The Vac-Haul

Peter Orner

Larry Phoebus worked on the Sanitation side.He drove an enormous white truck with an enormous, bulbous hose attached to the end of it. It was called the Vac-Haul. It was rumored to have cost the taxpayers of Highland Park two million dollars. My stepfather was very proud of it. The Vac-Haul was designed to suck up major sewage backups without the need to send “manpower down the manhole,” as my former Streets partner, Steve Boland, explained it. The truck was Larry Phoebus’s baby. He was long past retirement age. He’d worked for Sanitation for something like fifty years and was now refusing to leave. It was said that he didn’t trust another living soul with the Vac-Haul and when it was time for him to die he was going to drive that two million dollars straight into Lake Michigan.

Also, Larry never spoke. It was said around the lunch table that Larry Phoebus had pretty much given up communing with the rest of the human race in the 1960s, when the world, his world, everybody’s world, went so haywire. Yet the precise reason for his total silence was a mystery nobody was especially interested in solving. Only Steve Boland speculated at all. He liked to hold forth in the lunchroom. Love, Boland said, what else is new under the sun? Only a woman could numb a guy like that. I hit the mute button myself for a couple of years after my first divorce. She took all my money, the house. Even then I had to sell the boat to pay her monthly. So I mean, answer me this, you’re living by yourself in some dump-ass rented apartment in Highwood and you think you’re going to want to converse?

“What the hell are you yattering about?” Miguel said.

“I’m talking about alone,” Boland said. “Do any of you even know what it means?”

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