a perfect life (fin)

January 30, 2007

note: not ‘the’: ‘a’.

there’s an old man in an old town. he is a good man. a kind man. a gentle man. a wise man. a boring man. his smiling, happy wife died four years ago. he is also a lonely man. every day when walking down mainstreet he greets everyone as they pass, deciding who’s day it will be today.

if it’s your day he will stop you for a chat. he will tell you a story. he is not a natural storyteller. his stories go on too long. he get’s bogged down in meaningless detail. he goes off on irrelevant tangents but never forgets to go back to the exact point in the story and continue. he gets there in the end. you listen attentively. there is value to the story, if not the telling. you listen, nod, smile, absorb.

he is a kind man. you give him your time, your ear. time is the most valuable thing anyone has and you give yours to him because he needs it and he deserves it.

i arrive at my breakfast meeting 20 minutes late but not flustered. the others are waiting, having some early morning banter with the waitress and cook. i apologise and explain why i am late and they get it. the subject is closed.

at the meeting the subject of race comes up. jack tells a joke at the expense of jews. david is a jew and doesn’t bat an eyelid. it is unnecessary as both he and i trust jack and jack’s intent. even if he didn’t or it hadn’t come from someone he trusted like jack david would just dismiss such a thing as ignorant commentary not worth the trouble of getting upset.

after the meeting i go to the supermarket and off-license. it is owned by a local couple. they have two children, a boy and a girl. smart and decent looking teenagers with just the right amount of healthy disrespect for authority. the boy, who got a tattoo last week, pushed it a little far last summer and took a drunk joyride in a car belonging to a local. his parents made him repaint the courthouse and the sports club. the sheriff overlooked it since no-one got hurt and the boy got disciplined. his tattoos are spelled correctly.

the supermarket is 15% more expensive than the corporate one in the next town over. everyone knows this. none more than the owners. they make sure you are looked after. they remember your name. they ask gentle questions about your life. they remember your favourites. they sell so well you always walk out broke and happy. when they realised some people were getting jittery about going in just for milk or a paper (because the salesmanship was so good) rather than change their approach they organised a milk and paper round and saved everyone the trouble. so everyone knows: when you go there, beware! take cash only and a limited amount. happy and broke, everytime.

no-one bothers to go to the shop the next town over. better broke and happy than thrifty and irritable. the supermarket opens at 10 and closes at 5.30. last year on my birthday i was disorganised and arrived, late, at 6, outside the doors. everyone was gone. i went around to their house and begged them to help me out. if they came and opened up for me i would pay double. they looked at me like i was mad. double indeed. they gave me the spare keys and told me to scan the items through the front till so i knew the cost. i could drop off the money the following day.

there’s very little for the local kids to do in a small town. around once a month one of the parents give up their home and go to friends for the evening. the kids have a party and get up to no good. if it’s going to happen it may as well happen in plain sight. if something in the house is broken or damaged all the kids have to chip in to pay for it. if anyone gets hurt there’s usually neighbors on either side. the kids know that in a small town there are no secrets. solve the problem, don’t conceal anything, pay for your mistakes and everyone will move on.

a few years ago there was a strange face hanging around town. late 20s, blond hair, dark complection, ragged clothes. he was caught shoplifting and handed over to the sheriff. he was made to clean the police station from top to bottom, spotless. he was given a decent dinner and held over-night. the following morning 3 families came by and offered garden work. one of them had a granny flat and said for one day a week of work he could stay there. he stayed 6 weeks. stole a car from the family he was staying with and made off. he was caught by the sherrif in the next town and dragged back.

the judge gave him a week in a cell, made him clean out the town sewers for a further week and fined him an amount equal to the fuel missing from the car. after sentancing, once the stenographer had packed away her equipment, after the editor of our local paper had left the room and it was just him, the sheriff and the stranger the judge had a word with him.

he had been given a chance. it was his only one. if he was seen in our town again he would be arrested and thrown in a cell. charges would be fabricated, the trial would be quick and he would find himself in a jail cell for 5 years. everyone in town knows what was said, even if there were no witnesses.

as i’m leaving the supermarket the old man is just crossing over to the other side of the street on his daily walkabout. he is from a different generation. with his wife gone four years his neighbours still deliver a hot meal to his house five nights a week. one meal from each house on either side and the three houses opposite. every week someone invites him around for sunday lunch or a weekend dinner. usually any kids in the house bail out. after a glass of wine he tells stories of his youth, of when he met his wife. when he does his stories take on a living, vibrant quality. not the doddery confused, easily distracted stories of a monday morning or wednesday afternoon on main street. they are filled with light and colour and love and they fascinate and enthrall and remind whoever hears them of their very, very best days.

small towns occur everywhere. in the middle of open plains. in the middle of big, cosmopolitan cities. homes occur in mansions, hovels, internment camps, under bridges.

there are as many different perfect lives as there are people. probably more.

i have four.


12 Responses to “a perfect life (fin)”

  1. Oscarandre Says:

    Congratulations, Jester – I can rarely read to the end of long blog entries (you will notice my own tend to be on the short side) but this was well put together and kept me interested throughout. Nicely balanced with something to say.

  2. Dear Oscarandre

    Sorry, didn’t know I had been boring you on the previous posts- will try and up my game in order to avoid mob justice or bruised ego.

    In all seriousness, though, thanks for the response. Whereas I am, correctly or not, comfortable with the quality of my funny stuff I always worry that pieces like this come off a bit doltish and insincere.


  3. Dear Max

    Thanks. Loving your stuff on seemaxrun.com (which I gather you haven’t played with for a while) and agree that squirrels are, largely, better than tv.

    At the moment I am busy watching kevin…


  4. max Says:

    Ah. You are reading the fiction. I have been neglecting seemaxrun. Thank you for visiting it.

  5. Solnushka Says:

    I’m rather interested in what the other three lives are.

  6. Dear Solnushka

    None involve fame but one: infamy
    One is lame and rather droll of me
    All involve ralaxing by the sea.
    None at all involve poetry

    All involve sex and one: frequently
    One involves writing, wit and repartee
    All revolve around jocularity
    None at all involve poetry

    Some involve a match for me
    One has true love, dog, family
    None involve ‘normality’
    Likewise with the poetry

    I leave you with alacrity,
    With pride and swollen modesty
    With a hope of future jubilee*
    what could not be called poetry

    *- really stretching it here

  7. max Says:

    Wow. A serenade.

  8. Dear max

    Yes, the talent is quite something to behold isn’t it? Unbelievable, many would call it. Or at least they would stare at it in disbelief, which is much the same thing…


  9. Oscarandre Says:

    Loved the verse, Jester – and I have never worried too much about “stretching it” since listening to Barry McGuire (“Eve of Destruction”) getting every possible rhyme out of of the unlikely beginning of “contemplatin'” (i.e. regulatin’, legislation,integration, disintegratin’, frustratin’ etc)

  10. Solnushka Says:

    Pants. Can’t think of anything sufficiently pithy and apt to follow that up with. Superb.

    But very tantalising…

  11. Dear Oscarandre & Solnushka



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