Monday, September 03, 2007

Isaac is gone.

Isaac is gone. I know I promised to fill you in on Carl's meeting, but that sordid affair is long in the telling if you'll allow the saying, and I've a mind to fill you in on something of more import (I've also been using Lord of the Rings as my toilet reader). I'm sitting in the lunch room at the tail-end of break, waiting for a chance to get outside without making a fuss, and reliving the entire incident in brooding silence. Again, Carl was at the forefront, filling in the high school staff with the gory details of the firing while Shawn (our Night Shift Supervisor) escorted Isaac off the premises. Shawn had done all the talking during the closed-door dismissal, Carl was the first to admit in his thin, whiny voice. "I just couldn't bear to do it! I couldn't look him in the eye and take away his paychecks! He's got to live just like the rest of us!" Carl never cried, but he wailed a lot. There weren't many teachers around at 10:00 pm, so Carl pretty much had the building to himself. We were his captive audience.

There was a dramatic pause. "I fought against it (another pause). But there were just too many complaints coming from the school board. Isaac and me and that Phil Norton had a meeting and he just let right in to poor Isaac about his high dusting! He called him lazy, an-and stupid, and he pointed out so many mistakes that Isaac was making. It was just awful! Just AWFUL!"
By now, Shawn had returned. "Come on, Carl, let's go grab a Tim's."

He lead Carl away and almost at once the chatter began. Suspicion of everything from dusty chalkboard ledges to petty theft lays on Isaac's once spotless reputation. Some of the cleaners mistrusted his spiritual approach to work, but he was otherwise well-liked until now. Faced with the real possibility that they could be fired at anytime without warning, they clung to the faint hope that Isaac had earned the termination. Otherwise, we really were at mercy to the whims of Carl.

Isaac knew this was coming. He had insisted I stop by his closet for 5:30 break, where he relayed his suspicions of a coming showdown with Carl. "Carl's wanted me gone from the time he showed up. I've actually been preparing for it. I have money saved in a high interest savings account (huh?), all the fresh food in the house is gone, bills are paid in full and set for long-term disconnect. All that was left was to show you my cart."

And there it was again, sleek and black, a janitor cart like no other. It seemed prepared for any custodial disaster, and yet retained an air of elegance. Accessible compartments for Scotch pads, wash rags, toilet paper, paper towel, liquid soap dispenser, refill bottles and three sizes of garbage bags lined the sides, although a panel door slid closed to keep it all hidden when not in use. The top tray was outlined with bottle holders to house his super quat, degreaser, window cleaner and one clear substance in an unmarked bottle. It smelled faintly of ammonia. A larger holder was saved for his rag and water bucket. His broom, pan and dustmop stood proudly upright, snapped into their holders. On the other side, the top of his snapped-in mop handle disappeared into the cart. Another swinging panel door revealed the bottom half of the mop resting easily in a matching black bucket.

"I want you to have it, Morton. It's my own cart, not the company's. I think you'll find that it gets the job - any job - done well."

"I don't know what to say, Isaac. Thanks, I guess. Are you sure about this? What's going on?" I guess I did know what to say.

"I'll be escorted out. When you get a chance, meet me at my truck."

How did he know? I'm still sitting in the lunch room agonizing over the riddle when I notice that most of the staff have returned to their misery, so I excuse myself from the lunch room. I leave Gail and Kristine to arguing over who is crazier: Isaac or Carl. Sure enough, Isaac waits for me in his truck. It's a beat up '89 Dodge Ram, but the engine purrs. Some old time jazz wafts tinnily from his stereo toward me as I approach. "Duke Ellington?" I guess.
"Today is a Dizzy day, Mort. I've another gift for you." He kills the ignition, steps out and thrusts the keys into my hands.

Too much.

"Listen ... Isaac ..."

"It's too late to refuse, Mort. the truck is in your name and the insurance is paid for 6 months. You've been pining for a half-ton. Pine no more. I won't need it where I'm going."
"Where are you going?" I have to ask. Ivan just chuckles. He would have told me already, I suppose. The urge to tell him the truth comes suddenly. There won't be another chance and he deserves to know, even if he doesn't believe me.

"Isaac, I know this sounds cracked, but here goes. Sometimes I wake up and instead of it being tomorrow, it's days, weeks, even months later. I'm skipping forward in time and I don't know why."

Isaac clasps me paternally on the shoulder. "I know." he almost whispers, and his grip loses its substance. He slowly dematerializes, his eyes smiling at me until he fades to nothing and I am left holding his keys.

How did he know?