Pronghorn, Chapter 28: Worries

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

Asa Pemewan looked up from where he was helping his father clear branches from the back yard. “I’m still not sure what all I need to do. It’s not exactly a normal situation, you know.”

“Well,” his father replied, “there’re still branches for y’ to pick up. If y’ can’t get that one,” and he gestured towards a particularly large tree limb that had fallen into the yard, “then I’ll help y’. But it’s really just lift-and-carry work.”

“Not that. The job thing.”

“Oh. Right. It isn’t a usual thing, no. And I’ve never run into it, really. Never have had a boss die on me before I went to work. Hell,” and he puled on a tree limb of his own, “never had one die on me yet. Quit, sure, or get transferred or fired. One got arrested; tried to hire a high school girl as a hooker, I think. But never died on me.”

“I didn’t think so.” Asa had moved over to the indicated limb and begun to tug on it. In between the efforts, he added. “I don’t think a lot of people have, actually. So I’m not sure where to look for insight. Not that I can do a lot of looking at the moment.”

Asa’s father said nothing in reply, only nodding as he continued his clean-up work. Asa pressed on. “It’s the kind of thing that I run into a fair bit, actually. Folks have this idea that you can Google any damned thing, just punch in a few keystrokes and reveal all the information in the world. But it doesn’t work that way. Some stuff is online but doesn’t show up on Google. And while some of that’s the kind of thing you hear about in the news–child porn, drug trafficking, how to buy your politicians, and the like–a lot of it’s not. Like what the etiquette is for job offers made by somebody who dies before the offer can be taken up.”

Asa struggled a bit more with his limb, dragging it across the yard to the pile of brush and other assorted debris that was growing in one corner of the Pemewan backyard. “Or what the etiquette is for a date that was scheduled before a storm rolls through and wrecks a lot of the town.”

His father grunted out among his own exertions “Yeah, I’d wondered about that, too. I’ven’t heard that the church was damaged at all, and I think Rev’nd Kerr lives on site; I know there’s a parsonage, and I think she uses it. But, yeah, y’ll prob’ly still need to drop by and see if y’re still on–and offer to help if y’re not.” He heaved on the fallen branches and other assorted detritus. “I imagine a preacher’d appreciate having the help.”

Asa nodded. “Who wouldn’t? But it is strange that I’d be on a date, let alone a date with a minister. It’s been a long time since I was possessed of any great religious feeling.”

“I know, but I don’t know why. Y’ used to be eager for church, y’ know, more so than y’r mother and me. Not because we doubted, mind, but because working makes folk tired–and, well, son, y’ were a little shit as a kid. I loved y’, and I still do, but y’ were a pain the in ass when y’ were growing up.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“Y’re welcome. Thought y’ deserved honesty at this point in y’r life.”

“Like I said, thanks.”

The two men worked without words for a time, but not silently; both grunted and groaned frequently as they bent their backs to clearing the yard of debris. They continued in the same way as they moved to the front yard, grimacing at the sucking mud that much of the yards had become. But they continued, and they saw many others at the houses nearby doing much the same thing. A few encouraging words were exchanged among them, fathers and sons and daughters–but few mothers, if any–working to clean up what the storm had disturbed.

At one point, a man from down the street whom Asa did not recognize but his father did came down and asked to borrow a chainsaw; a tree had fallen through his roof, and he was working to remove it. Asa and his father followed the man back to his home, where his young daughter, perhaps two and a half years old, was crying and his wife, her mother, tried to comfort and quiet her; the three men worked to cut the tree into manageable pieces and remove them from the house, and others who lived on the street found tarps and pieces of plywood that had been held in garages and shed for projects that would be done “someday.” They did not make a perfect seal, to be sure, but they made enough of a barrier to keep out the sun and the rain. “And it’ll be like camping in the forests, like in the fairy tales,” Asa told the girl, and she nodded, although tears still streamed down her plump and reddened cheeks.

Amid the work, Asa had little enough time to think about his own problems. Taking care of others’ often has such an effect. It also often puts a person’s own problems into relief. Asa knew that things could be better for him–they can be better for everyone, really–but he was also being reminded a bit of the perspective into which to place his problems. And when, at around half past five, the power came back on–the sudden lurching into life of a street’s worth of air conditioners sang in polyphonic tenors of electricity’s return–his voice joined the general cheering. After all, cool air–both in the home and in the refrigerator around beers chilling down–is a welcome thing after a long working day.

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Pronghorn, Chapter 27: Wednesday Morning

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

The next morning, Asa Pemewan woke in darkness. The air was still and humid, although cool. He padded through the house and saw no lights on in it, and he thought The power must be out. Makes sense.

Another thought stopped him where he stood. Damn. Coffee pot’s electric.

The bubbling sounds of a percolator heating up reached him then, and Asa stepped into the kitchen. His father stood by the stove–a gas appliance, fortunately–with a lighter in hand. A couple of candles were on the kitchen table, flickering with the currents driven by Asa walking in. “Mornin’, son.”

“I guess the storm knocked out the power.”

“Seems that way. Whole block’s dark. Been hearing sirens off and on, too. Heard a whole lot of ’em overnight. Cops, fire, EMS. Heard a chopper, too. Somebody’s had a real bad evenin’.”

“We have any branches down?”

Asa’s father nodded. “Couple out in the back yard. Nothin’ too big, though, and nothin’ on the house. You got a crack in your windshield, though, and we’ve all got dents all over hell. Gonna have to get the roof inspected again. Damn shame, too; had a new one put on just a couple, three years ago.”

“Is it still under warranty?”

“Maybe. Not likely, though.” He snorted. “My luck, it ran out Monday.”

Asa made a non-committal noise and shook his head. We’ll not talk about my luck. After a moment, he asked “Do y’all have a weather radio?”

“Got a hand-crank jobbie under the sink, I think. Gets other stations, too.”

Asa nodded and rummaged around in the indicated cabinet. He soon found the object of the search: a combination radio/flashlight/lantern, powered by a hand-crank. Asa began to work the device, and although his hand soon cramped around the small handle, he soon had a crackle of static and coherent voices coming out of it.

“–are down throughout much of Pronghorn County. Several traffic accidents took place during last night’s storm, with several people taken to San Antonio for treatment. One man, identified as Bartholomew Smitherson, has died as a result of one such accident. He had been taken by helicopter to University Hospital in San Antonio after being caught in the middle of a multiple-vehicle accident around eleven o’clock last night. Police reports suggest that a tree branch fell onto West Second Street in Pronghorn, causing a pickup truck to swerve to avoid it; the driver of the truck lost control and hydroplaned into Smitherson’s vehicle, knocking it in turn into oncoming traffic. Smitherson stood at the nexus of several family businesses and was a figure of influence in Pronghorn; how his death will affect several business deals is uncertain.”

“Fuck!” exclaimed Asa, and his father turned, saying quietly and forcefully through gritted teeth “Keep y’r voice down! Y’r mother’s still sleeping!”

“No, she’s not.” Asa’s mother spoke from behind him, and he started, dropping the radio. “And what’s the ‘fuck’ about?”

Asa stooped to scoop up the radio that still cracked with reports of the night’s storm damage and changes to the stock market. Standing again, he answered “Bartholomew Smitherson was killed. He was also the one who hired me; I was going to start work for him on Monday. Now, though, I don’t know what’ll happen–and I can’t really ask his businesses. I get the impression they’re all family-owned, and they’ll have a lot else on their minds right now.”

“Well, yeah, they will. And I imagine there’ll be a big to-do at the church about it, too; Smitherson was heavily involved, as you might have noticed. He doesn’t–didn’t care much for Reverend Kerr, I know, but she tried to reach out to him and keep him included.” Asa’s mother nodded as she spoke. His father poured cups of coffee from the percolator.

“I wasn’t aware of the strife” said Asa as he accepted a cup of bitter black brew and sipped at it.

“No reason you would’ve been, since you’ve not been involved in the church or the tow for some time. But if you were going to be sweet on Kerr, you might not’ve done well to work for the man.”

“Why didn’t he like her?”

“Oh, the usual bit for folks of his age. Doesn’t–didn’t think women ought to be preaching; says so in the Bible–1 Timothy, as I recall, not that that comes out of Jesus’s mouth. Didn’t think we ought to be even polite to gays; says so in the Bible.” Asa’s mother shrugged. “Didn’t think a lot of things ought to be that ought to be. But he donated a lot to the church, and he did a lot of work with it, especially after his wife died.”

“When’d that happen?”

“Two years after you left for school. I only knew about it because of the papers and your sister. She had apparently made a friend in Smitherson’s daughter, clever girl, and used it to get some paying work in San Antonio. She also let me know some of what all she figured out, so that was interesting.”

“Hm.” Asa sipped at his coffee again. “Well, I suppose I ought to see about doing something. Looking for work will have to wait, of course, but there’s stuff to do here, to be sure.”

Asa’s father chimed in. “I appreciate it, but drink y’r coffee first. And have y’ got boots? Today, you’ll want ’em.”

“I’d have to look, but I don’t know. I think not.”

“I might have a pair y’can borrow. But I mean it. Finish y’r coffee. Seen y’ try to work without it before. Nobody ought to have to see that twice.”

Asa shook his head at his father. He also took another sip of coffee.

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Class Reports: ENGL 1302, Sections 02 and 03–8 February 2017

After addressing concerns from and questions about the previous class meeting, discussion asked after progress on the first of the upcoming essays. It then turned to treating “Deor.”

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • PoEss RV (online before class begins on 17 February 2017)
  • PoEss FV (online before class begins on 24 February 2017)
  • DrEss RV (online before class begins on 3 March 2017)

Information about other assignments remains in development.

Section 02 met as scheduled, at 1000 in Weir 111. The class roster listed 20 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting. Sixteen attended, verified informally. Student participation was good. No students from the class attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Section 03 met as scheduled, at 1100 in Weir 111. The class roster listed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting. Seventeen attended, verified informally. Student participation was good. Two students from the class attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Pronghorn, Chapter 26: Local History (III)

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

The storm that broke upon Pronghorn that Tuesday was not the fiercest or most destructive that the town had seen. There was hail damage in plenty, to be sure, and no small amount of wind damage to be found, but no catastrophic damage befell the town, and only one fatality was recorded–and that was because of drivers handling the road poorly rather than the direct effect of the storm. Those who had been in the town for a couple of decades before that Tuesday might think back to the summer of 2002, when a low-pressure system sat over the Hill Country and spun. Kerrville, a couple of counties away, saw some 51 inches of rain fall in three days, which, combined with other factors, flooded parts of the town and washed away houses; a similar amount of rain fell in Pronghorn, and with similar effect on the southern parts of town. (The town north of Pronghorn Creek stands well above the normal level of the flowing water.)

Those who had been around a bit longer might think back to May 1995, when a system of storms trained just upstream of Pronghorn on the creek and water did rise high enough to lap at the buildings on the north side of the creek. Cleanup took quite a while afterwards, and even as late as 2010, the corpses of some houses ruined in the flood still stood in the southern parts of town, their ribs bleaching in the Hill Country summer sunlight, only to blacken with rot and mildew in the wetter parts of each year.

Those who recalled a generation before might think back to October 1973. It is rare that the Hill Country sees a tornado; something about the shapes of the limestone hills seems to keep them from happening. Usually. October 1973, however, was not so fortunate a time. No fewer than five tornadoes came through town that month, and although each was relatively small and weak so far as such things go, the people of Pronghorn were utterly unprepared for such a thing. And why not? The Zapatas, who have been in the area longer than any others–although they were not the first to live on the land, to be sure–and have kept reasonably detailed records across that time, only note three prior instances of tornadic activity, and that in some three centuries; once in a hundred years is not a rate that invites a lot of worry for most folks.

Those same records, as well as the minds of those who had lived the longest lives in the town, attest that the worst storm to befall Pronghorn happened in August 1938. It began as a windstorm more than anything else; the hot, dry air that normally smothered the town in August was whipped into a frenzy by strange weather away to the west. It remained hot and dry, to be sure, but such air does different things when pushed at sixty miles an hour or so across several hours than it does when it hangs hazily under the hot sun–and Pronghorn got to see some of those things. One of them was a propensity towards fire, and, as might be expected and feared, fires broke out all around town. The Smitherson Chandlery stood strong, of course, as did the Hochstedler Saloon and a few other choice buildings. but a lot of others burned to the ground or close enough, and not even ash remained in the following wind. Buckets were of no avail, and such fire engines as the town then boasted–two, and old–did not suffice, either. So when dark clouds built on the the western horizon and approached, they were greeted with eagerness and joy.

Neither lasted long in the event. The rain they brought was like the rain that would fall again in 1995 or 2002, pounding and opaque. Its fall did not stop the blowing winds or even slow them, but instead was pushed by it into cold and cutting jets that masked the smaller hailstones that fell–and not the larger ones that bruised and bloodied where they battered at the people whose homes were now gone or who fought to keep more from being consumed by flames; several of them that had been saved from the fire were torn down by the wind and what it carried, or holes were punched through windows and shutters and roofs. Many bones were broken by the force of wind-driven ice. One young woman, Agatha Reynolds, was blinded, shards of ice smiting her full in the face and piercing her eyelids; she sustained other injuries, as well, but none so severe as the loss of both eyes. A middle-aged man, Rodrigo Zapata, was killed by the ice, or so it is thought–although if it was a hailstone that killed him, it was the size of a grapefruit; he was found dead, the top back of his skull caved in much like those who died of wounds in old wars, when the weapons of the day were swords and maces. Admittedly, Rodrigo was far from popular in the town, but the idea that someone would brave the storm with a large hammer or a random cannonball defies belief.

It is because memory of the 1938 storm remains alive that the people of Pronghorn have the perspective on storms that they do; they are respectful of each that rolls into town, but they doubt that they will see such a thing again. For the most part; there are some who fear that kind of storm will come again, and they are not at all certain that the town will survive a second one–or that, if it survives, there will not be more like Agatha.

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Pronghorn, Chapter 25: As Tuesday Ends

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

As Asa Pemewan drove to his parents’ house, he noticed that the western skies were heavy and gray. The wind began to push at his hatchback, and Asa gripped the steering wheel more tightly, his forearms tensing. The many pickups on the road with him had more trouble; each gust pushed them hard against the double yellow line at the middle of the road, and each correction against the wind took the trucks a little closer to the dashed or solid white lines to their right. Asa eyed them warily as he drove on, glancing among them, the road ahead, and the growing storm away to the west.

By long custom, a good rain is always welcome in the Hill Country (as is a new calf, but that’s a different thing). Year after year of hot, dry summers–seventy days or more with temperatures above 100°F (37°C for friends in SI) that soak into the limestone and granite that undergird the oak and cedar and mesquite so that even the nights bake from below, and not even the ghost of rain unless it is the kind of downpour that floods and sweeps away school buses full of children or houses that have stood for a hundred years–and the certain glory of green and bloom that follow the wet assure it. And there is much in the way of good rain that falls in the hills of which Alan E. Craven wrote; gentle soaking rain falls in the winter and the spring, some years more than others, and the fall will get drenched in half-days that keep children inside for the whole of them.

But there are also the remnants of hurricanes that come and sit and spin and drop in three days more rain than otherwise falls in a year. And there are thunderstorms of peculiar ferocity that sweep in from the northwest, perhaps funneled by the hills or responding to some long-ago machinations of those who are now gone even in memory, bringing opaque curtains of falling water and, as often as not, hail in sizes that bespeak whole produce sections. Pea-size, grape-size, pecan-size and walnut, and even up to the sizes of apples and oranges or sweet Texas onions, or the ruby red grapefruit of the fertile Rio Grande Valley–and sometimes bigger, although not often.

Such storms break upon the hills with loud fury, rolling thunder that does not die away, but rattles doors and windows in rapid cadence amid dazzling shows of electric lights from heaven. The cascades of hail that fall sheet the ground in granulated white that lingers for a time and vanishes save for the pockmarks in sheet-metal and cracks in glass and holes punched through shingles that accompany its coming. The wind rages among the rolling limestone hills and granite intrusions, voiceless but loud enough to drown out speech, and fragrant cedars and sturdy oaks split when they hear its words. And the rain gathers, hiding from view the rough and vital vistas that are the Hill Country’s fancy clothing, coming to ground and, when it cannot percolate through the porous stone, running off in rivulets that join with creeks and rivers and swell them in moments from tiny trickles to terrible torrents that rise twenty feet in the time it takes to turn away and back again, flashing forth as floods that cannot be opposed and are not always avoided.

Such a storm is what Asa saw coming as he drove home from the Chandlery, and while he knew what it would do and that he would like as not be fine–for he was in Pronghorn raised, and he had seen such storms before, many times–he still was wary. For he had seen such storms before, and he knew that each might be but a passing thing, but he knew what could be left behind in its passing. He remembered seeing the news reports of Comfort in 1987, when children died, though Comfort stands some miles from Pronghorn, and Pronghorn Creek is not the Guadalupe. He knew of others, families flooded out, homes and businesses ruined, lives lost–the last sometimes from folly, true, but sometimes from what must seem fate going as ever it must. And he knew that the other drivers on the road, locals mostly, would know what he knew, and they would be as eager to be in place as he was–but the winds were not so kind to trucks meant to cross above rugged terrain as to his low-profiled hatchback, and the trucks would not be kind, either.

So Asa hastened as he could, dodging the larger vehicles as he could and letting them pass uncontested when he could not, going so quickly as the beginning rain would allow, and cringing when the first low-pitched plinking began to sound above him. The sounds sharpened as he drove along, hailstones falling more frequently and faster and larger, cracking on his car’s roof and windshield and windows with sounds like nuts under hammers, and he waited for the glass before him and about him to shatter as he saw quarter-sized chunks of ice bounce through sheets of water and the frantically insufficient swiping of his windshield wipers.

And when he reached his parents’ home, Asa ran from car to door, hands and arms shielding his head–and fortunately enough, for he could feel the bruises begin amid sharp, cold shocks upon him. But he was safe and sound, and not even his skin was broken by the battering. Towels had been left beside the door, and Asa took one, drying himself as he looked back out to see the world had been swallowed by a darkening pale gray, muted by the hiss and crack of falling water liquid and solid. He waited for what would come.

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Class Reports: ENGL 1302, Sections 02 and 03–6 February 2017

After addressing concerns from and questions about the previous class meeting, discussion asked after progress on the first of the upcoming essays. It then returned to treating one of Chaucer’s short poems.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • PoEss RV (online before class begins on 17 February 2017)
  • PoEss FV (online before class begins on 24 February 2017)
  • DrEss RV (online before class begins on 3 March 2017)

Information about other assignments remains in development.

Section 02 met as scheduled, at 1000 in Weir 111. The class roster listed 20 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting. Eighteen attended, verified informally. Student participation was not as robust as could be hoped. No students from the class attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Section 03 met as scheduled, at 1100 in Weir 111. The class roster listed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting. Eighteen attended, verified informally. Student participation was reasonably good. One student from the class attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Pronghorn, Chapter 24: Later on Tuesday

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

As Asa Pemewan walked into the Smitherson Chandlery, a wave of smells crashed upon him, scents flooding up his nose and soaking into his skin. Bouquets of flowers familiar–roses, orchids, bluebonnets–and less so interwove with spices–cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, clove, allspice–and other smells–leather, whiskey, pipe tobacco, fine paper, linen–and Asa quickly realized that his sinuses were beginning to plan mutiny and desertion. This was not a good idea, he thought, but I have to find a job, and I might get used to it. So he pressed ahead, walking towards the back of the store.

As he did, he began to hear a familiar hoary voice. It was speaking of needed reports as Asa slowly advanced, almost creeping, and saw Bartholomew Smitherson standing at the sales counter, speaking with a middle-aged woman who favored his own appearance: lean and gray, slightly built and taller, and with keen eyes. She saw him and said “Welcome to Smitherson Chandlery! How can I help you?” When she did, Bartholomew turned, and the wrinkles on his face deepened in a frown. Asa felt himself flush in embarrassment and, more quietly than he had intended, replied “I saw the help wanted ad in the Proclaimer and thought I might put in for the position.”

Bartholomew made a dismissive noise. “If you’d rather have this job than the one with me, Mr. Pemewan, you’re welcome to it.”

The woman turned to Bartholomew. “He applied with you, Papa?”

“Yes, and I had been favorably inclined toward him. But if he’d rather be working elsewhere…”

“With respect, sir,” Asa put in, finding his voice again, “you gave me no indication of being favored, and I think I can hardly be blamed for trying to better my lot instead of waiting for a decision.”

The woman chuckled a bit. “Seems like a go-getter, Papa. Not as many of those around here as there used to be, you know.”

Bartholomew made another dismissive noise. “It would be better had he a civil tongue in his head.”

“And what’d he say that was out of line, Papa? It was honest, and I recall why your last assistant was asked to leave. Don’t you?”

“Yes, well…” Bartholomew trailed off and stood quietly for a moment. “I’m still not sure I can have someone on hand who skulks about as Mr. Pemewan here did. You saw him turn red as he came up, did you not? You heard him speak quietly, as if abashed? And if he was abashed, it is because he knew he was sneaking about like some, some common, base…hooligan. It’s hardly the kind of behavior I can countenance, and hardly the kind of thing that the family would benefit from supporting.”

The daughter continued to press on her father. “What if, Papa, he was simply embarrassed about being out of work in the first place? You value work, as has the central Smitherson line since time immemorial. If Mr. Pemewan here is familiar with Pronghorn at all–”

“He is, if his resume is at all to be trusted. As well as a few telephone calls I’ve made over the past day.”

“–then he’ll know that well. How could he not be a bit abashed that he isn’t at the moment gainfully employed? But you could help him with that, I think. And haven’t we Smithersons benefited from others giving us a chance? Haven’t you, personally, Papa?”

Bartholomew lapsed into silence for a moment, folding his arms and frowning more deeply. “Alright, then, my dear. I’ll call the newspaper and tell them to cancel my advertisement. Mr. Pemewan, the position is yours–unless you would rather work here.”

Asa looked between father and daughter. “I haven’t applied for the Chandlery job yet, Mr. Smitherson.”

The daughter gave another chuckle, while Bartholomew offered an arch look. “Very well, then. I shall expect you promptly at eight on Monday morning. And unless you plan on making a purchase, I shall need you to leave. I have more to discuss with my daughter and no need for an audience.”

Asa, suddenly smiling, stammered out a “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir!” as he gave a little awkward bob of his head and made his exit. He nearly skipped back to his car, despite the heat, and he smiled the whole way back to it. I can hardly believe it worked out for me, he thought. And it almost didn’t. Had the daughter–what was her name?–not interceded, I’d still be looking. I suppose I owe her a thank-you.

A sudden thought took ASA as he reached his car. I think I also owe Mr. Smitherson one. Damn! I was supposed to do that yesterday. I guess I know what comes next. He smiled again as he got into his car. But that’s not a problem at all.

I wonder what Anna will think about it, he thought as he started the car and put it into gear. And what does it say about me that I am wondering about her opinion? I’m infatuated, I guess, which is damned foolish; I’ve only met her twice, and we’re just having lunch. It’s not like we’re married or anything.

The loud honking of an approaching car’s horn broke his reverie. Asa clamped his hands onto the wheel and returned his full attention to the road. As he drove, though, a smile crept onto his face. Soon enough, though, it fell once again. I never really have good luck for any length of time. Something is coming, something will screw things up, and the better things look for me now, the worse it’ll be. It always is.

It always is for me.

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Class Reports: ENGL 1302, Sections 02 and 03–3 February 2017

After addressing concerns from and questions about the previous class meeting, discussion returned to treating the upcoming essays. As time permitted, discussion moved into treating one of Chaucer’s short poems.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • PoEss RV (online before class begins on 17 February 2017)
  • PoEss FV (online before class begins on 24 February 2017)
  • DrEss RV (online before class begins on 3 March 2017)

Information about other assignments remains in development.

Section 02 met as scheduled, at 1000 in Weir 111. The class roster listed 20 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting. Seventeen attended, verified informally. Student participation was reasonably good. No students from the class attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Section 03 met as scheduled, at 1100 in Weir 111. The class roster listed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting. Eighteen attended, verified informally. Student participation was good. No students from the class attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Pronghorn, Chapter 23: A Tuesday

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

Asa Pemewan woke with his head on his laptop’s keyboard as the alarm on his cell phone rang him to wakefulness. His neck and back were stiff, and the smell of himself in the clothes he had worn the day before struck him as strange and unpleasant. A need to visit the toilet struck him in the crotch with great force, and he hustled that way as quickly as his body, suffering the effects of poor sleep in an uncomfortable position, would allow him to go. As with the previous day, though, he found the bathroom occupied when he arrived, and he soon found himself standing with legs painfully crossed, hoping to hold back the flood he knew would soon come.

Asa’s father emerged from the bathroom, and Asa pushed by him, more brusquely than he had perhaps intended, almost not reaching a safe place in which to let go of what he was carrying. But he did reach his goal, and he avoided incident in doing so, albeit narrowly.

That done and Asa having restored himself therefrom, he skulked back to the bedroom that had been his and was again, gathering together a new change of clothes and returning to the bathroom. After a shower and a shave, he felt better, and he dressed swiftly. Thence he grabbed a cup of coffee while he toasted bread to eat for breakfast, and when the toast was done, he ate it swiftly. All the while, Al looked on, and Matilda emerged, and both of them looked at their son with concern. For he spoke little who was normally prolix, and his replies were terse and flat, one or two words each delivered in a monotone. None were rude, as such, but none were engaged or engaging.

His breakfast eaten, Asa cleared his place and returned to his bedroom to gather up more copies of his resume; he said nothing as he did so. When he left the house with them in hand, he said only “Goodbye” to his parents. He remained taciturn as he got into his car and drove into Pronghorn to apply to more jobs. He drove past the Chandlery, slowing down only in response to a traffic light and to the traffic just returning to motion at its changing. He pulled in and parked on East Water and began to make his way down it as he had North Main and East First the day before. And he had much the same results, visiting small restaurants and shops and having his resume taken but no offers made in earnest, and not even much talk about them. Bars still closed taunted him as he walked, and the manager at the Red Eye, the one bar actually open at that time of the morning–near the college, it catered to rowdier students and third-shift police and hospital workers–took one look at Asa, no look at his resume, and said “I can’t use you, and I don’t think any of the other bars can, either.”

A small grocery store in an old building, one that seemed to cater to tourists–well-heeled tourists, to judge from the prices Asa saw, did much the same thing as the bar had. But where the manager at the Red Eye was gruffly sympathetic, the manager at the store with the incongruous name of “L’Epicure” was strangely angry. Looking over the tops of her glasses, she said through her nose “I really don’t think that you have the skills to do what we would need done. I mean, it’s clear to me that you don’t have the experience serving our particular clientele that you would need to be successful here, and I can’t take on anyone who can’t already be successful. I have a business to run, you know, and I can’t be bothered by someone who wasted his life getting degrees nobody cares about. I mean, I bet you think your’re some kind of smart guy, Mr. ‘I Have a PhD; Look at Me, Special Me,’ but you’re clearly desperate, or you wouldn’t be trying to work here–as if this were just some grocery store. If you want that, go to the old market off of Fourth.”

Asa smiled woodenly. “Thank you, ma’am,” he offered, and he left.

Asa pressed on the rest of the way down the block, calling on each of the businesses along the water that were open; many were still closed on the day or closed for the day entirely. Each that was open looked at Asa–dressed again in slacks, button-up shirt, and tie, despite the warmth that was already again sliding into being heat–and at his resume, and as they scanned down the latter document, past the skills list and details about freelancing, past the teaching positions, and down at last to the education entries, they shook their heads and said some variant of “No” or “We’ll get back to you”–which might as well be “no,” given how few seem to get back to those they say they will.

Asa walked back up the street to retrieve his car. He could feel his armpits sweating into his undershirt, and he could feel moisture gathering in his crotch as he went, the sunny Hill Country day working on him through layers of clothing. He crossed North Main when traffic and signals allowed, walking over to the beginning of West Water and trying to put in for work at the few businesses there. Most of the buildings were empty, though, or houses instead of the businesses they had been built to be. But the Hochstedler Saloon still filled one large building, despite being closed, and the Chandlery doors were wide open on all sides.

After pausing in front of it for a few moments and looking up and down West Water Street, Asa shrugged and went inside.

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Pronghorn, Chapter 22: More Job Postings

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

His computer still open, Asa Pemewan clicked over to the website of the Pronghorn Proclaimer, the local newspaper that still managed to publish daily despite declining readership and advertising revenue. I might’ve been able to see about a writing job there if there were still writing jobs in newspapers, Asa thought. But then, I am an academic, and everybody knows we’re obtuse and long-winded. And we don’t care about “the right way to do things,” either.

One of the few things keeping the Proclaimer afloat was its classified ads, and Asa found them teeming with calls for part-time work. “Approx. 15 hrs./wk. Minor maintenance, occ. ladder work” read one, and Asa thought Maybe I can cobble three of those together. Another read “PT bookkeeping/clerk position. Filing & folder setup, sort receipts, Quickbooks, AP/AR,” and Asa thought If I knew what “AP/AR” stood for–and a quick online search revealed to him that it meant “accounts payable/accounts receivable”–or how the hell to use Quickbooks, I might apply to that one. But I really need full-time work more than about anything else.

He narrowed his search in the classifieds to full-time work only. Three job ads greeted him–only three, rather than the dozens looking for part-time employees. The first was for a physician’s assistant at the local urgent care clinic–When did Pronghorn get one of those? Asa thought, and another quick search showed him that the hospital the town had had had been reduced in size and staff due to corporate mergers and similar entrepreneurial innovations–but, Asa thought, I am far from qualified for that kind of work.

The second position was that he had applied to with Smitherson earlier. No sense putting in twice for the same job, Asa thought. So, on to the next. It read “Cabinet fabricator wanted. Exp. w/plastic laminate req’d.” A phone number and email address followed, but Asa thought Well, that one’s out. I haven;t got any experience. Guess I’ll look at more part-time jobs, then, and he clicked back over, pulling up the next part-time posting.

“Pronghorn Precast is hiring for a BURIAL VAULT DELIVERY DRIVER with valid CDL “Class A” license, servicing the Pronghorn/Hill Country area. Starting salary $15/hr.” it read. Killer job, that, Asa thought. Too bad it takes a CDL–which I don’t have. He clicked again.

“Cleaning serv. needs someone for Thurs & Fri. afternoons. Must have good driving record.” A phone number followed, but nothing else. Maybe that’s another I can have alongside the maintenance job. He clicked yet again.

“Dentist in Pronghorn is looking for an excellent dental assistant with an outstanding personality. Exp. with orthodontics is a plus. Assistant must be self-starting, organized and able to communicate well with dentist and patients. Mon-Wed, 8a-5p.” No contact information followed. Damn. Who’s editing these? Asa thought. Can’t expect applications if there’s nothing about where to send them. Another click.

The next ad read “Pronghorn Tank Company is searching for a Controller with manufacturing experience. This position is responsible for handling financial & accounting operations. Mornings or afternoons. Bachelor’s degree (Accounting/ Finance) required; MBA/CPA a plus. Please send resume via email.” An email address followed, and Asa nodded. At least this one says where things need to go. Too bad none of my degrees are what they want. Which is typically the case. Yet another click.

“Pronghorn ISD seeks fill-in nurses. LVN or RN req’d; BSN/BN preferred. Apply online on Pronghorn ISD website.” Seems the freezes haven’t just hit teachers, then. Still another click revealed another ad, one reading “B&B seeks PT housekeeper + kitchen staff. Must work wknds. Apply in person at 13920 N. Hwy 701., M-W 12-2.” That one gives some specifics. I suppose I can run out north of town tomorrow.

More clicks, more ads, more that asked for part-time work from people who held commercial driver’s licenses or medical training, or for some other kind of certification or credential that Asa lacked. But on one click, Asa saw that the number of full-time positions changed, shifting from three to four; he clicked over to the appropriate page and saw the new ad:

“Entry-level worker needed full-time at Smitherson Chandlery. Begins at minimum wage; rises to $10/hr. after satisfactory 90-day probationary period. Apply in person at 123 W. Water.”

Asa smiled and began writing a cover letter for the job. After the initial work of setting up the date, internal address, and the like, he paused. I’m already applying with a Smitherson. Will applying for this job screw me over for that one? Will that one screw up this one? Will I screw myself out of both?

His hands fell to his lap. Maybe I’m psyching myself out, overthinking things again. There’s no guarantee that the branches of the family will talk to each other, and there’s no guarantee that even if they do, I’ll be in trouble with either side.

His head fell. But there’s also no guarantee that I’d get picked for either job. If anything, there’s nearly a guarantee that I won’t get picked for either. It’s worse than third-grade kickball, really; there, it was just embarrassment, but now, it’s my ability to earn a living–and I seem not to be able to do so.

Asa shook his head. Mom’d tell me it’s fatalistic, and she’d be right to make the comment. But it is what the evidence suggests is true, and how many times’ve I been told to pay attention to what’s going on in “the real world?” So maybe I should pay attention to this and just accept that I’m not going to get hired anywhere.

But I have to keep trying, right? What the hell else am I going to do? It’s not like I can just stop, is it?

Did I bring you as much pleasure as a six-pack of soda does? A single can? Could you kick in as much for me as you pay for that so I can keep doing what you like? Click here, then, and thanks!