12.17.2005

death of a marloborro man
nineteen years ago I was nineteen
during that time I landed a gig as a motorcycle messenger
it was summertime and I was a college kid
bike messenger was my usual day to day summertime gig
but the opportunity to work as an inhouse motorcycle messenger presented itself
I had a motorcycle but did not have a motorcycle license
somehow the thought of making more money after taxes than I was making before taxes as a bicycle messenger appealed to me
there were various attractions to the contrast of a very similar set of jobs

on my first day I met a veteran motorcycle messenger for this company
he was old and grumpy and his grumpiness was exhaggerated by his recently quitting drinking and his recent separation
I was told by the other messengers to give him some space
of course
I did not give him any space

in hindsight I can see how it was
an adult man approaching 50 looking at a 19 year old boy that thinks he is a man
my ideas
my opinions
my appearance
and
my attitude
these things most certainly did not win him over at first
but slowly
I chiseled away at him
it did not take long before we were friends

in my youthful eyes he was old
he had a strange blend of cowboy and biker
all with a southern way
yet he was born and brought up right here in Washington DC

there was a prickley shell on top of a tender interior

his mannerisms
his ways
the logic
the actions
there was a wonderful blue colar wisdom to him
simple and profound at the same time

we played cards
we talked about books and we talked about life
we just talked about nothing
sometimes we just relaxed and watched the human parade that passed on the sidewalk in front of us

years past I we worked different jobs
I went back and forth between the bike and the motorcycle
I worked other jobs than messenger
I left the area and I came back
I took different jobs then I returned to that same job
through that time we stayed in sporatic contact
most of the time I just stopped in to say hello
knowing where he would be between runs
passing the spot I would expect to see him
stopping or just hollering if he was there

it was a friendship that has outlasted many of my friendships

I learned about his family and he learned about mine
we learned about each other and we learned about life

after quitting drinking 19 years ago
stopping smoking 12 years ago
and
retiring after working 35 years
the recently retired marlboro man was diagnosed with lung cancer
treatment started immediately
somehow I had struck up contact with his wife
she shared with me the news of his illness and swore me to secrecy
it was a secret I fought successfully to keep
although my behavior was somewhat altered
I made more frequent efforts to contact the Marlboro Man

there was suspicion
he asked why I called the first time
then a month or so later he asked again
come the third call he did not have to ask... I told him that I knew he was sick

he was busy with treatment
while I was busy being me
there was email corresspondence with his wife
I sent pictures of me and pictures of my kids
usually something that would make him laugh
apparently the photo of me dressed up as a cheerleader was a keeper
he kept that image under a book on his desk
when he needed a laugh he took a look

guess the image of a six foot four two hundred and thirty five pound bald man in a short skirt and halter top evokes laughter

around thanks giving the emails from his wife spoke of a turn for the worst
I called
he was not available to talk
yet it was good to talk to his wife.... good for her... good for me... and good for him
some time passed and the emails spoke of the end of treatment
and the inevitable end
again I called
his condition had worsened
when I called he did not have the strength to talk
so I talked more with his wife....
had her share an anecdote of two with him...
then told her to tell him that he is an asshole
she stepped away from the phone
I am not sure
but I am pretty sure I heard him laugh
he died one week later
sooner than his wife had thought
she was confident that he was going to wait until christmas to die
he could not wait
ruining her Christmas was not part of his plan

today I went to a memorial/funeral for him
it was great to see a cast of old friends
it was great to see his wife and family
at the memorial were all sorts of images from his life
one wall was decorated with a poster devoted to all the different id cards and credentials he has used over the years of working as a motorcycle courier
it was classic to see his youthful face
brown hair rather than silver
in that same brill creme 50's style pompador through each decade

sad that he had to die
even at 67 it is sad
I lost a friend
but a woman lost her husband
some children lost a father
and a man lost the chance to enjoy his retirement

one last thing about the Marlboro Man
every thursday is payday at his company
every thursday as far back as I can remember
my friend the marlboro man wore a red shirt
one day I asked him why he wore a red shirt every thursday
to this he replied
"even though it is payday.... I am still in the red"
that was the way it went with him

he pulled out a pocket knife to cut the wrapper off his bottle of asprin
sure you could tear it off
but that is not how he did things
he had a certain way about things

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