Zip Tie Charlie

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by Roxanne Byrne

If you can’t fix it with zip ties or duct tape, it ain’t broke.


You’ve seen me but you don’t know me.  You might close the blinds if you see my truck at the curb, while I’m checking out what you left for the garbage collector.  If that cooler just needs a good cleaning, or the rusty bicycle has some usable parts, I’ll pick them up.  I can repair almost anything, and if I can’t fix it, I can sell it for scrap.
 
Most people who know me don’t know my real name.  Here in Greenburg, Louisiana, everyone calls me Zip Tie Charlie.
 
Some people get it.  They’ll call about a table they don’t need, or they’re tired of looking at a car that hasn’t started in years.  It’s a win-win.  I get something of value for the cost of fuel, they get their junk hauled off for free.
 
Joe Pritchard is one of those people.  His legs got blown off in Iraq.  He gets around Greenburg in an electric wheelchair.  At the speed he travels, he notices everything.  I’ll get a text when he sees something interesting, sticking out of a garbage can or leaned up against a dumpster.
 
I go all over the county searching for discarded treasure.  There’s one place I won’t go.  Edna Henderson’s house.  She’s the mayor of our small town.  It was a sunny, clear day when I spotted the pile of moldy gutters she’d left at the street.  While I was checking them out, it started raining.  I turned, face first into gushing water, from the garden hose Edna was aiming at me.
 
“Charles, I told you never to set foot on my property.  This trash belongs in the dump and I’ll have you arrested if you so much as touch it.”
 
I have to admit, that episode hurt my feelings.  Not because I’m the sensitive type.  Like Edna, my last name is Henderson.  It’s no coincidence.  Edna Henderson is my mother.
 
She is brilliant, passionate, hard working and successful.  Any town would be lucky to have her as mayor.  Her strength is also her weakness though, she is a relentless perfectionist.  It never gets turned off.  If there is a person anywhere on the planet harder to live with than Edna, I don’t want to meet them.
 
Dad left home when I was five.  He headed to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and kept going.  The last letter I got from him had a Malaysian postmark.  He’s as far from Edna as he can get without becoming an astronaut.
 
Growing up without a father, in a house run like a maximum security prison, I did the logical thing.  I fucked up as much as possible.  Some kids got really good at basketball or math.  I became an expert at infuriating Edna.
 
Breaking into the middle school gym to steal an armload of sporting goods was an example of my rebellious behavior.  I was going to trade them for cigarettes.  That never happened.  The window I busted triggered an alarm at the police station and they were waiting for me when I crawled out.
 
That was the first time I became a public spectacle that pissed off Edna.  It wasn’t the last.  By the time I was old enough to drive, I’d visited the police station again, and been in the principal’s office a dozen times.
 
I figured dropping out of high school on my eighteenth birthday would anger my mother more than anything, but I was wrong.  She didn’t disown me and kick me out of the house until I nearly burned down city hall.
 
At the time, it seemed like a good idea to swipe the pack of cigarettes from a purse and smoke a few in the basement utility room, waiting on her to give me a ride home.
 
I didn’t notice the oily rags in the trash can where I threw the butts. Edna noticed the smell the tobacco on my clothes.  That was when the alarm went off.  They put out the fire before anything important burned.  But the smoke went all over the building and it took weeks to clean up.  The publicity embarrassed the hell out of Edna.  It was the last straw.
 
“Charles, I’ve taken care of you for eighteen years and tried to turn you into an adult but obviously I failed.  Time to let the real world take over.  I’ll give you three hours to pack your belongings and get out of my house.  You’re not welcome here anymore.”
 
I stared at her in the living room, unable to process the information I was receiving.  Must have been a really dumb look on my face.
 
She reached into her purse and pulled out a small green wad.  “Here’s some cash, if you can’t figure out anything else you can sleep at the hotel tonight.  But let me make it perfectly clear.  You’re never to set foot on this property again.  And if we happen to cross paths at any time in the future, you can call me Edna or Mrs. Henderson.  From now on, I’m not your mother.”
 
After I’d worn out my welcome on several couches, I caught a lucky break.  Joe Pritchard’s family ran the hardware store in Greenburg for generations.  They closed it down a few years ago.  All the local businesses were struggling.  When the Home Depot opened a few miles away on Interstate 10, it was the end for Pritchard’s Hardware and Supply.
 
The two story building was one of many shuttered businesses on Main Street.  Joe heard about my predicament and made me an offer.  I could stay in the building rent free if I helped out with maintenance.  The roof was leaky and in need of repair.
 
It was against my nature to engage in manual labor, but hunger is a powerful motivator.  And I had no desire to sleep outdoors in the rainy Louisiana winter.  I agreed to Joe’s terms.  After unpacking the duffel bag and two boxes that contained my possessions, I started patching the roof.
 
They say you need oxygen, water, food, shelter, and clothing to survive.  Edna let me take my clothes with me.  Joe solved my shelter problem.  Also my water problem, there was hot and cold in the store bathroom.  Plenty of oxygen in Greenburg.  That left food.
 
Behind the store was a spacious parking lot, with a shed that held the lawn mower and other tools for keeping up the outside of the property.  Mowing was on my list of chores.  It was also one of the few skills I had that people would pay for.  With Joe’s approval, I used the mower to cut lawns around town.  Made enough for beans, rice, and an occasional trip to KFC.
 
Soon I was doing a variety of handyman jobs.  While I was painting someone’s shed, or hauling off their junk pile, I daydreamed of making it big.  Maybe I’d win the lottery or become a country music star.  Took a few years to realize, I’d found my level.
 
When Joe offered me the use of his old pickup truck, I earned my nickname.  It hadn’t run in a while.  After some tinkering, I figured out the fuel line was clogged.  It wouldn’t unclog, and the nearest auto parts store was an hour’s walk.  So I zip tied a two gallon gas can sideways on top of the air filter, and connected it to the carburetor with a plastic hose.
 
Super duper dangerous but it worked.  The hood wouldn’t close but that was no problem, I took it off.  A pickup truck with a bright red gas can where the hood should be attracts attention.  People started calling me Zip Tie Charlie.
 
The hardware store had a little bit of everything, including a welding rig.  While I was learning how to use it, Joe asked me to weld a flagpole to his wheelchair.  I’ll never forget the tears running down his face, the first time he cruised down Main Street with the American flag waving over his head.
 
Joe didn’t mind when I began filling the store’s parking lot with scrap metal and whatever useful items I picked up.  Edna minded.  She sent the chief of police, Ray Nelson, to talk to me about it.
 
“Look Charlie, there is a city ordinance that forbids the accumulation of trash.  I don’t enforce it very often.  I see what you’re doing here, and I don’t care.  But you know better than me what your mother is like when a bee gets in her bonnet.”
 
“Of course, if no one can see the trash from the street, there’s no violation.  What you need is a six foot high privacy fence.  Otherwise, I’ll give you a month to get the lot cleaned out.”
 
I knew I could build a fence.  But the lumber would cost about ten grand.  Not in my budget.  As he had done many times, Joe came to the rescue.
 
“Why don’t you talk to Donnie down at Grogan Manufacturing?  They’ve got a huge pile of old pallets.  They end up burning the ones they can’t use any more.  Should be plenty of salvageable wood.  Maybe you can work something out.”
 
I spent a week painting Donnie’s house, and agreed to mow his yard the rest of the season.  In exchange, he let me have as many pallets as I’d need.
 
Chief Nelson stopped by one afternoon while I was putting up the fence.  He got out of his cruiser, surveyed my work, and started laughing.
 
“Charlie, I’d say you’ve got at least a little bit of Edna’s brains.  You’re doing a good job.  As far as I’m concerned, once the fence is finished, you’re in compliance with the law.”
 
Word got around that Edna was furious about the pallet fence.  But there was nothing she could do.  It occurred to me, out of all the things I’d done to piss off my mother, that was the first time I accomplished it by outsmarting her.
 
Time passed.  My handyman skill set expanded as well as my reputation.  The workload increased to the point I began hiring high school students to help out.  In a few years, I’d gone from a rebellious, lost teenager to a respected, contributing member of the Greenburg community.  Respected by almost everyone, except my mother.
 
With Edna, nothing had changed.  Then, everything changed.  On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana coast.
 
We knew it was coming.  We knew it might be really bad.  Anyone with common sense evacuated.  But Joe refused to leave, even when I offered to drive him to Amite City, where his family had moved.  Amite City is 110 feet above sea level, much safer from the flood waters hurricanes often bring.  Greenburg, on the edge of the Mississippi River, was just 6 feet above sea level.  The only thing between us and the river was a levee.  Basically, a long pile of dirt.
 
And of course, Edna wouldn’t leave.  She felt it was her duty as mayor to remain.  So, I decided to stay.  One of the things I’d accumulated was a small fishing boat.  After boarding up the store windows, I tuned the motor on the boat and filled the gas cans.  Packed the duffel bag with clothes and supplies.  I figured, if the town flooded, I’d pick up Joe, and we’d sail off to higher ground.  I wasn’t worried about Edna, the county Emergency Management Service had boats and could take care of her.
 
The wind and rain hit around nine in the morning.  It was bad, but not any worse than many of the hurricanes we’d experienced.  The plywood sheets I’d nailed up were holding.  By nightfall, things began calm down.  Aside from some downed trees and minor flooding, it looked like Greenburg would survive Katrina.  I went to bed at ten p.m.  Sometime before morning, the levee breached.
 
My phone woke me at the break of dawn.  It was Joe.  “Charlie, I’ve got a bit of an issue.  There’s water everywhere.”
 
“I’ll be there in five minutes.  Hang on.”
 
As I descended the stairs, the extent of the problem became apparent.  The first floor of the building was covered with three feet of water.  This was going to be ugly.  I waded through the water, put the duffel bag and the gas cans in the boat, and headed to Joe’s house.
 
There was barely enough room in the boat for two men, a wheelchair, and our gear.  It was a manageable problem though, it shouldn’t take that long for us to traverse the six miles to the city of Gonzales, and higher ground.
 
Just as I was about to start the motor, my phone rang for the second time that day.  Things got complicated.  It was Edna.
 
“Charles, you need to come pick me up.  The EMS says they don’t have room in their boat for Duke, Lady, and Patches.  I’m not going anywhere without them.  We’ll be ready when you get here.”
 
Duke and Lady were Edna’s German Shepherds.  Patches was her cat.
 
“I’d love to, but there’s only room in the boat for me and Joe.”
 
“Despite all the stupid things you’ve done in your life, I know you’re a smart boy.  Figure it out.”  She hung up.
 
Typical Edna.  Never mind that she had kicked me out of her house and acted like we weren’t related.  No “please”, no “thank you”, just “come pick me up”.  As if the past five years never happened.
 
I explained the situation to Joe.  He had an idea.
 
“What if you take the loading bay door off of the store and lay it across the top of the boat?”
 
“That would give us enough room, but it would be pretty heavy.  I’m not sure if it would float.”
 
“I’ll bet you’ve got plenty of items in the store or out back that are lighter than water.”
 
Joe was right.  I had some coolers and empty five gallon water bottles, even a few large chunks of styrofoam.  I began to think his idea might work.  We went back to the store.
 
It didn’t take long to get the door down.  Before I took out the last set of screws, I sealed up the coolers and water bottles with duct tape, and zip tied them to the edges of the door, along with the styrofoam.  Joe didn’t mind when I punched holes in the door.
 
I left enough room in the middle for the boat.  When I tilted the contraption over, it floated.  I managed to wrestle the boat underneath the door, then lashed them together with rope.
 
After zip tying Joe’s wheelchair to the door, and loading up, we tried to take off.  I knew the Frankensteined boat would be slow, but I didn’t realize, it was almost impossible to steer. I was having trouble getting through the gate at the back of the lot.
 
Joe said, “How about if I man the motor, and you steer with a pole like they do with punt boats?”
 
Punt boats are used in the shallow Louisiana bayous, and are propelled by pushing a long pole against the ground.  I found an eight foot 2 by 2, wrapped some tape around one end to make a handle, and we were on our way.
 
Edna was on the front porch when we got to her house.  All she had to say was, “I knew you would come up with something.”
 
We loaded up Edna and her menagerie and got on our way.  Anyone who saw us probably rubbed their eyes in disbelief.  It’s not every day you’ll find a motorized garage door, covered with people and pets, floating through flood waters.  In the front, Edna and I took turns steering with the pole.  In the middle, Patches had claimed the seat of Joe’s wheelchair.  Just what you’d expect a cat to do.  In back was Joe, operating the motor.  Duke and Lady roamed around the perimeter of the craft, occasionally letting out a howl.
 
Steering with the pole was quite strenuous.  I have to give Edna a lot of credit.  I’m a big guy, and after a few minutes, my arms felt like lead bricks.  The sweat poured down Edna’s face while it was her turn.  She never complained.  For the first time since childhood, mother and son worked together as a team.
 
The land we were traversing was mostly marsh and farm fields.  We passed a few buildings, deserted as far as we could tell.  In the distance, we could see the various tank farms that dotted the Mississippi River basin.  Occasionally, we’d see the top half of a road sign rising up through the water.  The pole made a clinking sound when I pushed it against pavement.
 
When we passed a stand of trees, Edna noticed a cat, stranded in the branches. 
 
“Pull up to that tree!  We’ve got to rescue that cat!”
 
“Are you sure you want to do that?  A scared cat can be pretty dangerous,” I said.
 
“Just do it!”
 
We did.  Nobody in their right mind would argue with a screaming Edna.
 
To my surprise, all she had to do was reach up her arms, and the cat jumped down from the tree.  Even cats do what Edna wants.  The cat ended up in the wheelchair, curled up next to Patches.
 
“We should we name it Cat-rina,” I said jokingly.
 
Edna shook her head and reminded me, “Puns are the lowest form of humor.  Don’t quit your day job, you’re not cut out for comedy.”
 
With the landscape covered with water, it was difficult to tell where we were.  But the cluster of billboards we approached nailed down our location.  We were crossing over Interstate 10.  Only a few more minutes and we would reach our destination.
 
Just then, we heard a helicopter approaching.  It was the news chopper from WDSU, a TV station in New Orleans.  They hovered above us.  Despite the noise from the craft, we could make out the pilot’s question, broadcast from a loudspeaker.
 
“Do you need assistance?”
 
I raised an arm and gave a thumbs up.  Joe did as well.  Edna grabbed the American flag from Joe’s wheelchair and began waving it back and forth.  The pilot returned our thumbs up and the helicopter went on its way.
 
We would find out later, the cameraman in the chopper was filming us.  When the TV station broadcast the video on the news, the anchorman dubbed our contraption The Garage Door Ark.  We were famous.
 
As we neared dry land, the water became too shallow to use the motor.  Joe turned it off and tilted it up out of the way.  I tied a rope to the front of the ark and began pulling.
 
Dry land was only a few hundred yards ahead of us.  A group of people were in the parking lot of an electrical supply company.  When they saw us, two men waded into the water and helped push our craft the rest of the way.
 
One of them was a reporter from a local radio station.  He’d seen our story on TV and wanted to interview us.  While I spoke, as usual, I referred to my mother as Edna.  When the reporter was done, she turned to me.
 
She had that look on her face.  The one that meant, “I’m about to lie to you, and I expect you to act like I’m telling the truth.”  She was good at that sort of thing.
 
“Really Charles, I can’t imagine why you insist on calling me by my name.  I’m your mother after all.”
 
Then she hugged me.  But she couldn’t resist the urge to be Edna.  She whispered in my ear, “Don’t think for a minute I’m going to give up.  I’m going to make you tear down that horrid pallet fence, if it’s the last thing I do.”
 
That was when I had a rare moment of clarity.  I knew exactly what to do.I looked her in the eyes and said, “Mom, I love you.”
 
Tears began streaming down her cheeks. BOOM!  Score one for Zip Tie Charlie.



Submitted: November 25, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Criss Sole

Awww, i teared up at the end there. Well played Zip Tie Charlie! "He's as far from Edna as he can get without becoming an astronaut." That gave me a good laugh, and sums up what a joy Edna must have been to live with.
At least she had it in her heart to save the animals, and her son turned out to be a pretty creative guy.
Great story!

Wed, November 25th, 2020 1:39pm

Author
Reply

Glad you liked it! There's a little bit of Charlie in everyone, and a little bit of Edna in everyone's mother.

Wed, November 25th, 2020 9:55am

D. Thurmond aka JEF

A great story, true or not, it's a great story that is wonderfully told.

Wed, November 25th, 2020 11:39pm

Author
Reply

Thanks. It's fiction, but loosely based on creative things people have done to deal with the aftermath of hurricanes. When Katrina hit, I was in Alabama, 350 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico. It was still producing 50 mile an hour wind gusts and tornadoes when it got to us.

Thu, November 26th, 2020 3:10am

Penetentman

Aww very sweet story. Glad they saved Cat-rina! Love mother and son could come together in bad times. All I could think about was how macgyver would have done the same thing but more with duct tape and gum then zip ties! Great story!

Thu, November 26th, 2020 1:52am

Author
Reply

Thanks. I didn't think of Macgyver but that's true.

Thu, November 26th, 2020 3:13am

Lakshmi Harika

It is very interesting story.I had enjoyed it.

Thu, November 26th, 2020 5:33am

Author
Reply

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Thu, November 26th, 2020 3:13am

Nicholas Cochran

What a treat, Serge. Quite the bundle of funsters, from cats to Edna. Huckleberry Finn came to mind when the door showed up. The modern and extremely weird door-raft with a motor, a cat, an electric wheelchair, two dogs and the rescued cat, gliding along on Katrina’s droppings.
Or is this some weird take on Ulysses? Leaving aside incest, Charlie has pretty much zip tied his way to the crucial moment in life when he and Mom discover love. Something eternal is going on. Shake the kaleidoscope and you could have any number of famous or unfinished stories about love floating on the coattails of Charlie’s boffo barge, I loved it. Extremely well done.

Fri, November 27th, 2020 10:26pm

Author
Reply

Great comment! The zip ties were inspired by a car show called Roadkill, the hosts use them for everything. They've done the zip tied gas can more than once. The barge was my take on Noah's ark. I hadn't thought about Huck Finn but that makes sense.

Sat, November 28th, 2020 2:41am

Mark A George

Enjoyed it, Serge! Entertaining story with a mother-son dynamic which zip-tied the whole thing together beautifully.

Sat, November 28th, 2020 6:28pm

Author
Reply

When I started writing that, it was mostly about the flood and the boat. The mother-son interaction just sort of happened as I wrote.

Sun, November 29th, 2020 3:57am

Benjamin Labidi

I like the fact that neither changed that much after all these years hehe. Ofc they became mellower, but still keeping scores hehe.
Good story!

Thu, December 3rd, 2020 3:01pm

Author
Reply

Edna is used to getting her way. But Charlie finally proved himself to her so there's no telling how or if their relationship will change. Thanks for reading.

Thu, December 3rd, 2020 7:15am

niah

There's not much more I can add to the comments as the others have said it all great story funny and entertaining

Fri, December 11th, 2020 8:57am

Author
Reply

Thanks. As always I appreciate the read and your comment.

Fri, December 11th, 2020 3:34am

niah

There's not much more I can add to the comments as the others have said it all great story funny and entertaining

Fri, December 11th, 2020 8:57am

Roxanne Byrne

I really love this story. The way its written has a very relatable matter-of-fact cadence to it that fits so well with the character Zip-Tie Charlie. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how resourceful Charlie was and how he refused to let down those he loved even if he had a tense relationship with them. You did a great job showing how similar Zip-Tie Charlie and Edna were, while they also lived life very differently. They were both survivors, which is really beautiful. This story is definitely going to stay with me for a while. Loved it.

Thu, January 21st, 2021 4:29pm

Author
Reply

Thanks. My goal is always to tell the story in as few words as possible. You picked up on the core of the story, the relationship between Charlie and Edna. Might be some similarities between Edna and my mother.

Fri, January 22nd, 2021 4:51am

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