I’m a cautious person most of the time. I believe in Murphy’s Law, that if something can go wrong it will. Carlos has a laidback attitude when it comes to being careful. Last week he was angry because “dee English” was making a lot of changes again, “move it here, move it there, move it over two inches!”
“Take it easy,” I told him.
We had to cut, cap and remove some lines in the floor. When done, Carlos carelessly backfilled the trench we had made causing a huge cloud of dust that guaranteed a sinus headache for both of us. “Did you first check for leaks?” I asked.
“What you think, I can’t solder?” Carlos growled.
As Murphy predicted, there was a sand hole in one of the caps and a leak found its way to the apartment below. There was damage to a ceiling and a wall but a valuable painting escaped ruin by inches. I didn’t say anything to Carlos because he already knew what I was thinking.
A few days later he shows up with a new pocketknife that he gives me the first time I ask to borrow his. “What’s this for?” I ask.
“Every man should have a knife,” he says.
After a while I figure out that he’s trying to soften me up for the B.B. gun. At lunch he tells me this story:
“When I was younger I take a girlfriend to dee movies on Forty Second Street. I think it was Nevada Smith playing or something like tha. This guy sticks his big foot over the seat almost in my girlfriend’s face. She moves close to me like she’s scared. I ask the guy to move his big shoe but he no listen. So, in a little time I slip my knife out of my pocket, open it up and stick it into that guys leg good, all dee way up to dee handle. ‘Oh my god! Oh my god!’ he yells. ‘I’m stabbed!’ Dee whole movie could hear him. I don’t say nothing, just close my knife, get up with my girlfriend and walk slowly up the aisle, through dee lobby and onto dee street.”
“You’re crazy!” I say. “I don’t believe you.”
“I don’t want no trouble,” Carlos says. “He be nice. I be nice.”
The wind comes up turning the leaves on nearby maples as dark clouds rush towards us across the Hudson River. “We better get back,” I say.
“Yeah, it looks like it’s going to drain.”
“Rain,” I correct him.
By now my nervous stomach has really calmed down. I’m thinking it’s not what you eat but how you eat. Well, it’s a combination. Having breakfast at home before everybody’s up, and lunch with Carlos has done wonders for my digestive tract. I thought at first that Carlos would be pumping some loud Salsa music into my ear, but he likes it quiet, too. In fact this is how we found our way to the park. The other workers’ radios drove us out for some peace and quiet. Of course my kids still break my cookies at suppertime. They seem to save up what I’ve missed from the other two meals, so that what I get is a super dose of bedlam and the inevitable, “NOW, I’M NOT EATING,” from my little boy Jonathan. I have to go out to the yard so that I can relax and let the food go down.
“I know that kid good,” Carlos says when I tell him about it. “He loves you. That’s why he likes to break your cookies. NOW, I’M NOT EATING! Oh yeah.”
“What do you know about it?” I ask.
Carlos just looks away.
In contrast to my tied down, stifled existence, Carlos has three girlfriends, “Dee Old Lady” about thirty-five years old, with three kids, who calls him an S.O.B. if he doesn’t see her every weekend. “Dee Cold One,” who’s about twenty-five and always falls asleep. “You’re not a woman,” Carlos tells her, “I didn’t come here to siesta. And, “Dee Puppy” who’s only nineteen and the object of his slow motion seduction for longer than we’ve been working together. None of the women know about each other. He likes Dee Puppy the best and relates to her like a benevolent uncle. Dee Puppy’s mother is also a potential member of his brood. He suspects that being a “mucho d’oro plomero” is what Dee Puppy sees in him. Still, he bought her a watch for two hundred and fifty dollars.
“You’re a rooster,” I tell him after hearing about a weekend of debauchery.
Carlos is more of a talker than a listener but his soliloquy isn’t forced. It’s lunchtime and we’re on our favorite bench in the park again. My partner’s really into his subject. His voice has dropped to almost a whisper and he’s looking to the sky at a forty-five degree angle. His eyes are focused on the clouds and there’s a wistful, almost melodic quality to his words. He always gets this way when he’s talking about his dead father or his childhood in Puerto Rico or the first old Jewish plomero he worked for, “Nobody will ever be able to take away what I teach you,” he quotes the old master as I sit there listening. “You just put it all in your pocket.”
Carlos’ talk about women has, in the past, made me dig up some old womanizing experiences for him to hear but still this leaves me currently out of circulation with no romance or adventure to offer. So, I tell him about the girl on the F train – just the way it happens.
“You?” he says surprised and interested. “I thought you were a married man, and hoppy.”
“Yeah,” I tell him.
He’s impressed with the girl I’ve described and by the next morning comes on the job singing, ‘I see you every morning on dee sobway,’ to the melody of a once popular Spanish-English tune that goes, “Believe me when I tell you that I love you.”
I don’t mind the jibe. In fact, it makes me feel like I’m back in circulation. “It makes me hoppy when you look at me-ee,” he continues. Before I know it, the carpenters and electricians are singing and whistling the same melody.
To be continued.
Terry Berkson is an author living in Richfield Springs.