(My contribution to the Super First Day project. Way cool.)
Sometimes people say something smells like shit and what they really mean is “it’s musty” or “there’s a mildewy funk here”. When I say Mary Carlson’s basement smelled like shit, I mean it. She had about six of those small yappy dogs, Shit Zoos or whatever, and apparently no one had bothered to teach ’em that you’re supposed to drop your bricks outside in the grass. There were eight zillion tiny brown landmines I had to work around to get to her electrical wiring, and I wondered how in the hell she could live with that. It was disgusting.
I guess that’s just how it is, though. People are gross. You see a lot of fucked up stuff when you tromp through people’s basements for a living.
Name’s Carl, Carl Munson Junior, and I’m an electrician, second generation. My father opened up a shop in our crappy little backwater town about fifty years ago. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a fireman, but thanks to a football injury and my mom’s insistence that I take over the family business to do my old man proud, I was wearing a striped blue shirt with a name stitched on it by the time I was twenty. Apprenticed for some years, ran around with Pops to get my journeyman tag, and when he kicked the bucket thanks to a chili cheese dog heart attack at fifty four, the Munson legacy was all mine.
Shit Zoo shits and all.
“All right, Misses Carlson. Switched out the fuse for you. Should be all set,” I said, packing my tools away. I flicked the light switch on and then off, showing her that everything was back the way it ought to be. She was standing at the top of the basement steps, one of those dogs in her arms, and as I made my way up, the little bastard started growling. I forced a smile for her benefit, but in my head, I was kicking that little rodent like a soccer ball. It was a beautiful thing.
“Thank you so much, Carl. You’re always so helpful.”
Under normal circumstances, I probably would have told a customer like Mary Carlson to go stuff it. The dog shit wasn’t fun, she bitched about the cost of my work, and she always watched over my shoulder like I’d rob her when she wasn’t paying attention. Sadly, I didn’t have the luxury of saying no; she was older than dirt and had known my dad, plus there was that whole thing about playing bridge with my mother. If I dropped her, Ma would be all over me like white on rice, and I had better things to do than to listen to one of her guilt trips.
“Righty-O. See you next time.”
I wiped my boots off on her front door mat, pleasantly surprised that there weren’t any smears this time, and made my way back to my truck. I had the back door open when I heard her “You Hoo” from somewhere behind me. All I wanted was a cigarette and to grab myself a sandwich at the Pork and Pickle, but no, what Mary wanted, Mary got. My smile was brittle enough to crack my face in half, but I turned around anyway, putting a hand up in a wave.
“Everything okay, Mary?”
“No, it’s not working.”
“I just flipped the switch and it didn’t work.”
“I just checked it. You sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. I’m old, not stupid,” she snapped, the sweet old lady facade dropping away to reveal the fanged lizard beneath. I felt my shoulders sag as I tromped back towards the house, brushing past her and her snarling Shit Zoo to reach for the switch at the top of the basement steps. I flicked it and lo and behold, the light turned on. Up and down, on and off, working right as Mass Electric wanted it to.
“Did it just not turn on a second ago for you or . . . “
Mary frowned at me and then at the light, like by turning on it had committed a sin. “I just tried it and it didn’t work.”
I flicked it on, then off, and on and off so she could see. She practically shoved me out of the way to get to the basement steps. That much power in a geriatric eighty-year-old body surprised me. Apparently they were putting steroids in Metamucil these days.
Her liver spotted hands went for the switch, and I watched as she repeated what I’d just done. Up and then down, over and over. It wasn’t like you could fuck up turning a light on, right? But here she was, not getting anything. When I took over switch flicking, everything was fine, but when she did it the basement was as dark and murky as a shit stained dungeon ought to be.
I was dumbfounded by the whole thing. I tried to figure out what she could possibly be doing that wouldn’t get those lights on, but even a retard could flick a light switch, and she was right, she was old but she wasn’t stupid. Mary Carlson was as sharp as a tack.
I went back to the truck, got my tools and got ready to replace the fuse again. Down the steps I went, using a flashlight to get myself around the mass collection of turds. I parked myself in front of the fusebox and started rifling through, getting the parts I needed. It wasn’t until my hands actually touched the metal outside of the box that I realized something fucked up was going on. See, I hadn’t even done anything yet, but when I made contact with that metal, all the lights went on. I looked up and frowned, confused as hell. Who wouldn’t be? I dropped my hands, just to see if it was me or the box, and surer than shit the lights went out again.
I think I must have done that for the next thirty minutes.
See, that was the first day. I didn’t figure the rest of it out til a while later. Who’d believe that if they didn’t see it for themselves? And really, who’d want to believe it even if they had seen it? But there I was, and here I am, ol’ Sparky hands.
Guess it’s prolly a good thing I didn’t become a fireman after all.