It must have been close on twenty years ago now, but some things just can't be pushed to the side and forgotten. After you've seen a one-handed eunuch
bleeding all over the snow while a chainsaw
bores its way slowly into a drift, not-quite drowning out his screams, you're a changed man.
I'd only been in the camp
for about three months when it happened. I was the cook
, though with the limited supplies I might as well have been serving boiled beef jerky
to the boys. Come to think, that might have been a better option
. Every lumber camp
has some kind of hotshot
who thinks they're this generation's Paul Bunyan
. They think that if they just keep coming in over quota
, that someday
a big blue ox will show up and tour them around America
, where they'll fell trees wherever they go and become some sort of folk hero
. Me, I don't more than half-believe
in old Paul. My father was the sort of man who wouldn't believe a story unless it came from someone in a suit, and I guess I inherited a little bit of that. 'Course, I don't much pay attention to the stories that the suits are selling
, either. Still, some folk'll believe whatever they're fed
, and dream of surpassing their food, and Tommy was one of those guys.
He was a sweet midwest
ern kid, the sort that still talks a little bit like they're addressing miles and miles of corn
. Slow, you know, and kind of rustly
. He never spoke, not once, of what he was trying to do out there, but you could read the story in his eyes. They were deep, brown eyes
of the sort you like to see on a sorrowful woman. There was no sorrow
, there, nor could you ever mistake this giant
as a woman. Where the sorrow should have been, there was only naked ambition
-- the rim around his pupils was a barrier imposed to prevent all of that ambition from turning him green. Where the woman would have been, well, you had two hundred and fifty pounds of pure muscle
. We all figured him after his first week, when he came in twenty trees over quota. 'Course, it wasn't too hard. The kid had his own chainsaw
, said he imported it from Sweden. Only another sorry Paul Bunyan in the making would be bringing his own piece, particularly one made by the Swedes.
The second week, he came in thirty trees over.
The third week, he came in forty trees over.
The fourth week, he was fifty trees over. The record for our camp was fifty-seven trees over, set before I'd known that there were men in the wild
aspiring to be Paul Bunyan. We were all pretty sure that he'd make it through, but I guess he wanted to make it through big
He came to me after he reported the fifty extra trees he'd cut down, and said to me in that corn-talkin' voice of his:
"I don't want to leave my patch, you think you could maybe whip me up a little something for eating in the wild?"
Well, I'd never met a lumberjack willing to give up his seat in the mess
for an extra fifteen minutes of daylight
, but I saw little enough harm in making a few sandwiches each morning. For five days, he came to me for sandwiches. The sixth day, though, he didn't stop in. I knew he was working -- you only get the Sunday off, no matter who you are -- and I knew that even Tommy had to get hungry
at some time or another.
So I asked around, and nobody had seen him. I started getting worried, because I'd liked the kid fine. There's nothing wrong with wanting something more than anybody else does, and there's damn well nothing wrong with cutting down more trees than other folks
. I decided to take his sandwiches out to his patch, reckoning I'd find him curled up in a snowdrift sucking on his thumb.
His patch was a little bit out of the way, kind of in a valley
that absorbed all the sounds 'til you crested the hill, at which point you'd be assailed by a cold wind and the screeching of a saw. I was expecting the wind, but not the saw, and certainly not the state of the man holding it. Tommy was going wild, every muscle in his body tensed up as he drove the teeth
into a tree. It was poetry to watch, the way he slowly pushed against the tree so it looked kinda like he was cutting open a coconut with a butter knife. I had no doubts, that minute, that he'd beat the record.
The sound of the saw cut out, and the tree fell away from its trunk
. I wasn't sure that he heard me up until he raised his saw and waved with it.
"I brought you some sandwiches."
." he yelled, ears still used to the ambient
"How many's that, Tommy?"
"That's fifty-seven. Just one more and I'll have a bite to eat."
This kid was trying to break the record by noon
. It was crazy, but I was curious and so I stayed on to watch him work. Like I said, it was poetry
written with flesh and wood, so it was more of a pleasure than anything else.
The saw started up, a little bit throaty
at first and then beginning to whine as it cut into the tree. Tommy was smiling as he drove that saw through the bark of his fifty-eighth tree over quota, and I was smiling to see it. I wasn't smiling when I saw it hit that snag
I wasn't smiling when I saw it get jerked away by some kind of knot or warp
I wasn't smiling when some sort of action-reaction caused the saw to go flying at Tommy's face
Well, what could he do? It was quick, I guess, and running away is never the first thing on a confident
man's mind. He tried to block it with his right hand, and I guess he sort of did. After it chewed
mostly through his wrist, his head was pretty safe
, anyway. It was a cruel trick
from God down to Tommy, though, that the particular dance of pain that Tommy did sent that whirling chain
straight into his crotch, lending no uncertainty to the idea that Tommy wasn't going to be reproducing
. It all happened so fast that there wasn't much I could do. I made it to him before his spasms cost him a leg, but that was my limit. Tommy was a mess, lying there all covered in blood with his big broad face twisted like an old Hallowe'en
mask. I didn't even turn the chainsaw off, didn't know how, just threw it into the drift and stared down at the mangled man who would've been a hero.
" he said.
"What's that?" My voice was cracking
, I was all choked up to see this kid lying there in the red and white snow.
"Help you up?"
I helped him up, and once he was up he leaned against me and had me brace his arm so he could deal with the saw, giving him some bit of control. I thought that he was going to faint at any minute, or that he was going to just drop dead right there in the snow. It didn't matter, though. I picked up the saw, still cutting snow, and he managed to grip it.
And he cut down that fucking tree. He broke the record, and after that he let himself faint.
The doctors said he was lucky
, but I think I'd have to disagree. At any rate, his brother, some big-city lawyer, ended up suing that big Swedish company
, claiming that they'd had inadequate warning labels
. It made me sick when he won. Now, Tommy's only remembered as the idiot
too stupid to realise that you don't stop a chain with your hand and your dick. He should be remembered as the guy who cut down fifty-eight trees more than he had to. He should be remembered as Paul Bunyan II, or even as Tommy I. Paul Bunyan didn't cut down any trees after getting castrated, and I daresay there's not another man in the world
So the next time you're thinking of stupid people
, take a second and wonder just who you're thinking of.