This is a true story. Bill’s name has not been changed to protect the guilty.
In my dream I was playing tennis against the Williams sisters and the score was tied at love-all. Then my phone woke me up.
“Somebody better be dead.” I said.
And by somebody I meant a close family member, like Grandma. I didn’t really mean it, of course, but who calls someone early on a Saturday morning unless it’s really, really important? I grabbed my phone.
“Hilldog! What are you doing?” Bill said.
“Sleeping. What time is it?”
“Ten-thirty. Time to start drinking. Can you come over and help me move a fridge?”
“Can you come over now?”
Bill laughed and I thought I heard a touch of crazy in his laugh, but that may have only been my brain still half-asleep. My head sank lower into my pillow as I tried to conjure up the Williams sisters but the dream was lost.
“Okay, I’ll be over in a few.”
I blamed my parents for teaching me to do what’s right, and then I headed out the door to go help a friend. It was a cool, spring day with a brisk wind that crawled up my spine. The snow was melted in the sunny spots, but there was still plenty of white lurking in the shadows.
Settling into my Bonneville convertible, I drove to the end of the city and I crossed the Mississippi River Bridge, leaving Wisconsin for Minnesota. I was at Bill’s house twenty minutes later around eleven.
With Bill, the world works a little different. For instance, you can’t use the front door when you visit Bill. It’s locked up tight. I walked down the side hill past his old truck half-buried in a snow bank and I went in through the back door.
His house was a ranch style with a daylight basement that overlooked the Mississippi River. The view was spectacular. It sat twenty-five feet from the railroad tracks and it shook when trains came speeding by, which, at peak times, was every twenty minutes. Bill claimed you got used to it, but I never did.
“Bill! So where’s the fridge?”
I didn’t hear what he said in reply because right then a train came roaring by. He led me to the back of the basement and there sat an ugly old brown refrigerator. I pushed against the side of it to test its weight and it didn’t move. I pushed harder and it still wouldn’t move. Bill laughed and his laugh had that crazy edge to it that I’d heard before. Maybe earlier wasn’t a dream. I thought.
“It’s pretty heavy.” Bill said.
“Heavy? This thing is a monster. What’s in it?”
“Nothing. It’s got a heater in the bottom. That’s what gives it its weight.”
“You have a heater in your fridge?”
“Yeah, it’s a propane fridge.”
“It runs on propane, not electricity. Look. A little fire in the bottom heats up the ammonia and that cools down the food.”
“So it’s a furnace fridge.”
“You want to buy it?”
“No I don’t want to buy it. How are we going to get it out of here?”
“I’ve got this rug. Let’s try and get the fridge onto it and then we’ll drag it.”
We walked the fridge, tilting it one way and then the other, until it was in place over the rug. Bill grabbed one side of the rug and I grabbed the other and we pulled as hard as we could. The fridge slid forward pretty easy over the linoleum floor until we got to the back door.
The back door had a two-inch lip on the bottom to make it harder for rain, and little things that hop, dart, and slither, to enter the house. There was no way we were going to be able to slide the furnace fridge up over that lip. We had no choice so Bill and I got behind the fridge and we pushed it through the door. It landed with a thud on its side and we pushed it the rest of the way outside.
“Now what?” I said.
“We have to put it in the back of the truck.”
Bill laughed again, a little more crazy this time.
All I saw was a relic from World War II sitting on the side of the house, half-buried in a snow bank.
“Right over there.” Bill said.
He pointed to the relic and laughed full-bore crazy.
“You can’t be serious. It’s buried in the snow! I’ll bet it won’t even start. When was the last time you started it?”
“Oh, it’ll start. Here.”
Bill handed me a push broom.
“I’ll start it and you sweep the snow out.”
To the old truck’s credit, it started on the third try. I stepped back as Bill began rocking the truck backward and forward to dislodge it from the snow bank. With a lurch it came free and Bill backed it up to the fridge.
“Now all we have to do is pick it up and put it in the back.” Bill said.
He said it with another laugh that took crazy to a whole new level. I mentally categorized it as maniacal. We pushed, pulled, shoved, swore, and wrestled the fridge into the back of the old pickup truck.
It was a green, 1947 International Harvester with some body rust, but it barely squatted down under the heavy weight of the refrigerator. Impressed, I pulled on the passenger side door but it wouldn’t open.
“Bill, unlock it.”
“It’s not locked. Pull harder.”
I pulled harder and it jerked free. Climbing in, I could see snow on the ground through rust holes in the floor, but that wasn’t my biggest problem because now the door wouldn’t close.
“You gotta slam it really hard.” Bill said.
I slammed the door really hard but it just popped free. Bill got out of the truck and walked over to my side. Like a pitcher throwing a baseball, Bill got into his wind-up stance and, lifting one foot off of the ground, he slammed the truck door shut. A little bit of the floor, (which I suspected was mostly made out of rust), fell off to the ground.
“Where are we going?” I said.
“We’re taking it to the dump.”
“Wait, didn’t you just try and sell it to me?”
We drove down the highway at the top speed of 45 miles per hour. Bill tried to go faster but the back and forth sway of the truck across the highway was too great, so we decided to go slow and stay on our half of the highway. Long, maniacal laughs kept escaping from Bill as he struggled to keep the truck under control. Thirty minutes later we arrived at our destination, the county dump, but it was in the next county over where it was, technically, illegal for Bill to dump, but I was long past caring.
“Just don’t tell them where I live.” Bill said.
We drove across compressed garbage on a makeshift road to a tin-walled shack where we stopped. A man in a puffy, orange down vest came out to greet us. He was rail thin and his skin was yellow. Parts of his hands were dark yellow, almost the color of his vest. He looked at me and I looked into his eyes. They were yellow too.
“Good morning sir. We have a fridge to drop off. Where do you want us to put it?” Bill said.
The man looked Bill up and down without speaking. I got a better look at the guy and I could see the knots of muscles hidden under his clothes and I realized he wasn’t thin but lean. Strong and lean, the man certainly had some kind of skin disease, but it occurred to me that he could lift the fridge out of the truck all by himself if he wanted to. He looked away from Bill and he surveyed the junkyard, looking for the perfect place to put the fridge. What he was looking for was invisible to me, because all I saw was a vast wasteland.
“Put it over there.” The man said.
We drove over to where he pointed, a place that defied rhyme or reason, and shoved the fridge out, making sure we left it standing upright, nice and tidy, for the man in the shack. We both jumped back in the truck, glad to be done. Bill turned the key to start the truck and nothing happened. He turned the key again without success.
“It must be the battery.” I said.
We got out and popped the hood. Bill started pulling on wires and other stuff, trying to get a better battery connection. While he did that, I had a chance to look around the dump and experience it more fully. The dump had a putrid smell, a permeating rancor that no amount of brisk wind on a cool spring day could ever wash away. I glanced over at the shack and saw the man watching us through its dirty window.
“Bill, the guy is watching us.”
“I don’t know why it won’t start.” Bill said.
He climbed into the truck and tried starting it again. That’s when I saw the problem.
“Bill, the fan blade is stuck.”
“Can’t you free it?”
“I don’t think so. You’d better come look.”
Bill came and looked, and I pointed at the fan blade resting down against the radiator. We looked underneath the truck. The engine mounts had rusted through and the only thing holding the engine from falling to the ground was the fan blade. It was as if the truck had suddenly realized that it was home and was determined to never leave. Swear words were exchanged as we realized we weren’t going to be leaving the dump anytime soon. I glanced over at the tin shack. Its door was opening.
“He’s coming out.” I said.
The man joined us at the truck.
“The engine mounts broke. Is it okay if we leave the truck here and I’ll come get it tomorrow?” Bill said.
Bill made grand gestures as he showed the man the fan blade. The man thought for a moment and then nodded his head yes. We called a friend of ours, (whose parents also taught him to do what’s right), for a ride. Then we sat in the truck, surrounded by the surreal landscape of the dump, and we waited for our ride home.