Steve loved his new place. He loved its Diamond Heights location and he loved
its cozy manageable size. And lately, he loved the new flat-screen TV/DVD player
with surround sound that he had bought a few days ago to go in the front room.
He had recently come into a larger income because, after three years of planning,
he was finally able to put together a business dealing high design linoleum.
It was a niche in the home décor market that he had seen five years ago, and after
a year of operation, the money was starting to flow.
It had been a lot of work but now he was tasting the fruits of that labor in the best way possible. He estimated that his life was perfect except for the gaping hole left by Suzanne’s departure. Suzanne’s abrupt departure, he should correct. Suzanne’s abrupt, inexplicable, selfish departure that he preferred not to think about and did not think about. Instead he thought about the fruits of his labor, the largest piece of fruit being the new TV in his new front room. Throughout his busy day of consultations, in person and on the phone, the television was an abstract longing that pushed him along. He knew that when he went home he would be enjoying over 200
square inches of surround-sound entertainment and he was secure in the fact that the power of
that entertainment was strong enough to block the most persistent of thoughts about
Suzanne and that it was his god-given right to have that TV to blot out those thoughts
about Suzanne and her packing up of her things and her frustratingly brief summary of
her reasons for leaving ("my priorities make this impossible") and her cool attention
to details during the process (an email telling him that his name had been removed from
her account at Le Video). Instead, he would watch an intellectually stimulating movie,
something like Eric Rohmer’s Claire’s Knee, a director whom Suzanne hated, and he would
rent it on his own account from another great video store that had an extensive foreign
Tonight would be particularly satisfying because he had spent two valuable afternoon hours with a snotty graphic designer who repeatedly suggested improvements to his best samples. Worse, she had made him go in back to dig out the samples from three years ago and, after looking at a single piece, she had gone outside to take a call and never came back. The last comment she made was, "I don’t like the boomerang things," referring to a motif on one sample that Steve had loved for its retro "custodial" chic. He decided to close early.
In typical Victorian fashion, Steve's front door opens into a hallway. The first doorway to the left is his front room. That afternoon, Steve entered his apartment, and intended to go straight to his bedroom to change his clothes. He took five steps past the doorway to the front room before his mind registered what was wrong. He turned around, went back to the doorway, and looked in the room. Seeing what was there, he blinked once very deliberately, as if to press "enter" on his mental keyboard. Yes, the situation was real: there was a giant concrete block in the front room.
The block was nearly as tall as the room itself. From what he could see there was about a foot of clearance on each side of the block except for the side that faced his couch, where there was about three inches between the cushions and the side of the block. Steve immediately thought of the television, which was on the side opposite the doorway. He squeezed through the gap between the wall and the block and was relieved to see that there was about eight inches of clearance between the wall and the block. This was plenty of room to leave his ultra-slim Toshiba untouched by the block, but, as he was to discover, not enough to allow his DVD tray to open more than halfway. After turning on the power, and pressing "eject," he watched the tray come out just far enough so he could read the text on the DVD that was currently in it: Sunna No Onna (Woman in the Dunes) directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, based on a novel by Kobo Abe. The tray would come out, touch the side of the block and quickly retract back into the unit, like the furtive hand of a shy lover in a bad movie. He pressed eject three more times, and watched the tray come out and retract three more times. The inhalation before a deep sigh pressed his thorax into the cool side of the block. As he exhaled, Steve said, "Shit."
Steve went to the kitchen and picked up the phone. He was going to call the owner, Leonard, and ask him why there was a concrete block in his living room. He had pressed three numbers before he stopped dialing and hung up. He was gripped by a sudden feeling of embarrassment about the block. He could not ask Leonard about the block because somewhere in his mind he knew that Leonard would know nothing about it. Leonard would then turn the tables on him and he would be in the position of explaining how he had no idea about how the block got there. He put the receiver back and went to the front room. Nothing had changed and it was still there. Steve realized that there was no sign of his coffee table either but he didn't care.
He had to figure out something to do, so he went to his kitchen and sat in a chair to think. The block was very, very large and there was no way he knew to get rid of it by himself. He would need the help of machines, or of several men. He thought of a number of friends, but each time he imagined enlisting their help, he felt another intense pang of embarrassment. The only person he could think to call was an old friend of his who was a contractor in Dallas, Lymon Williams. Lymon knew about this stuff. He had his business number and within a few moments he had Lymon on the line.
"Hey Lymon, it's me, Steve Gaskin."|
"Steve! Well, Hell. How's the banjo?"
"The banjo! I've been busy, very busy. I hardly play it anymore."
"Aw, Steve, you should. You remember out at Half Moon Bay? The highlight of my –"
"Hey, that's great, Lymon. Fun times. But I've got a question, a situation really."
"Okay, what's up?"
"I need to know how to get rid of a large concrete block."
"Mmmmm. How large?"
"Pretty large, as big as, say, a living room."
"Pretty large. Well, there's two ways I can think of to get rid of that and one of them is probably more advisable. First, you could get a giant crane like the ones you see next to skyscrapers being built. You would attach the cable of the crane to a special harness you put around the block. The crane would pick up the block and put it on a big tractor-trailer type of thing, and it would move it somewhere. This is expensive because those cranes rent for tens of thousands of dollars, same with the truck. And you need to hire an operator and a driver – it's not like an SUV or something. Not to mention you need to find a place to put it where no one cares that there's living room-sized concrete block there. The second option is to break up the block and move it bit by bit. This assumes that you do not want the block intact, you just want it removed. Probably the better way because it's way cheaper. It's a messy way to go, not very fast, noisy too, but, let's face it, none of us have tens of thousands of dollars to throw around moving gigantic concrete blocks with expensive cranes and trucks. That's for the big boys."
For a long second Steve thought about the featureless
gray concrete of the block. "How would someone break it up?"|
"With a pick or a jackhammer. If you do something like that, don't wear nice clothes and do wear goggles. With a jackhammer wear earplugs."
"This sounds like something that a person could do alone, without the help of others."
"Yeah, but it would take a while. In fact, with a pick it might take like a month. That's strictly work for rapists and murderers."
"So, what, like a couple days with a jackhammer?"
"A couple days."
"That's okay, I think."
"Also, Steve, I must say that this is a funny question."
"Yeah, I know really funny. A friend of mine might need to move a gigantic concrete block, so I thought I'd ask you for him, because you know about this stuff."
"Oh, okay. Let me know if you need a jackhammer, I can borrow one and ship it to you for free."
"Hey thanks. I'll let you know."
He hung up and sat for a moment feeling a tiny bit more calm than before the call. It was possible to remove the block. He might have to close the shop for a few days and he would have to make up some excuse for all the noise, but he could do it. He could get rid of that block and no one would ever know it was there. He was a little bit glad that Suzanne was gone and would not be there to witness it. She would probably complain. That thought made him feel exhausted.
He got up and went into the front room, filled with a sudden desperate urge to watch his television. He entered the corridor between the wall and the block and tried to squeeze into the space in back where it was. He was hoping to be able to somehow remove it from its wall mounting and move it, but there was simply not enough space. He could not get a good grip on it and he definitely did not want to drop it. Yet, he so badly wanted to watch it. He stood there pressed between the wall and block for a full minute before he turned on the power, pressed play on the DVD player and advanced a few scenes into the movie. He tried to watch but within a second or two, he knew he could not watch the television from there. The images on the screen were impossibly foreshortened and it was physically very uncomfortable. The sound, however, was quite good. He looked up into the corners of the room and saw his JBL speakers. They were still intact and vibrating with the sounds of wind, footsteps and Japanese. This, he thought, was not bad. He went around to the other side of the block where his couch was. He could climb onto the couch and rearrange the cushions so that he could recline. He would lie there and listen to the movie and forget about things. In the morning, he would call Lymon back and tell him to ship the jackhammer.
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