Episode 10: Marcus Harnack

Bill Harnack’s son, Marcus, (episode 7) is twenty-three years old.  After high school Marcus elected not to continue his education and took a job in the foundry where his father works.  It’s a difficult job, but at $11.50 an hour it pays better than most other jobs available to those with only a high school education.  Marcus is a good kid.  He’s honest and hard working.  He values his independence and doesn’t like to rely on his parents for anything, except perhaps the free Packer ticket his father gives him every fall when they make their annual pilgrimage to Lambeau field.  Marcus lives by himself in a small apartment about a mile from the foundry.  There’s no girl friend yet, but Marcus is always hopeful!

His apartment is small.  The bedroom is smaller than Susan Johnson’s suburban walk-in closet, with just enough room for Marcus’ single bed.  He stores his clothes in a primitive cabinet in the hallway.  The bathtub has been pulling away from the wall for several years, stretching the caulk, which is now laced with green mould.  The linoleum in the bath is faded and cracked.  It has started peeling up in the corners of the room.  The kitchen has an apartment-sized stove.  Marcus lifted up the top once and found so much burned macaroni and cheese underneath that he just shut it back down in disgust.  The refrigerator color is avocado green, which doesn’t match the faded white stove.  The tiny living room has brown shag carpet right out of the 1970’s.

The windows don’t stay open because the sash cords broke long ago.  He’s asked the landlord to fix the cords but the landlord says that this would involve removing the window trim and prying open some sort of angled piece in the frame before re-attaching the window weights; a very time-consuming process.  Instead of repairing the windows the landlord gave Marcus a couple of boards to prop up them up.  The heating system works sporadically in the winter but Marcus has a small space heater he uses in the bedroom to keep out the chill.  There is no central air conditioning.  Marcus uses an old window unit that he got from his parents when they installed central air two years ago.

The plaster walls are cracked, but solid.  In the summer, when the humidity is high, Marcus can smell the poignant, musty smell of the wallpaper and paste that was applied over seventy years ago.  In the back hallway some of the plaster has fallen out, exposing the wooden lathe.  Clinging to the lathe are small pieces of horsehair, which was added to strengthen the plaster in the 19th century.  Marcus marvels at the skills of those plasterers, observing how smooth they could get the walls.  He wonders how many hours a day they had to work back in 1895.  What were their names?  Where did they live?  Did they work harder than he works in the foundry?  Were they happy?

Last Saturday Marcus’ 1991 Chevrolet Cavalier started leaking water.   Marcus was hoping it was a hose, but it was a worn-out water pump.  Unable to afford a new one, Marcus got a rebuilt pump from the salvage yard.  He spent four hours trying to install it on Sunday and by the time he bought the right wrench he had spent another $20.  If Dad hadn’t come to the rescue with additional tools and lessons from his own bitter experiences replacing water pumps, Marcus’ day would have been even bleaker.  By 9 p.m.  Sunday evening Marcus was finally done, just in time to get some sleep before his 5 a.m. shift at the foundry.

Marcus’ high school buddy, Frank Rogers, didn’t hang around Hubbard after high school.  He went over to the University of Minnesota and graduated with a degree in finance.  They have kept in touch during the years and always hook up when Frank comes back to Hubbard for Thanksgiving and Christmas to see his family.  Frank has been out of college for a year now.  He has a job as a business analyst with Price Waterhouse Coopers in Minneapolis.  In October Marcus went up to Minneapolis for a weekend visit with Frank.  He rents a cool loft downtown, right across from Chipotle and Starbucks.  His neighbors consist mainly of women and men in their early to mid-twenties, all with a heck of a lot more money to spend than Marcus.  They drive new Hondas and Toyotas, not yet being able to afford a Lexus or an Acura.  They don’t spend any time changing water pumps.  They play golf instead.

Marcus really likes Frank and the feeling is mutual.  Frank never asks Marcus why he didn’t go to college and he never mentions the income disparity between them.  Marcus is happy for Frank and his success, but once in a while Marcus feels envious.  After all, he works a lot harder than Frank for a lot less money.  Frank never has to worry about cruddy stoves, stinky carpets or leaky windows.  Frank hangs around with cool chicks that are good looking and classy.  Marcus’ female friends hang around Hubbard’s neighborhood bars on the weekends; a scene that Marcus doesn’t appreciate or enjoy.  The sad part is that Marcus and Frank have increasingly less in common as the years go by.  Marcus longs for the old days when they were both on the high school football team.  What great times those were!

At the foundry there is a metallurgical engineer named Paul Kedzic.  He has taken a liking to young Marcus and they have spent some time at lunch discussing the properties of various types of metal.  Paul has even discussed with Marcus the chemical components of metals, discussing the molecular structure of various elements.  Marcus is genuinely interested and Paul has noticed that Marcus seems to have a capacity to understand some fairly difficult concepts.

Last Wednesday after lunch Paul took Marcus aside out in the back yard of the foundry where the scrap castings are stacked.  He encouraged Marcus to enroll at Hubbard State University this January and take an evening course in college chemistry.  Marcus told Paul that he really didn’t think he was a “college kind of guy” but Paul continued to encourage him.  After about a week of anguish, Marcus made his decision, but he never mentioned it to Paul.  His first day of class is Monday night, January 9th.

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