The stories my grandfather would tell us about growing up in the city were always punctuated with the same whistling breath and simple advice: “If you’re ever driving through our old neighborhood and get a flat tire, don’t stop! Drive out on the rims!”
I was reminded of this recently while telling my parents about someone stealing the radio out of my car. Having been brought up to regard all urban areas with a general blanket of fear, I shouldn’t have been surprised when my mother’s worrying filtered through the problem-solving stratagem of my father, resulted in his suggestion of arming myself for the late night walk from work to my car.
“Just come up over the weekend, and get a permit at the sheriff’s office,” he said. “We can then head out to the range and fire off a few.”
“It’s really not that bad,” I said into the small phone he liked to remind me might form a tumor on my brain. “Thanks, though.”
“I just wanted to let you know it was an option.”
“It’s my fault anyway,” I said to further tamp his worries, guiding the truth in my favor. “I had left a window open a couple of inches.”
“Ohhh, ho ho ho,” he laughed, sounding more at ease. “Sounds like you’ve just been officially welcomed to town. I bet you won’t make that mistake again. Happy trails,” he said and hung up.
Then nothing will happen for a while. Everything goes on as normal. The feeling of violation that comes with an empty hole in the dashboard eventually fades. A new radio takes its place. The entire experience slips into the past. Then, something new happens to remind me of home—like when Morris, down to his last T-shirt (he carried the rest of his clothes stuffed in garbage bags), moved into an apartment near the bar I tend on most nights.
Tall, slightly balding beneath a cap— which always has the logo of an industrial supply vendor or symbol related to bass-fishing, four-wheeling, or something else outdoors—Morris easily was likeable. He had a laid-back, well-spoken, folksy manner I imagined set him at ease as equally in a hillbilly roadhouse as a swanky restaurant.
“Hey, Morris—how’s it going?” I greeted him as he peeked in to scan the slim crowd.
“Ahhh, man. Not so good.” He paused, an aging hippy, waiting for his cognition to catch up. “This morning I got a phone call, telling me I had won the lottery to go moose-hunting in Maine, but I can’t go. Gotta work. Can’t get out of it.”
Looking up from his smartphone in the corner, another customer, Phil, found his way into the conversation.
“Moose hunting? Sounds like a heavy prize to drag out of the woods.”
“Haven’t you guys ever tasted moose?” Morris asked. “Oh, man. It’s so much better, and better for you, than beef.”
“You go all the way to Maine?” I asked.
“Shit man, the thing is about Maine, only 100 or so are selected out of thousands. Some guys even sell their permits on eBay, but I always figured if I didn’t win, it wasn’t worth going. So, I put three in every year—one for my dad, my brother and me. The worst part is my dad’s in his 70s, and I think this might be his last chance. You can only go for the weekend the permit is good or you miss out.”
In my mind’s eye, I imagined shouldering a high-powered rifle through polar-bear country—later helping Morris drag a 700-pound animal out of the tundra back to a $10-a-night shack to skin by firelight. For effect, I went on to visualize having to burn our crude furniture for heat, while outside the worst storm in decades piled up beyond the door.
Brought back to the present, I overheard Phil and Morris, each down to their dregs, comparing hunting strategies. “So I said to my son, ‘That’s fine’—all that stuff about his step-dad taking him to get his hunter’s safety certificate,” Phil said. “I tell him, ‘That’s all well and good, but my kind of hunting would be with film. It’s the same thing—you gotta find ‘em, you gotta get a good shot—and it’s a whole lot cleaner.’”
“I respect that,” Morris said. “Hell, I’m not even as crazy as some of the guys out there. I have this one friend who likes to hunt wild boar. I went with him a couple of times. The first time, rifles. The second time, bows. The third time, he goes out with nothing but his hunting knife, jumps out of a tree and lands on one of the biggest pigs I have ever seen, and wrestles it to the ground after stabbing it a couple of times in the throat.”
Finishing his last sip, Morris looked straight ahead as the foam slipped down the inside of the pint still clenched in his hand. “Found out later he’s also addicted to heroin.”
Joel Finsel is the author of “Cocktails and Conversations from the Astral Plane,” and writes creative short stories, essays and musings every other week in encore throughout 2014.