Mr. Andrews

by David Kirby

I’d been hired by Sears to install appliances,
            but since I was just a 20-year-old college kid
working for the summer,
            the supervisor assigned me to Mr. Andrews,
who was older, shorter, and angrier than I was.
            Mr. Andrews’ uniform always looked freshly pressed
and somehow never got wrinkled
            during those long, humid Louisiana afternoons.
And his hair, which was as black as anthracite,
            always seemed carefully combed,
though I never saw him touch it.
            But my uniform tended to be baggy and wrinkled;
my hair flopped in my face, which was the style then;
            and I tended to chatter about myself,
the girls I dated, and the movies I’d seen,
            blah blah blah, while Mr. Andrews drove the truck out,
did his part on the installations, handled the paperwork,
            and drove us back, all in a smoldering silence.

He could also drink scalding hot coffee
            as though it were ice water:
we’d stop at the Toddle House
            and he would turn off the ignition
and jump out of the truck and slam the door
            while I was still asking if he thought it would rain
and if I should roll up my window;
            by the time I got inside,
he’d have already ordered two coffees,
            and when they came, he’d drink his in one big gulp,
whirl around on the stool,
            scatter some change on the counter,
and be outside while I was still blowing on mine
            and trying to get at least a couple of sips in me
before I had to put the cup down and run after him
            and hurl myself into the already-moving truck
as it crunched across the oyster shells
            in the Toddle House parking lot.

Because it was summer,
            we spent most of our time installing air conditioners,
and Mr. Andrews always made sure that I carried
            the end with the compressor in it,
which accounts for about two-thirds of a unit’s weight,
            though I said this didn’t bother me
because I figured the extra work was good exercise
            and would add muscle to my skinny frame,
a concept Mr. Andrews thought asinine,
            as he did most of my ideas.
Besides, what were a few extra pounds to me?
            We both knew I was working for Sears just that one summer
before I went back to college and the pretty girls I dated
            and my look-alike friends and my promising
and well-compensated if still somewhat indefinite future,
            which was the real reason why Mr. Andrews and I
could have never gotten along anyway,
            even if we’d had anything in common, which we didn’t.

Once we delivered a riding mower to a customer
            who’d either been drinking or just awakened from a nap.
We ran the mower down the ramp and onto the customer’s carport;
            Mr. Andrews removed all the packing material
and fooled with the choke and turned some switches
            and then he motioned for me to go ahead, try her out.
I’d never ridden a power mower before,
            but I could see that it had an on switch,
three gears, F, N, and R, and a brake pedal
            the size of a dictionary; how difficult could it be?
I started the mower up, threw it into F,
            and shot forward across the carport,
almost smashing into the wall
            before I decided to take it out of gear.
But I missed N and went all the way to R
            and shot backward, almost hitting Mr. Andrews
and the customer, who came to life suddenly
            and shouted, “Whoa, now!”

In my panic I forgot all about the big brake pedal
            and rammed it into F again and shot forward
and then into R and went back and forth
            maybe a dozen times in a noisy, gear-grinding frenzy
while the customer ran alongside shouting,
            “Whoa, now! Whoa, now!” and Mr. Andrews looked on
with his usual studied contempt until finally
            he reached over and turned off the ignition
and the mower coasted to a halt.
            Falling back on my college-boy glibness,
I said something about having given the machine
            a thorough check and now the customer
shouldn’t have any problem with it,
            but I didn’t fool anyone, least of all Mr. Andrews,
who finished the day without saying a word to me,
            although, since that’s what he always did,
there really wasn’t that much difference
            between this particular day and any other.

Besides the ACs and the occasional power mower,
            we had another job, one that had nothing to do
with installing appliances
            and that still seems strange to me
despite all the time that has passed since those days.
            It was to repossess wigs:
it seems that a lot of young women
            had put something down on a Sears wig
but then couldn’t or wouldn’t keep up the payments,
            so Mr. Andrews and I would be sent around
to retrieve the merchandise:
            we’d install a couple of air conditioners
in the morning before it got too hot,
            grab a quick coffee at the Toddle House
or maybe lunch at Vince’s Bar and Grill,
            where, despite our differences,
we both had the same thing every day—
            two cheeseburgers “all the way” and two Barq’s root beers

drive out to wherever the delinquent wig owner lived,
            and pull the truck into the front yard,
whereupon Mr. Andrews would leap out, bound up
            to the door of the little ramshackle house or trailer,
go inside, and emerge what always seemed like
            a few seconds later with a wig box under his arm,
trailed by some miserable-looking single mother
            and a couple of unwashed kids.
I never heard what Mr. Andrews said
            to these resentful and disappointed women,
if he said anything at all,
            and just assumed they knew he was there for the wig,
so back it went into the box in silence
            and then out the door
with this little pissed-off-looking guy
            who jumped back in his stupid truck
where his doofus assistant sat with a big stupid grin
            on his stupid face as if to say, No hard feelings.

Mr. Andrews spoke to me exactly twice that summer,
            unless he said something during one of my frequent naps,
which I doubt. The first time was when we were installing an AC
            in a house that had maybe six young men living in it,
five of whom were acting nervous and polite
            the way people do when the guys from Sears are there.
But the sixth man, who was heavily tanned
            and wore nothing but a leopard-skin bikini
and thick eye makeup, kept sort of prancing around me
            and making dancers’ gestures and groaning passionately,
while the other men alternately left the room
            to muffle their laughter and came back in
to see what new outrage their campy friend was up to.
            I just smiled and tried to heave the compressor end
of the AC into place while Mr. Andrews rode the whole thing out
            in his customary, that is to say, silent manner.
But when we got down the road a mile or so, he said,
            “I bet those old boys know how to lick a dick.”

The only other time he said anything to me
            was when we were installing a washer-dryer combo
at the Kappa Kappa Gamma house on the LSU campus.
            The sorority girls were going to class,
and as they streamed past us
            with their teased and lacquered hair
and their flawless skin and their little trim figures
            and their happy, big-mouthed laughter,
Mr. Andrews watched them for a while and then said,
            “I wouldn’t mind being stationed in these barracks,”
which was a bigger deal than I’m making it sound,
            not only because the summer was nearly over
and it was only the second thing he’d said to me the whole time
            but because he actually smiled as he said it.
When I turned in my uniform, the supervisor asked
            if I thought I’d be interested
in the Sears manager trainee program, and I said no,
            I didn’t think I wanted to be anybody’s boss.

David Kirby is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor at Florida State University. A Johns Hopkins Ph.D., he is the recipient of five Florida State teaching awards.

from My Twentieth Century (Orchises Press, 1999). Reprinted with the permission of the author.