DD 111

Prompt:  a character who made a place more interesting

Between the railroad bridge a mile upriver and the rapids beneath the Main Street bridge, the river leaned back and forth through  cornfields and beneath stands of overhanging maple and elm  trees.   The only break in that vintage Wisconsin countryside was halfway between the bridges where the land had been cleared for the button factory that had closed so long before that its roof and walls had collapsed into its foundation, and that wreckage been covered by sedge grass and pin oak trees.  

On summer afternoons Bates could be found along the stretch of river that had been cleared for the long-ago button fabric.  He preferred not to be disturbed while he fished and listened to the Cubs’ games, but if you were walking through the cheat grass along the river and asked him the score, he would tell you; but he wouldn’t ask how you were or what you were doing or where you were going.  If he cared, it didn’t show, and that was okay with me and all my friends because he had a stature among us that came from his job as the man who ran the projector at the Town Theatre.

Our fathers worked at the lumber yard, the post office, and the hardware store.  They woke at 6:30, made coffee, smoked their first cigarette, and were at their jobs by 8, taking lunch at noon, stopping for a beer on the way home after work, and eating dinner at 5:30.  They were as predictable as the sunrise and as uninteresting to us as the stages of the moon.  But Bates woke whenever he wanted, fished in the afternoon, and didn’t go to work until our fathers were relentlessly back in their homes.  

But while our fathers seemed to think only of paying bills, of planting their vegetable gardens, and of being on time to the volunteer fireman’s meeting on Monday nights, we imagined that Bates’ thought of more interesting things–of the intricacies that a single viewing of The Shaggy Dog  couldn’t reveal; of the subtlety of The Absent-Minded Professor; and we could not imagine what it must have been like to be able to watch The Magnificent Seven two times a night, three times on Saturday.  

Seated on the river bank, staring out over the water where his float bobbed with the current, we envied Bates the way we would, a few years later, envy Hugh Hefner.


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