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The Uhaul Guy
By joe hodson
My old roommate, Rich, and I once rented a Uhaul from a grumpy, middle-aged man downtown. “Yeah, I’ll hold you a truck,” he said, “Better hurry up, I close at five.” After driving through a maze of unmarked streets, we finally found the office building. The square footage was slightly more than a telephone booth, and UHAUL was stamped on the glass door in white paint. It shared space with an abandoned commercial building, and the parking lot markings had long been eroded from the earth. We hit a pothole and parked.
We went inside the office. Vandals had obviously thrashed the place. It looked like a mailroom had exploded. Rubbish and various papers, some which looked important, littered the shelves and floors. Everything stunk like oil. Behind a messy desk sat a man with hair stubbornly brushed to the side. His arms rested on his stomach, hugging his stained, T-shirt. “You boys are five minutes late,” he said, “I almost had to give your truck away to some other folks.”
“What other folks?” I asked, “There’s no one here.”
“Sit down,” he said. He was in no mood for details. His face was smooth and round like a shaved apple, but stern like an army general. By the looks of his surroundings it was obvious he ran a tight ship. “TOM” was sewn to his shirt in orange stitching. The wire rimmed glasses he wore dug into his nose and ears like a pair of swimming goggles. After he lectured us on punctuality, he pulled out a Uhaul Rental Agreement from a soiled folder beside him. He plopped it down beside a plaque on his desk that boasted, “WORLD’S GREATEST GRANDPA.” I do not know when or where “they” voted, but somehow this man had managed to wrest this title from all the other grandpas on the planet. “You boys want insurance?” he asked.
“How much is it?” I asked.
“We’re okay,” said Rich. Rich stood in shock at this man’s very nature.
“You get in an accident, you’ll be paying for it for the rest of your lives. Then you’ll wish you had. You kids think you’re so invincible.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. We didn’t know we weren’t invincible. We’ll take some insurance,” I said.
He put down the pen and took a deep inhale, sucking in the dirty air from the room. He leaned back in his chair like a cartoon bear resting against a tree as he prepared to make us wise with his profound Uhaul wisdom. “You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.”
Now, this man very well may have been insane, but he stated each remark with absolute confidence. He was proud of something, but of what we were not sure.
“What’s that mean?” my roommate asked.
He pretended not to hear and went on, “I crashed into a man’s car in downtown Xenia in 1978. He hit his breaks in front of me like an idiot, made me wreck. He demanded that I pay for his bumper. I told him, ‘too bad, so sad, I’m not your dad. I’m suing you for agitating my old back injury from the military!’ Oh, I’m from Xenia, in all my glory. Those Xenians think the world owes them.”
“Did you have to buy him a new bumper?” I asked.
“Yeah. The law made me.”
“How’d you hurt your back?” I asked. Rich’s eyes pleaded with me to stop asking this man more questions.
Tom put down the pen again as he prepared for another ten minute monologue, “Tank accident. I rolled off a tank while taking an army nap, whacked a disc out of place.”
His eyes held us hostage until we said, “Really?”
“Yeah, really!” He went back to the paperwork, trying to find where he left off. Then he stopped again, “Agent Orange. A whole army truck full was dumped on our camp. Pilot couldn’t read his coordinates.”
“Sir,” I said, “We’re kind of in a hurry.”
“You kids are always in a hurry.” He had us sign the agreement. “Listen, if you don’t have the truck back by tomorrow morning at eight, I’ll have to charge you for the whole day.”
Before he handed us the truck keys, Tom said, “Hey, you boys got a subscription to the newspaper? If not, I can sell you one real cheap. I deliver papers on the side. I’ll give you twenty percent off your first Sunday paper. But after that, regular price. You can’t get something for nothing, you know.”
“No thanks,” I said.
Once outside Rich tossed me the keys and we jumped inside the Uhaul. I stuck the key into the ignition, turned the key. Nothing happened. I repeated this three more times, each time with Rich yelling threats at the engine, “Come on! Start!” Rich’s coaxing was useless. The engine was completely dead.
“Well, Rich,” I said, “You better go tell Tom.”
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