Friday, June 25, 2010

Old Man Steve

I took a long walk today when it was dead at the store. I decided to climb up a tall hill which I had been avoiding, well, because it's a tall hill. I found that if I walked very slowly up that tall hill, I hardly expended any energy at all! The trick is to take about two seconds between each step, and it's almost like walking very slowly up a tall hill. Amazing.

Anyway, I got up to the top of the hill and saw the biggest effing black bird I've ever seen. It was about a hundred feet away and perched on a bridge that spanned a wide, deep woodsy hole. It was munching on some green... no, orange things scattered all over the bridge. As I got closer, the bird began to scream. AAAARRCK! AAAACGHK! Other birds replied from the roofs of nearby houses. As I approached, the air was filled with the cries of defiant, pissed off, huge black birds. I got closer to the bird on the bridge, which I think must have been a raven or just a giant mutant crow, and saw that it's huge beak was stuffed with Cheetos. It stood it's ground bravely until I was about ten feet away, and with a final RAAAGGHRRK! it flew away to join it's brethren on the roof of the house on the other side of the woodsy hole. They all immediately began to wrastle with the one bird with the Cheetos.

I kept going and finally reached the top of the hill, only to find that it was a dead end. I won't lie - I was sorely disappointed. I had just humped it up a giant mountain, braved a hoard of pterodactyls, and waded through rivers of Cheetos, only to find that there was no more road. If I could have thrown something, I would have. I had my phone in my hand. I thought about throwing it, but I just spit over the edge of the cliff instead. I turned around and kicked my way through the Cheetos, scattering the mutant birds, summarily putting them in their places. I'm the human, after all. They're just dumb birds. Get outa my way, inferior animals. I'm pissed.

I was almost to the bottom of the hill when I discovered a little stairway that I hadn't noticed on my way up. It curved down in a little half spiral to a road which led away and disappeared around a curve which was obscured by all kinds of woodsy things. As I stood at the top of the stairs, I saw a woman sitting on a bench in front of a local shop. She was a rather large woman, and as she sat there, her head was down and she was kicking her heel on the concrete sidewalk over and over. Kind of just bouncing her heel, up and down, up and down. I stood there and watched her do this for about two minutes, and she never stopped. She just sat there, looking down, kicking her heel on the concrete as if it was made out of rubber. I wondered about that lady. Was she sad? Was she waiting on someone? Was she just lost in thought? What was her life like? She was pretty fat. I found myself feeling sorry for her. She never looked up... she just sat there and sat there, bouncing her heel on the sidewalk.

I walked down the stairs and wandered along the road aimlessly for a while, until I came upon a boardwalk which diverged from the road and promptly disappeared into more woodsy stuff. There was a sign posted there which read "Married Man's Trail". This gave me pause for a few seconds... was I allowed on this trail? I'm not married, after all. There was a grizzled old man with a short white beard standing right there at the entrance, and I wondered if he was the one who guarded the trail against the unlawful entry of single men. I decided to risk it anyway. I approached the trail, and before I could step foot on it, the grizzled guy stopped me. This was it, I was about to be denied entry and cast back upon the road... maybe even punished according to some strange local custom.

"Hey!" said the old grizzled guy.

I said "Hi."

"How's it going?" he asked.

"Oh, pretty good." I replied.

"Why are you so dressed up?" I looked down and briefly examined myself. I was wearing my suit coat, my white button down shirt, slacks, and dress shoes for work. I thought about telling the guy that I had just been married earlier today, but I had a feeling that this old man was no fool.

"I work down in the tourist district. It's pretty slow right now, so I'm just taking a walk."

"So, where ya from? I know you ain't from here by the way you talk."

I told him I was from Texas in the thickest southern drawl I could manage, hoping to charm him into letting me walk down the trail. For some inexplicable reason, I felt an intense need to walk the Married Man's Trail. Maybe it's because I want to be married... anyway, I had barely gotten warmed up and was ready to throw a couple of 'fixin to' and 'yalls' at him when, to my surprise, the grizzled old guy started walking down the Married Man's Trail. I followed him tentatively, hoping that maybe I could slip by him.

"Hey, that's real jade there, you know!" The old grizzled man was talking to someone who was perusing what apparently were his wares. It was then that I noticed that there was a little shop front along the trail, with all kinds of carved jade pieces on display. The guy looking at the jade scurried off and the old grizzled man turned back to me. I quickly began examining the jade with interest while he stood there looking at me. I tried to think of something to say before he realized that he hadn't checked me for a wedding ring.

"So, do you carve all of this?" I said, just to be saying something.

"Nah," he replied. "I order it from this guy who something or another over here and there and whatnot." That's what I got out of what he said, anyway.

"So, how much is this one?" I indicated a jade cross. I always ask 'how much for the cross' when I'm forced to interact with a proprietor when browsing the local shops here.

"Oh, they come in all sizes. That'n there is a medium. It's sumpin or another dollars." I don't remember how much he said. He then disappeared around the corner of the little shop and into an open doorway.

"I gotta take care of these folks here, come on in." He motioned me inside hurriedly and disappeared again. I went around the corner and through the door and found that I was actually in the guy's house, and that the front room had been converted into a kind of mini-grocery store, with canned goods and chips and sodas set up on shelves and in small coolers. He had just taken some money from a young couple and was talking to the guy.

"Hell, in my time it was the guy who paid! What's this shit? The guy's supposed to pay. Why are you making the woman pay? Sheesh!" The couple hurried out. I couldn't tell if he was joking, or if the couple thought he was joking, or if he was serious, or what. The grizzled old man turned to me. "Can you believe that shit? He made the girl pay for that!" He shook his head and stood there for a few seconds, then looked up suddenly and high tailed it into the next room. "Shit, I'm burning it! She's gonna be pissed!" By she, I assumed he was talking about his wife. His house was built right on top of the entrance to the Married Man's Trail, after all. The smells of something cooking wafted into the room from the kitchen. He hurried in and I followed him.

"You ever make homemade tortillas?" the old grizzled man asked.

"No," I replied. "But my mom's side of the family is Mexican, and my aunts make tortillas and tamales and stuff from scratch."

"Yeah, I love to cook. I got some bread in the oven now." He opened the oven and I saw about 6 small loaves of bread in there, all brown and almost done, and smelling damn good.

"My name's Steve, by the way." He stretched out one hand to me, the other grasping a frying pan, in which he had just deposited a homemade tortilla. I took his hand and shook it.

"My name's... Elias." I had almost said Ash.

"Good to meetcha. So, what are you doing here in Alaska? Working down in the tourist district? Doing what?"

I guess it was obvious that I was probably working the tourist district, what with the way I was dressed and the fact that I have, to people up north anyway, a think southern drawl. I told him that I worked for Dicker and Dicker, and before I could get any further, he said "Oh, selling furs, huh? You know Navi? And Nadim?"

Navi and Nadim work in the fur store right next to us. I was somewhat surprised that he immediately knew all of that right off the bat. I told him that yes, I sold furs, and yes, I did know Navi and Nadim. Steve then asked how I was liking it in Alaska.

"I like it pretty much, actually," I said. "In fact, I'm thinking about staying."

"Oh yeah?" he said without looking up, now intent on chopping mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers. "What for? You gotta find a job up here if you're gonna stay past summer, and the work ethic sucks. People here are lazy. Listen to this shit." He then proceeded to tell me about how he had first moved here 30 years ago and started work as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, and how within six weeks he had been the head cook because all of the employees were drunk and high every day. Thus he eventually wound up owning the place, and all because nobody in Alaska had any damn worth ethic. Why this was such a problem for him, since he had apparently benefited greatly from it, was beyond me.

"So, why do you wanna stay here again?" He hadn't forgotten his original question. Apparently he just needed to warn me about the work ethic... or maybe he was warning ME about the worth ethic. As in, boy, if you decide to move into my town, you better have a good worth ethic because I got my eye on you.

"Well..." I didn't know if I should mention anything about being Orthodox, and that I might be interested in attending seminary at Kodiak Island, as I'm not even sure about that myself. Plus, people can be touchy about religion. I've already had one customer walk right out the door when I mentioned my recent baptism in casual conversation while I was schmoozing them into buying something. But then again, maybe if I told him about my religion he would assume that I had a good worth ethic, and I wouldn't have to face suffering his wrath in the future. It was a calculated risk.

"I don't know. I really like it here, and I was thinking... well, maybe about going to seminary out on Kodiak Island."

"Seminary?" He replied, looking up from his chopping to meet my eye. "You Eastern Orthodox?"

I was somewhat surprised, but I guess I shouldn't have been. After all, Alaska is a stronghold of Orthodoxy. "Yeah. For about a month now. Well, actually, for about a year and a half... but I was just baptized last month."

"Oh really? How did you come about it?"

"Well, first I met this girl..."

"Ooooh boy," he said, shaking his head. "Let me guess. She brought you into the church, right?"

"Uh... yeah," I replied.

"She your girlfriend?" Before I could reply, he said "She left you, right?"

"Uh... yeah," I replied, again.

Dear reader, I shit you not. This was the conversation.

He stopped his chopping and put the knife down. "I knew it. God damn women, they stick it to you every time. You know they do. They do, don't they? God damn. Women." He shook his head and poured some eggs into a frying pan, getting an omelette ready.

Wow. This man was not only extremely perceptive, but he was damn amusing as well. I found myself really enjoying his company. "Well," I said, feeling some need now to defend my situation, or at least explain it, "yeah, she left me, but if it hadn't been for her, I never would have found the church. So it was worth it, I think."

"Well, I'm Jewish," he said. "And Navi and Nadim are both Muslims. It takes all types, you know," he said wisely. He finished the omelette and yelled out the door. "Hon, it's ready!" A lady walked into the house and went through the kitchen and sat at a table there. I'm assuming it was his wife, as I've already explained. Steve finished up the omelette and deposited it onto the homemade tortilla.

"You want some of this?" he asked, nodding towards the tortilla and omelette.

That this guy, this grizzled old man, purveyor of local wisdom and genuinely friendly, had actually invited me, a complete stranger, into his house and then offered me some of the food that he had been cooking as we talked, touched me deeply. I wanted to say "Yeah, I'd love some," but my inherent shyness stopped me. I tried to think of an excuse not to accept his offer. I looked at the clock on my phone. Well, I'd been gone for almost an hour. The food smelled really good, and I was kind of hungry, and there the grizzled old guy stood, offering... but...

"Nah. I'd better be going. I've been gone for a while now and should probably be getting back." I kicked myself mentally.

"Ok, well..." he put down a block of cheese he had been grating and looked for a place to wipe his hand. He finally settled on his pants, and after a good wipe, he held out his hand and I shook it.

"Ok. I'm gonna go now. It was nice meeting you, Steve. This was definitely interesting, and now I've got something to write about in my journal."

Steve laughed and took the cheese into the other room and poured it onto the omelette on the table for... his wife, I was assuming. "Ok. See you around."

I left and as I headed back to the store, I thought about everything that had just happened and how I would write about it. I had forgotten all about taking the Married Man's Trail. I took the road back. I was still in a kind of state of amazement when I heard a voice behind me say, "I love your long hair."

I turned around and saw a pretty local woman, an Inuit I guess, walking briskly to catch up with me. "Thanks... uh... thanks." I couldn't think of anything else to say.

"There's not enough men with long hair nowadays. Don't cut it!" She smiled at me and waved as she walked past. I wish I could have thought of something else to say, but I was feeling good anyway, so I just smiled, waved back, and pulled my book out and started to read as I walked.

As I was approaching the store, another pretty lady was riding towards me on a bicycle. As she approached, she smiled and slowed down and said, "Are you almost finished?"

What, ho? Two pretty women talking to me on the same day? For no apparent reason? Can my ego take it? "Uhhh..." I didn't know what she was talking about at first, then I glanced down at my book. Oh! "I'm about half way through it."

"Ok. Well, bye!" She waved and smiled and rode away.

Wow. What an interesting walk that had turned out to be.

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