The basketball isn’t ours. It wasn’t on our property until four this afternoon. Maybe a bit earlier. That’s when we both noticed it. We were parking the car on our return from a day out with the kids.
It’s against the house now, but it started it’s journey across our yard from the garbage cans sometime around 10 this morning.
My Son and I are sitting on the front porch. The sun is warming the wall at the edge of our lawn and hasn’t come over the roof far enough to bake the front step. It will be hot today. August.
The workers are back. They’ve torn up the street and replaced gas lines within a two block radius. The noise of their machinery has been our alarm clock for the entire month of July. It has become ritual to take him on my shoulders and walk out the front gate to see what’s new at the curbside construction. Last week one of the workers left a small backhoe – I didn’t know they were made that small – on the median between the sidewalk and the street. Right in front of our house. I think they did it on purpose. I’m sure it was one of the guys who always smiles and waves when they see me with my son on my shoulders. It’s nice that they would do that.
Today there is a cement truck in the middle of the street. It’s huge and I always try to consider how big ‘big’ is to Aubrey. He got very scared the first time I sat with him a hundred feet from the train tracks to watch a freight roar by. It was OK until we waved and the engineer leaned on the horn in response. Aubrey cried. We were too close I think.
The engine is running and a sluice is folded down from the cap at the back of the truck.
“You see that gutter? Coming down from the top of that truck? Watch son, the man is going to make cement come down that gutter and it’s going to fill this hole right up.”
The driver is spraying the sluice with a hose and I think that this is likely required to make the cement flow easier. I’ve never seen it before.
“Why?” A tiny voice from my tiny son.
“Well, they dug these big holes to put those gas pipes in and now they’re fixing them all up.”
“Watch pal. The cement is going to come.” I tug gently on his legs. This is a friendly “trust me” gesture. I can feel his chin resting on the crown of my head. His hands are warm on the sides of my face.
A worker stands nearby with a shovel and looks at us with a nervous smile. He doesn’t have kids, I think. The truck driver looks and waves. Enthusiastic. He has kids. Both of the workers are young. Mid-twenties.
The truck driver speaks to the top of my head. “Want to watch?”
I feel Aubrey nod and it hurts, a blunt strike to the crown of my head.
“I’m going to make some cement come out now. Watch this.”
He heard me talk and he’s happy to participate. He moves to the side of the sluice and grips a box connected to the back of the truck by a wire. It has yellow and red buttons on it.
Another man, a foreman, has joined the worker standing by my left side. He is leaning into the man’s face and saying something and he is blocking our view of the sluice. I have the feeling he isn’t joining in with the spirit of the moment, with the wonder that can infect you when a young boy is excited. He seems arrogant, almost as if he needs to prove something;
“I am in charge here”.
I move to the right to give Aubrey a better view.
The cement appears, a great gob of oozing gravel and slush, and slides down the sluice toward the forms pinned to the edge of the median. The foreman is still talking to the other man’s face. I can’t hear what he’s saying. I don’t like his eyes.
“Look pal, that’s cement! See that?” I’m pointing with my right hand, aware that Aubrey is now sitting on my shoulders with only one leg secured.
“It’s coming down that slide and it’s going to go in that hole. These guys are going to smooth it out. Watch.”
Aubrey’s little voice cries, “I see it daddy! I see it!”
It warms my heart when he gets excited by something I’m showing him. I have a big smile.
The foreman turns away from the face of the worker and looks at the cement truck driver. He lifts his arms, a shovel in one, “What are you doing? Lift it. Lift it.”
The truck driver is expecting something else. I think he expects them to begin shoveling and spreading the cement through the forms. Instead no one is moving and the cement is pouring over the top.
The foreman hits the pavement with his shovel. “I said lift it! What the hell are you doing? Stop!”
I begin to move back.
He’s facing the driver now and he shouts, pausing between words, “Lift the fucking thing up!”
Silence. Cement is running onto the grass and the pavement.
I can’t cover my son’s ears while he is seated on my shoulders, and I don’t want to put him down. I don’t want him to be on the ground if something happens.
The truck driver looks at me, embarrassed.
“Sorry, I thought you were ready,” he says to the foreman, and presses a button on the control box. There is a mechanical whine and the sluice lifts with jerky motion until the cement stops pouring. Grey water drips from its lip.
“Ready? Have we done a test? Ready!?” Mocking.
“Yeah,” says the driver. A hesitant smile. “The test was done on that one,” he points, “Back there.”
The foreman’s face is red. It’s too much anger for the situation. “Have you seen the test? Have you seen the results? Do you know the results?”
The driver is silent. He is shrinking. He can’t believe this is happening.
I can’ t believe this is happening and begin to move toward the gate.
“Hey pal, we’ve got to go. I think mommy has some breakfast for you.”
“Daddy, I wanna see.”
“No, pal, we should go. Tess is probably awake. You want to see your sister?”
The foreman shouts, “Get in your truck!”
The driver shrugs, “I thought you were ready. Sorry.”
The foreman shouts again. He is livid. Spit is coming from the sides of his mouth. “Get in the fucking truck. Just do your job and don’t tell me when I’m ready. Get in the goddamned truck! I’ll tell you when I’m ready. You don’t tell me fuck all!”
The driver is climbing into the cab of the cement truck. His face is red. I turn and walk back through the gate and into the house for breakfast.
I’m waiting on the driveway in the back for my wife to come down. We’ve packed the car, it’s idling on the pavement, the air conditioning on high. Aubrey and Tess are in their seats. I’m standing beside the car having a cigarette and re-living the scene with the foreman and the cement truck driver and thinking of what I’ll tell Erin about it. Then I begin to think of what I could have told Aubrey about it.
“Why was that man frustrated Daddy?”
When I’m angry at Aubrey I always explain that I’m “frustrated”.
“He has no soul. He must make others feel small so that he can feel big.”
No. That’s too harsh. I’m not a judge.
“He doesn’t know how to talk to people, pal. He feels small inside. He’s not really, but he thinks he is. Someone needs to tell him he’s OK. He shouts at people because he feels small and he wants to feel big.”
But he didn’t ask.
It’s a long day at Arbor lake. We’re visiting with Laura and Cameron and their new little boy. The sun is hot and Aubrey is enjoying the sand and some time in the rowboat with daddy.
I am frustrated with Erin. She failed to jump when Aubrey began being silly, playing with the umbrella.
“Can you do something about that?” I am involved in something else and can’t get over there to make him stop.
“Don’t bark at me.”
“I’m not barking. You’re not paying attention.”
We talked two nights ago about our approach, about distractions and our responsibility to make sure he’s occupied. A moment to us is an eternity to him and we have to be aware that he becomes bored easily. It’s not his fault. She taught me this.
When we return home, and begin to unpack, there is a basket ball beside our garbage cans. Abandoned. I conjure reasons for it’s placement. Stolen? A group of kids use our alley to smoke pot.
I try to think of a way to bring up the umbrella incident. To say I’m sorry, I did bark, but it gets lost. We’re too busy with the kids.
I am sitting on the back deck reading. Erin and Aubrey have gone walking. Tess is finally asleep. I put her on our bed. I’ll transfer her to the bassinette later. After ten minutes on the bed you could fire a cannon and she wouldn’t wake up. That’s my genetic material (as is the drooling, I think).
I am reading a collection of essays by Richard Feynman. I’m amazed at the number of times he mentions his father and the fine influence he was and the wonderful way he instilled lessons and confidence. I hope I can be something like that to my kids.
I sense movement. To my left. Something is down there on the lawn.
“Excuse me. Sir.?“ I jump in my skin.
The only people I have ever seen in the back alley are the pot smokers. They stand behind the power transformer across from my property. I scowl at them and threaten them with make believe cell phone calls to the police whenever they congregate and I think maybe one is challenging me on my own turf. I have been expecting some kind of confrontation.
“Do you remember me?
He’s wearing black denim pants, cowboy boots and has no shirt on. He is muscular and tanned and his hair is plastered on his head. His baseball cap is in his hand. I think, “This is too polite”. His hat in his hand, a country boy. I feel relief.
“Yes, of course. You’re the cement truck driver. What can I do for you?”
“I came to apologize for what happened out there this morning.” He nods toward the stairs leading up to the front. He must have knocked on the door and when there was no response, found the steps leading down to our back yard.
I consider my words. “That’s kind of you, but I don’t think you have anything to apologize for. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I wanted to apologize to you and your son. I drove in from Brooks. I was thinking about it all day. I decided I would come back after supper.”
Brooks is a good hour drive out the highway, east of Calgary.
“I don’t think he knew what was going on. He’s only three.”
“A boy shouldn’t have heard that. It’s not right to talk that way in front of a boy.”
I want him to know it’s all right, but I don’t know how to alleviate his concern.
My silence doesn’t help. He is rolling the crown of the baseball cap in both hands. “Sometimes guys have scraps on our crews but never in front of the public. You’re not supposed to do that. I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
I smile to calm him, “It’s ok. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Normally I’d just drive away from the guy. I’ve done that. I didn’t want to make it worse. I told my dispatcher what happened.”
Again, I don’t have words. I sit silent, smile and shrug.
“Would you call them? I can give you their number.” He pauses, then goes on, “It’s not for me. It’s just to confirm my story. I complained about him. I don’t think any one else has. He’s not right.”
“Let me get a pen.”
I walk through the kitchen into Erin’s office. There must be a pen. I check the drawers and two boxes that should contain fine points. Nothing. Aubrey is fascinated by pens and they are all – somewhere.
I locate a child’s pen on the shelf above the counter in the kitchen. It has liquid soap in a clear plastic vial on top. When you’re finished writing you can screw the cap off and blow bubbles with the little wand inside.
I walk back onto the balcony and address him from above.
“What’s the dispatch number?”
“It’s not for me. I just don’t think that should be allowed.”
I want to make this easy for him, “I know. What’s the number?”
He dictates the company name and the number and I’m trying to write it on an old Bargain Finder but there is no ink. I shake the pen down a couple of times and try again.
“Two eight three…?” I repeat, and he says the last four digits again.
The pen won’t write.
“Got it.” I say.
“You should call the gas company too.”
I had thought about calling this morning. That foreman was strange. His eyes were empty. I have decided that he’s the type of guy who might throw a brick through a window if he knew.
“His name is Paul. I don’t know his last name. If you do, talk to someone high up. The guys on the crew are afraid of him and I think his crew chief already knows. You’d have to speak to someone higher up.”
“Thanks for this. I appreciate your coming over. Don’t worry about it. OK?”
I think he is satisfied. We exchange pleasantries about the heat of these August days and he leaves, walking up the side steps to the front.
My wife walks from the back alley around the corner of our lot, pushes the running stroller up over the lip of the lawn and waves from 15 feet below the balcony, “Hi honey! We’re back”. Aubrey is strapped into the stroller. He waves with the exaggerated enthusiasm of a three year old and grins from ear to ear. They approach across the grass, ignoring the driveway.
Erin smiles and Aubrey begins his report, yelling;
“Daddy, we went all the way to Eau-Claire Market! We played in that wading pool, we played in the little park, we played in that big park, and there was the hide and seek place and we went to that movie store and got Tarzan and…” he stops, looking toward the garage door.
“Daddy! That’s a BIG RED BALL!”
Erin is puzzled. She tilts her head, looks up toward me on the balcony, shades her eyes from the evening sun and asks, “How did it get from the garbage cans to the garage door?”
After he’d gone, I noticed it below me on the grass. While I was inside getting the pen he must have moved it, brought it closer to the house so no one would take it. He probably thought it was ours.