It’s one of the multitudes of curses heaped upon those of us who keep waking up in the morning. Young people look younger every year. The PA who saved my life last December looked like a teenager, or someone almost old enough to be one. I’ve spoken to waitresses who I thought might be working their way through college, only to find out they were in their thirties. That was back when I went to restaurants, something I haven’t done in a few months. The world has changed very much in the last three months, and I’m willing to bet in the next three months the changes are bigger and more surreal. But I have learned not to speak of some things online, lest the conversation morph into much words and less thought.
The last week or so, the work on the project has slowed greatly, as we’ve reached a point where everyone was leaning towards taking this week off. I don’t get paid for not working, but the crew has put in some very long hours and they are flush with overtime pay. They’ll return next Monday, sunburned, hungover, likely sick, and needing money. We’ll begin again, the same work, the same bridge, until we’re done, and the process will repeat itself. Except I might retire again after this one. That’s still being considered.
Stick Man and I eat our sandwiches out at the end of the bridge, above the reddish-brown water of Tom’s Creek. I bring dill pickles, the kind that are hot, and Stick Man likes hot food. Mostly, he likes free food, or food in general, and it’s like having a dog sit next to you while you eat. But I like dogs, and I was once very young, and very broke. I’ve started making an extra sandwich for lunch because after all, if someone is going to supply you with writing material, they ought to be paid.
Stick Man is older than I thought; he’s twenty-three. He has a seven-year-old son, an ex-wife, and a girlfriend. When he was in high school, the woman who would one day have his son, and become his wife and ex-wife, got pregnant and he quit school and started construction work. Somewhere down the line, he didn’t have enough money for his car tag, tried to outrun the cops in a Kia, and wound up in jail. They released him but he has to spend every Saturday that he isn’t working in jail, and he has to wear an ankle monitor.
“All this for trying to outrun the cops?” I ask.
“Well, I had some dope on me, too,” Stick Man replied.
“How much of what?”
“I had a cooler with some cane toads in it,” Stick Man tells me. “I bought’em in Florida.”
But he dumped the illegal amphibians off a bridge when he stopped for the cops. Two or three were found loose in the car, and Stick Man went to jail for a slew of charges. As it turns out, the toads were regular toads, Stick Man’s ID of toads is no better than that of his ID of snakes, but he still faced several other charges.
His dream is to eventually go back to tech school to be a truck driver, as soon as he gets his license back. His daddy drove a truck, and that gives the young man pause because his daddy was never at home, and Stick Man misses his son.
I split the second sandwich with him, and he tells me about his kid. This is a man who is twenty-three, has a wreck of a life, but he wants his son to live in a better world. He and his ex have done research on nutrition and they read to him, and Stick Man doesn’t have a diploma but he understands that if his son is good at math and reading that’s a foundation. He teaches his son to be nice to other kids, because his son is a large child, and Stick Man doesn’t want him to get kicked out of school for being a bully. He shows me a picture on his phone of the kid curled up on the bed with a pit bull dog, and both are in that bliss state of sleep.
“I don’t want him to grow up to be like me,” Stick Man tells me. “You know what I mean?”
“I think the world would be a better place if he grew up to be a lot like you,” I tell him and he looks at me, as if I’m making fun of him, and he realizes I’m not.
We sit in silence for a while, and the sound of the crane being cranked up is our cue that lunch is over.