The Sudsbuster

He was one of the mellow, the soft-spoken, the tawny-haired — one who preferred to be alone.

His name was Mark, a dishwasher at age 45.

He was a drifter, a loner. He valued his freedom above all; dishwashing jobs he could always find.

Our paths crossed and re-crossed at the Café Claire, where I was tending bar. The Café Claire stood on the outskirts of an industrial town, near the railroad tracks, beside his temporary home. Sometimes he’d sit at the end of the bar, before his shift or after, and drink black coffee. Sometimes he’d speak to me, and sometimes he would not.

He was a tidy man, and orderly. He organized things in an oddly geometrical way. He did not drink, he did not smoke, he did not use drugs. He was clean-living and in good shape, neither depressed nor its opposite.

He was single, without children.

And he was free.

He read a lot — novels and non-fiction — to endure, perhaps, the knives of lust that so frequently strike. He had the quietude of one who has gone a long time without sex.

His home was an efficiency apartment — a “hutch,” he called it — with good plumbing. (This mattered to him.) He dealt only in cash and he was good with his money. He saved, he moved on. Sometimes he worked on farms, sometimes he loaded and unloaded freight, sometimes he carried hod. But when I first met him and asked him what he did, he said “I’m a sudsbuster.”

So in the way of things, he would come behind my bar at times, when I was busy, and, without asking me, he’d wash my dishes. I loved him for that. He was fast on his feet and knew how to work around people, so that nobody was in anybody’s way. Buried in bloody marys and martinis, I’d glance over and see him plunged to his elbows in suds, his gold-rim spectacles, which somehow endeared him to me, filled with the burning bar light, his neat goatee damp with perspiration and pied with skeins of gray. Working with somebody in this way creates a deep and ineradicable bond.

Two or three times, I saw him outside work while I was in my car. Each time, he was walking alone along the railroad tracks, at dusk like some solitary figure carved from the coming dark. This was a grizzled landscape, a prairie desert of Euclidian perfection, full of rings and radii, vast yet traversed by a single road: an isolate highway humming day or night with Mack truck tires. The wind ferried tumbleweeds across the lion’s pelt land. Deadwood everywhere stood silvery-gray, like the moon above, and invariably whenever I saw him, a feeling of melancholy came over me, a melancholy for him, I am not sure why.

This, though, is not about pity or pathos, and Mark was not a person to pitied.
This, rather, is about one man out of many millions making his way
in the land of the free,
the USA.

10 Comments

  • cru

    April 22, 2010

    well if this ain’t just some more melancholy beauty in an otherwise ugly dolorous day. it’s as minimalistly lovely as a philip glass.

    (compliment.)

  • Ray

    April 22, 2010

    Thank you.

    And thank you for dropping by.

  • Jean

    April 22, 2010

    Very nice…thanks for sharing a piece of the everyday in such an eloquent way…makes me think of the people that I see each day and their stories.

  • Ray

    April 23, 2010

    What a lovely comment you leave me, Jean.

    Thank you.

  • Stef

    April 23, 2010

    Exquisitely sad. A portrait of today’s American nomad that struck me deeply.

    You have a bleak but beautiful way of writing.

  • Redmond

    April 24, 2010

    Wonderful piece Ray.

    Melancholy I sense, but not sadness.

    He free – many would envy him.

  • Redmond

    April 24, 2010

    “He is Free” correction.

  • stephanie

    April 25, 2010

    Beautiful.

  • cowsarejustfood

    June 14, 2010

    i remember this from waaay back.

    a prairie desert of euclidian perfection.

    beautiful.

    started (finally (apologies for the delay(and overzealous use of parenthesis))) yr novel last night.

    bit confused though. it’s supposed to be a literary crime novel. then this wizard called gandalf shows up. must be one of those genre mash-ups i keep reading about…

    ho. fucking. ho.

    how are you fella? la vie est belle?

  • Ray

    June 14, 2010

    Hi fella. It’s very good to see you. In fact, it’s coincidental that you write. I’ve been thinking of you. Just three days ago, I served two customers from Glasgow. She drank gin, he drank Caol Ila. (“Is that Caol Ila I see up there, lurking in the shadows?” It was.) These people were exceptionally pleasant, polite, droll. I asked them if they knew you. I said your name was Anton Szandor LaVey (A.K.A. Bobby Badass, from a long line of Badasses). They said they did not think so. I told them the name of your website — I mentioned that you, like many cows, enjoyed Korn. They said they did not “generally associate with vegetarians”!

    I thank you for remembering the Sudsbuster. It’s udderly flattering. Truly it is. And thank you even more for reading my book. Concerning the genre mash-ups, as you say, and the (as you say) wizard called Gandalf, an ancient saga tells us how in the beginning the first cow (for nothing living yet had birth but elemental cow on earth) began to lick cold stones and mud, and under her warm tongue flesh and blood blossomed, a miracle to believe.

    At least, that’s what you once told me, n’est-ce pas?

    La vie est belle! I am well. Vous?

    Thank you for dropping by. And, finally, for the bouquet of parenthesis – you shouldn’t have. But I’m glad you did.

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