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And so began two new and satisfying friendships, complete with a highly unlikely connection to my family’s saddest story, to my Dad’s kid brother, Melvern, who was killed by a baseball in 1938, at age 13. The sad irony is that the kid was no good at baseball—a family trait—and had literally begged himself onto the field that day. Lord save us from what we want.
My friendship with Paul is old-fashioned; there are things we don’t ask or say. I tell him hometown stories, which dislodge some of his. Or something he says triggers one of mine. We go back and forth like this, each on our bucket of bolts, usually after I’ve finished shooting. I always learn something, always have fun. On hot days, I’m sometimes offered a raspberry wine cooler from his shop fridge; not the fridge holding his papers, but the other one. These “pops with beer in ‘em” were the ill-advised purchase of one of his daughters, whom I’ve never met. Neither Paul nor Lou drinks, so I’m the lucky one.
I inquire after certain mechanisms. I’m rebuilding a dilapidated Model T, so I quiz him on babbit bearings. I pick up an interesting item or point, say, “What’s this? How’s it work?” He always knows, always tells. Like accumulators everywhere, he’s comforted by the things around him. I have the opposite ailment: I’m fond of the misplaced and irretrievable, the time cancelled. These are idiopathic conditions, which can’t be helped.
The Footprint of Optimism
The world is strewn with salvage yards, but Paul’s has a certain look, an almost styled appearance, which comes from 44 years of moving things around, of changing his mind. The result is a convincing imitation of chaos. It’s not chaos, of course. No deliberate life is without its internal logic, its hell-bent optimisms.
His homemade boom truck, built on the skeletal remains of a ‘40 Chevy, can transport an entire tractor, which is significant. We mainly do what we’re equipped to do. I’ve known him to plant a parted-out John Deere across one of the lanes of his yard, just to prop up a livestock panel, to corral those jailbird sheep. So whatever else a tractor might be, it’s occasionally a fence post. These impromptu shufflings are almost undetectable. They don’t begin to alter the look of the place, yet when I try to re-shoot a scene, I often find that something substantial has been plunked down in front if it. What used to be over there is now over here. I’d had my chance. He offers to move the thing. I decline.