My Buddy Mic
A short story by ckevinswan
My Buddy Mic A small leap from a still-moving boxcar landed me in the Lake Erie rail yards of Parma, Ohio.
After walking the alleys of rusted, mostly unused industrial parks for a few days, I rented a room at a rundown, walkup hotel. After escaping a recent biker/cop clash, I was happy to find a place I could rent with cash, under a false name. The hotel wasn’t a bad ol’ place, kinda clean for a flophouse, easy bus routes and a good, greasy spoon café in its lobby that featured a cute, flirty waitress. I figured I would probably never be on this side of the country again. I still didn’t know if the cops were looking for me but if I was in trouble, that trouble would follow me wherever I went, so I decided to have a look around, take a couple of weeks and poke along the shores of Lake Erie. One early autumn day, a hefty northern wind was pushing through Parma and I was content staying close to my room, spending the afternoon between the hotel's twenty-four-hour laundry and the café, not even poking my nose outside.
I was pushing dirty clothes into a pay-for-use washer when I noticed Mic for the first time. The old fella sat in the corner of the laundry; he looked cold. I was pretty sure he was a hobo and assumed he was broke. The attendant was going to throw him out but I said he was with me. After the attendant had a good look at me, he decided it was best to just leave it alone. That’s when Mic and I first buddied up. Mic introduced himself over a cup of coffee at the café. He told a few stories about bumming around the Great Lakes, where the day labor and best soup kitchens could be found. Turned out he was born and raised around Parma. He was in his early sixties and knew the lay of the land very well. The skinny ol’ fella was kind, had a friendly nature and could reel off one-liners as well as any comedian. I liked the little guy and invited him to stay with me till the weather got better. He was more than grateful and never made the slightest mess. The room didn’t have a kitchen; we shared a bathtub/shower room with three of the other rooms on our floor but we did have a private toilet and a TV. The steam heating system worked well and the windows opened, so all in all, it wasn’t a bad little place. Mic felt like he owed me a favor for letting him stay with me and was a perfect house guest, once I got used to him talking to himself. He was an entertaining little fella and fun to bum around with. I wondered if he had been a railroad worker at one time; the yard workers and everyone working the depot seemed to know Mic. Seemed like everybody knew Mic: the cops, churches, soup kitchens, and everyone that knew Mic liked him. He never asked people for a handout and was quick to repay charity with some sort of labor. If he ate at a soup kitchen or church, he helped clean up in the kitchen and would sweep sidewalks, parking areas and pull trash from bushes. I think Mic liked walking around with me. I was a big, rangy kid; people didn't mess with me and that made him feel a bit protected.
Mic was the only hobo I had ever met who asked permission from the depot cops to ride a boxcar. He would always ride the one he was told to ride and never left a mess. Yeah, ol’ Mic was a good guy and even cops smiled as he walked by. One time, a depot cop crossed the road to shake his hand and give him a couple bucks. I think Mic might have loaned him money because the guy said thanks before walking back across the street.
Mic would often stop at Catholic churches and spend a little time in prayer. He knew many of the priests by name and we would be given access to the kitchen and fellowship halls without a second thought. Mic always smiled and whistled the theme to the Andy Griffith Show as we walked. I give him credit for teaching me a very important lesson. "Keben . . ." He didn't have many teeth. "You is jus' waisen' time bein’ any kind a mad of folks . . . jus' waisen' time." His eyes always went serious when he said this. "They ain’t but just peoples," he’d say. "They ain’t got no choice but to be jus' peoples."
At first, when I heard Mic talking to himself, (which he did quite a bit), I thought he was having delusions, talking to ghosts or angels, but he wasn’t. He thought out loud, as thoughts came to him, and I found him to be a very bright man. One day, as we were walking through an older neighborhood—nothing special, just a neighborhood like you would find in any town, mid-1950s-era houses, the ranch style two bedrooms, one bath with detached garage in the back—Mic got to talking to his wife. Seems like she left him some twenty years earlier and he hadn’t seen her since the divorce. "I don' know why they is closing." I hadn't ever seen him walk with his head down before. "I cain' hep it, I'm fired is all, I'll fine anober job, Bonny. Jus' a job!"
Mic usually walked a little behind me but today he was being kinda slow and I often had to wait so he could stay close. I could see something was bothering him, he seemed so sad. "Ain’ ben jus' a week, Bonny. We gos some moneys in the bank; maybe we should have us a little goaway." He stopped and pushed his hands deep into his pockets, like he was looking for something important, like he was sure it was there but couldn't find whatever he was looking for. "I ain' had but just Sundey’s off more than 10 year, Bon-Bon." His eyebrows dropped to a straight line over his deep brown eyes. The corner of his mouth quivered a bit and I could tell he was fighting back sad emotions. He stopped, both hands deep in his pockets, his chin on his chest. When I walked up to him, his bottom lip was quivering. He placed his hands on my shoulders and focused on my eyes. He looked a hundred years old. A small tear slid down his cheek. “She lef' me, Keben." I watched the color come back to his face as something inside him changed. “Guess I ain' goodnuff fer her . . . all them years, even from high school." Mic turned around and started walking, a little faster now and more like my buddy Mic. I didn't know where he was going but I didn't have anywhere else to go, so I followed. We walked a few blocks; he started whistling the theme to the Andy Griffith Show as he stepped onto the walkway of a seemingly abandoned little house in a clean, quaint neighborhood, a nice, quiet little area. Mic found what he was looking for in his pocket: a key. "Come on in, Keben, gonna be some coffee." We went in. I didn't know what was going on. Mic disappeared down a short hall and through a door. I looked around at the dusty little place. Everything in order, kinda nice, it all looked like 1950s stuff, a little TV set on top of one of those tall radios with a big round channel display like you would see in antique shops.
Lights came on as Mic came back down the hall. He turned to the little kitchen and dug up an old, BrewMaster percolator coffee pot. "Half-hour makin’ coffee." He stood at the sink filling it with water. "Probly need a new one." He dug through a pantry and came up with an unopened can of coffee. "Can opner. I can neber fine da can opner." Funny; took me a while to catch on, but Mic was home. Over the next few days, he started cleaning the dust out of the little house. The neighbors were all happy to see Mic and many came to say hi. A neighbor told me Mic came home two or three times a year. He had a nice 1965 Ford Galaxy in a well-organized garage. He winked when he turned the key and the nice ol’ car fired right up. Last I saw Mic, he was shaved and all cleaned up, sitting, reading the paper on his patio in a nice, little backyard, on a scalloped, mint-green, metal patio set. “Ya ain’t gots no call ta be leabin’, Kebin.” Mic was looking for work as he thumbed through the paper. “Gots plenty of room.” He waved as I turned to walk from his backyard. “Thanks, Mic” I couldn’t have stayed if I wanted to. “Hope to see you again, buddy.” Of course, I never did.
I've spent uncounted years drifting this USA, mostly the northwest, but I have stories to tell about most every corner. My first years a...