Dispatches from Suburbia

If I played an instrument, I would have a band called "The Simon Thomsen Sex Tape"; and other musings, rants, and disconnected ramblings.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dirty Plates and Homicide

Quote of the Day: "Though it nearly took a miracle to get you to stay,/ it only took my little fingers to blow you away."
Elvis Costello, "Watching the Detectives"

Yesterday, I mentioned the unnerving thought that we never know exactly what our proximity to violence is. We can never truly fathom the histories of the people that surround us everyday.

When I worked in catering, the restaurant hired a new dishwasher named Rolfe. He was a grizzled, older man that reminded me of the boat captain on Jaws. He was redheaded and toothless and shorter than me but he was certainly built. He had unrecognizable tattoos peeking from beneath the hair of his arms, and outside of work he wore boots, jeans, and a gray cowboy hat. Oftentimes grumbles could be heard from beneath his bushy red mustache as he pushed dishes through the machine, and his social skills were non-existent. He frightened the waitresses and made the line cooks uncomfortable with his raspy laugh.

I usually took my breaks outside by the dumpster, where I could find some peace from the hectic kitchen. One evening, he came outside, and out of habit I immediately tensed up.

He lit a cigarette and asked how old I was.

"20," I replied.

"Hmm," he said. "I've been in prison for almost your entire life."

I didn't know if it was rude to ask why, though I was dying to know, so I didn't. Fortunately, he told me. "Anger and alcohol don't mix. I killed a man in a bar fight."

The strange thing about it was that, after he told me this story, I was more comfortable around him. At least I knew his story, and the mystery surrounding him was dispelled. At times, he'd tell jokes and smile his toothless smile and I'd even enjoy being around the old fart.

Then, one night he asked me for a ride home. I told him "No problem." It bothered me that I didn't even feel hesitant or worried that this man could snap and kill me. I often saw him in the kitchen, angry and shouting at the dirty plates, as if they were responsible for some unhappiness that lingered within him. And yet I never felt any fear for my own safety.

In my car, listening to him talk about nothing in particular, I tried to find fear within me, some kind of anxiousness that maybe this man, a convicted murderer, could pull a knife and command me to pull over.

Obviously, he never did. I gave him several rides home after that, and every time I'd drop him off at his small, yellow apartment in a dodgy part of town, I'd feel not fear, but sympathy for the man.


At 7:51 AM, Blogger Danny Tagalog said...

Interesting piece. He probably could see you didn't judge him on the spot, and respects you for it. You would calm him, rather than enrage, perhaps?

I had the same as a student - worked in an Onion Factory for a few weeks and discovered that I was sharpening a knife next to a guy just out after serving time for manslaughter - he'd come to live in my area to 'start again'.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Sheila said...

My goodness! I would have been tense everytime he was around. Killed a man in a bar fight huh? Wow. Some people should just stay away from alcohol all together.


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