Cheap

A short story.
Cheap
Photograph by Adam Voorhes. Lettering by Joe Zeff.

I’d called Ben López about dumping my old water heater for a new one. Since he couldn’t do it, and his uncle Manny Aceves didn’t have time either, Ben gave me the number for Luke’s Construction. I don’t know why it was surprising to me that Ben was buddies with a big white guy like Luke, but that was based only on my dating Ben’s sister, the activist Chicana, years earlier. Ben did air-conditioning, sold weed, and did a little plumbing on the side. He was right about Luke—he offered to do the job for what could only be called better than fair. He had to resheet the rotted floor, replace old valves, some copper tubing and fittings, and make three back-and-forths to Home Depot. He cussed to himself a couple of times—I heard that—but not much else. He got that new tank in right, dragged away the old one, and left the water heater closet in better shape than it’d been in since long before I owned the house. And he didn’t ask for a dime extra. I considered offering more or tipping him. I didn’t. It helped that I led him to believe I might want him for more work. A few days later, he brought me formal, printed-out contract bids on a new deck, on painting the outside of my house, and on installing the new toilets and sinks I was thinking about. Truth was I only wanted to know what he would charge so I could compare that to what some Mexicanos would charge me.

Over a year later, I wanted more. I still taught guitar. My students kept getting more talented, though, more mature, as my musical career rose. I’d won an obscure award, I had CDs that very few listened to, let alone bought. Good news was, I no longer supported a poet girlfriend who didn’t have a job, smoked dope and watched TV until three a.m., and insisted on every meal out because she didn’t like my cooking. So I had more money. The bad news was that I was starting to

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