Less Is More

Author: Eric Neher
Date Published: February 28, 2022

It was the atro­cious state of her low­er attire that cast me back in time…

When I was but a lad of fif­teen, my very exis­tence depend­ed on a pair of nylon pants con­tain­ing zip­pers with both hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal options. And the col­or choic­es were amaz­ing! Both black and red! The fact that the mate­r­i­al had a life span just beyond that of a house­fly mat­tered little. 

Less Is More Construction crew in jeans looking at plans

My quest began in the spring of 1985. It was a swel­ter­ing year, a year in which my father’s friend Paul need­ed help. Paul owned a fram­ing out­fit, hous­es not pic­tures, and had con­tract­ed four homes that need­ed to be com­plet­ed by the end of July. He offered me a posi­tion, which includ­ed week­ly pay and the promise of a killer tan. Oh, how the door thun­dered in its frame with oppor­tu­ni­ty, bare­ly man­ag­ing to stay with­in its gold­en hinges. 

That being said, I am not a morn­ing per­son. Even now, I strug­gle with ris­ing at 7:30 am. A time most would hard­ly con­sid­er life-alter­ing. But that boil­ing sum­mer, I found myself treach­er­ous­ly bal­anc­ing between invert­ed 2x4s twen­ty feet above the ground just as the sun was clear­ing the east­ern hori­zon. The crew kept my safe­ty in mind by not allow­ing me to par­take in their mid-morn­ing beer break. They were true pro­fes­sion­als. I can still see them beat­ing nails through lum­ber, their skin mir­ror­ing both the tex­ture and col­or of an old foot­ball. Their voic­es rang out in tobac­co strained screeches:

“New­bie!” That’s what they called me. “Bring me a sheet and anoth­er roll!” Which meant a 4x8 piece of ply­wood and a coil of nails. 

“Get up there and lev­el the peak!” Which meant climb­ing to the ridge of the roof and plac­ing a nailer.

I learned a lot that sum­mer: First, I am ter­ri­fied of heights. I’m talk­ing about knee rat­tling fear that not even a Bud­dhist monk could con­trol. This was a fact that the fel­las often talked about dur­ing the mid-morn­ing cock­tail. Anoth­er thing I dis­cov­ered while tight rop­ing the tin­der was just how des­ti­tute these guys seemed to be. 

These rugged men were like throw­backs to the pirate age, don­ning sweat-stained head­bands and weath­ered boots. But what star­tled me the most were their jeans. Ripped out knees and frayed seams, remind­ing me of some­thing hand­ed down from a great grand­fa­ther. Was this the plight for the com­mon man? To work from sun up until sun­down gain­ing noth­ing more than a six-pack and a car­ton of smokes, pre­tend­ing that all was well and it could always be worse? I found it horrifying.

Remem­ber, I was on a quest for shape­ly but­tocks and styl­ish zip­pers, where the col­ors black and red guar­an­teed a step up on the elu­sive social lad­der. This goal, I kept to myself. The crew of Queen Anne’s Revenge had enough fire­pow­er as it was. 

The sum­mer end­ed well, with me only falling twice and hav­ing to be stitched once. But my dream of own­ing the pants became a real­i­ty. Three pairs. Two red and one black. The pow­er I felt as I thrust my scab-rid­dled legs through the scratchy mate­r­i­al ensured that I was mov­ing up in the world. Let the fool­ish pirates in their archa­ic jeans see me now. 

****

The wait­ress that stood before me was unaware of the jour­ney that she had caused. We were not strangers; I had fre­quent­ed this din­er on many occa­sions and had often attempt­ed con­ver­sa­tion only to find that the span between our gen­er­a­tions left a gap far too wide to bridge. And yet, her appear­ance released with­in me a lev­el of com­pas­sion that I had not felt in years. The pirates were back, and maybe this time I could help.

“Do you know what you want?” 

“The usu­al,” I said, my eyes drop­ping to her exposed knee.

“I’ll get it ordered,” she said with a smile. She then turned and made her way towards the kitchen. A moment of shock seized me as I noticed the paper-thin rip just under the left cheek of her butt. This feel­ing was replaced by a sud­den onslaught of guilt. Was I part­ly to blame for this pover­ty of fash­ion? I found myself reliv­ing the past trans­ac­tions, cal­cu­lat­ing the twen­ty per­cent gra­tu­ity based on my aver­age bill. 

At thir­teen dol­lars, I was hon­or-bound to leave a two dol­lar and six­ty cent tip. That seemed a lit­tle on the cheap side, con­sid­er­ing I nev­er left any­thing less than four bucks. 

But she was a stu­dent. A Sopho­more at OCU, sure­ly her par­ents helped her finan­cial­ly. Thoughts of oblig­a­tion ver­sus val­ue bounced around in my skull. Our pro­fes­sion­al moments togeth­er nev­er went beyond six­ty min­utes. Of course, even min­i­mum wage stag­nat­ed at sev­en twen­ty-five an hour. I was in the red. That extra three bucks would prob­a­bly go a long way towards cov­er­ing up the unmentionables. 

The pirates were indeed back, and their Marl­boro-strick­en cries for jus­tice echoed in my ears. I man­aged to pull my mind back to the now just as the wait­ress was plac­ing my plate on the table.

I want­ed to talk to her. Need­ed to tell her that I was will­ing to help if she was will­ing to accept it. But how to begin? It was just as I was open­ing my mouth for an attempt that a girl no old­er than six­teen stopped and said, “Nice jeans.”

“Thanks,” said the wait­ress. “I got them last week.” 

“Are they Judy Blues?” the girl said, her eyes wide with desire.

“Yep.”

“How much did they cost?” said the girl. Now, maybe this goes back to that gen­er­a­tional divide, but I would nev­er have dreamed of being so bold, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the con­di­tion of my young server’s jeans. What a pompous child! 

“One hun­dred and thir­ty dol­lars,” said the wait­ress proudly. 

I con­fess now that what­ev­er fol­lowed between the two was lost. My mind had locked onto one hun­dred and thir­ty dol­lars. After a moment more, the girl moved on. The wait­ress made one final query about my well-being before begin­ning to turn to leave.

“Hold on,” I said. “Are you say­ing that you actu­al­ly paid over a hun­dred dol­lars for those?” 

The wait­ress looked at me as if I were an invalid just on the out­skirts of need­ing Depends and said, “They were on sale.”

“So you bought jeans that were torn on purpose?”

“You bet,” she said, bare­ly able to con­tain her enthu­si­asm. “I’m get­ting anoth­er pair next week.” She then gave me a  grin and made her way across the floor, leav­ing me silent­ly numb.

Thir­ty-five years ago, I worked with a crew of curs­ing, beer-drink­ing vision­ar­ies. Their future, much like their use of the Eng­lish lan­guage, had seemed lim­it­ed. And yet, unbe­knownst to them, they were begin­ning a trend. Less is more, leav­ing you less. I fin­ished my break­fast, feel­ing very much like a new­bie, placed a twen­ty down, and left with­out say­ing anoth­er word.

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Eric Neher

Eric Neher

Eric Neher is an award-winning author who lives in Newcastle, Oklahoma. He is a continuing contributor to Uniqelahoma Magazine and has numerous short and flash fiction stories published. Notable works include Permian Remorse, The Bane of Dave, Fractured Frame, The Cycle, A Haunted Cemetery, and Horrific Separation. His debut horror novel titled The Killing Pledge is now available. Follow him on Twitter: @ENeherfiction Email: [email protected]

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