I live in a split-level duplex. The man upstairs (no, I don’t mean Him), who I lovingly refer to as “the upstairs roommate” is named Ray. Ray has lived here for 22 years. If the owner of this house ever sells – the buyer must understand that Ray is a package deal. He “ain’t goin’ nowhere”…
Ray drives a truck. But he’s not what you would call a trucker. Though he’s got the right hat. Mesh in the back, bright green, sits up high and a little crooked. Not the cool intentional Ashton Kutcher kinda way – but in that ‘I get dressed without a mirror’ kinda way. And he wears a plaid shirt. And Dungaree’s. Okay, well maybe he is a trucker. He’s technically retired but still has a run every week or so.
I get his mail when he’s gone. And he gets mine and watches for packages. He always brings my trash cans in from the curb. I mow the spot where he parks his car and put his morning paper on his step. We are good neighbors to each other.
When Ray gets home from a string of deliveries… he likes to come sit on my porch and tell me the play-by-play details of his run. Including all his dive hotel stops and what he ate for dinner each night. Driving a truck can be lonely. I bet he’s been saving up all that chit-chat.
Ray always signs off our conversations by hollering over his shoulder as he clunks up his metal stairway… “Be safe, ya hear?”. He seems serious most of the time, but his crooked smile is sweet and and he laughs easily. And when he laughs his nose crinkles up so much that his glasses slide down to the tip and then he pushes them back into place with his two fingers right in the center of the lenses… leaving two big finger prints right in his eye-line. This apparently doesn’t bother him.
When not on the road, Ray drives an old beat up Chevy Nova painted with gray primer. He put fake stick-on bullet holes on the trunk. He thinks it’s funny and that it makes him look like he’s “been in a battle”. He likes to think of himself as a “bad ass”. But he also says things like, “I’m goin’ for a little walkie-poo”.
Walkie-poo. Yep. That’s what he says.
He also says little gems like, “I’ve been busier than a one-armed paper hanger”. And, “I’m doin’ alright fer an ol’ fella!”
He collects model cars. Hundreds of them. I’ve never been in his apartment but I can see them through the window, in their original boxes, stacked floor to ceiling. He goes to trade shows and has a buddy who buys and sells them on ebay for him. “I don’t need no new-fangled computer… prolly goin’ outa style anyway… so why bother learnin’?” I try to tell them that one, they’re not “new-fangled” anymore and two, they’re pretty much gonna stick around. But he’ll have none of it.
Ray is a creature of habit. Every Saturday night, at 5:45pm… he emerges with slicked-back hair and a bolo-tie adorning his plaid shirt. He’s off to Saturday night mass… “Gotta pay God my respects… make sure He knows I’ve been a good boy!”
I adore Ray. He’s sweet and kind and a little doddering. But I know he has a deeper story. I just haven’t figured out what it is yet. It’s taken me 4 years to get him on the porch. He still hasn’t come inside my house yet. I know that he was almost married once but then she ran off with someone else. And I know that he sends every member of his family birthday cards and Christmas cards… “even the ones that don’t speak to me no more.” He spends most holidays alone, unless he can find a buddy to go to Shoney’s with him. I’ve invited him, included him and have taken him food but so far he’s refused all the invites. But I’m hopeful. And persistent.
When I first moved into this place 6 years ago… I introduced myself and my roommate at the time… all friendly-like. He quickly put up his hands and said, “I’m just an old guy and I keep to myself.”
And I thought, “We’ll see about that Ray… we’ll see about that.”