Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two men, same harvest

I used to live across the alley from Eddie, an overall clad, bearded curmudgeon who had a love for and talent with pit bulls. He owned a house built just after the turn of the century with out buildings he turned into garages for his collection of trucks. His yard was immaculate and the chain link fence as silvery and taut as when it was put up forty years before. The short porch that led up to the black-out curtained door sparkled with sunlight from the strings of AOL disks hanging from the eaves. "Keeps the birds from nesting in the eaves," he told me one day as we walked down the alley, he leading his pit bull. When he was outside, the pit bull never left his side, quiet and watchful as she sat on her haunches next to him when we talked over the fence.

"I worked hard my whole life. Had a drinking problem, but I didn't let it get the best of me. Quit when it got in the way of my work."

"Now you're retired and can do whatever you want," I said.

"Not really, not like my friend Bob."

"The guy you have lunch with every day?"

"Yep. That's the one."

"Was Bob some kind of banker or executive?"

Eddie laughed. "Nope. Drunk. Always was and still is."

"Then how does he have more than you do?"

"Government takes care of him. If I'd known working hard, saving my money and quitting drinking wouldn't get me as much, or more, than being a drunk and a bum, I'd have kept drinking, but I had a family to support and I was brought up to earn my way, not expect nobody to take care of me. Just don't seem right somehow."

Work is a habit with some people, and it was with Eddie who was either working in the yard or the house or on one of his trucks. He had a rusty yellow truck for hauling things and running quick errands, a beautiful, sleek and shiny black truck for visiting relatives or long drives, and a bigger, rusty blue truck for hauling big things that would mess up the pristine bed of the black truck, maintaining them all with equal care and attention. Sometimes Bob rumbled up in his broken down Oldsmobile, exhaust belching black clouds of noxious fumes from the back. Bob didn't drive his Cadillac because he didn't want to "mess it up" with road grime.

I saw the Cadillac once and it was a beautiful metal flake sky blue with a deep blue leather landau roof and silvery spoked hub cabs. Bob won it in a contest. The car had less than 1000 miles on the odometer and sat in the garage at his house among the rusted paint cans and tottering heaps of bulging garbage bags protected by a black car cover in a slot just big enough for the car. It looked like the debris, garbage and junk had been shoved aside to make room for the Cadillac and was obvious the rusted, bald tired Olds had never been parked in the garage. The Olds sat in the yard where a rutted track wove drunkenly through clumps of crab grass, stunted bushes and waist high weeds led to an Olds sized patch of yellow and brown desiccated skeletons of anonymous growth.

Eddie curled his thumbs around the straps of his bib overalls. "Always taught in Sunday school that you reap what you sow. Strange old world when you're too drunk to sow a single seed and still reap a bountiful harvest. Good book got it wrong."

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