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Hang on, Saint Christopher

It is the eyeliner, is how you know. More than the famous discolorations on the skin, liver spots shall we call them, more than the sense of shrunkenness. And not the eyes themselves, no not that, they can remain as before for all I care of them, and not the eyelids, either, but a red line around the eyes, as though bright red eyeliner has been applied. It happens in the very old, consistently too, at some point of aging, and so it was with my breakfast partner, Buck.  

Breakfast partner, pfshaw. The hardest thing was to look, the eating was reprehensible, what with the essentially raw eggs supposedly scrambled, he might as well have drunk them.

“Missouri… and Iowa… and Kansas… and Missouri... and Nebraska,” he said. This was the first thing he’d said to me ever during these our daily silent breakfasts at the West Gray CafĂ©. I was dumbfounded, it is not too much to say dumbfounded.

For lack of a better response, I said this: “Wh-wh-what?” and I set down my fork in order better to listen to anything more that might be forthcoming.

“My region. That was my region,” Buck said with egg dripping down his chin. “Iowa, and… and… the rest. Four states. I was to bring around trout and catfish, carp too if need be.”

I thought catch up, c’mon Harry, this is important maybe. Two plus two and all that. “You were… you were a traveling fish salesman?” Why not?

But why did Buck look frightened? Discomfort with talking after so long, like a performance anxiety, maybe, discomfort with me, probably not, fear of his subject, maybe – I ran them all through my mind and found all possibilities wanting, so I gave up and resorted to listening. One can learn some things, occasionally, if one is willing to resort to listening. I tell you it works wonders.

Buck went on. “Your” – he said your but why were they mine? – interstates weren’t always around. That was Ike. Someone with the name Ike. Before then, the traveling was perilous, which means fraught with danger. Buck drove a red 1953 Chevy 3100 truck with coolers in the back, for the fish, it is to be assumed.

Oh, he was terrible at it with the not being able to convince stores to purchase his fish and the flattening of tires and the almost total dearth of a motel when he needed a motel. Often his very fish became his very dinner at a roadside fire. People don’t trust a man who smells of fish, Buck said he always said, even if it be the fishmonger.

“Failure is a terrible thing,” he said, “a terrible thing in any age,” but he went on and on driving always and selling rarely because what else is a man to do but what he does? It must have seemed as though the end of the road, or if not the road, then the end of a road, at any rate, when in roadside shop outside a place called Strang, Buck traded a semi-rancid carp for a rosary with attached Saint Christopher pendant.

“The patron saint of travelers,” the card said. The card before it, in the glass case and barely legible. Traveler, that was Buck, Buck said. You could pray to your patron saint and the patron saint would interdict – he meant intercede – with the Lord. So believed the papists.

And so the rearview mirror of the 1953 Chevy, old by then, but that became the home of the rosary, pendant and all. “Please dear Saint Christopher, guide me on my way,” Buck said. He rubbed at the pendant. “May my journey be light and the people I meet be hungry for fish!”

Then the people he met got hungry for fish.

End of Part 1 but Part 2 is HERE.

Comments

  1. Did you mean to post this on your Field and Stream page? Something is fishy about rotting carp. That's what Ma always you to tell me at any rate.

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    1. I thought that my Field and Stream account was a secret! I need to get better about hiding these multiple identities.

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  2. You don't think Buck ate maybe one too many rotten fish do you? Sounds like the life of the travelling fish salesman is due to get more interesdting now that Saint Christopher is on the job. Don't keep us waiting too long Harry.

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    1. Haha... For once, I actually have the second part written already, so even a bad response to this one won't prevent it from getting posted. Usually, if part one gets a poor response, I completely switch gears with part two and change it into a commentary on part one or something.

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  3. Replies
    1. If that's about my having broken it into two parts, you won't be the only one. However, years of doing this have made it clear to me that nobody reads posts of more than about 700 words. I do it for you. All for you.

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  4. Wait, you left us on a cliffhanger just to start a different story that also is leaving us with a cliffhanger? I look forward to next week's post that will start yet another story. Honestly, I hope you continue on, post-after-post, each one ending unresolved.

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    1. I'm pretty good at beginnings and lousy at endings.

      Actually, that could pretty much apply to my non-blogging life as well.

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    2. Yeah I immediately thought the same thing - wait where's the end of the last story?? Are they connected?

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    3. This story (which I promise to finish up with this week) was sparked by one of the comments to the last post. I decided to plunge ahead with this (completely fiction) piece before doing anything else, because if I don't, I'd never write it.

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  5. oops, let me try that again:
    My friend JT supported his family by selling Fuller brushes door to door for a while a long time ago. Then he moved up to insurance. Door to door. He said that 3% is good, so if you get 29 doors slammed in your face but then make one sale, you're doing OK.
    He was a Catholic, and did in fact have a St. Christopher medal on the dash of his car when I knew him.
    In fact, a lot of people I have known have had those medals; on chains around their necks, on the dash of their vehicles, and one girl had one on her dog's collar, jingling with the dog license and ID tag when he ran.
    I guess there are a lot of Catholics in Eureka, where I grew up... Maybe that's why there were three Catholic high schools and the main hospital, the one where I was born, is called St, Joseph Hospital.
    And I once sold fish for money to support my motorcycle habit. We would catch sharks off of the Eureka Fisheries dock and sell them to the aquarium for $1.75 a pound. They said they fed them to their marine mammals, but I never stuck around to see if that was true.

    -Doug in Oakland

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    1. I almost made him a Fuller brush salesman.

      I'd make a lousy door to door salesman. One rejection and I'd never be able to knock on a door again.

      As demonstrated by the fact that I haven't been on a date in longer than I care to admit.

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    2. Me either.
      JT was quite a guy. He saved me from homelessness and tried to coax me back into the land of the living. He had retired from the tree service he built when I met him, and when commiserating with me over the prospects for employment, he would say: "I know you think you were born into the best time, but you weren't. I was. When I was your age I could walk down the sidewalk on San Leandro Blvd. in the daytime and once on every block someone would see me and say 'Why aren't you working? Come in here and work.' and as tough as it is out there, right now I could pick up a chainsaw, set off on foot, and I'd have work before noon. And I'm a 64 year old one-eyed Portagee."
      I found that reasoning impenetrable, and had work as a truck driver/home delivery installer guy within six months.
      Never say never and all, but I don't think I could knock on doors for a living.

      -Doug in Oakland

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    3. I've known people like that - my grandfather was one. It's just a different personality type, I guess. I suppose it's good that they're around because if everyone was like me, we never would have made it out of the trees.

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  6. Waiting for the second part!!! A traveling fish salesman! Very interesting! (I love Tom Waits!)

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    1. Hi, Stacy! I don't listen to Tom Waits a lot anymore, but he remains one of my all-time faves. I used to write blogs in the voice of his spoken-word pieces.

      The second and final part is forthcoming. I am not going to wait long to post it.

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  7. This triggered a memory from my childhood summers. I was about 10 at the time and spending my summers on the Delaware Bay. There was this old guy who, once in a while, would go out fishing and get way too many. He would put the fish on ice in a cooler and put that in a wheelbarrow. Then he would walk up and down the streets, most of which were two blocks long, and holler, "Fresh feesh caught in the bay!" Sometimes my stepmom would buy one.

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    1. The first time I read this, I thought you said it was a kid selling the fish. The whole story is so much better when it's an old guy.

      If you were near the bay, I suppose you could trust the wheelbarrow fish. Anywhere else, not so much.

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  8. Powerfully vivid, those runny-nearly-raw(heck, probably raw) eggs. The moment I read the first mention, I couldn't stop picturing the yellow drip. Even when he's rubbing the pendant, I was still thinking, Hm, I wonder if there still some eggs still on him.

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    1. Thanks. Sometime in the next few days, I'm going to get the rest of it posted. I'm already coming up with other ideas for blogs and don't want to get sidetracked. Darn it.

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  9. Some guys use to sell shrimp and oysters around my location from the back of an industrial-type van. They would park next one of the flea markets or in an unused parking lot. While I never bought from them, the coast is just an hour and a half and it seemed reasonable that with a refrigerated vehicle you could do it safely. The one issue that got these guys in trouble was that they harvested oysters without knowing that the Wildlife Department had issued an E. Coli alert from the area they got them.

    A bunch of people got sick, but thankfully no one died.

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    1. I like fish and even like sushi, and I always hear about just how bad food poisoning from seafood can be. I'm glad it's never happened to me because that sort of thing could turn me off of seafood for good.

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    1. Thanks, Choose the Right Path! I was going to aim for tonight but now I'm thinking Saturday, which is still better than my typical 10 days between posts.

      Next time I have a long piece, I think I'll just it all out there at once and let whatever happens happen.

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  11. And yet he ultimately ended up with egg on his face.

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    1. Ha! Yes, well, things do get better and then worse in the second half.

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  12. Another cliffhanger. You are killing me, Harry. Great story so far.

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    1. Thanks. I'm not marketing guru, but getting people aggravated makes them come back again, right?

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  13. Hey now, only-barely-scrambled eggs are actually pretty good. Light and fluffy, if you make them just right.

    Saints are kind of like Greek Gods, there's one for everything. Traveling through Peru a couple years back showed me that yes, even the most mundane and unknown saints can still get a cute little church with their name on it. Surely that means they are all most powerful creatures.

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    1. My understanding is that if a church has been named after a particular saint, that church is supposed to have some relics of some kind from that saint. Maybe a bit of hair or something. Which means there are some saints whose remains must add up to more than their full body weight. Saint Paul, Saint Anne, etc.

      But what do I know? I could really use someone with powerful connections to intercede with God on my behalf sometimes.

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  14. Absolute beauty.perfect one.I love this

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    1. Thanks, Arun! It's good to see you - it's been a while. I like this story and not 100% sure I pulled it off right, but... it's done.

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  15. I came back to read it again. It's a good story, although slightly creepy, and I'm looking forward to the next part.

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    1. Thanks. I wasn't sure that anyone would actually sit through something this long and... random. But I wanted to write it and there's always future posts if this one doesn't go over.

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  16. Btw The video isn't available here in the UK.

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    1. Thanks for telling me. It's just an old song by Tom Waits called "Hang On Saint Christopher." I had it in my head when i was writing this, stole the title, and then posted it to inflict it on everyone else.

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  17. This post reminded me of an article I read in my paper this morning. It was about the day laborers that are cleaning up all the dead fish washing up on Florida's coast because of the red tide. I think maybe those people are a lot like your fish salesman. Except they stink a lot more. A LOT.

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    1. Is that one of those mystery things where they don't quite know why it's happening? I didn't think about what an awful gig it must be to clean that up!

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    2. Well, to some degree red tide occurs naturally. And then humans had to f*ck it all up and there is no clear, obvious, one reason why it's so bad this year and why the green-blue algae happened at the same time, but we do know that many politicians in Florida are against "big government" and environmental regulations and take money from big sugar (the sugar cane industry that doesn't like all those pesky regulations)...sigh.

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    3. Florida is one of the few states that make me feel okay about my home state of Texas.

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  18. Replies
    1. Hope your weekend (which is almost over now) is/was great, Mr. Shife!

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