Charlie’s Last Stand pt.6

The two men were leaning up against the driver’s side fender of Zane’s white Ford. They would make occasional eye contact as they alternated their respective gazes between each other and the scrap heap. Zane was still talking with his hands, while Curtis would only nod and listen. When Curtis did speak, it was in a solemn and respectful tone. In attempt to alter Zane’s way of thinking, Curtis Reminded him that he wouldn’t need the racks forever, and that one day he might want to sell them. This was his quiet way of dissuading Zane from such a monumental undertaking. “What do you mean sell them,” he asked? “Well, you know,” Curtis replied. There was a small awkward silence as he struggled to find a reason when the answer suddenly came to him. “What if you wanted to get a slide-in camper?” To Curtis’ relief, the words fell from out of nowhere! It was like a divine presence momentarily hi-jacked his language in an effort to relay a message directly from the Great Beyond. “You can pick them up for a song,” Curtis suggested! He added, “people buy them nowadays and want to get rid of them when they realize how top-heavy they are!”  Zane was initially taken aback! For the first time it dawned on him that once the move was over, the racks may actually become more of a hindrance than an asset. Perhaps Curtis was right? Maybe the racks would be nothing more than a glorified jungle gym for the kids to play on as they took up valuable driveway space? Zane knew Curtis was right! Selling the racks might prove difficult If they resembled a huge steel sprawling monster.

“Getting a camper is a great idea,” Zane thought internally. He was careful not to let his excitement show, but he couldn’t forgive himself for not coming up with the idea himself! Zane recalled how they had their own pick-up camper back in the summer of 1985. Charlie traded it for a worn-out chainsaw and a Hundred-Dollar-Bill. Zane remembered how the Shimeks led the ‘van-life’ for a couple of months while selling at various flea-markets across the land to sustain themselves. In the moment Zane was getting progressively more excited, and he understood how Renee would love the idea! She had always considered herself to be a camping aficionado and would be ecstatic to know that a camper was potentially within their grasp! The kids would get a real kick out of it as well! Zane wasn’t yet familiar with the countryside up towards Las Vegas, but Curtis was. He was becoming progressively more comfortable with Zane, and as a result he began speaking in the vernacular of the common man.

“There are so many places up there for camping!” Curtis eagerly informed him.  “You’ve got Murphy Lake… you’ve got the Ponderosa; and Story lake’s not bad; especially for the kids!” After a quick second Curtis added, “…and don’t forget about the hot springs!” Curtis went on to casually announce how he and his brother-in-law would go up there to cut firewood. Curtis had touched a nerve! It was a flash of instant synchronicity!  Suddenly Zane’s attention was hi-jacked as he recalled Charlie’s foray into the wood-cutting industry! No longer was he listening to the welder because he was laser focused on the happy memory! Curtis was unaware of Zane’s departure however, because he was pre-occupied with his own anecdote. Curtis and Zane were similar in the respect that they could both hold an honest conversation while daydreaming about something totally off topic. Zane looked out towards the setting sun above Mount Taylor as Curtis rambled on. Zane was practically in a mild trance as he recalled some specific events from the mid-seventies.

“We were still living in Farmington, and I was still a boy,” Zane thought.  Apparently the Flea-Market wasn’t cutting it, so Charlie invested in a brand-new McCulloch chain saw. It was a bright yellow machine and Charlie immediately removed the chain brake, which “only gets in the way!” It was a family venture as it turned out. Betty and Charlie, along with the boys, would journey out past Kirby Farms, and up towards Navajo Dam. Charlie had acquired a legitimate permit from the Forest Department which granted him access to as much dry firewood as he could find. Charlie operated the chainsaw while the remaining crew was responsible for loading the pick-up. Quentin, who was only a tyke, was responsible for clearing loose brush. Betty and Zane would take turns wrestling with a wheelbarrow filled with heavy pinon and sweet-smelling cedar. “I really enjoy working out in the woods,” Charlie would proclaim on their lunch breaks! The group would pass around a repurposed gallon milk-jug filled with icy cold water. The previous evening they added a quart of water into the vessel and strategically placed it into the freezer. On the morning of departure, they would add tap water upon the frozen mass. Throughout the day the frozen quart would slowly thaw, but the water managed to stay cool. Typically the family would choose a fallen log or and adjacent stump to act as furniture while they ate their sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs. Charlie was an outdoorsman! He loved the forest and he enjoyed cutting wood! He loved chopping firewood so much that he built his own primitive gas-powered log splitter utilizing a hydraulic ram he had picked up from a random farm auction. While the kids were in school, Charlie would make the trip up to the woods at least three times a week! When he wasn’t in the forest, he would frequent the ‘fancy neighborhoods.’ Charlie would cold-call upon unsuspecting homeowners as if he were selling vacuum cleaners, or magazine subscriptions. He would confidently knock on the doors of every home with a visible chimney. “I’m sorry to bother you ma’am,” Charlie would say, “but I’m a firewood dealer and I happen to have a special deal that you won’t be able to pass up!” He would then compliment them on their choice of aluminum siding; or he would comment on the lawn. Anything to strike up a conversation. Charlie would go on to thoroughly explain how he wasn’t like the usual dealers, because “They stack the wood on top of their spare tires and toolboxes in order to cheat the customers!” The method never failed. Charlie always returned home with an empty pick-up, and he established a list of repeat customers in the process.

By this time the sun was precariously hovering over the horizon and Zane’s attention drifted back to the topic at hand. Curtis finished with his monologue, so Zane chimed in, “You make a good point Curtis, maybe I should go with a more contemporary design?” He added that if the racks were more conventional, they would be easier to unload once they had served their purpose. “We could still build them as tall as you want,” Curtis insisted. “It’s just that if they extend out over the cab they might look funny,” he continued. “I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t in it for the looks,” Zane said. “In fact, I usually don’t care about aesthetics.” In a last bid attempt to sway Zane’s reasoning Curtis proclaimed, “They will be way too heavy. Not only would your design squat the ass-end of your suspension, but it would take one hell of a man to unload it all by himself!”

That was it! Zane was sold on the idea of eventually obtaining a slide-in camper, which meant the design would have to be altered to accommodate some potential retail value. Curtis stopped with his daydreaming and reached for his tape-measure that resided proudly upon his belt. They agreed on what could be passed off as a set of “Cattle Racks,” meaning they were disproportionately tall compared to their length. As per Curtis’ suggestion the racks, being unusually tall, would not extend over the roofline. The sides would measure four feet deep to accommodate a standard sheet of plywood. Curtis produced a small tablet from his breast pocket and began crunching numbers. It was clear he knew his business judging by the speedy scribbling. The welder penciled out a list for the correct lengths of the various steel stock that would be needed.  Curtis ripped the small document from its spiral binding and handed it over to Zane.  “ACME Steel is the place to go,” Curtis said.  Once again he removed his officially sanctioned baseball cap and wiped his sweaty brow with the long sleeve of his soiled work shirt. “I’ll never take my business anywhere else.” Curtis explained that ACME was the contractor’s choice due to ease of loading and competitive pricing.

It was getting late, and Zane was armed with his shopping list. It was understood that Zane would procure the raw steel and have it delivered the day after tomorrow. “I’ll be gone in the mornings, but my mom will be here.” Curtis said. He instructed Zane, “not to knock on the door, and just to leave the stock right alongside of the driveway, parallel to the cement.”

During the short drive home, Zane correctly assumed Charlie would prefer to buy the steel from Koenig’s Recycling. He also knew that he would have to lock horns with his Dad on this deal!  Gene and Ted Koenig were a father and son team. They were practically joined at the hip and operated a small ramshackle business. Ted’s father had connections which gave him unique access to Sandia National Labs and its notorious affiliation with Kirtland Air Force Base. It was special niche operation because they knew how to work the system. Gene and Ted would attend sealed bid auctions at the facility giving them unique access to unusual government surplus! Gene and Ted predominately dealt in scrap metal. The Federal government sanctioned these auctions as a clearinghouse for partly salvaged and decommissioned bric-a-brac. It was the government’s way of liquidating annoying junk by auctioning it off to various scrap dealers. The Koenigs would buy scrap metal for ten-cents-on-the-dollar and made a living by sorting out the various copper wires, aluminum, and iron for recycling purposes. As a result, they had amassed a huge scrap bin of various steel stock of all perceivable conceptions. Zane pondered his dilemma as he trucked on down Lomas Boulevard. Surely Charlie would balk at the idea of shopping around. Over the years the Shimeks embarked on numerous projects. Because of this, the number-one-son realized how Charlie would reject the proposal of taking business elsewhere. Dusk was firmly taking root as Zane negotiated the right turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue. He could already hear Charlie’s voice in his imagination. “We always buy our steel from Gene, Son!” Zane was in for a challenge, and he knew it! How on earth would he convince Dad that he needed specific lengths rather than random scraps! Charlie was going to resist shopping at the competition. In Charlie’s stubborn mind ACME Steel was the devil.

…to be continued

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