My recent rediscovery of whiskey brought back to mind a fellow who used to come into the bike shop on occasion. Zeke was his name and beating the odds was what he did with his life. He called me kid. And though he looked older than God, I found out he was only a few years older than I was.
The years had not been kind to Zeke. He walked hunched over with a kind of stumbling shuffle. One arm had been rendered useless from a stroke some years back when he still free based cocaine. I wasted a good portion of my life abusing substances of varying types and amounts. Zeke dedicated his whole life to the abuse of whatever he could get his hands on.
Zeke claimed to have ridden a bicycle across the country several times over the years. He still lusted after bikes and biking, but his bad habits had taken over and he was not physically able to even toss a leg over the bars anymore. Vicarious enjoyment by hanging out in my bike shop was about as close as he got now.
His first couple of visits underwhelmed me. Just another pathetic loser looking to waste my time along with his. I tried to blow him off and stay or at least look too busy to pay much attention. Zeke did not care. Only my presence was needed, not my attention. He would just lean on the glass counter and tell stories. Apparently more interested in telling the story than caring if anyone besides himself was paying attention.
He built grand stories of escapades and adventures he had had before Life began to take it's pound of flesh from him. It was not until the third or fourth visit that summer I started to warm up to him. He was damn funny and did not dwell on his own infirmities.
One day he shuffled in. After he had settled in on the counter, he looked around the shop to see we were alone. Satisfied we were, he said, "You look like a dope smoker or maybe an ex-dope smoker. Ever get into any good hash? Know where I can get some now?"
I looked up from the bike I was attempting to cajole back into shape. I was not sure how to respond. But I answered his question. “Uh No, haven’t seen hash of any kind for over 25 years. Those days are behind me now.”
“Damn. I just ran out and we won’t be headin back to Brookline, Mass until day after tomorrow. Plenty of hash in Boston. Guess I will have to finish that bottle of Johnny Walker Black without my favorite side dish. Nothing goes with hard liquor like some tokes of fine black hash. They were made for each other. A shot, then a couple of pulls and Life begins to make sense again." It's gonna be a tough couple of days."
I stopped my wrench twisting. Looking at Zeke with his broken body hunched over the counter, I thought, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Somehow I had managed to turn off my substance abusing switch. Zeke apparently never even looked for it.
"Jeez Zeke, sure you might not want to take it easy? Look at what the drugs and likker have done to you at this point."
"Shit Crum, I am well past any kind of salvation at this point. Liver is toast and I picked up the Cancer. I won't be back next summer. Or so the doctors tell me anyway. What got me into this mess is all I have now to numb what's coming."
I just stared at him. What do you say to someone who tells you they are dying? Apparently silence works. Zeke just kept on talking. Like he understood my discomfort and inability to come up with the right response. Or any response for that matter. He moved onto politics and how he had voted for Bush the first but didn't for Bush the Second.
I stopped him. "Zeke, I may have stopped smoking and carousing, but I know a guy who knows a guy. I'll drop a dime. Give me a call tomorrow."
"Can't. No phone at the camp. I'll swing in." Zeke slowly straightened up. His twisted torso fighting even the slightest demand placed on it. He turned and limped towards the door. Over his shoulder, "Later Man, and oh yeah, thanks."
I made some calls, got a number, and passed it on to Zeke the next day. That was the last time I saw him.
There's always a story to tell...........................
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