"Hey, Mister!" called the voice. "Are you okay?"
I struggled to focus on the source of the noise. I finally managed to force my eyes open. A man was standing over me, peering down. I didn't recognize him. Why was he bothering me?
"You must have banged your head, Mister," he suggested. "It's kinda bloody in the back. How did you get here, anyway?"
Sitting up was a painful effort, but I managed it. I looked around at my surroundings. How did I get here? I tried to remember how I came to be in some sort of rock pile. When that didn't work, I tried to remember if I had a car. Still, nothing. I kept reaching back farther into time, but I couldn't formulate a memory of any kind.
"Where am I?" I asked.
"Right now, you're sitting in Dan Flood's stone yard, if that's what you're asking," responded the man.
"What state, what country are we in?"
"Well, that's a pretty strange question. This is Pennsylvania. Don't you know what country it's in?" asked the man as if he was talking to a true moron.
"Yes! I do!" I exclaimed. "It's in the United States!"
I felt tremendous relief. I was able to remember something! I began thinking about things I knew, and about what seemed to be blank. I knew the states, colors, words, and clothes. I knew the man next to me was unkempt and thin. I knew I could hear birds in the trees.
I didn't know how I got to this place. I didn't know my age. I didn't even know my name! Then I realized that I knew my identification would be in my wallet. I reached to my back pocket and it was empty. No wallet. I thrust my hands into my Dockers and found nothing. I looked at my fingers. No ring, but it looked like a worn circle on my ring finger. Was I divorced?
"Do you know me?" I asked the man watching me.
"Not really," he replied. "Are you on TV or something that I should?"
"I don't know. I just don't know. I can't remember anything at all about who I am," I admitted worriedly.
"Wow! That's like a movie or something," responded the fellow. "Can you remember where you live?"
"If I could do that, I'd remember something about myself, wouldn't I? I don't have any money or identification on me. What am I going to do?" I wondered.
"Dan is always looking for workers," offered the only man on the planet that I knew even existed. "Why not get a job with him and see if your memory comes back?"
I could see this fellow wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but his suggestion made sense. I would need money and a place to live. I didn't even know what education or skills I might be able to call upon.
"My name's Stan," offered the fellow as he put his hand out.
"John Deere," I answered as I shook his hand.
The man looked at me with a puzzled expression, then he turned his head
to look at the bucket loader parked nearby. A big grin swept across his face.
"I get it! That name's been used before, but hell, my dad was named Stan, same as me. Pleased to meet you, John," chuckled Stan. "It's a damn good thing for you that the Kubota was parked at the other end of the yard!"
"Do you think you could talk to your boss about giving me a job?" I asked. "I don't have a social security number or anything. He won't be able to run a check on me."
"Well, don't let that worry you, John. The boss isn't all that excited about paying taxes anyway. He pays cash at the end of every week. He'll give you ten bucks for every pallet of stone you stack and wire," replied Stan. "Do you have any other clothes? Those pants won't last more than a couple days."
"Stan, all I have is what you see, as far as I know. I'll have to buy some once I make some money," I reasoned. "Take me to your leader."
"You woke up in my yard and want a job?" asked the man smoking the cigar. "How the hell did you get here? Where are you from?"
"Well, Dan," laughed Stan. "What part of can't remember anything don't you get? John can't remember anything about himself. Nothing. He needs a job until he figures out who the hell he is. He might pile rock for years without figuring it out."
That thought seemed to cheer up the man called Dan. He would have an indentured servant for an indefinite period. How come I could remember what an indentured servant was and not my name?"
"Okay, John Deere. I'll give you eight bucks a pallet for every pallet of rock you stack and wire."
"Bullshit! I'll start at ten and once I learn the ropes, I'll expect more," I responded quickly.
"How the hell do you know I pay... ? Stan, you got a big mouth!" bitched Dan as he figured out my information source. "Help Stan do a couple pallets for training and then you can start your own pallet. Stan, get his head cleaned up and show him the ropes."
I soon realized the job wasn't rocket science. Stan showed me how he piled rocks on a pallet. He kept the outside edges fairly straight, and even with the side of the pallet. When he had it about waist high, he took what looked like chicken wire and nailed the bottom to the pallet. Then he circled the pallet with it, trying his best to keep the wire tight. Then he cut off the wire, leaving enough to overlap where he started. Then he stapled the wire to the pallet all the way around and took pieces of wire and drew the overlapped wire tight together. It effectively kept the pile of rocks on the pallet while the guy on the forklift carried it away.
Men were constantly hauling all kinds of rocks into the stone yard. I never knew there were so many kinds of rock and stone in Pennsylvania. I was hired to stack fieldstone, which seemed to come mostly from old stonewalls between properties, or used to separate woods from meadows and pastures.
There was Pennsylvania blue stone, which I learned was found only in this area of Pennsylvania and parts of near-by New York. It was layered and came in thicknesses of half an inch and up. It had been created by ocean waters eons ago.
Now and then a load of stone that had washed from a creek was brought in. These rocks were mostly round and polished smooth from streams running over them for centuries.
It took two of us over half an hour to complete a pallet. In an eight-hour day, that would make one hundred and sixty dollars, if I could work at the same rate as the two of us. I didn't know what I used to earn, but that seemed like enough to live on. I began my first solo pallet. Then reality came to bite me in the ass.
It quickly realized that while I had no idea what my occupation had been, it obviously hadn't involved much physical labor. My back began to ache in the first hour. My stomach was constantly in my way. My fingers began to bleed. Stan saw how I was suffering and took me to the office again.
I came out wearing a special pair of gloves that were made just for rock piling. They were going to cost me twenty dollars out of my first week's pay. Then I wondered what day of the week it was?
I finished two pallets that day. I was sore, my pants were torn and my feet hurt. I had made enough to pay for the gloves I was using!
There were a dozen men piling rock and they all had their laugh at my expense. They even had a pool going about how long I would last. They didn't even conceal it from me. They didn't really care that I knew they doubted my determination. The thing they didn't consider was that I had no place to go.
At the end of the day, Stan offered to let me stay at his place. He lived in a trailer a few miles from the stone yard. I found out that Dan Flood owned the trailer and rented it to Stan. It reminded me of the old coalmines and the company towns.
Stan's place was surprisingly clean. I had adjusted my opinion of Stan several times during the day. His clothes were badly worn and he wasn't an Ivy Leaguer, but he treated me kindly and he worked hard. That was certainly more than a lot of people.
Stan made us a couple hamburgers. That was when I realized I hadn't eaten since, who knew when? I was famished. They were, truthfully, the best burgers I could ever remember eating! Stan had the only bedroom so he gave me a light blanket and pointed to the couch. He sat in a chair to watch TV. I was asleep before the first commercial was over.
Stan woke me up in a very short while. I wondered what was wrong.
"John, it's after five! You can't sleep all day. Get up and ready for work. I'll make a breakfast."
This time, I ate the best breakfast in memory. I picked up the dirty dishes and quickly washed them. I could tell that Stan approved of that. I couldn't afford to wear out the only welcome I had!
The second day was even worse. I managed three pallets and started another, but my back was killing me. My stomach muscles hurt and my head would buzz from time to time. By the time Stan drove me to his place that night, I could barely get out of his pickup. We ate a dinner of macaroni and cheese and washed it down with a beer. Then I gingerly stretched out on the sofa. My back was hurting so badly, I knew I would never sleep.
"John! Get up! It's after five," called Stan as he cooked breakfast.
I was stiff, but at least I could move! I ate my breakfast like a wolf and washed the dishes. My pants were in tatters. By noon, I had finished my started pallet from the previous day and completed two others. My back was sore, but I found that if I kept moving, it loosened up. My legs were a mess, however.
Stan once again led me to the office. I came out wearing a pair of chap-like things that buckled on over what had once been my Dockers.
"How come no one else wears these, Stan?" I asked.
"After you do this for awhile, you don't wear your jeans out so fast," responded Stan. They also can get hotter than hell on a warm day. The biggest reason is that they set you back six pallets, John. I hated to see you spend your money so fast, but it didn't look like you'd make it through the day. These will let you keep working."
"Stan, I can't thank you enough for all your help. You've been a life saver!" I gushed.
"Don't get all mushy, John," laughed Stan. "I have two weeks in the pool."
The chaps helped a lot. They were a bit stiff and they got pretty warm, but my legs were protected. I finished four pallets and the started another that day. It wasn't enough to cover the cost of chaps, but I felt I was making headway. That night I actually watched a little TV before I fell asleep. The next day was payday. I completed five pallets before we stopped for the day.
I had sixty dollars after Flood took out for the gloves and chaps! I felt great. My back had stopped bothering me as much, and my hands and legs were healing. Even the knot on my head had gone down.
"So, tomorrow is Saturday, Stan. What do you usually do on Saturday?" I asked on the ride back to the trailer.
"Well, I've been mulling over all the options, John. The ballet is too crowded and my yacht is in the shop," grinned Stan. "I think I'll pile rocks."
I guess I was used to having Saturdays off in my other life. I was surprised that Stan was going to work and asked him why.
"John, we get paid for what we get done. There are days around here when it's too cold or snowy to get much done. Those of us that want to make it through the winter, tend to bust our asses in the good weather. If we miss a few days work, we still have enough money to live on," he concluded.
The logic behind that was irrefutable. I did talk Stan into taking me to a local Wal-Mart to buy a pair of work shoes, with steel toes! They set me back forty-five dollars. I handed what money I had left to Stan.
"What's this, John?" he asked.
"It's rent and gas money, Stan. I should give you more, but that's all I have. Next week I'll get a couple pair of jeans. Then I won't be walking around in a pair of cut off Dockers, getting all kinds of stares. I'll be able to pay you more for rent and gas, too," I promised.
Stan had found me lying in the stone yard on the morning of May tenth. By August tenth, I had far exceeded everyone's guess in the pool and they all had their money returned. I was at least twenty pounds lighter and tanned a dark brown. My hair had gotten quite long and I had a beard. I felt great physically, but time didn't dull my concern about my past.
I needed to find out who I was and where I came from. Did I have any family? How about kids, or a girl friend, or even a fiancé? I had worn a ring at one time. Had I been divorced? Married and the ring stolen? The problem was that I had no idea how to begin to find out.
I was doing ten pallets a day without busting my ass. I was able to cover what small expenses I had, pay Stan some rent, and hide most of it in a coffee can in the woods. I had no identity and didn't want to try to explain that to a bank. Over time, I made friends with a couple of the truckers that hauled the rock to New York and Long Island. They were independents that were hired by a company from the city.
In conversation, I found out how much they made a trip and where they delivered the stone. It all started my mind working. Next chance I had, I picked up a cheap cell phone. I had asked one of the truckers to bring a few phone books from his delivery area. Then, between pallets, I made a few phone calls to contractors and builders in the metropolitan area around the Big Apple.
One afternoon, one of the friendlier truckers pulled into the yard. I met him and together we went to see Dan Flood.
"Dan, I want to buy a truck load of palleted stone, and I'll pay cash," I told the surprised owner.
He tried to stick me, but I knew what he was getting from the New York buyers, and it was a cash deal. We finally agree on a price and the truck was loaded. I had made an agreement with the driver. He would deliver the load to the address I gave him. The check would be made out to him. He would take his share and bring me the rest the next time he came for a delivery. I would make forty-five dollars profit a pallet and the trucker was making ten per cent more than he normally did.
I realized he could keep the money and deny any agreement we had. I also knew that if he were that type, I was really bad at judging character. Four days later, he rolled into the stone yard and handed me a wad of cash. That was the first of numerous loads of stone I marketed that summer and fall.
It was late September when everything changed. I was helping the trucker secure the load. Usually he tossed the ends of the straps over the pallets of stone to me and I'd ratchet them tight. I stepped back after securing a strap and right against the forklift as it went past with a load of stone. Luckily, it didn't run over my feet. It did, however, bounce me back into the trailer load of rock. My head cracked against the steel body of the trailer.
I must have been knocked out for a few minutes. When I came out of it, several of the guys were gathered around me. Stan was on his knees next to me, splashing some water on my face. It took a few minutes, but I was able to stand and see the trucker on his way. That night I had one hellacious headache!
I popped more than the prescribed number of extra strength pain relievers to little avail. I finally drifted into a troubled dream-filled sleep. The next day seemed to last forever. My head finally quit throbbing around mid afternoon. It settled into a dull ache.
That was when a different trucker pulled into the yard. He was helping out a friend of his by hauling a load for him. I chatted with him while I was taking a break. After a few minutes he seemed to stare at me.
"Do you have a brother or some close relative in Binghamton?" he asked me. "I hauled machinery for a company there a couple years ago and the foreman there looked like a heavier, older version of you."
I was immediately interested in everything the man could tell me. He didn't remember the man's name, but the company was Four Star Equipment. That name sounded familiar! I got directions to the place from him.
It was Friday, and payday. On the way home that evening, I told Stan that I was going to Binghamton the next day.
"I might have family there. The trucker said the guy could be my brother, Stan. I have to try to find out," I explained.
"Well, it's about two hours from here, so we should be there well before noon. We'll have breakfast on the road. I sure get tired of cooking," grinned Stan.
The next morning saw us on the road. As we got closer, I realized I recognized some landmarks. I was able to predict what we would find when we came over a rise or around a corner! My head still hurt but not real bad. It did make concentration difficult.
It was around eleven when we pulled up in front of Four Star Equipment. Tears trickled down my cheeks. It was all quite familiar to me. Had I worked there with my brother or some other relative? I felt like I was home, possibly.
"Well, let's go in and see if you can collect some workman's comp," Stan joked.
I didn't have to look around for the office. I knew where it was. Stan followed me as we walked into the building and up to the counter. A young man around thirty was speaking on the phone. He motioned that he would be with me as soon as he finished. His face didn't jar any memories. Then Stan poked me in the ribs. When I looked to see what was bothering him, he pointed to a picture on the wall.
I looked at it for a few minutes, but it didn't mean anything to me. It had a nice little plate under it. I moved closer and read it.
Steve Landers, President Four Star Equipment, 1962-2006
"I don't recognize the guy, Stan," I admitted. "What's the big deal?"
"That guy could be your brother!" hissed Stan. "He has the same nose and eyes as you. He's probably the guy that trucker thought could be your older brother."
I looked closer. He looked like a typical suit to me, soft and pompous. Add the fact that he was dead, and I had little interest in the picture. I had hoped to find a living person that would know me.
Then I saw her. Ten feet behind the counter were several offices with glass fronts. There was an attractive woman dressed in black sitting at the desk and I just knew that I knew her! She looked familiar. Then she looked up from her paperwork and glanced at me!
Then she went back to her work. There had been no sign of recognition from her. I watched her for a few minutes. Actually, I stared at her. Her face, her smile, even the way she rubbed her ear all seemed so familiar. Then my headache started coming back. The more I tried to concentrate, the worse it
"Stan, let's get a room at a local hotel now. I'm getting one hell of a headache. She didn't know me and neither does this miserable shit that's ignoring us," I stated as I nodded my head toward the little prick that was still on the phone when he should be tending to his customers.
By the time we found a motel, my head was trying to explode. I was popping Tylenol like candy until Stan took the pill bottle away from me.
"Get some sleep, John. "You'll feel better when you wake up."
I lay down and tried to sleep. I never thought I would, but I must have dozed off. Soon I began to have dreams, and they were vivid.
The first dream was of a man waving a gun at me. I was petrified. This loser had the power to end my life on a whim. I woke up sweating, but soon I was dreaming again.