A bent man limps to the sidewalk, steady determination on his sullen face. Each step is labored like a motor with toothless gears. A bony hand grips a wood cane in attempts to balance his weight. Walking is more falling forward and catching himself before he hits the pavement.
The man’s eyes peer out from behind thick glasses. Starring at the ground in front of him, he struggles over every crack and break in the cement. He walks but a few steps before the excursion forces him to pause.
The man’s hair lies flat across his head, the hair on one side of his head combed up over the growing bald spot on his crown. The hair, once a shiny brown now a pale white, is thin and slicked over with grease and last ditch attempts to improve its appearance. Stubble forming on his cheeks and chin is coarse and white, fraying on the edges.
The man finally reaches an intersection and stops for traffic. The street is busy and many other pedestrians stop to wait. When the light turns, a middle aged man tries to help the bent man cross the street but the aged man insists. To everyone’s amazement, he lifts his cane and declares, “I can do it myself. I’m only twenty-four.”
Today, or rather yesterday, was the last day for one of my co-workers. No, his name is not John. We have worked together on the same paint crew for the past three summers and often during the school year as well. This co-worker recently graduated and accepted an engineering job in the Kansas City area. He drives down to Overland Park today. As I think through all the work we did together, I am reminded of the day two summers ago when we were touching up Burr East, just the two of us. That day, we talked about Southpark and The Office, cults and religion, and the weird sock we found in one of the rooms. Or the hundreds of lunch conversations about our co-workers and the lastest rat race that is life at BFL. Or most recently, the time I caught him sleeping just after second break and Gerry and I woke him up with a funny video that another co-worker had sent us. But mostly, I remember how much I looked up to him, both figuratively and physically. He stands 6’9″ tall on a short day and when he had to take a physical this summer, the nurse couldn’t read the measure stick. It reminded me of the “too-tall Jones” Geico commercial. I looked up to him because he was so good at what we did day in and day out. I always tried to out-work him in both quantity and quality, but failed on both counts. Now, for the last few months of 2010, I am the top dog, actually the only student painter still employed at BFL. Today an era ended and next summer, a new era for BFL paint crew begins. An era after Ben Nelson. Good-bye and Good luck Ben!! I will miss you.
JA Menter 3