Frank and me, we can hang some goddamn drywall. Cut, lift, push screws. Repeat. Frank can eyeball-measure to within a quarter inch, and I can drive six screws before you clear your throat. I know the guys who come in and mud the joints get all the credit, everybody nowadays thinks drywall mudders are artists, and maybe they are the way the good ones could hide a damn hematoma with joint compound. Drywall mudders get the credit for making it all pretty, for hiding the mistakes, but Frank and me, we make the walls.
But then Frank gets canned. Our boss, Stanley, accuses him of stealing something he didn’t steal, which happens more than you’d think. It’s kind of like code for We found some Mexicans to do your job.
Stanley, who’s actually just our real boss’s kid, asks me, Do I know anything about a missing pneumatic hammer?
I tell him, No, I don’t anything about that, which I don’t.
Then he says to me, Hey, by the way, do you know where Frank’s keys are? I need to move his truck because he parked me in.
I point him over to Frank’s lunch cooler, not thinking much about it. But then at the end of the day, Stanley calls Frank outside and points into his truck and asks him, Hey, Frank, how did this pneumatic hammer get in your truck? You stealing from us, then, Frank? Then he shit-cans Frank, and I feel like a huge dumb idiot.
Frank doesn’t make a scene or anything, I think because he’s just so damn confused. He’s young, never gotten fired before. He goes real calm, real deliberate in his movements, and all I can think is that’s how crazy bad guys in the movies always act before they stab somebody in the dick with a samurai sword. But Frank just says, Okay right, and leaves, and we all go back to work.
So later that night, Frank comes over and we start drinking some, and before long we head back to the site. It’s this giant castle in the burbs with a three car garage and travertine tiles all over. Everything’s stainless steel or granite or zapatero hardwood floors reclaimed from the Panama Canal. It’s dark when we get there, we can’t see much with flashlights in our mouths, but we don’t want to draw attention.
Frank pulls out a cordless Makita with this tiny, 1/16th inch bit, and chucks it tight. Then he goes around to all air compressors, popping these holes in the undersides of the tanks. No one will ever see them, but they’ll get pissed something fierce when their tanks don’t carry any pressure.
Then he squats in a bare stud wall, unbuckles his coveralls, perches there, and boy does he push. His face turns this hot red while he grimaces, and then he grunts like he’s trying to bench press a double-wide, and then there’s the plop, and damn hell, it just clogs my nose up with crap-stink. I can’t get away from it. Come on, he says, meaning we need to hurry up and hang some drywall around it to lock in the stink and keep anybody from
finding it. Which we do.
Then it’s on to the joint compound, the five gallon tubs, jerking off into it. He’s drunk and cackling now. He puts a mixer bit into the drill and churns the whole bucket up. Look, he says. You can’t tell where Frank-juice stops and the mud starts! And he thinks this is just the funniest thing ever, that these yuppies are going to have a house with his shit and come in the walls. Doesn’t matter how many walls we put up, they aren’t getting rid of Frank.
At some point I almost tell Frank how it was kind of my fault, that I didn’t mean it, but I’m still awful sorry. I don’t say anything, though, because it won’t change this whole shit pile of a situation. Doesn’t matter how or why that shit pile gets in your house, you just have to deal with it. I’m older, I got replaced twice last year, but Frank hasn’t. He’s a young kid, likes to drink light beer and think about those girls he went to high school with but never got to see naked. It’s a crummy feeling, getting canned, and all you can think of for the first couple days is how to get even. But work always turns up for guys like us. People are always going to want walls in their houses.
Frank starts hauling the double sheets of drywall then, 4×8 sheets, out to his truck. Come on, he says. So I start helping him load them even though I don’t really want to. It means tomorrow, when I go to work, I’ll have to answer some questions. But I can just blame everything on teenagers, which is what you’re supposed to do in my business when something goes missing.
We steal a dozen sheets and drive away, and Frank is feeling pretty great, some from the beer, but some from all the getting even. A sheet of dryall only costs about four bucks, but right now they feel more valuable. Frank laughs to himself the whole ride home like we just stole the Mona Lisa or something.
When we get back to my place, Frank wants unload it all there. I don’t have the space, he says, which is true. He lives in an apartment about the size of a paper sack. So we stack them all in my TV room. We have one more beer and sit on the couch looking at them, not really saying much.
I wonder how Stanley got in my truck, Frank says then.
I feel myself clench up, but I don’t say anything.
You have any idea?
I shake my head, no, and take a bit drink of my beer.
Well, Frank says and then doesn’t finish whatever he wanted to say. He gets up and stumbles toward the door. Guess I’ll see you tomorrow, he says and leaves. Thing is, though, I won’t see him tomorrow.
I flip on the TV and have one last beer, but I can’t see the left side of the tube because the drywall is blocking it. There’s this guy yelling at somebody, and I think it’s probably his wife, but I can’t be sure. He’s just going nutso on her, calling her whore and skank. He’s unloading, calling her shit-brain and twat. But then she starts yelling back, and it’s the weirdest thing. It’s like the drywall is talking. It’s a woman’s voice, but all I see is drywall. She calls him a liar and a dirty cheat and a bunch of other mean stuff. It’s pretty annoying the way the drywall blocks her face, but I just close my eyes and figure to hell with it. I’ll move it in the morning.
The next day I have three new Mexicans that I have to start training on how to hang drywall fast and proper. One of them’s named Jesus and the other two aren’t. They catch on quick and don’t ask stupid questions, but they don’t say jokes the way Frank did. Later in the day, the boss’s kid pulls me aside and asks, Didn’t we have more drywall than this? And what’s with that weird crap smell? But this time I play dumb. Probably some no good teenagers, I tell him.