Salt of the Earth – Ted Prokash
April 13, 2020
Let’s drink to the hardworking people
Let’s drink to the lowly of birth…
Jacques pours out two glasses of the cognac. He hands one to the man and takes one for himself. They raise the glasses in toast. Jacques watches carefully as the man knocks back the drink. The man sucks slightly on the aftertaste and exhales a fast, warm breath. There seems to be a terse acknowledgment of appreciation for the good whiskey, but nothing else. He sets the glass down on the table in a way that is neither excessively careful, nor forceful, seemingly not punctuative in any way.
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Let’s drink to the salt of the earth
This one is taking a long time. Jacques is nervous; he’d been hoping this one would go the right way; he likes and respects the man, who he’s known for years. Of course none of this could be read in Jacques’ face or demeanor. His outward stoicism is what landed him in this position. Every man and woman doing the job he or she is best suited for, of course.
The man’s wife is leaning up against the kitchen counter, near the sink, arms folded. She says something that can’t be heard over the music to a girl of about six or seven, who is playing with a toy at her feet. Sometimes the drink is with the woman – if she is clearly the decision maker in the household. Gays and lesbians are generally exempt. They are currently seen as ‘desirable elements,’ though they’re watched closely.
Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the uncounted heads
Suddenly the man furrows his brow, narrows his eyes. His hand, still holding the glass, begins to grip. He looks off, somewhat in the direction of the music, and grimaces. A look of disgust.
“Is something the matter, Paul?” Jacques has to choose his words carefully. Everything is recorded, of course.
“It’s just…” The man, Paul, shakes his head, as if trying to cast off this disagreeable sensation, this reaction of irritation, annoyance. He doesn’t look at him, but Jacques can sense Godot is already preparing mentally to pull his gun out of his jacket, rehearsing internally the exact sweep of the arm and pull of the finger to ensure a clean, orderly execution. Godot is efficient and reliable, but so, so stupid, Jacques thinks.
“It’s just that everything is done in such a stupid manner! In the stupidest way possible! People like us who’ve been supportive of the movement from day one are suddenly… shut off completely. We have no voice. Suddenly it’s greedy idiots put in charge of everything and people like us, who might have… actual ideas to offer, are left with nothing to do. It’s infuriating, really.”
Jacques says nothing, but smiles sympathetically. He knows that Godot has paused in his mental rehearsals.
The man laughs, seems to take notice of the song for the first time. “My god, we used to listen to this album constantly, do you remember, dear? It was around the time you were pregnant with Nadi, I think. We wore it out.”
“Well… I wish we had time to listen to the whole album,” Jacques says, “but we have other visits to make. Duty calls and never stops calling for peons like us, it seems.”
The man waves his hand, again, distracted by his thoughts. “It’s a good song, this one…”
Jacques’ great relief manifests itself only in a fast tingling about his scalp. It would break into a grateful sweat if he’d allow it. Godot has left off his rehearsing for good and begins to look bored and impatient.
* * *
The next home is in the same neighborhood, a couple blocks away. Godot carries the boom box. He complains steadily. “Why don’t they just get us a car? This is ridiculous. Carrying this fucking boom box on the bus everyday, it’s fucking degrading.”
“People appreciate the fact that we use public transportation and walk. Or they should. Our stops are all pretty well organized, really. We walk, what, a couple of miles in total?”
“Feels like a hundred.”
“Poor fucking baby.”
“My feet are killing me.”
“Poor. Fucking. Baby. You can rest your fucking feet Friday through Sunday, how’s that? Or do you wanna go back to a five day work week?”
Godot pouts silently for a few steps. “Fuck no.”
“Thank you. You know, I’m not saying I like this job. I’m just saying, we don’t have it so fucking bad.”
But Jacques knows from experience that there is nothing in the world that will drive a person like Godot off his line of self pity.
“And this fucking song. I could blow my own fucking head off I’m so sick of this song!”
Jacques looks at his counterpart incredulously. “You’re really gonna fucking say that? You’re really gonna say that.” Jacques just shakes his head.
“What, I don’t have to like the fucking song. Do you fucking like it?”
Jacques blows out an exasperated breath. “I… you know, I don’t really have the luxury of listening to the fucking song, okay, Godot? I kind of have to be paying the fuck attention to… to the fucking people, you know? God, you’re such a fucking whiner.”
“Yeah well, you don’t actually have to do the thing, though do ya?” Godot says.
And Jacques has no answer to that.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Godot says, feeling vindicated. “My feet are fucking killing me.”
* * *
The next one IS easy. Jacques knows how it’s going to go as soon as they walk in. Godot too, probably. The place looks like it was set up for a photo shoot, a feature in Bourgeois Living or some shit. The guy is impatient. Self important. A fucking prick. His dome is completely bald with long, curly black hair on the sides. “Alright, let’s get this over with. I got shit to do,” he says in lieu of a greeting.
“Mr. Benzschawel, you have a spouse, I believe?” Jacques says, smiling his practiced, neutral smile.
The man is indignant. “Yeah… so what?” His true guiding emotion is fear. Clearly.
“She’ll need to be in the room, Mr. Benzschawel.”
The man opens his mouth as if to protest, but ultimately, he knows it’s futile. “Maurine, get in here!”
Godot starts the song and Jacques takes out the bottle and two glasses. There is no time even for this Benzschawel to demand the bottle, to eye the label condescendingly and make some shitty comment about the brand or the year or what have you. As soon as the opening chords of the song are struck, Benzschawel turns up his nose. “What the fuck is this?”
There are a couple of responses Jacques can give in this instance. “The Stones,” he says matter-of-factly.
Mr. Benzschawel’s indignance increases tenfold. “I know it’s the fucking Stones, you idiot! Why the fuck you gotta play it right now? Fucking… trite, tired, old garbage…”
Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Godot is already pulling out his gun.