Several years ago, my friend M clinched the deal as to whether I could move to the desert by handing me a job on a platter. “There’s this guy,” he said, “and he’s got a small-engine repair shop and really needs a responsible wrench. I told him all about you, and he wants to meet you bad.
“You should know, though, that he’s quite a character. Needs some getting used to…”
That was my introduction to Mike K, as red a redneck as I ever met. He’s a short, squat, ugly, bearded individual with an amazingly foul mouth that, if that was all you knew about him, would make him hard to love. To hear him tell it he’s done everything at some point: Mined for gold, hunted everything you could possibly skin, cut down every tree in every forest. One thing I knew for sure – he could get almost any machine, no matter how decrepit, back on its knees if he’d only sit his ass down at his bench and do it.
I worked for him for about a year and a half, before my legal troubles made it hard to get into town reliably without being arrested. And in that time I came to love that man almost as much as anybody I ever met. His gruff, foul exterior hid a heart so generous and kind I occasionally speculated about schizophrenia. He’d bitch about Catholics, but let the nuns from the other side of town come in for their semiannual knife-sharpening and he’d drop what he was doing and get right on it. He talked trash about blacks, but one of his closest hunting companions just happened to be just about the only black man in town. Don’t get him started on Mexicans, even though he was always sending business to the local jeffe.
A couple of months ago I dropped in to pick up some chains I’d left for sharpening. I hadn’t seen Mike in quite a while, and he came struggling out from the back of the shop using a walker.
“What the hell?” asked I.
“Oh, just got out of the hospital,” he said. “Figures if something would go wrong, it’d have to be with my ass. I’ve got colon cancer.”
He sure does. I had a chance to sit with him for a while this afternoon. He’s been in and out of the hospital since that first time, and things aren’t going well. I’m afraid every time I see him from now on might be the last, and it makes me more sad than I expected.
Life goes on, I guess. Except sometimes, for some of us, it doesn’t.