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“Henry A. Coleman” by Elaine Hatcher

Henry A. Coleman

by Elaine Hatcher

 

“Alright thanks man. I’ll be sure to do that. Have a good night and I’ll see you tomorrow.” Jim waves off to his buddy, grabs and wraps me loop after loop around his arm, and we take off for the parking lot.

I’m not in the mood to be stuffed in the toolbox with my stuffy toolmates today, I’m just not. It has been a long day, and I just want some AC and classic rock. Some days I am in the toolbox, and some days in the backseat; I never know what to expect. The decision is never based on my performance at work, or even Jim’s mood. I have yet to figure it out. Once after a long day I was so desperate to stay out of the toolbox I took a risky chance and wrapped around the not-so-tender woodsaw I was connected to in hopes of sneaking a hitchhike. The big tools always get to ride in the front. But when we got to the truck Jim was quick to unplug and place me in the back. No rhyme or reason!

The only thing I can do now is cross my prongs and hope for the best. We just made it to the truck…

Ugh. It’s a toolbox day. I should have known. We did not have a lot of our team out today, so maybe Jim thought it would be best to just single trip dump me in the back with the rest. Easier for him yes, but dreadful for me. Stuffy and dark and crowded, I really do not like it in here. In the front I have a cushy seat and can look out the window and see the strip. But back here I am jammed between the screwdrivers and bolt box and do not even have room to stretch. And every time we hit a pothole I end up knotted for a week. I know hate is a strong word, but I hate being in the toolbox. I hate it. I didn’t want this today, I don’t want this any day really but what can I do? It is what I have come to learn as my life. And crossing my prongs never seems to work for much.

At least when we get back home things are different; Jim takes me out first and puts me in the backyard tool shed by the chain linked fence. This is a daily event I can depend on. Unlike the uncertainty of my ride home, arriving home is like taxes or the tides. I know the minute the truck stops I will be brought back to the shed and hung from my trusty rusty nail on the wall. The other tools are eventually brought back too, but I am always one of the first. Whether it is because I am the last one packed and the first one out or because Jim likes me best I do not know, but I like it either way. Being first brings a moment of elation to my otherwise menial existence.

And menial is to say the least. Lowly, repetitive and downright pathetic are much more appropriate.

“Hey Dad! Check this out you’re never going to believe what happened!”

“Yeah! Wattson got caught near the big socket today and Mom is so mad.”

“Yeah and Charger was going to go play there too but lucky for him I told him not to…”

“You did not!”

“I did too!”

Triplets: Charger, Wattson and Turbine. Not even 6 foot of length yet, yet are amped up like 50 foot power strips. They get their liveliness from my side of the family.

“Dad are you gonna yell at Wattson too?”

“Yeah Mom said you would. She said, “Wattson, just you wait until your father gets home!” and then she left and made Wattson stay in his room till dinner.”

“Yeah she did! Do you wanna go see him right now? Ohh I bet he’s scared of you Dad!”

Let me take this moment to inform you, I was not designed for this mediocre existence. Through a computer glitch and twisted fate I ended up here, on this nail with a wife, three kids, and filling the needs of my owner Jim who runs Paradise Electric in Nevada. Do not let the name fool you, it is just the name of our town; nothing paradise-like about it. Instead of lighting up the Luxor I am powering Jim’s drill or the family Christmas lights when he takes his annual two week winter vacation.

But like I said, I am not designed for this. I am a Coleman. A Twenty Five Foot, Heavy Duty, Orange Outdoor Vinyl Power Extension Cord. I was designed for power and strength! Purposed to accomplish great feats of energy transfer from one place to another! Constructed to provide light and force and vitality to where it is needed most! Back in 1990 I was set on the production track for Vegas, packaged and stamped in a box destined for The Strip. I was a young plug then and had only heard stories, but from what I did hear Vegas was where I needed to be. One of the guys said the city was so bright at night you could see it from space! With my durable design and genes for perfect current strength I knew then my life’s purpose was to be a provider for the brightest city on Earth.

Despite my genes and dreams, life has a way of taking matters into its own unreasonable hands. The day I was shipped a big storm hit and our factory computers went down. My box was already packed and en route, so the storm seemed inconsequential to me at the time. From what I could overhear from the driver we had two stops that day, the majestic MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, and a small, unknown hardware store located in an equally small and unknown suburb called Paradise. We arrived at the small store first and the driver came around back to scan and drop off boxes filled with tools not destined for greatness. But with the computers down the scanner could not register which boxes were which, and as a result fates were twisted and the right boxes went to the wrong place. I never made it to Vegas.

After Jim purchased me almost 25 years ago, a series of typical small town events unfolded to lead to the proverbial nail I’m hanging from today. Employment in a laborious, unrewarding 9 to 5 job; a surprising connection with a conservative Belkin surge protector eventually led to marriage; and the most recent and unexpected earned role of fatherhood when kids were added to the mix after a post-Thanksgiving request from Jim’s wife.

“Jim, the family is growing so big. We need to have more entertainment at Christmastime. Karaoke for the kids, music for the adults, what do we have to do to make it happen?”

And the rest is history.

“Hey Dad?”

“What son?”

“Are you gonna go see Wattson now?”

“Yeah Dad. Come on let’s go he’s waaaiiitinnggg!”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife, and I love my kids, but I cannot help spending my days wishing I was doing something else and my nights longing to be part of something bigger. My wife doesn’t know it but while she sleeps I am wide awake, looking towards the north where Vegas lights up the sky like a rocketship blasting into space. From my nail I can peer through the shed doors and out through the fence to catch a glimpse of the strip and dream of the life I had been stripped of living. How heroic and noble it would be to provide energy for lights and shows and spectacles! Making sounds and sights possible in areas where these components could not exist without me, and powering lights and cameras and…

“Hey Dad!”

What? Oh.

“What son?”

“You ok?”

“Yes son, I’m ok.”

I tell a lie.

No. I am not ok.

But so is my life.

 

The next morning is almost an exact repeat of the last; I wake from sleepless slumber tired from the day ahead before it even begins, and my wife is arranging and preparing the kids for another day at tool school. I can hear them in the back;

“Turbine, check out the new volt I earned yesterday!”

“Charger didn’t earn it he stole it!”

“Oh yeah? Well at least I could light up that light bulb when you couldn’t!”

“Yes I could to! I did it when you turned around! I lit that light bulb up so much it almost exploded!”

“Nuh uuh!”

“Uh huh!!”

Just as I am about to shout to calm their wiry nerves and avoid losing mine, Jim walks in to grab me and the tools he needs, and my work day officially begins. I look over to my wife and kids and feel the repeat guilt I always feel every morning. She deserves better. The kids deserve better. This old shed is no place to raise a family.

The past few weeks Jim and I have actually been working on the strip. But it is not the strip you typically imagine or the strip I see at night; the city by day is not really impressive at all. There is no action and plenty of sunlight and therefore no need for me. Not in the way I want to be needed anyway. The Bellagio has been converting one of their old convention rooms into a performance hall, and Jim won the contract to rewire and install the new lighting. It is going to be an amazing space! It’s not yet completed but you can already tell this will be one of the best stages in town. Interactive theater seating, ultimate lighting systems, the highest of high-end sound systems; it will be an electrical dream come true! I tell myself that because I am working here now I am a real and true Vegas cord, providing mega support for the megastars that will soon grace this stage with their presence. I try to convince myself of this stretched truth just to get through the day with some sort of dignity, but as Jim plugs his DC 800 drill into my receiving end, the delusion’s falsity becomes very apparent.

The long day winds down in its typical fashion, and Jim grabs and wraps me and starts heading towards the lot. As I begin my usual yet obviously futile prong crossing ritual, one of the contractors calls Jim over.

They start talking shop and I can tell the nature of their conversation is longwinded, and it is drawing Jim towards the other guy’s truck and away from ours. Out of nowhere I feel an unusual sensation; I am genetically engineered for proper grounding and rarely blow a fuse, but something inside is swelling and the current situation is making it worse. I don’t even care if I get crammed in the toolbox at this point, I just want to go home. To get home and back to, well, what, my shed? My drafty shed and 3 unintentionally energy draining kids? Back to Paradise? Oh blasphemous life I just can’t take this anymore! So angry and yet, no one to be angry with except myself. It all seems so hopeless. I should have done more with my life.

At this point I drift off or pass out, which of the two I do not know. I think my internal outburst caused my current pressure to rise. Either way, I was out like a light. Or a broken light rather. I never understood that idiom.

 

When I stir I can tell I am a pickup truck bed, but it is not Jim’s. Wherever I am and whoever I am with I do not know, but based on the recognizable jerky start-stop of the truck I can tell we are stuck in traffic. As I come to I look around and notice a few other tools and a big old generator in the back corner, but that’s about it. If there are other tools they must be lucky and in the back seat, because they are not here with us. It is getting dark outside and before I have a chance to get nervous a realization halts me in my thought tracks…

I am in the back of a pickup truck, cruising down the strip in downtown Vegas.

“Hey kid!”

I can’t believe it but it is true. I am here, in Vegas, live and in the flesh, and past working hours! I don’t even know…

“Hey kid!”

Kid? Wait, who is talking? They cannot be referring to me, I am a 25 foot Coleman! I am no kid!

“What’s the deal? Are you trying to play it cool kid? I’m talking to you.”

It was the old generator in the back. I guess compared to him everyone is a kid.

“Oh, no, no sir. I just was, well I mean, I’m confused. Where am I? I mean, why am I, whose truck is this?”

“You’ve been out for some time. Your buddy Jim up there put you in the back with us, and our buddy John is taking him out for his birthday. You’re stuck in the back here for the night kid.”

“You mean, stuck for the night in Vegas?”

“That’s the plan. You ok wi…”

Whatever he said after that didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Well, let me take that back. Everything now actually mattered. Life finally mattered! This was a chance for my break! Big possibilities! It was only a birthday party, but staying the whole night in Vegas would lead to something incredible for sure. I have heard the stories about this place, and they are almost always the same. The night starts off simple only to lead to a crazy experience. Sometimes unbelievable. In the very least this evening would give me a chance to get a prong in the door. I can see my story unfolding now; Vegas truck night tonight, Celine Dion and Mystere lighting stage team tomorrow! Look out fame and fortune here I come!

“Where are we going? Are we seeing a show? Do you know if they will need lighting for their party? Or sound? Or…”

“Whoah kid now slow down. It’ll be a low key night. Well, low key for Vegas anyway. John’s gotta get back home before dawn. We’re headed to the Mirage for some blackjack and later to MGM Grand for the fight. And by “we” I mean them. You and I and the rest of the tool gang will be here in the back of the truck. So take it easy.”

But nothing could crush my excitement at this point. Even staying in the back of the truck all night seemed to be a glorious opportunity. As the sun was setting I could tell it would be a magnificent experience. So much better than anything back home! The strip was already starting to light up, much brighter and more intense than I ever presumed from my sleepless nights in the shed. And it was not even nighttime yet. This was about to get good. No, not good, GREAT.

“So we are going there now? To the Mirage? Will we be outside the whole night?”

“Yeah kid, we will. You ok? Seem kinda jumpy; you’ve been on The Strip before, right?”

The Strip? At night? UhhhhOF course!

“Of course! Yeah, I mean yes, I have come to the Strip, I mean, been on the Strip plenty of times. Just, you know, not like this, that’s all. Usually I’m with the band…”

With the band?? What band? He’d never buy it.

“I mean, part of the band, banding, abandoning, not that I was abandoned, because I’m not, or wasn’t, I mean I just was here in the past with others. Like with a group. And not in the back of a truck.”

Phew! Good recovery.

“Well, alright there kid, whatever you say. Just try to keep your cool. You’re not strapped down you know? Last thing we want is you causing a scene and getting picked off.”

Picked off? Does he mean stolen? And kept here forever in Vegas? An extension cord can dream…

“Ok, you got it sir. I mean man, er, dude, sir. Thank you.”

And with that big old Generator slowed himself down and shut off, maybe for the whole night? Probably best to be honest; I needed to spend more time thinking and less time talking out my plug. I nailed the band recovery for sure, but usually I am not the best liar.

We pull off to the side to park, and manage a spot right on the strip. What luck! Such great place to spend my first night in the city. The sky is getting darker and the lights are getting brighter, so bright my eyes have a hard time adjusting to the glare, but that is to be expected. I have never seen a sight so amazing in my whole life! All around me are spectacles and wonders and magnificent hotels; hotels with captivating shows and brilliant casinos inside just waiting to discover me and put me to work. It is my destiny that I am here tonight; maybe all the prong crossing had an effect after all.

Jim and John get out of the truck, lock the doors and head down the strip. It is tough to see over the edge of the truck bed, but what I can see is plenty enough. Off to one side is Paris and on the other is New York New York’s rooftop roller coaster, and if I time my look just right I can catch the tips of the dancing Bellagio waters down the street. Oh how I wish my family was here to see this! Even better; how proud of me will they be when I finally arrive home with my new career? I can picture it now…

“Hey Dad, where ya been?”

“Yes honey, where have you been? You seem longer, taller, prouder…”

“Well family, I have an announcement. Pack your bags because we are moving to Vegas! Poppa’s got a new gig and we’ve been upgraded to the biggest penthouse storage warehouse in the city!”

“Oh honey that is wonderful news!”

“That’s awesome Dad Yeah!”

“Yeah Dad yeah!”

The kids would go on to brag to their friends, and my wife would finally be able to enjoy all the luxury she deserves. She could dress in the finest materials and would receive more volts than she ever imagined possible and could …

My dream comes to an abrupt stop as commotion on the strip grabs my attention. How long was I fantasizing? An hour or two? Maybe more? It feels late actually and the streets seem to be brimming with people and lights and the scents of, what is that, hot dogs and alcohol? Not quite as elegant as I would have expected for a city like Vegas, but maybe a street party is starting? A few years back Jim hosted a birthday party for his son and all the parents came over and drank Budweiser and the kids ate hot dogs. This street party appears a little different though; it includes yelling and screaming and slurring words and whoah ok I guess flying glass bottles are part of the Vegas party culture too. A little threatening yes, but no matter, I can get used to it. If this is how Vegas celebrates Friday nights, I will play my dutiful part. Bring on the revelry!

As I consider waking old generator to ask him how to protect my exterior from alcohol damage, Jim and John approach the truck, chatting about their Mirage blackjack experience. It looks to be a passionate exchange; Jim must have hit it big! Winning is what always happens in Vegas!

It is tough to hear what they are saying because the streets are getting louder and my ears are starting to hurt, but I can struggle enough to get the basic scoop. It sounds like Jim did not win money after all, and in fact lost more than he bargained for. How could this have happened? Vegas is where dreams come true and Jim should not be an exception to the rule! I strain to hear more but before I can grasp another word they walk away. I try to see where they are headed, but like my sense of hearing, my vision is going and I have to squint to see clearly. My eyes must be having a harder time adjusting to the Vegas lights than I thought, but I know I can manage. A bit of sensory overload never hurt anyone, and I gotta get used to this if Vegas is going to be my new workplace!

Despite the ringing in my ears I notice a voice rising above the buzz of the streets. It sounds like an announcer’s voice, and from what I can make out he is talking about an event tonight at the MGM Grand.

Of course, the MGM Grand! Where the guys are headed off to watch, what was it old generator said, a contest? I wonder what kind of contest? Something chivalrous like knights fighting on horseback, or maybe a celebrity-studded talent show? Oh it doesn’t even matter. Anything as majestic as the MGM Grand will put on a show of high caliber and class for sure. To be broadcast across all the bars on the strip it must be important. And from the sounds of the crowd it is exciting too! I cannot believe old generator is sleeping through this. The contest has got to be an ultimate Vegas event, maybe the greatest event of all time! If my eyes could see anything at this point I would be gazing towards the bars’ big screens for sure.

I sit and focus my remaining senses on the announcers’ words; oh how I wish I could be at the Grand now! I hear the crowd cheer, then boo, then cheer again; what could be happening? It sounds so exciting! What is going on?

I begin to hear the announcers more clearly;

“Ahh he is so strong it’s unbelievable, but how will he respond to the power of Buster’s right hook?”

Right hook?

“Yes, his coach is yelling to him from the corner to and I quote, “bust him up.” This could be a quick finish for the rookie from the East Coast; let’s see what happens here at the end of the round.”

Round? Round of what?

“I’ll tell you what, as we approach these last ten seconds, you can see Buster is starting to fade. And there’s the bell, let’s hope he can gain a big recovery during the short break.”

And so it was. Vegas’s biggest event of the night, the big contest being hosted at the ever gallant MGM Grand, was one big fight.

I can’t believe it. I feel like a fool.

How can this be true? All my dreams of grandiose purpose, all shattered in a single night of Vegas’s glaring and noisy truth. The bright lights are a mask to a life not made for me, and the reality behind the smokescreen is nothing more than an opportunity to lose money, or in my case, two of my five senses.

How could I have been so deceived? Compared to this, my life back home now feels like the dream.

Where is Jim? I want to go home.

It may not be flashy or big or bright, but it is my predictable life and I want it back.

I want my stuffy rides home in the toolbox!

I want my rusty old nail back! And my drafty old shed!

I want to spend winters lighting up Christmas lights and summers working with Jim’s cheap drill!

I want normal sight and hearing again!

And most importantly, I want to be with my wife and kids.

I feel like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. Who knew I have been living my dream life all along?

“TAKE ME BACK TO PARADISE!”

Just then old man generator kick jumps from his sleep; did I yell that out loud?

“Gee wiz kid, what’s the matter with you? You ok?”

I guess I did.

“Oh sorry sir, nothing sir. Nothing’s the matter with me at all. I’m ok.”

And for the first time in as long as I can remember, I was telling the truth.

© 2014 Elaine Hatcher

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