Monday, March 07, 2016

The loneliest lumberjack

He’s short, old, bearded and staggers around swiftly, hunched way over and leaning into his wheeled walker. “I look like a dog humping a football,” he says. He’s as gruff an old bastard as they come.

He frequently speaks negatively of himself and much more so of other men. I am one of the very few he can tolerate. Women are angels in his mind. He writes poems for his women aquantances and many poems about his truest lady friend of all: Mother Earth. He even wrote a poem for me once.

“I like having you over,” he said one time, in a very rare moment of sentimentality. I heard this from his little living room behind me as I walked into his little bedroom to peruse one of his bookshelves. “I mean that, you know!”

“I know,” I replied. He wishes I would come more often.

For two years we maintained a friendship on the sly. My workplace forbade it but only after it was too late. We’d already become friends and I was not going to abandon him to make some dipshit director happy who couldn’t manage an ant trap let alone a corrections centre. There is no need to keep secrets now. I am no longer working at the centre and he is in the apartment full-time. But I have not been there in well over a year.

He speaks very ill of black people and very ill of gay people and I have told him rather sternly at times that I wished not to hear it.

“I know what I’m talking about!” he barks. “I’ve known those people…! The things they do…!”

On the flip side he is hugely pro-native and a feminist of sorts.

Finally one night I'd had enough. We’d shared a great meal together and then he’d ruined the night with a little rant. I haven’t been back since then and he has not called in a long while. I used to think I might get through to him, help him see the error in his thinking; that bad behavior is a symptom of being human; not a symptom of being black or gay. and then I gave up that night.

I’ve seen him now and then at creative exchange sessions at the Mennonite church. He’s the one who started the tradition. He usually plays a harmonica or recites one of his rhyming poems about trees or the wind. Sometimes I strum guitar and sing one of my songs. It feels a little awkward now but he has been gracious. At the last session we did more than nod toward each other. He told me why he hasn’t been calling people much anymore, giving me a sort of opening I guess; permission to pretend I haven’t been ignoring him.

“Yeah, no problem,” I said. “I’ve been real busy myself.”

He said he really liked the silly poem that I read, about the time I covered my dinner guests in salad dressing.

Then on Friday I made it out to one of the community’s bi-weekly reflection dinners where thirty or more of us eat dinner, sing a few songs (this night we sang the words to Amazing Grace to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight!) and then someone introduces a topic and we go around the big circle each reflecting on it; volunteers and ex-cons alike, each acknowledging our sins and our struggles and our lessons in life.

The Lonely Lumberjack and I are the only ones who don’t sing along and the only ones who don’t join in the prayer. Sometimes our eyes meet across the big circle. On Friday we hadn’t even said Hi; hadn’t even nodded to each other upon separately arriving.

Then at the close of the night, as I helped to rearrange tables and chairs, he careened by me, leaning into his walker and paused and smiled; a rare event, and patted me on the shoulder. I nodded and smiled and he departed without words.

I think about his life. He spent it on working farms and logging camps and prison. He spent his whole damn life in the company of men. At logging camp dinner tables, it was forboden to speak. This rare potentially social time they spent together; they spent it like wolves or Neanderthals, feeding in silence. Out in the woods it was too loud and dangerous for optional conversation.

Yes, It occurs to me now that he spent his whole life with men, and in environments where men could only be at their worst; uncivilized. No wonder he can’t stand them. No wonder the gays and blacks he knew behaved badly in his eyes. Everyone was behaving badly in his eyes. Prisons and logging camps make ass holes out of men. He hates lazy men too. He has said so many times and at those times I have said, “Hey, I’m lazy!” but he doesn’t care.

I wonder if he knows why I haven’t made time for him for a year. He might. I’m inclined to pick up the phone soon and arrange to come by once again. I should probably tell him these thoughts and try to give him another chance.

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