MAN OF THE SAW

Ian Caskey

Ahhh, the soothing sounds of the Chainsaw Americans. You can hear them marching a quarter mile down the avenue. Thousands of them, buzzing in unison. Louder than a flock of Harleys. There’s only one sound missing from that march and that’s the sound of my Vaz Deferenz KR-14.

    A stub titanium blade with monster horsepower. 

    That stump daddy may look like a chump chainsaw, but the speed of the chain and zero-gravity weight makes up for what it lacks in a long-dong of titanium steel. The song of my Vaz Deferenz is a mighty scree. One I’ll be cranking sooner than later. Generally, I’m not an open carry kind of guy. That’s why I left my Vaz in Harlow’s apartment. But soon as I drop him off, I’ll crank up the Vaz, grind that stump daddy over my head, join the march, one saw amidst the many. 

    I am a dog walker and Harlow’s my last walk of the day, a bulldog with a toothy underbite and a thick-headed strut. I’m cutting his walk short, not proud of it. He seems annoyed too as I drag him past a prime hub for pee mail. I’d have done it regardless. It’s insulting. No dog should be allowed to pee on the leg of a mailbox from the United States Postal Service. See how the leg has corroded. Soon it’ll be a three-legged mailbox. There should be consequences for such behavior! Laws drafted. Fines enforced and incarceration for repeat offenders, and I’m not talking dogs but their owners and walkers who allow such an act to continue.     

    Sorry Harlow. There you will not pee. But the stand of a coin-operated phone? Have at it. Then we pick up the pace, two-and-a-half blocks from dropping Harlow off at his apartment, two-and-a-half blocks from my Vaz waiting for me in its snap-lock case. I can feel the excitement tingling up into my arms. 

    We’re on West 11th Street, 6th Avenue up ahead. That’s where the march is happening, on the Avenue of Americas. 

    Listen to them Harlow. 

    Marching from downtown, a crank-and-rod choir of saws, Farm Boss to Makita to Craftsman and if you sharpen your ear you can hear the gentle flourish of Greenwork blades, those lithium go-getters, hedge snippers with Jurassic teeth.  

    But come on!

    The testosterone of a saw doesn’t come with an electrical chatter. It comes with the stink of a diesel boost. Something you can trigger. A high-powered extension of the arms. But today, a saw’s a saw, even if you have to plug yours into the wall to charge it up. Long as you hold yours over your head during the march, grind that sucker at the air, you’ll be one of many. That’s the sound of freedom. The hip hip hooray of America, a mighty buzz. Makes a man sniffle. Enough to thumb a tear from my eye. Makes me want to sing. Sing with me Harlow! 

    Oh beautiful for gracious saws from tree to shining tree. Confirm thy soul in self-control. Saw down your fellows trees. Americans. Americans. Brandish your saws for thee. 

    Oh, man! Feel the boom thunder beneath your feet, the notch-and-carve of felling a virgin tree. Wood pulped into paper, ink on the constitution, men in colonial wigs, scribing our rights. Why had it not been–

    A yank to the arm, a skin burn to the wrist, my hand tightening on the leash, the leash tightening between Harlow and I, Harlow looking up at me from behind – from where he has slammed on the brakes of his front stubby legs like, Get over yourself, dude!  

    Then I tug the leash and we’re back in action, Harlow reluctantly marching behind me. I can sense through the leash as he continues to pull against my charge that he’s stressed from the impending march of saws. A whirring sound. And as we turn onto 6th Avenue with a squint I can see them approaching from downtown.

    I know we should be rushing along, my Vaz only two blocks away. But first, I have to salute, waggle my imaginary saw overhead, give it a buzz with clenched teeth, working the sound up from the meat of my throat. This stresses Harlow out even more. 

    Then I have to assure him. Tell him Chainsaw Americans are not a haphazard crew. There’s no tomfoolery. No, sir. There’s regulations. Rules of safety to abide. Don’t let the pull of the saw pull you into an accident. You have to respect the saw. Stand tall when you work it. Bend your knees with a boxer’s stance. Never, ever power your saw inside your home or bedroom or bathroom. Garage is okay. Know what I’m saying? And I’m not sure Harlow does. 

    His owners are NPR fanatics. Harlow’s always zonked out on the bean bag when I pick him up for his walk, tranquilized on Lakshmi Singh. In fact, Lakshmi was reporting today about a record turnout for today’s march. Though she could have been more enthusiastic about it. You’d think someone sawed the legs off her desk. It’s not personal, it’s electoral. Just how the confetti popped red this past election.  

    Hey! 

    I point for Harlow to see in the restaurant window a handwritten sign in front of the cartoon of a dozen hung Peking duck painted on the glass. Even this Chinese restaurant values the importance of the Chainsaw Americans. See! 10% off for Chainsaw Good People. They know—they know! What we bring to this country, though why they wrote Chainsaw Good People instead of Chainsaw Americans I’ll be sure to inquire. Maybe their English is off. But still, seeing that! You know they know what’s up with the Chainsaw Americans. 

    It’s not just a tiered system of entitlement either. Like I said any saw can join, so can any race, religion, creed, or cretin for that matter, even if the beans in the brain are askew, as some might say of me, but hey—as long as you’re an American! All we need’s proof of citizenship, twelve out of the fourteen stated documents: birth certificate, passport, dental records, proof of paying taxes, license to carry a chainsaw. Rest assured health insurance is not one of the fourteen documents, so don’t go sweating that. Then there’s the one-in-the-family all-in-the-family clause, which means even you Harlow could be a Chainsaw American, if one of your owners joined. 

    Then we could eat all the Chinese with our chainsaws, 10% off. That didn’t sound right, did it? I meant Chinese food like they meant Americans when they scribbled good people on that sign. But there’s always more than one way to read into something. In fact, some people try to drag the good out of Chainsaw Americans, saying the name implies that’s what we want to do! As in chainsaw Americans – to pieces. 

    Oh man! They’re close. Even from the lobby of The Bruegel you can hear them marching up the avenue. We’re waiting for an elevator and Harlow’s still got the grumps like I jilted him out of his walk. But your owners’ll be home soon. That’s the frown I give him before I smile with glee knowing soon I’ll be with the saws, thousands of them.  

    There were some fans outside too. There to greet those Chainsaw Americans. Snap pics. Post live feeds. And sure, some protestors too. Permanent markers scribbled on tree-free poster board. Stop the Chop! Paper-free America! Some nasty ones too. What if I clear cut the Garden of Eve? And to that I’d say there’d be more bibles. Though I’m not a man of God. I’m a man of the saw.  My Vaz Deferenz KR-14 only an elevator ride away. But worse than gum on your shoe, these elevators are stuck to the shaft. One’s out of service. Okay, one’s moving up now, going up, up, up, but still there’s another one stalled on the 14th floor, which is really the 13th floor. 

    See, even here superstition follows everyone around. Can’t have a 13th floor. No one would live on it. Only there is a 13th floor. They just skipped it, called it the 14th floor. That’s where Harlow lives too, on the 13th floor. Oops, did I just say that out loud?  But with Chainsaw Americans there is no superstition. Only the power of the grind. But it does cross my mind that a KR-14 could be a stand-in for KR-13, but like I said, Chainsaw Americans are not superstitious. 

    Finally, we’re at Harlow’s apartment and if his owners had lived on the other side of the hallway I’d have an aerial view from their window of the march below. 

    Let’s get this over and done with Harlow. Scoot. Scoot. Scoot. I close the door behind me because he has this tendency to dart out into the hall. Then I unleash him, give him a wink, grab a Kong from the freezer, his post-walk treat, a bouncy chew toy filled with peanut butter.  

    But I’m too excited to hand the Kong off to Harlow, leaving it on the dresser beside the front door. All I can do is stare at the carry case also on the dresser. I unbuckle the snaps. There it is like a sax in the case. My Vaz Deferenz KR-14, my stump daddy, my American right.  

    Maybe I’ll just crank it up a little. Give Harlow a show. I know, I know, I’m breaking one of the cardinal rules of being a Chainsaw American, but today’s a special day. I crouch before the saw after setting it on the Persian carpet, holding it in place with my foot. Let’s crank this baby up.  

    And damnit, Harlow! 

    You have to back off. Seriously. This saw will buzz you in half, quit fooling. I guess I was too excited, leaving his peanut-butter Kong on the dresser. I should have given it to him before yanking the starter cord. But my instinct for the saw is too strong. What we have here Harlow is a conflict of interest as when a man eats first before feeding his dog. Thus a man of the saw must crank his Vaz before treating Harlow to a Kong.  

    Oh man! I can already hear the march through the walls and I’m buzzing that stump daddy over my head, Brrt-Brrt-brreeeeee

    Who’s the boss, Harlow! Who’s the boss! 

    Let’s just say this doesn’t end well. I could spare you the details. How Harlow charged into my ankle like a bowling ball with teeth. How my hold on the Vaz swung down to my thigh, a gored spray accenting the wall. A supreme act of idiocy, I know. No fault of Harlow’s. I should have given him his Kong and I do before slumping to the floor, knocking it from the dresser, watching him chase after it as it bounces across the carpet. 

    Harlow’s fine, just some blood spatter to the face, like all he wanted was the Kong, like all I wanted was the Vaz, makes us both creatures of instinct, though I’ve always considered mine free will, the right to buzz a saw, the right to Friday night boilermakers, the right to jam down on an all you-can-eat breakfast at four a.m. Is this no different than Harlow gnawing and tonguing the peanut butter from his Kong? Absolutely dogged I am with salutations of pride, even with the Vaz still wedged in my leg, enough I fear pulling it free would mean another spurt from the deep vein in my thigh. My hands too slip-sliding bloody to use the phone.  

    All one can do is sing, right Harlow? 

    I can hear the march through the door and the outer hall and the doors of the opposing apartments beyond the outer walls of the Bruegel thirteen stories below. I can hear them, marching in the thousands, far too loud, far too proud for any call for help to be heard. Sing with me Harlow as I warm myself with a consoling hug against the chill shuddering through my bones, for gracious saws

Ian Caskey’s publications include BOMB Magazine, The Strange Recital, The Griffin, and elsewhere. He’s also a residency alum from the Edward F. Albee Foundation, and has in the works a collection of short stories and a novel. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.