Listen to author
[audio:https://killauthor.com/audio/issuesixteen/mark_baumer.mp3|titles=The Back of Our Kneecaps And Our Shoulder Pits Sweat Into Another Day of Pavement|artists=Mark Baumer]

I found a few pitchers of coconut milk next to a toaster. There was breakfast music playing in the lobby. An old man was using the waffle machine. I drank three flutes of coconut milk while I waited for the old man to finish making his waffle. After the third option of coconut milk I felt a little sick so I leaned over a large glass bowl of sliced watermelon until the sick parts of my body were digested. I heard the waffle machine beep. The old man peeled his waffle out of the machine and rubbed it with syrup.

Leon was already up when I got back to our motel room. He could smell the coconut milk on my teeth and asked why I didn’t bring him back a jar. I took a raisin bagel out of my pocket and set it on the nightstand next to the clock. Leon said he wasn’t hungry. He seemed disappointed. The television mouth was talking again. Leon walked over to the bureau where we kept some of our food and looked inside one of the drawers until he found an Oreo. He sat on his bed for a long time looking at this Oreo. I waited for him to eat it, but he didn’t. Instead, he sighed and put the Oreo back in the drawer where he found it.

Next to a dried tobacco stain on the nightstand, I found three granules of sugar. I wasn’t sure where they had come from so I didn’t eat them. I put them in an envelope and decided I would mail the three granules to my father. He would put them in a coffee cup and then wait for the inside of his cup to turn black.

At nine a.m. Leon shut off the television and put on his gardening gloves. He was wearing a new pair of socks. We climbed into a teal van filled with stained twinkles of low wage labor. I noticed some dirt on the floor of the van that had not been there the day before. I picked up a piece of the dirt. In my palm, the dirt was the sound of wet coffee grounds.

Benjamin was in the front seat of a teal object. He was not wearing a shirt. I asked his large, fat, shirtless body why he was always fat and shirtless. Benjamin laughed and reached under his seat. I waited for him to answer. When he pulled his hand out from under the seat it was holding a cashew.

We stopped near a smell of plastic sweat and old children. Everyone climbed out of the teal van. I looked across the street and saw two boys chewing cigarettes on a public swing set. Someone picked up a shovel and scratched a few words into the dirt. I bent down and picked up the dirt. It read, “calm plot.”

A woman came out of the house and stood on the porch. Benjamin put on a shirt and talked with her. She pointed at the area in her yard that was black and crumbling. Benjamin nodded and said, “You will be pleased with everything that happens to your yard.” The woman got in a midsized Toyota and drove to a place where she was paid to sit between the hours of nine a.m. and five p.m. Benjamin took off his shirt and hung it from a branch in the front lawn. He walked over to the garden. I watched a large, fat, shirtless man unzip his shorts and pee on a daffodil. When he finished he grabbed his shirt from the tree and told everyone to get to work. I picked up a shovel and watched Benjamin walk back over to the van. There were three other large, fat, shirtless men in the van. One of them looked like he was eating a handful of amphetamines.

The guy working next to me said, “I’m a Midwestern transplant.” I asked him what that meant. He said, “I remember my grandmother sitting on a porch somewhere in Ohio, wrapped in shawls. Then a few years later she was dead and I was too sad to look at her dead body so I moved to New York City. I lived near a lake in New York City until the lake turned black and all the fish died.”

After using a shovel for a little bit Leon complained that his hands hurt. He took off his gardening gloves and walked over to the house. There was a spigot connected to a hose. Leon touched the hose and drank from it. When he was finished he looked inside the house. He didn’t move for a long time. When he walked back to where everyone was working he said, “There is a sofa and a television in the living room.” I developed a little bit of amnesia and forgot how to think so I didn’t say anything. Leon said something else, but I wasn’t paying attention to him because I was looking at my own brain.

A helicopter flew overhead. One of the guys stopped working on the pavement and yelled something at the helicopter. The helicopter worked for the government. A lot of the guys working on the driveway didn’t like the government. One of the guys holding a rake said, “I hate when the government snoops around looking for my drug plants. I can’t wait until the Republicans cut the government down to the size of a peapod and there are no regulations on drugs anymore.”

An hour passed. I removed a small corner of the driveway. The rest of the driveway dug itself up. Leon took a lot of breaks and moved only a few pebbles. Someone asked him why he was wearing gardening gloves. He shrugged and said he was allergic to shovels.

When most of the driveway was empty some of the workers went behind the house and smoked crack. They said they were glad they were poor because if they were rich they would just spend all their money on crack and then end up being poor anyway.

At eleven a.m. Benjamin told four of us to get into the teal van. Me, Leon, and three other guys climbed into the teal van. The van began moving very fast. I looked at the speedometer. We were driving fifty-five miles-per-hour even though we were in a residential neighborhood and the speed limit was less than thirty. It did not take us long to get to the next job site. Me and three other men got out of the van. Leon stayed in the van with Benjamin and the other large, fat shirtless men. I waved goodbye to Leon. The teal van drove away.

Four of us looked at the crumbling piece of pavement we had to dig up. Our tools were very limited. Between the four of us we had three shovels and an axe. One of us swung the axe for a little bit, breaking up the driveway, while the others used shovels to chip at the corners of the deteriorating pebble.

When I swung the axe I could feel my small intestine strain. My fingers and hands felt like an old pain deep in a bone that was starting to crumble from the inside out. Every few minutes I had to pause and look at my hands to make sure they hadn’t been ground down to a stump from the constant pounding. When I paused I watched the other men nibble at the pavement with their shovels. One man was wearing a red, collared shirt with only one button left. I could feel the atoms of the red shirt slowly wearing down. Soon there would be no buttons left on the shirt. When I began to move the axe again a cloud of sweat grew off me.

A guy was moving a shovel near me. I asked him if he graduated high school. He said, “I dropped out of school when I was four.” I asked him if he ever thought about college. He nodded and said, “Sometimes I want to get educated so I can own a big house.” I told him I was sort of educated and I didn’t own a big house. He lifted his shovel and then put it back down. I could feel my thighs sweating.

Hours later the teal van returned. It was almost four o’clock. We had dug up most of the driveway with three shovels and an axe. Leon got out of the teal van. He sipped on a cup of McDonalds soda. There were four large fat shirtless men in the teal van. They were all holding bags of McDonalds. I watched them hold these bags and worried they would eat all the food themselves, but they got out of the van and set the McDonalds bags down on what was left of the driveway and told us it was lunch time. Everyone dropped their tools and grabbed a handful from the brown paper bags.

I sat on the curb and ate a hamburger. Leon sat down next to me. He smiled. He said he had been riding around all afternoon with the large, fat shirtless men. I filled my face with food and felt the food ask Leon a question. He shrugged. I took another bite of the thing in my hand. I felt a little sick. I tried not to think of the pile of chemicals that had been used on the meat in my hand. I thought of a piece of cardboard slowly turning into something edible. I took another bite. It tasted good. My brain was confused. It knew the thing I was eating was not a good thing, but the noise it made in my mouth sounded good and I could not help but want to swallow more.

Leon said, “I had fun riding in the teal van with four large, fat, shirtless men. At one point we stopped at an intersection next to a brand new red pickup and Benjamin began yelling at the guy in the new pickup, asking him if he wanted to sell the truck for five thousand dollars. The guy said no. Benjamin asked the guy if he wanted to sell it for six thousand dollars. The guy said no. The light changed. The red pickup drove away.”

When I finished eating the hamburger I wanted to eat another hamburger, but there were no more hamburgers left so I began eating french fries until there were no more french fries left. I was disappointed. I drank some Coca-Cola from a plastic cup. Everyone was done with lunch. An empty dump truck arrived. Benjamin told everyone to start throwing the old pieces of the driveway into the back of the truck. I began to pick up the old driveway. Leon put on his gardening gloves. Benjamin and the rest of the large, fat, shirtless men watched us work.

Leon and I breathed oxygen for the next hour. When all the pieces of the old driveway had been put in the back of the dump truck I sat down on the curb and watched the dump truck drive away. A raindrop landed on my bottom lip. The aftertaste of something unhealthy rested in my stomach. It was almost five p.m. Everyone climbed into the teal van.

On the ride home I sat next to one of the guys who had smoked crack earlier. I asked him if he owned a rifle. He said he once owned a rifle, but then the rifle got bored of domestic life and moved to a motel in Angola where it looked out her bedroom window and watched millions of civilians die each year. I asked him if he missed his rifle. He said, “Sometimes at night when I don’t have any money or crack I wish I had the rifle because then I could use it to get some money or crack. This sort of makes me mad. It’s probably good I don’t have a rifle anymore because I used to have this urge to shoot every raindrop that has ever fallen and I don’t think I’m stable enough anymore not to try this.”

When we got back to our motel room Benjamin gave Leon and I both sixty dollars. As the teal van drove off I asked Leon if we were the perfect example of a capitalist society. He said he didn’t think so, but thought that we were positive contributions to the idea of democracy. I nodded. Leon said, “I think the most important part of our journey is how we are distorting the relationship dynamic that exists between a father and his son.” I looked at Leon and tried to remember if he was either my father or my child, but I could not remember.

Nothing much else happened that night. Leon removed his gardening gloves. I masturbated in the shower. We cooked a box of lasagna in the microwave. I felt the remains of the McDonalds hamburger get excited when my stomach introduced the microwave lasagna to it. Leon said he regretted not going to a college like Yale. I ate twelve Oreos. Leon told me not to eat any more. I found some milk. I drank the milk. Leon looked at me for a long time and then said, “I wish you were an upscale, female prostitute.” I went in the bathroom and looked at the toilet seat. I heard Leon laugh because something on the television made him laugh. I looked in the mirror and pinched some color into my cheeks. When I came out of the bathroom Leon told me he didn’t like me leaving my wet, dirty socks on the back of a chair near his bed. I picked up the socks and threw them out. My hair felt longer than it had been the day before. I could feel my hair continuing to grow. As I climbed into bed I wondered if I needed to make a hair appointment soon.