Things About Old Men

I love old men. I just do. And old ladies too. But old men can tell stories like no other. For clarification, by old I mean over 70. They've lived life. No more games, fear of consequences. Just say it like it is, old men. If I could encapsulate every old man I have ever met in a colorful story book, I think that I would be pretty happy with myself.  Theirs are stories worth telling, and worth hearing.

This week I worked with a man named Jim. He's 74, and he's out here, running a skidgeon. Or a squidgeon, if you're Josh, and easily confused by words. For anyone who doesnt know, a skidgeon it a cross between a log skidder and an engine. It can dig and cut and drag and squirt and drench.  It's pretty cool. And when you run it, you get tossed about the cab like a bobble head, breathing dust and smoke like crazy, especially when you have a home-made number like Jim's skidgeon, with an open screen, welded cab. Most skidgeon operators are of a certain age, and deaf. It's that disregard for consequence I think. The nothing-left-to-lose and what's-a-few-bumps-and-aches-and-pains. I think it makes them feel young and useful and alive.

Jim told me a story about his family. He's been married to Betty for 54 years. They had two daughters. One is a roller operator for a road constructions crew and the other he said, got into "drugs and bullshit", and well, it finally killed her. The heavy equipment operator daughter lost all of her fingers and a good chunk of her left hand working at the mill, but she still has her thumb so she manages just fine driving.  The other daughter, Bobbi, got married to a local boy named Blue, who turned out to be no good. 

About 27 or so years ago, Blue took his refer truck out to Kansas, with Bobbi in tow, leaving their two week old baby back in Oregon with family.  They set out to make some money, but after bouncing from state to state fruitlessly, Blue finally saw what he wanted  somewhere in central Kansas. He set Bobbi up driving the refer truck and he hid in the sleeping compartment. He told her to hail another trucker pulling a load of cattle. She talked the other driver into pulling over for a joint, and when he the sucker climbed into the cab of the refer, Blue shot him twice and killed him dead. He bundled up the body in the back of the refer trailer, which he left on the side of e desolate road, then he hooked his cab up to that beef and hauled it back to Oregon and sold it. Bobbi watched in horror  as he cleaned up the blood that streamed down the side of the truck, and as he got a neighbor to dig a put to bury some of the steers that had died in their overlong and miserable transport. Blue told the neighbor to leave the pit for some other trash, and went back to Kansas to get his refer, complete with dead body. He wrapped that body up and threw it in the mass cattle grave and dumped it in, covering it before he had the neighbor come and bury the whole damn pile.

It took two years for Bobbi to tell Jim and Betty what her husband had done, after Blue had run off with a dingbat hairdresser. Jim went straight to a lawyer friend and they got Bobbi's statement all done up. Sure enough, the guy that Blue had killed had a warrant out for HIS arrest for stealing the cattle in the first place, so the only people looking for him were the Kansas police. Bobbie took them out to the property where the body was, where the sheriffs, looking for all of the world like neighborhood rednecks in their cowboy hats (cause that's how they do it out there in Mitchell, Oregon), lured Blue out of that trailer and arrested him right there in front of that dingy hairdresser.  They found the body, sure enough, and when they got Blue down to the police station and upstairs towards the interrogation room, the guy wrestled away from the cops in his handcuffs and jumped out of a second story window. As you can imagine, he didn't get very far, and after a week long trial in Topeka, he was sentenced to 25 years. After that, he sent love letters to his dingbat hairdresser girlfriend who had just inherited a good bunch of money and had moved to Kansas to be close to her jailbird boyfriend. After buttering her up with lots of mushy stuff, he told her to hire somebody to go out to Oregon, get Bobbi hooked on drugs, get her to recant her statement, and then overdose her. Blue told the dingbat to destroy the letters, which had all of these instructions in detail, but she kept them, because they were sweet. The hairdresser paid $3000 to one druggie to go out and take care of business, but, surprisingly, he disappeared with the cash.  Then she gave a convicted felon $1200 to carry out the deed, who took the money and copies of the letters to the police. Something about those letters made it so that Blue managed to stay in prison past his 25 year sentence, but Bobbi didn't make it that long. Her own bad habits got the better of her. Her daughter, Heather, stayed with Jim and Betty until her delinquent father tried to weasel his way into her good graces for help with a parole hearing. Lucky she was smart enough to know better, and she'd read the death sentence letters about her mother. Heather is an ultrasound tech now, with three kids, and another one on the way.

Jim has more stories to tell, about how Betty is as smart and talented as they come, but prefers to sit around on the computer. She had a run in with "female cancer" last year and she's doing ok now, but she'd gotten pretty heavy and one day, Jim took her by the shoulders, looked her in the eye, and said "you know that I love you dearly, but if you don't lose some weight, you'll be in a wheel chair inside of two years." Betty started walking, taking some pills, and lost 120 pounds. He says she could do petty much anything she wants, but she kind of likes to do nothing. After 54 years, if Josh can criticize me with that much affection in his eyes, I'd be ok with it.

Then there was Steve. Another heavy equipment operator of the appropriate age, who had suffered a Aaortic Anuerysm two years before I met him on the Cub Complex in northern California. He had missed the last fire season, he said, because he had been in a coma for about 6 months due to the massive loss of blood and shock to his system. He said it wouldn't have been so bad except the doctors didn't take him seriously on his first two ER visits. They gave him heartburn pills and sent him home. The third time, he said, he had to lapse into a coma right in front of them to get dome attention. Anyone who works in the medical field, and many other people, understand that an unattended, undiagnosed Aaortic aneurysm is ALWAYS fatal. The chance of surviving one that is caught right away is slim. Steve is nothing more than a CAT driving miracle.

One of my favorite old men of all time is Larry. I worked with Larry for the better part of two summers. He taught me how to ride ATVs, mostly by letting me crash, and groom trails, and dig holes, build signs and drive really fast on washboard roads. Larry was adamant about the legality of the "rule of ...", which was some addendum to state speeding laws that said if it was safer to go faster than the speed limit, it was ok. I looked it up, and sure enough, there was some little loophole that could be stretched just far enough to prevent Larry from ever getting a speeding ticket. I could never get over watching Larry run a Stihl 66 for 8 hours a day, with gnarled arthritic Hands and a habitual hunch in his back, which I can imagine once was broad and strong, back when he was a city firefighter for Bend, and the big brick fire station with the brass poles was't a series of hipster bars that couldn't stay in business. I can see him picking up cleverly on the pretty receptionist that passed the station, and marrying her up right quick with her two kids and all, because Joanne was all that and a bag of chips. I hear that Joanne had a bout with cancer last year, and it wasn't looking good. I need to call Larry.

Then there was the old navy vet with MRSA in his lungs that I rode with in the back of the ambulance to Spokane. He taught me how to say "lint of the belly button" in Italian, which had been his mother's favorite obscenity. I wish I could remember that silly phrase. I swore I'd never forget it. 

I honestly look forward to being married to an old man version of Josh someday - a Josh with absolutely nothing to prove to anyone and lots of nose and ear hairs. I look forward to rolling my eyes at his stories and backing him up when our great grandkids respond in disbelief.  I think Josh will be an old man of the best variety. One with all of the best and most amazing stories. Stories that we're living right now. 


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