Wednesday, October 22, 2003

His Favorite Hobbies: Walking, Standing
by Jessica Delfino

“Hey Fred!” Boynton yelled out the window of the Monte Carlo as it passed by Puffin Stop. Fred, looking up to see it was Boynton promptly lifted his middle digit on both hands and raised them high. Fred’s jeans were covered in grease stains, but not in the cool way like they are in the window displays at the Diesel flagship store on University Place. The filter of a cigarette burned between his lips and the smell made him wince menacingly. He needed a shave, but he didn’t seem to notice, even though it were his own cheeks and chin that were covered over with moss-like layering. If he were to comment on it, he’d probably say something like, “Mother nature,” and then spit on someone’s empty parked car.

The way Fred stood was flamingo like, with one leg standing stiff and holding his weight, all one-hundred and seventeen pounds of him. The other leg was folded at the knee and bent up, his ass supported by the heel of LL Bean boots that should have been turned in for new ones last year. You could tell Fred a mile away because he never changed anything about his appearance. His John Deere mesh and foam trucker style hat never left his head, a look he had boasting way before hipsters brought it to New York City. His shitty light blue Lee jean jacket was always layered atop a green or navy sweatshirt with the logo of some fish market smeared across the front. His little hands were scaly and dry, thumbs inserted into the belt-loops, obliviously appointed to keep watch of the other digits and perhaps the cigarette package looming in his jacket pocket. His jeans were often stone-washed Lees or Levis, generally Lees, and as mentioned before, covered in mysterious grease stains. But why? He had no car. He wasn’t a mechanic. He didn’t ever appear to eat. Perhaps grease was just attracted to his jean legs in the same way that lightning is attracted to some people’s rib cages, and it sought him out whenever he was in a place where there was grease. When Fred smiled, Dentists everywhere got hard-ons, and they didn’t know why.

Fred had mowed our lawn for us one summer - it was the same summer he had blessed Tammy with Harley Rose, their second illegitimate child, and only daughter. Tammy was a fat, fat woman with a lazy eye and a lazy life. She lived in a trailor down the Pemaquid Harbor road and drove a Chevy Citation that was as beat-up as her own existence. Kids from Lincoln Academy, the town’s private high-school that also served as a public high-school, would come down to her trailor to drink in the woods behind it uninterrupted by adults. Empty Shaeffer and Schlitz cases fed the bonfire and the liquid that had once been in the containers fed the children’s desire to disobey the rules society had set for them. Tammy didn’t drink Schlitz or Schaeffer, though. She drank coffee friggin’ brandy, in a huge plastic refillable coffee mug that you can get at Puffin Stop for $1.79 full of coffee. She would send someone off in her car over to Hilltop grocery store in Pemaquid to get it and watch the window, anxiously waiting for them to pull back in. At Hilltop, you could buy groceries with food stamps and get cash change back. So she’d give them a $20 and say, “Buy a gallon of milk.” With the change, they knew what to do. A half-gallon of coffee brandy lasted her about two days. She was very fat. You knew when Tammy had been drinking because the world was turning and the sky was above. She was slightly cross eyed and got a slurred tinny sound in her voice, and would try to instigate a fight. “I’ll kick your friggin’ ass right now, bitch. Come on, let’s go!” She meant it, too. She’d set the cup down and stand up, wide-eyed but swaggering, emotion on her face and coffee brandy stains down her enormous teddy bear sweatshirt. She would gladly weeble wobble over to and flobble all over an unexpecting opponent who would act ready and excited to do battle with a huge drunk lady but actually feared her crazy lazy eye and slurred threats. Fred would lean on the trailor, one leg up in his signature flamingo stance, watching, laughing through the holes in the cityscape of his smile. At the end of the night, he would sleep over in her bed, possibly just long enough to be disgusting with her, and then move out onto the hole-ridden mysteriously stained couch.

When Fred came to mow our lawn, it was always an event. My sisters and I would watch him through the window of the kitchen. He would shed his layers of crummy tee shirts, and Lee jean jacket and throw them into a pile on the deck. He was so gross and strange to us, we couldn’t take our eyes off of him. We’d watch him for a few minutes, then go into the living room and watch tv, slowly forgetting about him until the sounds of him making some sort of living just became faint background noise.

Last time I went through town, I didn’t see Fred. I was surprised because I had seen him standing in the same spot in front of the same store for most of my child and teenage life. He was like a statue greeting tourists and passers-by with his checkerboard smile. I wondered if maybe he had died, but then I doubted it. Guys like Fred live into their 50s or 60s and maintain and support the rumors of small town ignorance. Guys like Fred date desperate teens forever. Guys like Fred don’t grow on trees and they never fall too far from them, either.

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