Tuesday, July 07, 2009
What Does It Matter What You Say About People?
A man you don't know is dead.
I know him. Too many dead people just now. Another friend called to tell me, just as he did a month ago for another. It didn't register until the receiver was replaced. I sat for a quiet moment after, and considered the scythe that takes the winter wheat; the summer; the very stubble in the field.
Fifty-four he was. That's it. Older than me, but not old, surely? His children are grown enough to be elsewhere. He raised them well enough for them to leave him. Now he's left them. The second sweetest woman in the world is his wife, and I cannot think of her just now. I don't have the gas in the tank to get to the end of that road.
I said I knew him. No man knows another, really. We worked together a bit. We did different things at the same time. A kind of respect, perhaps affection, appears in those situations, or doesn't; because the world is full of those that don't elicit it -- usually more than those that do -- or maybe it's you that comes up short. Once in a while you take a man's measure and submit to the same in turn and you're glad he's there instead of some millstone. He thinks the same of you. That is a man you can work with.
He was easy with a laugh but didn't constantly stop to jaw. When the world must be physically different at the end of the day, you learn to hate the man that won't stop talking, or start working -- one or the other or both. He kept going. But you can't keep going forever, can you?
A tradesman can't get rich but one way. He can work a lot. You can't work a lot if people don't like you and you don't know what you're doing. He made a comfortable life for his family and even managed a little leisure. I've stood in a decrepit building with him at two AM, both still trying to make the world different enough to get our shekels and get our leisure. His is taken from him, now forever; and mine never seemed to arrive.
They took all he had near the end there. Men who do not deign to fill out forms can find anything they want on a workingman's forms. There is no way to be correct; you can only not come into their line of sight. It's like a cat and a mouse. You know how it will play out but not exactly how it will be played. They ignored the men who worked just next to him that made no pretense of honesty, ever, because only an honest man has enough meat on his bones to attract their appetite. He tried; that was his mistake.
They stripped him bare and hounded him. They made him into an indentured servant. They told a man that had thirty years of two AM, two AM, over and over, that he had another life of two AMs to make up. To keep them in their ease.
He drank a bit. I might have too, and worse. He walked on feet with the toes gone one after another and tried to fill the hole without a bottom. Theirs,especially; and his. He had a big heart, but not big enough it seems.
I could shake a fist for him now, at some unseen Olympus we dare not tempt in life. There's no point. He was a man, flawed and funny and kind, and now a kind of contraction has happened to my planet. It is diminished. The electrons still flow through his wires, and the whole universe would travel through those anonymous conduits eventually, if you gave it enough time.
But there's never enough time. What does it matter what you say about people?