Back in SC, after his attempt to grow cotton with a mule had proved futile, the old man worked for a man named AY, doing pretty much whatever AY said, like digging ditches, or roofing, or framing, or laying block or brick, or pouring concrete, or fixing plumbing or whatever needed doing by way of construction. The old man always had this old black man as his helper. I forget his name, but if the old man treated him the way he treated me, I would have killed him.
For some reason, he just had to have somebody with him when he was working on something. So it would be, Nick, Nick, your father wants you! And he would be out in the washroom trying to fix the dryer the barrel of which had come lose or something. He would hand me a flash light and I would have to turn it this way and that so he could see, and then he would cuss me if I got bored and missed the spot.
Then, it would be, he wanted some tool or other. If you have ever been around tools, you know there are an amazing number of them and they all have different names. So it would be: go get me (vice grips, pliers, channel locks). I would be afraid because he would cuss me, and I would go out and look for vice grips, pliers, channel locks, even though I wasn’t sure if I knew what it was or not. Then I would come back in and, say I couldn’t find it, and he would say, well it must be in the back of the truck then, because every thing in the universe seemed to end up in the back of that truck.
The back of the truck contained a tool chest—a metal box actually—about six feet long and four deep—and filled to the brim with stuff, tools, and bits of paper, and all of it wrapped up in pieces of twine. You could grab a piece of twine and pull out any manner of stuff attached to it: hammers, blades for cutting brick and block, screw drivers, socket wrenches, little pieces of metal bricklayers use to link brick or block together, trowels of different kinds, joiners, joint rakers, and plum bobs. My heart would just go out of me looking at that mess; how was I going to find a pair of vice grips, pliers or channel locks in all that shit, even if I knew what they were.
The relief I felt when I found something was palpable, but sometimes and he would say he meant something else and make like had I misheard him or something. And there was the always immortal, where the fuck is that screw driver, goddammotherfuckingsonofabitch, and, of course he would be sitting right on it. None of which, held a candle to the pure outrageousness of his mashing his fingers while working on an engine and then his throwing the tool across the street or down in the bushes in the backyard, and I would have to go fetch it.
I figure there are a couple of things in life a man should be prepared to do for himself: wipe his own ass and go get the tool he has thrown into the bushes. Sure he was my father and he fed me and such, but so what? Was I supposed to be happy that he wasn’t an alcoholic or gambling addict? Above all else in life a person is first and foremost a person, and as one of those my father was a dickhead.