“We got married real young,” Carlos says after we finish eating and are leaning on a fence overlooking the Hudson River. “I meet her in Puerto Rico while on vacation. Her father’s a vet.”
“No, Maestro, an animal doctor. He looks down his dog nose at me. He doesn’t want his daughter to marry the lowly plomero. But, we’re in love. I had already lived in America for several years where I learn to be a plomero from the old Jew. My mother was living now in America too. I go back to Puerto Rico because in New York I get these terrible headaches from the pollution. To make me look better to dee dog doctor my mother gives me the house in Puerto Rico, the one my father bought only a few years before he die. And we’re hoppy and we haf a baby. I work in a boatyard for not so much money, only later she does not want to stay home all the tine while I work. She wants to go to school in America and become a maestro like you. That was the beginning of the end. We go to live with my mother in New York. She helps take care of the baby. All dee money I make goes for my wife’s education, and the more she goes to school the more separated we are. She starts going to parties with her new friends and comes home late and doesn’t cook for me any more. And she’s smoking dat stinking pot all dee tine.”
“A real princess,” I say but Carlos doesn’t hear me.
“It aggravates my sinus condicion. This all happens slowly and goes on for a long tine. We move out of my mother’s house to New Jersey thinking maybe we get along better without my mother to interfere. But, we never really talk and hardly make love anymore. She’s always tired or studying, always with her head in dee stupid books. I tell her to stop but she says she can’t.”
“It wasn’t wrong for her to want an education. It wasn’t the books that caused the trouble,” I say.
“I know. They came together, the trouble and dee books – but look at you Maestro. Now you’re plumbing. You waste all dat tine and money on school.”
“It wasn’t a waste. I’ll always have that with me. I – I put it in my pocket.”
Carlos laughs. “Like dee old Master – how come you stop being a teacher?”
“Too much aggravation.”
“So, I do dee shopping and a little cooking, thinking it’s temporary till she’s finished with school. But when I’m fed up I tell her she’s not a woman and that just makes her mad. She doesn’t try to prove to me that she’s a woman by coming into my bed. And the kids are suffering too. Now, we haf two boys and because things aren’t going right we have no patience for them and they’re growing without us. I feel like I’m losing them but by now I’m half nuts and I do a lot of cracy things. She uses dee car all dee tine, a Bolvo.
“Yeah, Bolvo. Was a nice car. One night I break out all dee windows so she can’t drive it anymore – to get to her parties with her smart friends and tha stinkin pot. We haf a big fight about it and the kids are crying while I pack some of my clothes in a bag and leave for my mother’s house in New York . . . ”
At the penthouse, the Englishman is making more changes. Carlos doesn’t talk to him anymore. “Just tell dee maestro what to do. I no understand,” he says when approached. The owner is more comfortable dealing with me. Our “beautiful” copper work has long since been covered up by the carpenters’ sheetrock. Now, “dee English” wants to build a greenhouse out on the terrace, so we have to supply water, gas, a sink and a roof drain. The roof drain worries me because the terrace is above the apartment where we had the leak. All it would take is a little rain before we get it all caulked in and there would be another flood.
The next day as we begin to rough out for the drain, Carlos starts talking like he usually does at lunchtime. There’s something faintly urgent in his tone. “In Puerto Rico there was a man in my town. I don’t know how you call him in English, but somethin like – the Gunnysack Man. When he come to my street all dee kids run aa—way because he snatches the bad ones up and puts them in the sack that he swings over his shoulder. He’d point at me and say, ‘You better be good!’ He used to take dogs, too. I think I saw him put one in his bag one tine. My mother always threatened me with dee Gunnysack man when I didn’t listen to her. One tine I hid behind a tree and was close enough to see something wiggling in the sack. I wondered which kid it was. Later, I hear a story about this man. He had a little boy that he love very much. He take him everywhere because the boy no have a mother. One day while playing with a raft on dee water near his house the boy drowned. After searching for three days the man find his son himself. This is before he get cracy, before he become The Gunnysack Man.”
“In Brooklyn, we had the Boogeyman,” I say when Carlos seems to be finished.
He daydreams for a while as I carefully chip through the terracotta tile on the roof with a hammer and chisel. “You see tha girl on the F train any more?” Carlos wants to know.
“I see her.”
“Why you no say somethin?”
“Because I’m ‘hoppy.’”
By now I’m sure that Carlos sometimes thickens his accent and jumbles the syntax deliberately. Maybe it’s a way of holding on to his own rich culture-—not to become too Americanized. He insists on being called Carlos and not Charlie.
As I had feared, clouds begin to thicken and it looks like it’s going to “drain.”
“We’ll caulk this in with hot tar,” I say.
“Regular cement is good enough,” Carlos argues.
“No, hot tar is thinner and gets into the crevices better.”
I pack some oakum around the four-inch cast iron pipe we’ve installed, and as the tar is heating on a propane burner Carlos talks about his marriage. “I miss my boys terrible after I go to stay with my mother, but my wife doesn’t change so I haf to live aa-way. A couple of years go by. All the tine she wants a divorce. The one thing I can’t understand is that after all she’s put me through I still love her.”
To be continued.
Terry Berkson is an author living in Richfield Springs.