[Congratulations to Anne Dimock for her second-place written entry in our 2011 Creative Competition. Check back for the next 8 days, as we post other recognized entries.]
I saw him again this morning, the skinny haole guy, this time dumpster diving at the thrift store before it opened. He was just leaving when I drove by, putting on a new old shirt for himself, hopping on that rickety ole bike of his – probably from the same dumpster a year gone by – and riding off to home which was sometimes the beach, sometimes Chucky-Boy’s carport.
Skinny guy, carrying nothing extra on that frame of his, he looks like one a those feral cats he is always feeding. Who knows where this one came from, he been here a long time already, pretty brown all over but different. His hair was light and he just looks so different from the mokes he hangs with. He came from the mainland, but he had a light wispy look to him that made me think he could be from Iceland or somewhere like that. Light gray eyes, light hair waving like dry guinea grass around a head shaped like a heart with a little pointy chin. Kind of pretty that way.
He was headed to the beach wearing his new old shirt and clutching a bag of bread scraps. He pedaled on over and I followed ‘cuz I was going there anyway. So I drove slow and let him get way ahead of me, gave him the whole road, why not? Enough potholes for all of us.
Hunched over his handlebars, the muscles on his back switched back and forth underneath the new old shirt as he pumped his way up the rise. He just wearing swim trunks, nothing else there, though he ought to think about what the chaffing is doing to the equipment, that bike seat is as sorry-ass as his sorry ass. He stands on the pedals as he goes over the bumps, but you can still see the jarring he and the bicycle take, almost like his frame was just an extension of the bike’s.
He’s fast on his wheels, his muscles revved up and working. Of all the flesh surrounding his bones, I say 95% of it is hard muscle. He looks good and women who like the pretty haole guys like him. He has the body of a young athlete but look at his face and you see he’s in his 50s. And I have to wonder what a guy his age is doing buying his shirts and his ride from a dumpster.
He’s not the only one, all sorts of people wash up here, some stay for a while and leave when they run out of whatever they came here with. But he’s been here a long time and he’s the one I wonder about and worry for a little too. I drive around to the beaches on this end, taking blankets and soap and canned meat to some people. I don’t bother with none of the cats, but my goodness, some people do. Well, let them, they got their path in life and I do too and mine is with the humans.
Mr. Iceland, that’s what I call him, but I think I heard his name is Josh. Lots of Joshes wash up here. I wonder about his people, where he comes from and if the folks he left know about his life here. If he were my uncle I would wonder, even if I don’t see him for, say, fourteen years. I been seeing Mr. Iceland about six years on this side of the island, and someone said he was on the north shore before that. He guides kayak tours for one of the outfitter companies. It’s not a steady gig, especially now with tourists staying home, but I heard he screwed up on one of the trips several years back and now he’s just occasional. Today is Wednesday and that means he isn’t working this week ‘cause if he was, he’d be unloading boats at Ha`ena right now. Instead he’s here feeding scraps of bread to cats.
I park my car and get my stuff and walk over to the dunes where I know some people are. I walk by Mr. Iceland feeding the cats and we say “hey” to each other. He just sits for a while with a dozen cats curling themselves around his ankles and he smiles. I go do my work and I come back and he’s still there but most of the cats have moved back into the bushes and out of the heat. He sits with his head tilted back, eyes closed, a thin smile on his thinner lips, Nordic cheekbones rising up like two boulders. The guy could use some sunglasses and I try to remember that.
“Howzit?” I say.
He opens one eye and half turns his head towards me, not shielding the sun with his hand. He’s already taken the new old shirt off and draped it from his head. Up close I can see the bedrock of his muscles, the strength and vitality from lean living and hard paddling. And I know it won’t last.
“Just enjoying another day at the office,” he replied.
“Got everything I need right here.” And he turned his heart-shaped face to the light like a sunflower.
Who’s to say this isn’t a good way of living? Visiting a trap line of dumpsters on a rickety old bike. A little bit of cash once in a while. The gratitude of some cats. Maybe he’s got it all figured out. But in case he don’t, I hand over a couple of cans of Vienna sausages I held back from the beach rounds.
“For the cats,” I say and place them on his bench, then I walk away.
I can see how this will go, his leanness already making inroads into the core of his life. He teeters on the fulcrum of robust good health and a precipitous decline. When his illness comes – and it will come – there is nothing to spare, nothing to absorb the ravages of a tumor, a virus, an infection that won’t heal and travels up the sinews. He’ll get sick and it will be awhile before enough people notice that he hasn’t shown up lately, but then the coconut wireless will whiffle the news out like wind on water. Then the posters will go up, a benefit for Mr. Josh Iceland Haole Guy so he can get some medical treatment for the leak that is draining away his breath. The wireless will vibrate a little while with this news and the request to buy tickets for the benefit, to donate the ono food, to give a gift certificate to the silent auction. And it’ll be in the paper, the radio, the bulletin boards, and Josh will be this month’s poster boy for the generosity of the island, his heart-shaped face from better days smiling into the backs of your eyes. The cat people will come, the paddlers will come, the places where the dumpsters are will give the gift certificates. The outfitter that occasionally employed him will make the biggest donation of two kayak adventure trips and a tourist from Montana will buy them and brag about how he got a real good discount from the full price.
But then his story runs its course and the wireless falls silent on the subject of this particular Josh. The benefit raised $1,042 and that keeps him going until that time when his body utterly fails him and his lungs collapse upon themselves and this haole guy really becomes without breath.
Nobody from the mainland comes to claim him as one of their own, so there was another little benefit to raise the money for the funeral house. Coconut wireless only work on the island. I wonder if all the Joshes that end up out here are somehow related and I ask a few of them if they knew Iceland Josh but they don’t.
The cats somehow get fed.
The Montana tourist has a really good time on his trip and he comes back year after year and finally buys a timeshare.
The thrift store puts its extras outside so those that need them can take.
And Iceland Josh fades from everyone’s memory.
I did find him a pair of sunglasses and dropped them off one time before he got sick. His pale eyes were getting paler. Couldn’t really say the glasses were for the cats so I just handed them over.
“Might save your sight for a little longer.”
He looked them over carefully, mumbled something about how we’re supposed to live unmitigated lives in the full blast of the sun’s furnace. He put them on and struck a pose like he ‘tink he all dat’, then laughed at himself.
“See what I mean? They’re just filters. Polarized filters.”
He took them off and placed them in the pocket of the new, new-old shirt he was wearing.
“Mahalo, brah – I’ll save them for Halloween.”
The light burned right through him, and soon enough he ended up as sun-blasted as the blistered paint on my car, as bleached and crushed and the corals we walked on. But he had learned to see past the glare of the sun bouncing on the water, and in that way see everything.
I sat with him for a while, took off my own shades, narrowed my eyes into a squint and turned my face to the sun. And I think that maybe it isn’t such a bad way to live, seeing everything if you can stand it, allowing the end to come when it does. We sat like sunflowers, offering our hearts to the sun, and let the coconut wireless talk of other things.