When word got out, a couple of weeks ago, that I was going to make the 30 mile drive to the closest thing we’ve got to a city around here, my friend Eugene jumped at the chance to tag along. He must have jumped, although he could have dropped from a tree for all I know, into the bed of my truck just past Peavy Flat, where the road narrows and you have to slow down so as to not run over Purly Coutermarche’s dogs. By the time I noticed him back there it was too late to turn around and take him home so I agreed he could come, but because I didn’t want to get a ticket for having a passenger in the bed of a truck on the highway I covered him with a tarp and told him to stay out of sight.
My destination was Home Depot which irked me to no end. I prefer to stay close to home and buy from small, local businesses but unfortunately, while they are long on customer service and advice, they are often woefully short on inventory, so there we were. I was looking for a dozen switch-controlled outlets, 20 feet of 1/2-inch rebar and a couple of toilet seats; Eugene, it became clear, was looking for trouble.
I hissed at him when he played with the pipe threader and got machine oil all over the floor. I slapped his hand when the display of ceiling lights blinked off and on so fast that one woman, shopping for a chandelier, was felled by a seizure. And as for his demonstration of the acoustical properties of various diameters and lengths of PVC pipe, well, I certainly did not expect the smattering of applause that followed his rendition of “Begin the Beguine”, banged out on a bunch of schedule 40 with a pair of ball peen hammers. While Eugene took his bows I took my leave.
I pretended I didn’t hear the commotions that broke out in other parts of the store but it was hard in that cavernous, concrete-floored echo chamber and I began to worry when they apparently stopped. Suspecting the lull to be merely the calm before a storm, I cautiously made my way to a large, central, open area and looked around. The paint section was still intact and it looked like the paramedics had the chandelier lady back on her feet. I saw nothing suspicious atop the ladder display and the cable holding the riding mowers was still in one piece but, before I could breathe a sigh of relief, I spotted Eugene standing at the end of a long display of windows. The windows were arranged, standing up, in a zig-zag line (from above: /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\), eighteen in all, each with a sign extolling its virtues and features. Eugene was squinting and his lips were moving as he struggled to read the sign on the window on the end which, from my vantage point, I could see included the words “SHATTER PROOF!”
Most people would take those words to be a selling point — a safety feature or a long-term money saver — but to someone like Eugene, them’s fighting words.
I wanted to turn around, pay for my stuff and leave him there but could not. As has happened so many times before, I stood transfixed, curious and a bit fearful, to see what would happen next. I watched as he glanced around and gently tapped the window with the back of his hand, bonk, bonk, bonk. I watched as he paced back and forth, all innocent-like, rapping on the glass each time he passed, doink, doink, doink and I stood there dumbfounded as he shuffled his feet, put up his dukes and delivered a series of jabs that echoed up through the steel rafters, thunk-thunk-thunk.
The window withstood a withering barrage of hooks and upper cuts and it hardly shuddered when Eugene flat-out bashed it with a slobberknocker that sent a low, hollow boom resounding through the building. Several orange-aproned store associates appeared, nervously fingering their radios while Eugene caught his breath and they, like I, thought he was done when he walked away whistling like nothing had happened.
I followed him down the long aisle, toward the front of the store, relieved to be getting out of there, and I had almost caught up to him when he suddenly wheeled around and sprinted back past me, his feet slapping on the polished cement floor. I tried to grab him a he ran by but Eugene is slippery and he escaped my grasp without breaking his stride. If anything, he gained speed as he passed the racks of caulk, and hurdling a stocker’s cart of supplies only seemed to add to his momentum. Eugene can move like the breeze through the woods, dodging branches and leaping over rocks; with a wide, smooth, clear path ahead of him in a warehouse he was a blurry streak. I worried he would crash into some innocent shopper crossing the aisle ahead but my fears were not realized. No obstructions materialized and he made the crossing safely, bearing down on that window with the taunting sign. Slap, slap, slap, and suddenly Eugene was airborne, a plaid-clad glass-seeking missile, homing in on its target.
Eugene hit the upper third of the window with a crash that sounded somewhere between a thunder-clap and a car wreck but the glass held firm. The brackets holding the display together, however, did not. An ear-splitting shriek tore through the store as bolts, wood and plastic sheared away from their moorings and the line of windows began to fall. Their zig-zag arrangement only increased the damage.
Splaying alternately left, then right, the falling frames sent shoppers scurrying in all directions. Carts with balky wheels swung this way and that, taking out end cap displays and brochure stands while displaced air sent dust, papers and hats flying as eighteen very expensive windows hit the floor. Seventeen of them were destroyed on impact, adding shards of glass to the clouds of debris, but that was no surprise; none of them was labeled “SHATTER PROOF!”.
Crashes and panic spread throughout the store and I tried to block out the sounds as I paid for my merchandise. I tried to make myself feel better by thinking that the high, metal ceiling and concrete floors were multiplying and magnifying the chaotic noise and it couldn’t possibly be as bad as it sounded. I was not about to stick around and find out, though, and neither were the dozens of people who stampeded past as I made my way to the door.
The parking lot was much quieter than the interior of the store. Small groups of people huddled together, some whimpering softly to themselves while others talked or texted with their phones. Some even sent photos to their friends but I had seen enough and prepared to leave. I loaded my electrical boxes, rebar and toilet seats into the back of the truck, climbed into the cab, started the engine and pulled away. People were still milling about while police cars and fire trucks crowded to the front of the building so I took a peripheral route, hooking a right at the garden center and driving along a row of pre-fab sheds.
The temptation to look back proved too great to resist and I regret having done it, for there, in the rearview mirror was Eugene, running as fast as he could to catch up. I thought about flooring it and leaving him the heck behind but, go figure, I managed to resist that temptation and instead of the gas I stepped on the brake. In the same instant I made the decision to stop, Eugene launched a last-ditch effort to catch up, which is to say he launched himself toward the bed of my truck.
Actually, it would be more appropriate to say Eugene launched himself toward the place he expected the bed of my truck to be when he got there, which would have been several feet further along if I had kept moving. Because I stopped, though, Eugene’s trajectory carried him over the tailgate and beyond the bed, squarely into the shatter proof glass of my back window. I thought to myself, “that’s gonna leave a mark”, and I was right (it took half a bottle of Windex and two dozen paper towels to remove the smear) but Eugene seemed unhurt, other than feeling a bit more dazed and confused than usual and, once I had him situated beneath the tarp, we headed home.
I stopped by Purly’s place the other day to see how Eugene was doing and to ask if he wanted to ride along on another trip to town. Eugene wasn’t home but Purly seemed pretty sure Eugene had no interest in going to town. Purly and I sat on his porch, while he explained why Eugene might prefer to stay closer to home. Suddenly, the quiet was shattered by a tremendous explosion that shook the ground. A cloud of dirt and rocks appeared, briefly, above the trees up the hill before falling back to earth with a crash. Purly turned to me and continued, “He’s up there blasting out stumps. You can ask him if he wants to go to town but I don’t think he will. Says it’s too dangerous.”
Needless to say, I agreed. It was much safer for everyone with Eugene right where he was.