Sunday Snippet, Poem, Dust Crew by Bill Chance

“All happiness depends on courage and work.”

― Honoré de Balzac

Heat
Heat

Dust Crew

Six men sleep is a star pattern
feet, boots in against the tree
heads out
the only way
to pull a little shade from the mesquite
tree, thin green lacy thing
hats pulled down over eyes

What rough dreams stream
from such meager shelter?

A pickup brakes up
throwing dust
dirt stringing streaming out
brims tilt for a peek

Everyone jumps
at the boss
OK, off yer asses, y’all’s ten minutes up!”
one yells
in a futile excuse

The Dizziness of Freedom

“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”
― Søren Kierkegaard , The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin

Artwork in the Braindead Brewing Company, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Today I finished a difficult work project. The culmination was six straight uninterrupted hours – from noon to six – staring at multiple computer monitors with spreadsheets, database reports, pages of notes, online forms and an ancient light-powered calculator in my palm.

What surprised me was how I felt when I finished. I felt like someone had hit me in the back of the head. I was tired, sure, but very dizzy and innervated.

Does thinking really take energy? Was my noggin out of oxygen? Does gray matter get worn out like a muscle?

At home I ate a little, stumbled into bed and fell into the sleep of the dead. For four hours.

At least it is done. The world can go on.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Zoom by Bill Chance

“Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.”

― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

Rest Area
The trail runs through some thick woods between the train line and the creek south of Forest Lane. There is a nice rest area built there. This homeless guy was sitting in the rest area, reading and writing in his notebook. We talked about the weather and I helped him find a lost sock.

Zoom

It had been a week since the company had issued new rules saying that employees working from home were required to have their cameras on during Zoom meetings. In addition, everyone was expected to wear AOA – “appropriate office attire.” Since Craig was an Assistant Associate Vice President for Corporate Policies and Procedures that meant a coat and tie. He did not wear pants, of course, and in invisible protest of the new rules he even stopped wearing even the boxer shorts he used to – sitting there in a gray suit and striped tie, naked below the waist.

A typical Zoom call would have fifty or more attendees but only four or five, the same four or five every time, would actually talk. Craig used to leave the meetings and go out for a beer, a walk in the park, or a beer and a walk in the park. He used a mouse jigger – a little USB dongle that would simulate a mouse movement every few minutes – to keep his status light green. If anything important came up he knew the meeting was recorded and he could revisit the content. He never had to.

But now, with the new camera policy he had to actually sit through the things. It was driving him crazy – hours and hours every day of the same farrago of virtue signaling, ass covering, and sucking up to superiors was mind numbing. No work was getting done. Craig had risen to his executive position because of his finely-tuned ability to avoid doing anything – getting credit for other people’s work – and dodging any blame for anything going wrong. Still, these remote working Zoom calls was throwing his uselessness back into his face and he didn’t like it. He preferred honestly goofing off over pretending to be useful

He spent the hours of the camera calls thinking of a way out and finally came up with a plan. A department store near his house was going out of business and selling everything. On a hunch, he drove over there and was able to buy a display dummy from the men’s department. He began to wear sunglasses and a ballcap on the meetings and tried to think about an excuse for this – but nobody ever asked – he doubted anyone even noticed. He stopped shaving and grew out his ragged beard.

A friend of his from college had gone to Mortuary school. He remembered watching the guy learn how to do makeup on model heads, learning how to make a corpse look like life. It creeped Craig out but after all these years it was useful to him. He dropped off the dummy, some photos of himself, and a wad of cash. It only took a few days and the work was done.

Craig lugged the dummy home and dressed in a suit and tie, cap and glasses, and propped in the desk chair – after a tiny bit of blur (a thin streak of Vaseline on the camera lens) the illusion was complete.

As a gift to himself Craig stopped by the big liquor store and bought a half-fridge worth of various craft beers. It would be fun to walk down to the park during meetings and figure out which ones were actually good and which were pretentious shit.

This went perfectly for a few weeks. He developed a route – a walk to a favorite picnic table – where he would sit and sip his brew. The only downside was a homeless guy that would sit at another table a hundred yards away. The guy was wrapped in a dirty blanket, no matter how hot the day was. He was there before Craig arrived and never left while Craig was there. Craig figured the guy would walk up every day from the encampment down where the creek ran into the thick scrub of the river floodplain. Usually they were the only two in this obscure part of the park. The guy never moved or said anything but it still bothered Craig – but even so, this was the most isolated spot, so he grudgingly shared his isolation.

Then one day the guy wasn’t there. Craig looked over and saw him on the ground beside the picnic table. At first Craig thought he must be sleeping, but his position looked uncomfortable – like he had just fallen like that. After he finished sipping his beer, Craig decided he’d better take a look. Sure enough the guy was dead. Cold and stiff. Up close, Craig was shocked at how young he was. What disaster or terrible personal flaw had led someone like that to this ignominious end?

The big question was what to do now? Craig had a vision of a newspaper article, maybe even a short section on a news program about how a dead man was discovered in a public park. Craig was afraid he might be interviewed, photographed, word would get out. He was, after all, supposed to be sitting in from of his camera on a Zoom call – not sipping beer discovering dead homeless guys in a park a short walk from his house. This probably wouldn’t happen, but could he take the risk?

Craig knew right away he couldn’t. He gathered his stuff together and walked home, a little quicker than usual. He dressed (and undressed) and, pausing his camera for a second, switched places with the dummy. As the Zoom meeting droned on, he sat there aggravated.

For the life of him, he couldn’t think of another spot to walk and sip his beer as good as this one, which he would definitely have to give up now.

What I learned this week, Jan 07, 2022

Design District Dallas, Texas

The Waste Age

Recognizing that waste is central, not peripheral, to everything we design, make and do is key to transforming the future


French Quarter New Orleans, Louisiana Halloween

The feeling of ‘flow’ is surprisingly scientific

It’s like being in the zone, but more intense.


Bike rider on the DART train.

Understanding Freedom And Work

As an American, I’m convinced that the United States is the greatest nation on Earth. Obviously, I’m biased as hell and, frankly, I’m not interested in apologizing for it.

We’re not perfect, but I see remarkably little from other countries that look attractive enough to me to make me want to relocate. Especially when you understand what some of the ramifications are of certain policies.


McKinney Avenue Trolley Dallas, Texas

The ‘Woke’ Got What They Wanted — And Then What? 


The new church across the street.

Feeling anxious about work tomorrow? Here’s why having a tidy could help

If you’re someone who struggles with Sunday night anxiety, chances are you get a little restless as the weekend comes to a close. Indeed, with the weekends feeling that little bit shorter now the nights are drawing in, it can almost feel like the time is slipping away from you.


Unraveling the Enigma of Reason


Map Bag
My Not-A-Purse. What is strange is that I found this image floating around on the internet – I don’t know where it originally came from. But if you look, there is an Alphasmart Neo sticking up in the bag. I can’t believe other people out there have Neos in their bags, exactly like mine.

Podcast: The Unclaimed Baggage Center


What I learned this week, February 26, 2021

Zen-like Christmas decorations, Waxahachie, Texas

The Zen rule for becoming happier: Change one thing

1. Start very small.
2. Do only one change at a time.
3. Be present and enjoy the activity (don’t focus on results).
4. Be grateful for every step you take.


Crepe Myrtle trunk in the snow

Train Your Body to Work Out—or Just Hang Out—in Colder Weather

So you hate the cold.

With coronavirus surging, restaurants and bars closed and the homes of even friends and family off-limits, does that mean your winter social life is doomed?

No, according to a host of scientists, professors and trainers who are experts on the physiological impact of frigid weather on humans. Adapting to cold isn’t fun— who loves to shiver?—but it’s possible, scientists say. And as a bonus: Cold, like exercise, makes you healthier.


Window washing job I couldn’t do
Downtown Dallas, Texas

The computers rejecting your job application

A professional journalist, I had recently applied for a new job, and for the first part of the recruitment process the publisher made me play a number of simple online games from the comfort of my own home.

These included having to quickly count the number of dots in two boxes, inflating a balloon before it burst to win money, and matching emotions to facial expressions. Then an artificial intelligence (AI) software system assessed my personality, and either passed or failed me. No human had a look-in.

I wondered: is it fair for a computer alone to accept or reject your job application?

Welcome to the fast-growing world of AI recruitment.


The Window at Molly’s, the street (Decatur) unusually quiet, with notebook, vintage Esterbrook pen, and Molly’s frozen Irish Coffee

How to Write a Novel, According to 10 Really Good Novelists

Take notes everywhere, embrace Wikipedia wormholes and other handy tips



Mojo Coffee, Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
(click to enlarge)

Our 14 favorite gadgets and hacks for working at home

From mesh networks to lap desks, here’s how The Verge’s staffers create their workspaces


Display at main Half-Price Books, Dallas, Texas

The Use and Abuse of ‘They’

Journalists and essayists in recent years somehow formed the impression that the academic study of English grammar is partitioned into two mutually hostile tribes: descriptivists and prescriptivists. Both are portrayed in cartoonish stereotypes.

The descriptivists allegedly think that anything uttered by English speakers is ipso facto good English and can never be erroneous. So if people sometimes say, “It’s in the, the . . . the hall closet,” we must deem that correct, and posit noun phrases with three definite articles in a row. This insane view is purportedly associated with the political Left.

But the other tribe seems just as deranged. Its members won’t change their minds about the sacred edicts of grammar regardless of evidence. No matter how many great writers may have committed some solecism, they say, it’s still wrong if the rules of correct grammar say it is. This view gets tagged as conservative.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Collision by Bill Chance

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Wrecked Car waiting for the decision – scrap or repair – like there is a question

Collision

He had a nice townhouse in the city, but Brian Newman spent every weekend at his girlfriend’s apartment, driving a hundred miles after work on Friday and back Monday morning before work. He would leave at five to be sure and beat the traffic. Brian was never a morning person and the Monday drive was difficult, but he had done it so many times over the last couple of years it became a familiar blur.

He was waiting at an ordinary red light with his left blinker on and his mind somewhere far away, but an oncoming truck still caught his eye. It was the middle of the summer and the sun was above the horizon. The truck was a big dump truck, red, faded, peeling, patched with rust. The massive front bumper, painted black, was an angry scowl. It was coming fast. Too fast. Much too fast.

It shot through the red light as if it wasn’t there. Brian felt his heart jump and wondered if the truck would swerve and hit him. He knew that there wasn’t anything he could do if it did.

Right then, a small white car moved in from the left, with its green light, and was hit broadside by the onrushing dump truck. The truck came on as if nothing was in its way. With a horrific sound of tinkling safety glass and rending sheet metal the car was pushed along until it was smashed between the heavy dump truck bumper and the stout light pole in the center median.

The pole snapped off and fell over but not before it brought the massive truck to a final halt. All that kinetic energy reduced the car into a wad of compressed metal like the foil left after a wrapped sandwich, ready to toss in the bin. Brian was in the left hand lane and as he looked out his side window the driver was only a few feet away across the hood and in clear view through the windshield as the light pole came through the side tearing him apart. Brian had a clear view of the man’s panicked face right before the collision crushed his skull, sending bone, blood, and brains in all directions.

The police interviewed Brian at the crash site and at the local office. Over the next week a parade of lawyers asked him the same questions over and over… “Did you hear brakes?” “Did the truck swerve at all?” “How long had the light been red?” “Did the truck sound its horn.”

It seems the driver claimed his brakes had failed. The suspicion was that the driver was on his phone and hadn’t seen the red light. It would be the difference in damages and possible murder charges.

“It happened so fast,” Brian said. “I don’t really know, I don’t know what happened.” He didn’t understand how nobody cared about what had happened to him. Just because he hadn’t been hit didn’t mean he wasn’t affected. The look on the driver’s face in that split second before he died haunted Brian. He thought they made eye contact. Brian was the last person he had seen, a complete stranger, before he died. There was not a scratch on Brian’s car but he had to go to the car wash and scrub off some of what looked like blood and a bit of what might have been skull bone.

Brian called his girlfriend and told her that he had to take some time off and stay at his place for work. She said she understood. He called his work and said he had to take some time off and was going to stay at his girlfriend’s. They said they understood and would sign him up for a workplace disability program.

The lawyers paid for a hotel in the town where the accident happened. Brian figured it was so that he would be available if the case, civil or criminal, ever went to trial. He wasn’t sure which lawyers paid for the room; the defense, or the truck driver, or the dead man’s estate, or the truck manufacturer, or the company that owned the dump truck. They all called him all the time, asking him the same questions over and over. They would always end with saying how lucky Brian was, to have so much violence and horror so close to him and yet to be unaffected. The truck did miss him completely, of course – even if only by inches.

He spent the time binge watching old crime shows in his hotel room or taking long walks around the perfectly ordinary town he was now living in.

As the weeks went by his girlfriend decided to make the man she had been seeing, cheating on him, for a year during the week while Brian was in the city at work her full-time partner. The man proposed and Brian’s old girlfriend accepted. She sent Brian a thoughtful and carefully-worded letter to say goodbye but Brian never opened the envelope. Though he didn’t know exactly what had happened he guessed the main thrust of things and didn’t care much about it.

His work eventually promoted the temporary replacement to take over Brian’s full-time job. Then, as the various cases were settled the lawyers told Brian that he would have to move out of the hotel. They were glad, however, to help him sell his city townhouse and buy a place in the town. Property values were less and he was able to get a small bungalow with a big yard and still have some money left over.

He didn’t need much and was able to find a simple, thoughtless position near his house with the town government and that was enough. Ironically, the job was vacant because it had been held by the man killed in the accident. Brian’s years passed in quiet, lonely peace. He never married, never left the town.

And never drove or rode in a car for the rest of his life.

Flash Fiction of the day, Invisible Ones by A. C. Spahn

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.”
― Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Rest Area
The trail runs through some thick woods between the train line and the creek south of Forest Lane. There is a nice rest area built there. This homeless guy was sitting in the rest area, reading and writing in his notebook. We talked about the weather and I helped him find a lost sock.

Invisible Ones by A. C. Spahn

Flash Fiction of the day, Dump Refrigerator by Gabrielle Griffis

“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

― Jerome K. Jerome

Employees/Artists from Orr-Reed Wrecking. Her T-Shirt says, “Show Us Your Junk,” which is their motto.

Years ago, I had a big chest-type deepfreeze freezer in the garage (I guess I still do). People from my background often have these – the generational memory of The Depression, dust bowl, and mass hunger leads to a deep desire to store enough food to get by for an unreasonable time.

At any rate, this freezer was full, mostly beef. I had stumbled across a good deal on half a steer and a lot of it was there, frozen, waiting on my hunger. I was out of town on a long trip and while I was gone someone accidentally unplugged the cord on the deep freeze. I’m not sure how long it thawed out, but it was summertime, and it was way, way too long. It was beyond disgusting.

I thought and thought about what to do. I ended up digging a big hole in my backyard, pulled the freezer out there and tipped the contents into the hole. I covered it up, and used a hazmat mask to clean out the inside of the freezer.

It actually worked. I’ll bet to this day the grass grows really green in one spot in that backyard.

Today’s story is about a man that does this sort of thing for a living, and for redemption.

Dump Refrigerator by Gabrielle Griffis

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Time is Money by Bill Chance

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
― Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol
 

Decatur, Texas

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#100) Did it! Now what? What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Time is Money

Clay used his connection, the wire embedded in his brain, to move the car through the busy morning streets. “Breathe and Calm, Breathe and Calm…,” Clay kept repeating this simple phrase through his mind like a mantra, a hope, a dream. The car, however, had other ideas. It kept sending back in an insistent electronic voice.

“Late, late, late!”

And the weather was making it worse. Spitting pellets of ice, whirling wind, cold gray. Clay had to shrug his shoulders and lower his head under the web of ice across the windshield and look through the thawed oval over the dash whenever the autosteer started to lose it, pull the wheel back to correct. “Might as well be driving this old heap myself!”  he cursed as he fingered the  socket in his neck, felt the wire running to the central console.

“Late, late, late!” the car screamed at him silently, electronically, through the wires.

Clay felt the helpless panic welling up. He couldn’t go any faster; since his last accident his car was hooked directly into Central Police Monitoring, the red blinking transponder sitting there on the hood, thick cable running down, through the crudely drilled hole in the stamped steel. Ten seconds spent over the speed limit and his car would die, they would come to haul him away.

Since the Third Time Act was passed, being late for work had been a criminal offense and Clay was afraid he wouldn’t get probation this time.  He made an effort to concentrate, calm himself, and sent an ETA AT WORK request out his connection to the car’s computer. The answer came back immediately, in through his neck connection and spreading through his brain like a sudden cold voice from beyond, telling him he wasn’t going to make it.

He could feel the knurled edges of the single coin in his pocket and knew it wouldn’t be enough. Clay cursed himself for not taking out more cash when he last stopped by the company cashier. The credit chip, mounted to the back of his skull, wired in with the rest, was useless, spent, he had used all his credit privileges months ago. It’s been all coin, paychip to paychip, since then.

“Do you feel lucky, punk? Do you?” He asked himself, mimicking a line in one of his the films from an  ancient cinema class that he took last year, part of his educational requirement.  “A Flexible Mind is a Healthy Mind, A Healthy Mind is a Useful Mind,” he chanted involuntarily, the jingle from the ad campaign that was drilled into everyone following the Second Compulsory Adult Education Act.

Clay didn’t feel particularly lucky, but he pulled into the time station on the corner anyway, looked up at the hand printed sign that said “Time – 4Crts/Hour,” and cursed again. The price was up a whole Credit per hour from yesterday, his single coin would only get him fifteen minutes and he needed at least a half hour. His stomach began to ache as he waited a good three minutes for a time pump to come empty, then pulled forward into the red oval beside the pump.

A familiar push and twist and the connection popped out of his neck, the car immediately died, shut down quiet. He shoved the door open, backed into the freezing rain and felt the sudden sharp pain of wet cold across his neck, his bare hands, saw his fingers redden instantly. He knelt down on his knees on the wet pavement of the station and reached out, feeling along the floor mat and reaching under the seat. His hands kept meeting food wrappers, empty beverage cylinders, plastpaper bags, faded receipts,  bits of flotsam and jetsam, some sticky. A couple handfuls he pulled out, flinging it into the back seat. Digging until his arms reached back to the juncture of the seat and the backrest, he knew the old sagging seat left a gap there.

Clay groped, pushing his fingers down into the carpet, trying to forget the cold water soaking the knees of his pants as he kneeled on the tarmac, trying to ignore the stares of queued customers daggering his way, stuck in line and waiting for him to get finished so they could pull forward.

Suddenly he felt cold metal, the knurled edge. And then, again, there were two! And a third! Pulling them out, he held them up to the gray winter daylight, confirming the triple profiles, two women and one man, of the three current presidents, engraved on the front of the coins. Stamped from cheap steel, they were getting rusty from sitting under the seat for who knows how long, but the imbedded chip, mounted right under the engraving of the new Capitol on the back, would still be working. It was guaranteed.

Two of these three plus the one in his pocket would give him forty five minutes. He only needed thirty, but it had been such a hectic morning, the found coins must be an omen, so Clay decided to splurge. He unscrewed the timechip module mounted on his wrist and placed it on the little blue shelf provided. The three coins went into the slot, “chunk chunk chunk”  it sounded so nice. The last coin rolled back into his coat pocket.  He leaned back against the car, making sure his entire body was inside the red oval embedded at his feet. The ID laser shot out and found his eyes, read his retinas, “Ready?” a cold voice squeaked out of a tinny speaker, and Clay shook his head yes and closed his eyes.

A  wave of nausea washed over him as the singularity wave was generated under the red oval, rising up to tear him and his car out of space, out of time, and fling him back. It only took a second. Clay reached out for his timechip module and replaced it. He closed his eyes and looked at the illusion projected on the inside of his eyelids, Seven-o-Five in the morning. He had indeed been thrown back forty five minutes. Now he had plenty of time to get to work.

As Clay drove away, his commute now leisurely, the hounds at bay for now, he refused to even be bothered by the pesky clanking from the rear transmission. A quick turn on the digital cube  player volume  drowned that unpleasant sound out with a pulsing beat.

Clay made it to work with a good ten minutes to spare. He felt the extra coin in his pocket, an instant of reassurance to run his fingers over the serrated edge.

“Hey Gladys!” He called out cheerfully as he stood in front of the heavy turnstile, waiting for the time clock to read the thin ID chip mounted under the skin of his forehead. He always said “Hey!” to her, he didn’t know what her name was but thought she looked like a “Gladys.”  She didn’t answer, she never did,  deep in concentration, trying to manage the I/O of the two  jacks, one on each side of her neck. “Extra five hundred a year for that little bit of surgery” thought Clay as his hand left the coin to absently touch the single jack on his neck.

“Clang” – and the turnstile admitted him to work for the day.

 

 

 

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), Plastics by Bill Chance

Mr. Maguire: I want to say one word to you, Benjamin. Just one word.

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, sir.

Mr. Maguire: Are you listening?

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, I am.

Mr. Maguire: Plastics.

—-The Graduate

Grapevine, Texas

 

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#29). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


Plastics

 

Baker worked for Yoyodyne Injection Moulding (marketing insisted they always use the British spelling). One thing he had to do was to walk out every morning to the tank farm where the monomers were stored and inspect the containment around the tanks to make sure there were no leaks or spills – no foreign material inside the dikes.

It rained all the time, especially at night. There was usually water in the containment and the maintenance crew would come out  most afternoons to drain the accumulation. They were the only ones with keys to the valves.

He had a form on a clipboard that he had to fill out. Date the top, make checkmarks by each line that corresponded to a tank. At the bottom was a space for corrective actions in case of a leak. He had never written in that spot.

It was very tempting to pencil-whip the inspections – not do the walking around and looking – simply check the forms and file them away. He knew that’s what Duane did, the guy that used to do the job. He would sneak out for a smoke when he was said he was going for the inspections. But Duane was caught with a joint in his mouth while he was operating the big press and they fired him. The union was going to get him reinstated but the inspections looked like they were Baker’s for good.

The factory was located in a swamp in the south and it was always incredibly hot. Humid too. And giant mosquitoes. Baker would try and get out to do his inspection right as the sun came up but it was still so soggy and sweltering he felt he couldn’t even breathe properly – the air so full of hot water that it displaced the oxygen. The very air of the place could not support life.

At dawn, the sun would be peeking orange over the swampy jungle that surrounded the factory, the tanks looming huge – white cylinders shrouded in mist burning away by the growing daylight. All sorts of birds would be chattering, chirping, or singing – their sound competing with more guttural cries from swamp critters – Baker had no idea what was making those noises and didn’t want to learn. The smell of decomposing miasma wafted across the property and competed with whiffs of acrid stench of volatile monomers coming from the vents as the tanks were heated by the sunrise.

That day, however, it was not like that. It was February and a historic cold front had blown through the night before. These blue northers were not common, but they happened. There had been a good bit of cold rain and he knew there would be water in the containment. Baker dug an old musty coat out from his locker and had brought from home a knit cap and gloves that he had kept from when he had moved from that more northern, civilized place.

“Cold one out there today,” said Dale, the shift boss.

“Yup,” was all that Baker could think to reply as he pulled on his gloves.

“Better you than me,” said Dale.

Bundled up, he trudged out to do his inspections.

Right at the first containment he saw there was something wrong. The water that stood inside the dike was almost covered with solid plastic. Baker’s heart jumped as he looked at the contaminated containment. The material looked to be about at least a quarter inch thick on the side nearest him… maybe more in places. It tapered off across the water until it disappeared on the other side – he could see ripples there where there was still open water. The solid material was smooth and clear.

The material must have leaked out of the tank – bad valve, overfill, broken connection – floated on the water and then polymerized. He wasn’t sure what was in that tank – maybe styrene, maybe vinyl chloride. Any of them could do what he was looking at. He was surprised that it didn’t smell worse than it did, but the polymerization must have been complete and the cold would keep the vapors down.

He wasn’t sure what to do. There was a little guard shack and he grabbed an empty metal paint can and a pair of tongs. The technician that unloaded the tank cars used these to take samples. Carefully leaning over the concrete dike he grabbed the edge of the solid polymer with the tongs. A chunk broke off easily and he transferred it to the can.

Leaving his clipboard behind he hurried back into the factory. Nothing about this was his fault and it was a good thing that he had done his inspection and found the leak – but he was afraid he would be blamed anyway. He was always the fall guy – the outsider – who could be blamed for anything. That wasn’t altogether bad – Baker had learned in his short career that if you could take unlimited blame and abuse – well, there was surprisingly good money in that.

Inside the warm factory he found the nearest phone and spent a minute getting his gloves off so he could dial. He called the emergency number. A tired and bored voice answered.

“Hello,” the voice said.

“We have a spill,” Baker said.

“Where is it? What material?” the voice said. It still sounded bored and bothered, like this happened every day.

“The containment farm.”

Baker looked down at the paint can he was holding and was shocked to see it contained a clear liquid instead of the chunk of plastic he had put it in there. It was weird – he didn’t smell anything.

At that moment there was a click inside Baker’s head, a shift in understanding so sudden he almost could hear it.

The stuff in the can was water. The spill in the containment was ice.

It was usually so hot and tropical he never imagined that the water could freeze. It never entered his mind. The blue norther had dropped the temperature to freezing. Ice. Ice.

“Umm, never mind,” he said into the phone.

“What do you mean? Where is the spill?”

Baker hung up.

Later that day, he wrote a letter to his Uncle in Chicago. He never really liked that branch of the family tree, but he asked if knew of any job openings in the city. Baker was thinking he wanted to return to civilization. Even some place that had ice half of the year.