Sunday, April 16, 2006

a long long time ago...

Down by the Riverside motel, it's 10 below and falling
by a 99 cent store she closed her eyes and started swaying
but it's so hard to dance that way when it's cold and there's no music
well your old hometown is so far away but, inside your head there's a record
that's playing, a song called

Hold on, hold on
you really got to hold on
Take my hand, l'm standing right here
and just hold on.
-tom waits


...my first trip across canada, many years ago.
...he's an interesting looking man, probably not much over 45. He wears well worn brown cords, 70's style, flared at the bottom. A very used looking shirt, that once was white, with stylized western designs on it. Over this he sports a vest, the kind your dad use to wear while working on the weekends.
I'm trying to think of a way of introducing myself. Approaching the bench, l knelt down at the end. Now being within a foot of his face l notice more detail. Well weathered and tanned like that of a man of the sea, his face. His open mouth revealed broken, blackened teeth. His left eye askew, probably as a result of a barroom brawl. His hair looked like it had been cut by hedge cutters, perhaps a self-helped job to rid himself of lice. A man walking on the edge...
"Smoke?" I said, pushing my pack up towards him. Smiling, "Thanks," he said, as he lit both of our smokes. Once again my seductive ploy had met with success. We remain quiet, he and l silently watching the city rush by. The silence is finally broken. "Nice day hey." Jesus, if this had been my first date l would have blown it. "Ya," he says, looking up and confirming my statement. He smiles again, acknowledging my presence. With such a beautiful sincere smile he resembles that of a naive young boy. Cigarettes and names were exchanged and he began to tell me stories of the trains. "I use to ride the rails." Riding the rails took Bill many directions as well as providing him with a multitude of jobs. Construction, work on the BC highways, and trapping with his uncle were among the handful. His uncle had helped him out of many tough spots, providing occasional work.
Giving him several smokes, Bill placed them in a baggy containing a few dozen cigarette butts. Bill picks butts off the street and he rolls them. "But l watch who throws them away so l won't catch any mouth diseases." Thinking on that, l wonder what Bill would do with the excess time if he didn't worry about where his next smoke was coming from.
With all types of traffic crossing back and forth, we concentrated on the females, with Bill commenting, "Lots of pretty girls go by here." I agreed. "Lots of ugly ones too, but the ugly ones have nicer personalitites." We share laughter of Bill's profound comments.
Again smokes and lights were exchanged and this time Bill offers me his dirty white lighter, to keep. "Thanks Bill."
The conversation returned again to his past work, his plumbing jobs, his handling of dynamite in Winnipeg. "Lots of work in Winnipeg, I can go back there you know."As well, Bill tells me of the plentiful supply of work in BC. "I'm going back there next month," he says, "Lots of work." I have a train to catch and as l leave l tell him, "Go to BC. Bill." He nods and smiles. A half hour later while waiting in the boarding line l spot Bill in the lobby. He has his little baggy out and is picking butts from the ashtray. I hope he goes to BC. I hope he goes trapping with his uncle.


2 comments:

Maxine said...

Ken,
I so enjoy reading your stories. You remind of William Trevor who focuses on the neglected who so often don’t have a voice. Your stories are testimony to your sense of humanity and generosity of spirit.
Maxine
p.s. Thank you!

ken said...

Thanks again Maxine. And thanks for passing the link onto your friend dognose. :)