Charlie’s Last Stand

Renee had arranged to get onto the waiting list for public housing, and as a result of her efforts, the happy couple was awarded an invitation to reside in the Projects! Applying for subsidized housing is no easy feat. It required a tremendous amount of leg work on the part of the applicant. The system wasn’t easy to navigate because the bureaucrats ensured there would be plenty of hoops to jump through. For example, sometime along the way, the good policy makers deemed it necessary for the applicants to show up at 7:30 am on the day of disbursement. The daunting procedure was based on a first come, first serve basis. This created an unspoken, unnecessary, and anxious competition amongst the poverty-stricken applicants. The housing department only had a finite amount of available units, so the crowds would gather early because the best units would always be picked first. Zane and Renee showed up at the pre-dawn hour of 4:30 and they were the first ones in line. The excited duo would have arrived even earlier if not for a snag with the baby-sitter. Aiden stayed with grandma, but Elise was too fussy and insisted on coming along. Elise was only four months old at the time, and she would have to rest in the backseat of the car as her parents struggled to navigate the nerve-racking system. Zane and Renee alternated tending to the baby while one or the other sat quietly on the curb in front of the welfare office in the pre-dawn hours. They had three hours to kill, and Zane was enduring a caffeine headache. He realized that coffee is a diuretic, so he purposefully abstained, knowing there would be no facilities until the office opened at 7:30. Another hour slowly passed, and the growing crowd was eventually greeted by a welcomed sunrise. The grateful couple sat there on the curb as Elise slept in the car. Zane greedily absorbed the day’s first rays as the minutes turned slowly into hours. Without much fanfare, one of the first government officials begrudgingly made an appearance. It was obvious that she was nervous as she made her way through the throngs of disenfranchised citizens who had been impatiently waiting. Upon reaching the front door of the welfare office, the public servant fumbled with the key which was firmly affixed to a nylon lanyard. Without even as much as a “good morning or hello,” the disgruntled worker opened the door. Without making a sound, the lady crossed the threshold and promptly closed the door behind her. She then turned to face the silent mob as she proceeded to lock the door once again. It would be another twenty minutes before the rest of the team arrived, and by now the crowd was getting overtly hostile. At 7:35 the group of indigent souls were finally allowed to enter into the lobby. Just as Renee had expected a group of three individuals, who were number two in line, tried to bum rush the door in attempt to suddenly be granted access to the coveted number one spot! “Excuse me!” Renee asserted in no uncertain terms. “We have been here since 4:30! We were here before you!” Thankfully the group that made up the third party in line chimed in and calmly stated that, “Yes, they were here first.” By this time Zane, who spoke mostly with grunts and body language, proceeded to stare the line-cutters down. He was secretly battling against his biological need to urinate, meaning he was not in a good mood! Even under normal circumstances Zane wasn’t one to be trifled with, but on this particular occasion a demon-like expression of furious rage suddenly manifested itself across his leathery face! He stood up straight and rigid with his feet firmly planted into the concrete. Zane was aching for combat, and the intruders knew it! The supporting testimony from the crowd, coupled with Zane’s inflamed testosterone, was enough to diffuse the situation. As a result, Zane and Renee, and baby Elise, were graciously allowed to take their rightful position at the head of the line! Once the kerfuffle had extinguished, Zane excused himself to the restroom as Renee lovingly cradled Elise in her arms. There were housing projects scattered all over the Albuquerque metropolitan area, and Renee opted for the best neighborhood she could get. They were the first in line, and they were rewarded with the best location in town!

It was cause for a celebration! Due to Renee’s hard work and thoughtful diligence, they would be living rent free, and Zane was over the moon.  Up until now, Zane and Renee shared a small two-bedroom apartment which was extremely cozy. However, being awarded government housing motivated the eager young family of four to relocate. They could have rented a U-Haul to complete the task, but Charlie offered up his truck and trailer instead. Not only did Charlie provide the transport, but he also recruited Zane’s younger brother to help out. Renee already had the new house key in her possession, and on Saturday morning the crew commenced to loading Charlie’s truck and trailer with the small families’ collection of meager belongings.

It was just past nine o’clock on moving day when Charlie and Quentin arrived. They parallel parked the empty truck and trailer rig next to a red painted curb. Charlie correctly assumed that no one would give him any static for parking in the fire zone. Charlie’s trailer was a rusting hulk of a thing. It was initially designed to haul moderately sized automobiles, but today it was tasked to transport household items. The trailer was a flatbed car-hauler with dual axles. The deck consisted of robust planks that were bolted to heavy steel cross-members. The pinewood was sun-bleached and splintered. The wooden boards were saturated with stains resulting from leaking engine blocks and transmissions. The trailer was old and past its prime.  The wheels were ratty looking and mis-matched. Once was a time when the fresh enamel would glisten in the sunshine, but now the ruddy paint was faded, and the trailer looked like a rolling heap. It only had one taillight, because one of them was destroyed by a falling log. The impact shattered the red lens, and severely bent the structure in the process.  Be that as it may, the Shimeks were proud to own the decrepit trailer because it was an integral part of the family business. Charlie used it to haul saleable items that he would procure from a distant auction house in Kansas. It was his intention to sell these various items at the flea-market located at the Albuquerque fairgrounds. That’s how Charlie earned his living.

He would travel the 550 miles from Tijeras, on a journey to Central Kansas, once a week. Because the rickety machinery was unsafe at higher speeds, it would take approximately eleven hours to complete the voyage through the New Mexico badlands. The vintage trailer did not come equipped with factory installed electric brakes, and as a result the stopping power was solely derived from whatever the vintage Chevrolet could muster. Zane helped with the maintenance, and as a result the Chevy’s brakes were always up to code. Having said that, the rig was unable to make a panic stop if she were too heavily laden. Like a long steam train, the truck and trailer took up a lot of track before the rig could come safely to a stop.  

The pick-up truck that Dad used to tote the trailer was a 1974 Chevy half-ton, which was designed to haul moderate loads. It wasn’t engineered to carry excessive weight. Because of this, the Chevrolet’s rear suspension would oftentimes compress, and sag under the heavy loads. The cargo that Charlie hauled consisted largely of vintage farming equipment, pig-iron, and primitive collectables. He also dabbled in antique furniture that was in serious need of restoration.

To entertain himself on his long journeys, Charlie would sing and yodel, while honing his auctioneering skills in the process. The rapid rhythmic rattle of a true auctioneer’s melodious voice was entertaining as well as hypnotic! It was a real treat to listen to the talents of a seasoned auctioneer. Charlie may have missed his calling because he was quite adept at the craft. Oftentimes he would assist the auctioneers in Kansas by playing the role of ‘Ring-Man,’ whose duties included catching bids from members of the crowd who were too far away from the auction block to get noticed.  In an enchanting and rhythmic tone the auctioneer would sing, “Hey bidder! Bid it at a Ten bidder, bidder do I hear a Ten, and thank you now Fifteen. Fifteen dollars anywhere? Do I hear Fifteen? Fifteen anywhere? and thank you now Twenty… Twenty, Twenty, Twenty, I have a twenty-dollar bidder! Do I hear a bidder, bid it at a Twenty-Five Dollar Bill!! Bid it at a Twenty-Five? Bid it at a Twenty-Five?? And thank you Madam, and bidder, bid it at a Thirty… Hey bidder, hey bidder do I hear a Thirty? Thirty anywhere?!? I’ve gotta get a Thirty Dollar Bid!! Going Once… Going twice!…” Suddenly, a jovial Ring-Man from the back row enthusiastically Hollered out the word, “HALF!!!” With all the excitement of a man who had just cashed in a winning lottery ticket, the auctioneer rang out the words, “I hear Twenty-Seven and a Half!!!”  At this time, the eager auctioneer drew a well-earned breath and continued to talk up the item that was being purchased. For example the auctioneer might suggest that the item was not drawing up enough interest, and he would take it upon himself to sell it.  He would proudly boast that, “What you’re getting here folks is a real bargain.” Meanwhile the anonymous ring-men would encourage bidders to bid one more time! It was a ring-man’s job to encourage the patrons to continue with their bidding as the excitement intensified! The ring-man would stand next to the lowest bidder and mention phrases such as, “It’s Only Money!” or “Don’t lose it for so cheap!” and “You’ll be sorry when you’re sober…I mean when this is over!”  Simultaneously the auctioneer continued with the musical cry, “Do I hear a Thirty-Dollar Bid? Thirty Dollars anywhere? Thirty anywhere? Last call for a Thirty Dollar Bid… THIRTY-DOLLAR-BILL!?… THIRTY-DOLLAR-BILL!?…  And SOLD!!!” Oftentimes the word Sold would be exemplified, drawn out, and accented with a feigned sigh. It was the auctioneer’s way of suggesting that the winning bidder had just obtained the deal of a lifetime! At this time, the auctioneer covered the microphone with an open palm and leaned over towards the clerk. She had temporarily lost track as the commotion ensued, so the auctioneer politely informed her that lot number 117 sold for Twenty-Seven-Fifty to lucky number Seventeen! The auctioneer would continue for hours in this fashion until he was relieved by his replacement, who would then seamlessly continue with the spell binding music that made up the auction cry!

Upon completion of an auction he would settle up with the cashier and proceed to load his rig. Charlie would load the truck so thoroughly that the rear bumper would only have about ten inches of clearance before it would strike the tarmac. As a side-effect, the front suspension would spring upwards towards the heavens which provided minimal traction at the steer tires. The headlights were rendered ineffective because they were aiming at the clouds, rather than the road. The truck was falling apart, and it complimented the old flatbed in a way that harkened memories of The Great Depression. Charlie would stack the light items on top of the heavy items. For example, if Charlie purchased a washer and dryer set, he would place them securely over the trailer axles. In true Tetris fashion, Charlie would stuff the cavities of the appliances with loose items such as toys, pillows, and books. He would then continue to neatly stack assorted kitchen chairs, and dining room tables upon an occasional sofa or two. Charlie always made it a point to buy as many box spring and mattress sets as possible. He would stand the rigid box springs upright to act as makeshift sideboards. He would then proceed to pile and stack and arrange the items in such a way as to conjure up cognitive associations of starving refugees who were desperately fleeing from extreme poverty. Charlie secured the huge mound of loose merchandise with Nylon trucker’s rope in lieu of tie-down straps. Being a Sailor, he prided himself in his knot tying capabilities. He didn’t bother covering the cargo with a tarp because these were the kinds of items that wouldn’t lose value, even if they got wet!

On return trips from Kansas, Charlie’s overloaded rig could only manage a top speed of 45 mph on flat ground. As the heavily laden vehicle trundled down the road at a snail’s pace, a casual observer might say they looked like a band of starving “Okies!” Over the road semi-truck drivers were the bane of Charlie’s existence as they impatiently awaited an opportunity to pass Charlie’s slow-moving vehicle on the rural two-lane highways. Oftentimes a convoy of impatient truckers would find themselves trapped behind the slow moving Shimeks. They would angrily blast their air-horns as they struggled to overtake Charlie and his antique rig, while avoiding head-on collisions in the process! It would take Charlie about seven hours of driving time before made it to the interstate. By this time, the impatient truckers would have their own passing lane, and Charlie would curse and cuss at the raging 18-wheelers as they blew past him at blistering speeds! The massively overloaded pick-up struggled and toiled in an effort to overcome the steep grades that were commonplace along the route of Interstate 40. Charlie would have to downshift all the way into second gear in order to negotiate the steep obstacles. The high revving small-block Chevy would balk and bawl as she strained to drag the heavy load up and over the hills. The faithful Chevrolet never left him stranded however and Charlie always made it home safe and sound! He knew that somehow he would always be okay. Moving day would be no exception. Renee brought donuts in preparation for the day’s events, while Zane made sure there was plenty of fresh coffee to go around.

…To be continued.

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