Expiration Date

Expiration Date

by Wallace R. E. Wallace

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450220484
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/24/2010
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.56(d)

About the Author

R.E. "Bob" Wallace has published more than 3,000 articles in newspapers, magazines, and on web sites. In researching his first novel, he spent thirty months delivering milk and drinking too much, and about fourteen months taking methamphetamine. He has lived in Colorado and Texas and currently resides in rural Montana.

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Expiration Date


By R.E. Wallace

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 R.E. Wallace
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-2048-4


Chapter One

Bobby Thomshaft is driving home from an evening movie with his wife when word that his marriage has fallen beyond repair reaches him via the FM radio.

He had just flipped on the local classic rock station. The DJ is saying, "And would you like to dedicate that song to anyone?"

A woman's voice says, "I'd like to dedicate it to Bobby, the sexiest milkman in the world."

There were probably several milkmen named Bobby along the Colorado Front Range. Thomshaft doesn't recognize the voice. Nevertheless ...

"Hear that?" Thomshaft says. "I wonder which girl on the route that is."

"Robert, she wasn't talking to you. You can't be the only milkman named Bobby in Colorado Springs."

"No, but I'm the milkman. Genny, you have no idea how I am at work all day. How I get along with my customers. I've known some of them thirteen years. I've watched their kids grow up. I'm like family. There's not one customer I've got who, if I needed a place to stay, wouldn't let me move into their house. These people love me, and I love them. It's not a sexual thing, either."

"Who would want you?" Genny asks. "You're just a milkman."

"Just a milkman? See, that comment there proves my point. You don't know the first thing about how important my business is. It's because of milk, and all those years I worked seventy hours a week with just Sundays off, that you can live like you do. Our kids have never wanted for nothing. You don't have to work, and you can have all the nice things that your yuppie wife friends have."

Genny sighs, tired of laboring the point. "You're just a milkman."

Chapter Two

Dididit-dididit-dididit-dididit-dididit-dididit-dididit-dididit-dididit. Rudy Tvorsky didn't want to open his eyes. It couldn't be 3:30 again already. But no, he peeks and there, burning in the blackness, is the red devil time. The mock chirp of the alarm shoots a familiar dread through him, breaking his spirit a little more-before the day's even begun.

Snake an arm out from under the covers, flip on the light, flip off the alarm. Rudy sits up, lights a smoke, tries to remember what day it is. Friday, long Friday. After training on the milk route for six weeks, he is still no closer to thinking he might ever feel good about rising at this unnatural hour. But rising at this hour is the first requirement for this gig.

On second drag, a violent coughing attack-Kahooluh-kahah-kaak aakkaaaaak-gorp-grawwgh-haaaawwwwkk-gorp. Then spit-Pthooh-a large, brownish gray, half-tar, half-catarrh loogie onto a pile of old sports sections next to the bed.

First thing in the morning, nothing wants to move. The last time Rudy could remember waking up this sore and tired every day for this long was during double sessions playing high school football. He was sixteen, almost half a lifetime ago. The coughing spasms get the circulation going again. Everything aches, from wind-burned face to feet, swollen from pounding hard ground. Rudy swings his legs over the side of the bed. Wet sandbags for thighs laced with bungee cord hamstrings on the verge of cramping remind him of how many times he'll have to climb in and out of the head and belly and ass of the twenty-ton iron milk cow today, jerking, swinging, and sliding forty-pound milk crates around at all the worst ergonomically conceivable angles. Maybe that's why that hard pain, a peach pit between the shoulder blades, makes him slouch like a gorilla.

Dragging ass to the bathroom to get regular, he looks back with something akin to nostalgia at the warm, wrinkled indentation in the sheets. Just sixteen more hours and he can be back in bed asleep. That is how Rudy measures time every day on the milk route-backward. From the moment of that last wistful glance at the bed, a countdown starts in his head to the fortunate, distant, future moment when he will again be free of the milk route for a few hours.

Between coughing attacks on the toilet, Rudy begins his daily chastisement to start the day with dark thoughts. Until a few months ago, he thought he'd paid his dues, thought his days of hard physical labor were over. He was supposed to be reaching his intellectual prime, not hefting crates like a primate. Now was a time to stop dreaming and take the old man's advice to heart, "You can't have a job you love, so get that outta your head, kid!"

Back in the bedroom, teeth brushed and weary coat of fatalism applied, Rudy picks dirty work clothes from the day before off a heap of dirty clothes next to the bed. He slips on filthy, gray Carhartt painter pants, encrusted around the ankles with various dried dairy products, and a blue golf shirt that smells of must, sweat, and sour milk. On the front breast pocket in embroidered letters reads Thomshaft Dairy Inc. Embroidered on the back is the Thomshaft Dairy logo-three cows' rear ends, with a message below saying, "We dairy like no other." Indeed.

The dairy was only two miles from Rudy's rented bungalow on the west side of Colorado Springs. Thomshaft lived way up north of the Air Force Academy in the hamlet of Pikes Glen on the Palmer Divide, but he was already at the dairy when Rudy pulled his shit brown '78 Celica into the lot at 4:20 am.

They called it "the dairy," but it wasn't really a dairy-more of a concrete block truck depot with cold storage. The milk and other dairy products were made at the plant up in Denver and then trucked down to Colorado Springs for further distribution.

They never talked much at the dairy, still too drunk with sleep. They just nod slack faces, expressionless.

"I'm whupped," Rudy says.

"Just one more long day," Thomshaft says. "Then an easy Saturday. Just deal with it."

It came out, "Jus dill wid it," blurred from repetition. It was Thomshaft's coverall phrase for coping with all the misery the milk route could throw at you, which was considerable.

A milkman's relationship to his product is one-sided. Dairy had to be respected, lest it kick your ass. Milk, meanwhile, respected nothing, save the laws of perishablility and gravity, which it obeyed without fail. As defined by Thomshaft, milk has four states of relativity to the milkman:

1. Kicking milk's ass

2. Milk kicking your ass

3. Laughing at milk

4. Milk laughing at you

When milk laughed at you or kicked your ass, all you could do was deal with it.

First thing in the morning, the trick is to keep busy. Keep moving to keep awake in the rheumatic blue fluorescent mist of the cooler. The milk order for the day is stacked on pallets, six crates high, by the loading dock. Thomshaft backs the truck to the door and then starts pulling seven tons of hard, gray plastic crates of dairy products stacked six crates high, stack by stack, up a small ramp into the back of the milk truck with a long, thin metal hook. Rudy, using his thighs and feet, wiggles the stacks into a tight cube, a practice that had left his thighs bruised like a serious S-M freak.

By 6:05, as the mountains blush red to meet the dawn, they are rolling out east on Woodmen Road toward a thin melon strip coming over the horizon. They ride past dimmed, identical box houses laid around pointless cul-de-sacs, new car dealerships, strip malls, and supermarkets, chancres of Colorado Springs' prosperity boom in the 1990s. For most of its history, Colorado Springs consisted of a downtown once known as "Little London" for its Victorian-age gentility, and it had a west side so debauched that tunnels once ran under Colorado Avenue so the west side's ranchers, miners, and mountain folk wouldn't see all the fancy Wood Avenue gentlemen entering the saloons and brothels.

As recently as a decade ago, nothing but farms and ranches scattered the east side of town. Now, on the east side, it's car dealerships, strip malls, supermarkets, department stores, apartment complexes, TGI-Ruby-Changigans franchises, and pawnshops, pawnshops, pawnshops all the way down the line in the foreground. Behind the boulevards, stacks and columns of identical brown shingle roofs disappear over low hills. Getting closer to the countryside, they ride past areas yet to be developed. Antelope lick morning dew off "Coming Soon" signs in the soft light.

The first stop on Friday is the grocery store in Ellicott, a little smudge of a town on the prairie twenty-two miles east of Colorado Springs. Thomshaft backs the milk truck to the back door at quarter of seven, right on time.

Minutes later, Rudy is at the back of the truck, wrapping forearms around two crates of gallon jugs (four gallons to a crate) and setting them on the ground outside the door, using his legs as he squats to the concrete so as not to blow out his lower back. You get paid for the back or the brain-might as well keep viable the one making you money. In the back of the truck, Thomshaft drags stacks of gallons to the back door with the hook and breaks them down to three high so Rudy can reach them from the ground. Rudy stacks the crates six high until the order-320 gallons-is unloaded.

Rudy unloads the last crate and grabs Betsy, the hand truck. Thomshaft nicknames all his vehicles Betsy. There is Betsy his 1988 Trans Am; Betsy the milk truck; and Betsy the hand truck with blue, red, yellow, and black electrical tape decorating the top bar of her tall aluminum spine. Betsy the hand truck was a fickle mistress. She would kick your ass if you weren't careful. When you pushed her, loaded with over 200 pounds of dairy, her top bar rested at chin level. If she snagged a wheel on the curb or a crack in the asphalt, she'd likely jump up and give you a fat lip. Or worse, you might dump the load, always a messy setback. You have to be just 10 percent smarter than the equipment you operate, and a hand truck is just a simple lever. With practice, Rudy had learned to dance with Betsy, leading her gracefully with the slightest balancing embrace, shoulder to shoulder with a hand on the small of her back. Backing her carefully over the doorjamb each trip, Rudy wheels stack after stack of gallons into the walk-in cooler.

Meanwhile, Thomshaft fills another six crates with smaller items like half gallons, quarts, chocolate quarts, half-and-half, butter, orange juice, and cottage cheese.

Rudy wheels in the stack of loose items, stocking them out in the display case and rotating the old with the new according to expiration date. Expiration dates are death to dairy-the point at which dairy becomes fit for pigs and little else.

After rotating, Rudy goes outside and starts stacking the empty crates from the previous delivery on the truck. Thomshaft adds up the bill and then walks out to the display case to make sure Rudy hadn't been lazy and not rotated. Empty crates are called "wire" in milk jargon from days when they weren't made of plastic. Wire has to be stowed through careful rotation behind the milk so they won't block you from getting to the full stacks of product and kick your ass.

With the bill tallied, Thomshaft comes to help with the wire. Rudy is handing a stack of six wires up to him when a guy in a black and Bondo hatchback rolls around back. The guy has long, greasy blond hair wiring out of a grubby baseball cap and isn't wearing a shirt. He's bobbing around behind the wheel as the car comes to a stop. His face looks like he shaved with a broken bottle-erratic clumps of facial hair on spots he missed, spots of shaving cream on his ear lobes, and bloody tabs of toilet paper on his neck.

"Hey, bro, bro, I'm glad I saw you guys from the road." He speaks softly, yet quickly, as though pushing the words out despite some great inner distortion, fidgeting behind the wheel. "I was wondering if I could ask you a favor, bro."

"Yeah?" Rudy says.

"Could I have one of your milk crates? It would really help me out a lot."

"Sure, man."

Thomshaft stands at Betsy's back door as Rudy carries the crate over.

"Thanks, bro. I've got to get up to Denver for a court date, and I can't tell you how this helps me out."

He didn't have to. He opens the door to accept the crate and Rudy sees the inside is gutted, no seats. He's been squatting behind the steering wheel, standing on one leg and working the pedals with the other.

"Good thing it's an automatic," Rudy says, walking back to the milk truck, smiling so tightly that his eyes tear.

"My girlfriend went to get us some shit last night, but she didn't fucking tell me she sold the seats in my car to get it."

Rudy climbs into the back of the truck. He and Thomshaft go hysterical until their faces hurt.

"Girlfriend sold the seats," Thomshaft snorts.

"I heard some stuff on the news about this place being the crystal meth capital of the state," Rudy says. "But that nut was the first time I ever saw it so out in the open. I mean, half the people out here look whacked on the shit, but they never admit it."

"We're truck drivers, and it's early in the morning. He probably thought we were zooming, too."

"Sold the fucking seats! Tragi-comic trailer trash, meth-blind to the ridiculousness."

"If it gets too bad, just don't do it."

Chapter Three

It's almost 11:00 am-seven hours in and just nine more to go-and the milk has not kicked their asses any more than normal. Thomshaft and Rudy are rolling out Highway 24 to the next set of stops in Limon, a prairie crossroads at the junction with Interstate 70.

The enduring droop of near-constant milking now recedes somewhat. All the hardest stops are behind them. Rudy straightens in his seat and looks out the window. They're well away from the mountains, rolling through a shallow valley creased with dry gulches leading down to a cottonwood-lined dry creek bed called the Big Sandy. The crinkled expanse of the eastern plains reclines before them, looking scrubbed, rough, and brown beneath the sun's warm gaze at more than a mile above sea level. Cattle dot the tawny fields of buffalo grass, sage, and prickly clumps of yucca. A solitary red tail hawk hovers in the constant breezes that blow out here and make spring days like today feel chilled.

Rudy looks around the cab. It looks like shit, but after living out of the truck week after week, busting ass to get the milk delivered, they hadn't surplus energy for housekeeping. Rudy's legs are buried ankle-deep in empty milk cartons and plastic water and orange juice bottles piled on the passenger seat floor. On the grimy console between him and Thomshaft sits an ashtray brimming with butts, two packs of cigarettes, two lighters, loose change, and spare fuses-all half-buried in engine soot. Above the console hangs a wind-torn Playboy calendar advanced to Miss October, a comely brunette lass with a lactic fetish. She's pouring a pint of Bossy's Best down her puffy dairies.

Rudy looks over at Thomshaft, his svelte form curled around the steering wheel. A tall, lean man with black, feathered-back hair, a pointed nose, and eyes as inviting as warm brownies, Thomshaft's fair skin and sharp features make him look closer to twenty years old than forty years old. He's staring straight ahead with mantis cool out of black, wraparound sunglasses, a smoldering Marlboro Light 100 dangling a long ash from his lips.

"How was that movie last night?"

"That fucking bitch."

Their language reflected the ambience of the cab, and they were too tired to clean that up, too.

"A chick in the movie?"

"No, my wife." Thomshaft daintily ashes his smoke-careful not to drop the ash, as if it matters in this pigsty. "Last night, my wife said the worst thing she could have said to me. She could have told me she was blowing half the Mexicans in town and it wouldn't have been worse."

"What'd she say? 'Is it in yet?'"

"We were driving home from the movie, and this chick comes on the radio and dedicates a song to Bobby, the milkman-says I'm the sexiest milkman in the world. I don't know the voice, but I know she's talking about me."

"Jealous?"

"Nah. She knows I like to look at women. She knows I like to flirt, but I'd never screw around on her, although I probably could have a bunch of times. Anyway, I wondered who the chick was dedicating the song, and Genny says, 'You're just a milkman. Who would want you?' Those were her exact words. 'Just a milkman.' She has no idea how my customers love me! Everyplace we go on this route, people would let me move into their house."

"Why would she say something like that? You worked hard to build up this business so you could support your family in style."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Expiration Date by R.E. Wallace Copyright © 2010 by R.E. Wallace. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Expiration Date 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
fisherbroke09 More than 1 year ago
In turns Expiration Date is tasteless, shameless, hilarious and brilliant. It takes a really unique look at meth abuse as seen through the eyes of Rudy Tvorsky, a Colorado milkman, who experiments with meth while his boss, roommate and several others around him all get in way over their heads on meth. Unlike much writing about meth written either from a clinical or law enforcement point of view, the author tells the story from a very working class perspective. Not much mincing of words. Rudy can't understand how he can clearly see all the people around him going downhill on meth, yet the tweakers around him can be oblivious to their own decline. Most noteworthy is the decline of main character, Bobby Thomshaft, his friend and boss. All kind of crazy, pathetic yet funny tweaker stuff is in the book, including a paranoid girlfriend sprinkling Cherry KoolAid on a balcony rail so when the non-existent "They" try to sneak in her apartment "they" will leave traces of their crime in the form of sticky red fingerprints. But crazy as most of it sounds it also rings true, as the words of someone who has seen and experienced much of the story. Many dark and tragic things happen, as one would expect of a novel about meth, but they are usually buoyed by clever and satirical descriptions of the ridiculousness of the delusions that tweakers labor under. The characters are not the most lovable, but then the subject matter doesn't lend itself to sympathetic characters. The main milkman, sexually obsessed, 40-year old tweaker, Thomshaft is perhaps the most reprehensible characters in literature since J.P. Donleavy's Sebastian Dangerfield. That kind of character. Character growth is scarce, as one would expect from a subject where the characters are thinking only of short term survival rather than long term goals. The writing is crisp and clear, and flows fast with short chapters and vibrant, colorful dialogue. I read it in two settings, which almost never happens. Descriptions are very solid, eloquent yet amusing and detailed, but not longwinded. The ending is solid and satisfying, a subtle display of growth and humility by Thomshaft and Tvorsky. But there's no shining light from heaven or rehab regression catharsis, just regular folks dealing with life and getting on as best they can. It is strong subject matter, no doubt, but it's on a topic that has been ignored too long, one that has scarred an entire gerneration across the American Heartland. It's like if it doesn't happen on one of the coasts it's not important. It's about time someone stepped up to the plate creatively to deliver a fiction work that speaks louder than journalistic and television voyeuristic presentations. I think it's a must read for anyone who is curious about how meth horror stories become that way. How people in your own neighborhood can become that way.