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The Ungrateful Dead

The voice of the warehouse madman woke me up. “Hey dude, it’s Wayne,” his Arkansas accent scratched its way through my answering machine. “Jus’ callin’ you up man, see if y’all can pick me up for work dude.” This was bad: it was 7:30 already, I had to be in my wife’s car by 7:40 to make it to work by 8. I was already on watch for being late all the time. With otherworldly force I managed to get a pot of coffee going and an abbreviated shower in, then executed some rapid fire hygiene and breakfast along the blurry-eyed way. If I hadn’t pre-packaged some leftover pasta the night before I wouldn’t have had a lunch out at the brewery.

After going through the pros and cons of losing time to help that bearded forklift operator out, I decided to pick Wayne up. I knew it’d add to my lateness, but he only had a week left at the brewery and his economy car that once traversed from one Grateful Dead show to the next had run its course. Worse, he was kicked out of his apartment by his girlfriend for a week and they had a son that was out of control. The toddler ripped apart my wife’s handmade edible birdhouse with his bare little hands the time we had them over for dinner, along with transforming our sliding glass door into a makeshift dog and cat guillotine every time our pets went in or out. Life wasn’t all scarlet begonias for Wayne anymore. The man needed to buy new socks because he had the same big nasty ones on for five days in a row. His wardrobe had new Mad River Brewing Company apparel additions by the day and the t-shirt inventory had been way off all week. The smell of new cotton and big ol’ crease marks coming down the front of each freshly ripped off shirt he wore made it pretty obvious.

“You got a receipt for that shirt?” I badgered him with a smirk about it, since I was somehow in admini­stration and he was a unionized forklift man. The ware­house madman, that is.

So I picked up Wayne anyway at the doghouse: a recent crash pad off Old Arcata Road he’d been staying at. Galaxy’s house. Yes, the young man was known as and called his own self Galaxy. Even when calling the brewery to talk to Wayne, or ordering a pizza and having to give a name, he was Galaxy.

“Wayne, Galaxy is on line 2! Galaxy on line 2!” my boss Alan announced once over the factory intercom, with everyone in production busting up laughing.

I came up on the marker and pulled off the sharp entry into Galaxy’s gravelly driveway that pooled out before his and his neighbor’s house. Two cool houses tucked back there behind a few big redwoods. There was a VW bus and a couple other older cars in front of Gal­axy’s place. I honked the horn once, idling, because Wayne had specifically told me to just wait in the car since Galaxy was super paranoid. The cops had just been at the house two nights before because Galaxy’s room­mates – a hippy couple with offspring of their own – were drunk and fighting again. After an hour of it, Wayne and another dude tried to intervene. Soon enough a Sheriff showed up and came inside the house which sent Galaxy into a quivering panic attack in his recliner. The officer found out what was going on, which took an award-worthy translation on her part since everyone was on pills, hash and hard alcohol. The officer claimed she smelled marijuana and lectured the couple on having their kid in a house like that, and then took off. Galaxy went mute for the rest of the evening.

So I idled and kept it to one honk. There was motion through the living room window, and I saw a head crest the back of the couch. Wayne. Gross. I had ten minutes to prepare myself for the day and he was taking ten sec­onds. He stumbled outside, limping with his bad knee from the botched surgery that left the big reparative nail poking into his skin. Aside from his trusty baseball cap, Wayne switched the wardrobe up for a change, with a suspiciously stained beige polo shirt, corduroy pants and bargain skate shoes he told me he scored from Payless. He opened up the door and plunged into the passenger seat without a word, but with plenty of funk.

I had Digital Underground’s Sex Packets album on, keeping a hand close to the CD player face in case I had to hit mute, as what I was convinced was a ghost had been haunting the car stereo system, and thus, my wife’s sanity. Seriously, you’d be driving along, grooving to whatever at an adequate level, and all of a sudden the volume would max out on its own until you pressed mute or the speakers crackled. At any random moment it would blare and scare the royal hell out of you! In a drive-thru, on the freeway, or right in the mix of a 4-way intersection in Eureka. And sometimes it got even more possessed than that and would just cut out midway through a song, flash some subliminal symbols and evil shit on the face, and then shut off. On this particular morning the phantom was playing my CD according to its own supernatural track list. I didn’t even press ran­dom, the ghost was the DJ, and might I add, was doing quite a smooth shuffle on Sex Packets that morning. The songs played in a succession that flowed better than the original production. I was wondering what sort of sequence it’d do on James Brown’s Hell album, but then remembered Wayne had borrowed it and I was probably never going to see it again.

Wayne flashed me a look and he honestly resembled a dead man. He wasn’t even 30 yet and you could’ve just dug him out of a ditch.

“Big night on the town last night?” I said with so much dorky sarcasm that the windows fogged up with it. I must’ve seemed like such a fucking So. Cal smart ass to those guys at the brewery. They’d tell me about their run-ins with the law and fits of liquefied self mutilation and I’d find the humor in that, time and time again.

“Fuckin’ ate this pill, dude, had opium in it,” Wayne said, barely opening his mouth. “Still fucked up.”

“Whoa, opium? I bet you slept good last night.”

“I need some sleep now.”

We turned left on the Indianola cutoff past the body shop toward Hwy 101. The time on the dash read “7:56” in the blue, electronic font, and we weren’t even halfway there. I was more freaked out about it than Wayne, since he was officially what a few of our more afflicted and entertaining coworkers termed “a short timer”.

“Pull over up here,” he said all of a sudden, irritably pointing his finger toward the side of the road. I didn’t know why he wanted to pull over, and was about to say something along the lines of punctuality and how Maggie was on my ass for a lack thereof, until it flick­ered in my head: “oh, he’s gonna puke”.

I pulled over with a heavy stomping of the brakes. He opened up the door, and very nonchalantly vomited two even mouthfuls onto the concrete of the bike lane. I was horrified and disgusted. All I could think about was how this guy was going to drive a forklift with pallets full of beer and cases of empty glass for the next eight hours. I wouldn’t be setting foot in that warehouse!

Without a napkin inquisition or a wipe of the vomit-lined lips, my co-pilot slammed the door, adjusted him­self and let out a big rancid breath. And, as if I’d just stopped at a gas station to let him get cigs and he’d just gotten back into the car, he shouted “all right, let’s go!”

Once again, I was late for work.

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