Friday Firesmith – Stick Man and Cane Toads

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.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

8 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – Stick Man and Cane Toads”

  1. He knows he screwed up and learned from it, rather than blaming the Ex, the cops, or the world for his troubles. He’s at least thinking about how to fix his life while working on keeping his boy from making the mistakes he’s seen himself and others make.
    Sounds like a good person that could have used some guidance on his way up.

    • Bruce, the man is honest about his past. Brutally so. I like that in a person, and you’re right, he’s working to fix things. He and I haven’t made all of the same mistakes but we certainly tried!!!!

  2. Who the heck wants to employ someone who has never made a mistake.
    Does he have any skills he has not realised are gifts?

    • Peter, he’s really good with hand tools, and he’s got a knack for doing things right the first time. Those are rare gifts these days. And yeah, his employer might have ditched for his past, but I think his former employers all said good things about him before this job.

      I never thought of it that way before, not employing someone who had never made a mistake, but it does make perfect sense. I’d hire him. I’d give him a good reference if he ever asked me to, too.

  3. Sounds like Stick Man is wiser than his age would indicate.

    I, too, appreciate that he owns up to his mistakes–but wants his son to learn from his mistakes, not make them.

    Sounds like Stick Man is trying to raise his son right despite circumstances. And I hope he is able to make his life better–whether it is driving trucks or building bridges or anything–but not mis-identifying reptiles and amphibians. But I hope he does something he likes.

    • Tim, the man has a very casual way of saying things about his life, as if he expects things to be bad because of the mistakes he’s made, but he also expects things to be better because he’s one of the few people who worked through the lock down. It’s also a very good sign he has a good relationship with his ex, and he sees that as a function of being a good father.

      Stick Man is easy to like, because of his heart. I don’t care about his mistakes in the past; there’re no worse than mine.

  4. I’m glad he’s teaching his son to be kind to others. Also to respect dogs. Those are good qualities in a human.

    • Chick, that caught me off guard, the idea he’s teaching his son manners with other kids, but it makes sense in his plan; his son has to do well at school. That’s the goal. I admire the hell out of him for that.


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