Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

From the Homestead (4)--What's Proverbial

"What the f... were you doing?" the old guy said, climbing out of the old maroon-ish Buick, crawling maybe better describes it. My first thought was that he was drunk. The spew of anger didn't quit once he sort of got to his feet. 

I took his abuse manfully because no matter what shade of death he looked like, I. Hit. Him. His car, that is. His old mostly maroon pinto Buick.

I'd been looking around southeast Nebraska, wandered into a town whose name I didn't even know, rumbled down a brick-laid Main Street past a dozen shuttered businesses, then turned west. When I missed a turn toward an old gas station that could have made a Depression-era postcard. I stopped, put the Explorer in reverse, and bang! hit him. I had no idea he was behind me, never checked a mirror, just backed into that Buick. 

Bang. Slap an exclamation point on because it wasn't a nudge. I thought there would be something approaching major damage. Until I saw the old guy's car.

I was saying he crawled out. Maybe I should put it this way--he spilled out. Wasn't pretty. Hair like Bernie Sanders on a bad day, two day's beard, suspenders working hard to tug up blue jeans with a waist big enough for another him. When he leaned over the grill, he was all heinder. Depression-era gas station? This guy was Depression-era. He could mouth a cigarette--little cigars actually, one after another--and never stop cussing.

None of that altered the bare facts. Whatever happened was my fault. His old Buick didn't hold more than six inches of original paint job in any single spot. The front bumper was banged, and the truth is, there really seemed to me to be nothing new. 

Except what he found."Look at this," he says, pointing as if there were gold in them there wrinkles. "That's new--that's new." A kind of split lip on that aluminum strip around the bumper. "Sure, that's new," he said. "That'n never was there before." Here and there an exploding expletive. 

I told him I'd write down my name and address, but he says he's got to call in the police. 

The cop is shouldered like an ex-Husker defensive end, all of 300 pounds. Somehow, even though I'm white as a snowman, I tell myself I've fallen into the Twilight Zone and an episode of In the Heat of the Night.  Huge cop takes my license and registration, then the old guy's, then retires to his all-terrain vehicle and snaps on the flashing lights, dramatics we really didn't need. In town, me and the old guy and our old cars were the whole story that afternoon.

I don't need to hear any more of the old crank's spittin', so I go back to the Explorer and wait while the he creeps around that Buick looking for collateral damage. I can see a bill coming my way, a thousand dollars on a wreck I could probably take off his hands right then for a song.

But I'm not mad because my Calvinist soul tells me the straight up truth: I'm guilty as heck. I never looked. Couldn't have been going more than four mph, but I never checked the rearview.

The burly cop is doing his paperwork, so I figure I might as well talk to the old guy, whose now on his fourth cigarillo. 

He's got both elbows up on the rear fender, that smoke between his fingers. "May just as well take a load off," he says inviting me to lean up against the Buick. 

I nod and tell him I'm too old to stand up too long--feet hurt. He hurrumphs, and I wonder for the first time--I really do--if I'm actually older than he is. He still seems a little drunk, but the cop made nothing of it. Besides, I'm the idiot here, the one at fault.

"Whatcha' doing here anyway?" he says, as if the cosmos didn't approve of all this.

"Tourist, sort of," I say, then again, "sort of." I'd just read a book that told me an old Oto village used to be just down the road, I tell him, 1880s or so. "I wanted to go look," I said, "--see if I could find anything."

"Over to Barnston?" he says. "There's an old school there, mission or something," he says. "You see it? Somebody said they're still keeping it up."

"Where?" I said.

"Right there on 8," he says.

"You're kidding."

"You didn't see it? Just up the hill there. Still standing, I think."

Now I'm mad. I'd driven all the way out, scouted around an old burg even more in shambles, looking for some sign of the Oto-Missouria, and I missed it completely. "Don't tell me I just didn't go far enough," I say.

"Think so," he says. "What the hell you doing out there anyway?" But, listen, there's a difference now. He's asking. He's no longer mad.

And so we talk. And so by the time that Husker-shouldered cop gets out of his car, the two of are buddies. Seriously. "You know that gas station you were aiming to see?" he asks me before the cop gets to us. "Used to work there myself." He points up the street.

"No kidding," I say. "How many years back?"

"Don't know," he says.  "Thirty?"

Fact is, soon enough we're fast friends.

Big cop walks up. "We don't write tickets if there's less'en a thousand dollars damage," he says, giving us both slips. He points at the note he's given a man I can now call Richard. "You got Mr. Shaaap's address there if you need to get hold a'him," the cop says, pointing at the foreigner.

He's got that name, right there in his tar-and-nicotined fingers. And so it went. 

I'm hoping he doesn't need to or want to, of course. I'm hoping he doesn't have some old drinkin' buddy into body repair, someone to write out a bill that'll cost me a couple hundred. I'm hoping it'd cost him way too much bother to tumble out of that old Buick or let it sit in some woebegone garage getting prettied. I'm hoping he'll tell himself that the bald f___er in that Explorer wasn't really a shyster anyway, just wanted to have a look at the mission in Barnston and that old station on the corner where he used to work.

That's what I'm hoping. "A soft answer turneth away wrath," right? That's biblical.

Last month we just got the bill for our garage door. Hurts me to admit I didn't look. 

The Bible is one thing, but doggone it, next time I got to remember to check the mirror. 

Lord knows there'll be a next time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And this is why I keep coming back to read your blog. This was very real, funny, and the characters were, well, "characters!" And if there's still one reader out there who hasn't ever backed into someone, just hang on...your guilty, humbling moment still awaits!