these succinct, authentic portraits, managing in a few hundred words to NAIL some aspect of the human experience with unerring accuracy and believability. I’m always intrigued, always impressed…and eternally envious.

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