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(found photo. Alameda, CA)

He had an elaborate way about him, masked hand signals cupped to the wind, some overcompensated gesture of cigarette-lighting glory days. And his ragged face looked like it’d been dragged along the pavement at some point, the cratery and creviced shapes of faded scars hooked like snared Dolly Varden here and there, high crescent dome of a forehead, a dangerous proposition for a nose. Some called him cagey. A few who never knew him close enough thought of him as a beat-up bicycle with missing parts they don’t make anymore. I mostly called him Reginald. He wore those regimental ties that were dull and striped in olives and maroons and sunset blues. Never owned a watch that anyone would want to steal, and his teeth were like cracked and chipped yellowing tombstones from The Mexican-American War. I once heard him tell a stray dog that the heavens were made from chocolate chip riots and bowls of chiffon meringue. Nobody called him Fella or Stranger after they hadn’t seen him for too long of a time. There were afternoons he’d spend planting shrubs by the gulley behind his front yard’s fence, only to go on and rip them all out that same night, softly whistling and sometimes even singing gospel hymns the whole while. His friends, those of them he kept, didn’t have a clue about his personal life. Maybe he’d had a few kids at some point. There was a chance they’d been killed in a war, or had fallen in with mattress thieves on the nod. He kept his love locked-up tight in his vest pocket with his 1940 Regens windproof lighter and his smokes. There was a rust-veined, Santa-suit-red ’60 Ford Fairlane with a couple flats and a broken back window in his driveway. It wasn’t on bricks, but it never moved. Some say he ate sawdust for a snack. He used a cast-iron push rotary mower on his lawn. I’d see him on eerie evenings down in a crouch on his porch, intently staring at his front lawn, the cherry from his Marlboro Red flickering as it jutted at a rakish angle from his taut lips, while he rubbed his creased and oil-splattered jeans with both palms. Something magical seemed to emanate from him, and you’d get drawn in to these odd displays, as if there were a slight crack in the normal contentment of your life, a rare chance to get a glimpse of something phenomenal, a thing outside the constraints of the world everyone just seemed bound to. He made up for all the dragging clumps of wasted time your regret gripped and clung to. All those slow unwieldy hours you spent waiting and waiting for something to occur, and nothing ever seemed to, because nothing ever happened around this damn place. But there he was, scaring up a meal in the perpetual twilight of his kitchen, like a shining aerial sprouting from a trash heap, ready as nothing ever was for a chance at….well, something better than all this, at least. Some say he shaved with a hacksaw blade. A legend grew up around him, of course, and it got so that it was hard to tell what truth to believe. Was there some Cherokee blood in him? Was he made a widower by a gas explosion? Did he really make his own jeans from scratch? Was he related to Billy the Kid? His past was a dusty notebook with a broken spine. The snipes would rise and feed while he trekked outside the paths through the woody parts of town. Everyone wondered about that current state of his garage. I never knew his last name, but I’d call him Craddy the Mediocre and Ted Roustabout and Fairweather Stark. Sometimes I’d just call him Pester. He would’ve done well as a cowpoke in the old west. I don’t know why he stayed around. There wasn’t much left for him. But, hell, what was here, really, for the rest of us anyway? Just the dust of picked flowers and the moseying push of the semis all lined up and headed down the highway at dawn. Out of touch with the best and worst of it, we all moved along and didn’t care as much as we should’ve. Pretty dismal way to get along if you think about. But we rarely did. I found something he wrote, long after he’d left. It was just a scribble on the back of a photo of a woman holding a line of dead fish. “To go on and be with you, again.” There wasn’t much to do after that. I made a funeral-potato casserole and called it a week.

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