The Old Injun FighterWritten by admin on October 18th, 2012
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9N_BPreGNg&feature=plcp (silly video – great artist! – R.T.)
By Rosalie Tirella
It was a disconcerting telephone conversation – the one I had with the Old Injun Fighter about a week ago. We went out together for some time and then we broke up. Nowadays it seems like I call him when there’s a problem:
ROSE to the OIF: My mother’s dementia is maddening! I can’t do this anymore! Can you visit her on Mother’s Day? I am going to a movie. I bought you a little gift to give to her! It’s a little ceramic boy, wearing a straw hat, sitting next to a fence. Very Tom Sawyer … .
Old Injun Fighter: grumble, grumble, grumble … but he goes anyways, to visit my mom at her apartment. He actually stays with her, endures the same questions asked over and over by my mom whose mind is as porous as a pair of my fish net stockings. My mom calls me after he leaves (I can’t believe she remembers my phone number!) to crow that the Old Injun Fighter has just visited her and given her “a beautiful figurine!”
Or … ROSE to the OIF: My mother just died. I can’t bear to pick up her ashes at the funeral home … . Can you go? (He does)
Or ROSE to the OIF: I need to move a huge sofa out of my dead mother’s apartment! Where are you? (he calls back and with a pal, removes “The Sofa that Ate Cleveland” from my mom’s place. A truly Herculean feat!)
True to Old Injun Fighter form, he does what I ask him to do. A favor for an old flame? An acknowledgement that he was once fond of me, my dogs, my cats, my newspaper and my many many crusades – for abused animals, for homeless people, for dying places and spaces? Maybe all his decent acts are a reflection of the tough Old West style justice that has guided him his entire life.
Always looking back, that’s me. Exhausting for the Old Injun Fighter! He so loves strong people, people who don’t look back.
I am looking back now …. . I see us … disagreeing about everything.
“I don’t want another debate!” the Old Injun Fighter used to yell at me. These days he is with a clerk at a convenience store. She never disagrees with him. He sets the parameters of the relationship. She does/acts the way he wants her to. Always. He likes it this way.
He is older and mellower and not eager to cut his teeth on new perspectives, places and projects. He did that with his late wife – and with me, someone with whom he could always talk shop, someone who would smile as he told of a time, a long long long time ago, when he was young and in his prime and so hungry for success, that he armed himself with guns, German Shepherd dogs and a steely gaze. He did jobs like own an 18 wheeler truck (very big and long!) to haul gravel (with his wife) all over New England. He was a constable in New York and Lynn and removed wild eyed people/desperate people from their homes. When we started going out he was investigating job requirements for Bounty Hunter. Bounty Hunter! I screamed. You’ll get killed! … “To live outside the law you must be honest,” I once quoted the Dylan line to him.
“I never got Dylan,” he said to me.
I thought to myself: You are a Dylan song … .
Loved his lyrics and melody! I.E. … He bought a dog kennel with his wife and worked sun up to late at night watering, feeding, boarding and training dogs … even the huge tawny Rhodesian Ridge Back, the only dog who ever backed him into a corner. The only dog he was ever frightened of.
He fought lions in Africa, he told me. What else could he expect?
Then there was the time he put on his old shoulder holster and put his gun in it and put his heavy coat over the whole affair. When he and his wife went to the gas station owner to demand the hundreds of dollars the dead beat owner owed them, they did not quarrel with the man. The Old Injun Fighter, as usual, was terse/direct. Simply asked the man for his money (in his low, quiet tone of voice) – but with his jacket unbuttoned, flapping open in the wind. The deadbeat saw the gun and went in back and came out with the cash.
End of story. Never made the papers because in the Bad Old Days (1970s) there was no Facebook or Twitter or Internet or cell phones. Just problems to be solved in the shadows, outside the law. Ways and traditions, as lean and mean as the Old Injun Fighter, who was a lady killer too, though he never cheated on his wife.
It was the 1970s! He wore flared pants with long stripes just like Dylan did in his Blonde on Blond phase. His wife wore Frye boots. So with his long hair waving in the wind and his muscles rippling under his tee shirt, he was photographed by the Boston newspaper reporter who was taking pictures of a protest. The old Injun Fighter was not protesting – just walking past the protest. Yet he captured the photographers imagination … . So could anyone blame his 30-something blond-haired downstairs neighbor for coming up to their apartment (after his wife had left for work) to ask him for a cup of sugar – buck naked?
“She was a real blond!” he told me, laughing as he regaled me with the story. “She wore a lot of white pant suits.”
I loved it when the Old Injun Fighter regaled me with the stories of his wild youth, an America dressed in hippie beads (no he did not go to Woodstock but his wife tried to drive down there and got stuck in traffic). Crazy, crazy America. You had a point to make, you made it. Everyone took sides. Like when he and his wife lived in Lynn and he had to deal with all their crazy tenants. He and his wife had bought a three decker as an investment, lived on first floor and were immediately besieged with classic Lynn behavior: One of their tenants was shitting off the third floor porch.
He had his gun. The tenants had their knives. He had his retired State Police German Shepherd dog. They had their pit bulls.
And when he called the Lynn police and told him of another tenant blocking the entrance with his pit bull, the Lynn cop simply told him: SHOOT IT.
The Old Injun fighter preferred to shoot the creepy tenant – not an abused animal. And he did, through the legs (he was probably aiming for the guy’s genitals). Back in the bad old days, it was self defense. Never flew in court. Home free, the Old injun Fighter was!
Another Lynn story: His wife was a real estate agent in town for a few years. She was showing a house – a house that had just been in the middle of Lynn gun fire. She saw the bullet holes in the front of the house. The prospective buyer was due any minute. When the prospective buyer came to look at the property, she thought fast – pushed herself right up against the house, against the bullet holes. She looked foolish. She almost, almost made the sale.
The Old Injun Fighter would tell me wistfully: Those days are gone. The days when the wimps in class became doctors or engineers and the real men went to Lynn to try to make a half-honest buck. The days when nerds were not glorified the way they are in this Internet age, the days when he got the girls.
But then his stories disappeared.
But not the old Injun Fighter. The long blond hair, the rugged good looks, the way he wore his Cahart work pants, dusty at the knees … the kind of man that when the girl clerks at Home Depot saw him (a man around 60!), these pretty girl clerks all of 20 years old, with long black or blond hair, well they just fell all over themselves. To ring him out first! To help him at customer service! To mix his paint! To give him free samples! Once (I used to go with him to the supply stores) a little black girl, following her dad in the aisle of the Home Depot, stopped dead in her tracks. She gave the Old Injun Fighter a once over – looked at his long blond hair, his handsome chiseled, weathered face, his dust covered tee shirt, his big work boots covered with plaster … and said to no one in particular but loudly: “WOW.”
She got him alright! The wow factor. He had it in spades!
He just blushed. He always blushed when little kids acknowledged his uniqueness, his other worldly presence. What was this creature they beheld: a man. but what kind? from which land? a man out of time … This happened all the time at local concerts in the park. Little Worcester kids would stop their running and playing, freeze up right in front of him … and just stare, goofy grins playing on their faces. The Old Injun Fighter never said a word. He would blush; his old eyes crinkled.
So last week I asked him to come over to put in a new plug into my old washing machine and he said: I am going into the hospital.
It was like I was punched in the stomach.
“What?!” I cried, in disbelief.
Because the Old Injun Fighter is a FORCE OF NATURE.
A hurricane unto himself.
He is never sick. He is more spry than the 40 year old carpenters he works with. He can fly up three flights of stairs, with hammers, mitar saws and electric drills and not breathe one breath faster! He can hang a door by himself!
He is my old cowboy.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I had X Rays – no arthritis. But it hurts whenever I take a step.”
“Did you try physical therapy?” I cry. “What about just resting it for a few days? What about alternative medicine? Try an acupuncturist! My sister goes to a great one in Boston!”
“It’s been like this for weeks,” he continues, sounding subdued. “The bursa … .”
“That’s the sack of fluid,” I tell him and offer the word “bursitis.”
“It hurts with every step,” he tell me again. “I’m on prescription strength Ibuprofen.” Eating them like candy and they will “tear a hole in my stomach.”
“Take them with food!” I yell. “Take them with a meal!”
And then I pull over in my car (I am driving) and enter a parking lot and sit very still in my car. The inside of the car is swirling around me as I lay back on the seat and tell my Husky dog Jett who is riding with me: “I am going to pass out, Jett.”
I do. But not before I hang up my cell phone. I would never want the Old Injun Fighter to see me so weak.
He is – was – always INVINCIBLE! He had spent most of his 62 years hauling things, walking 100 pound German Shepherd dogs, sawing things, hammering wood, pulling, kicking, loping through rain storms – not running, loping, like some wolf.
A Man out of Time. A beautiful anachronism.
I liked to watch him hang a door (brutal work) or sand a piece of fine, fine wood or clean up after a job, taking up long cables and weaving them into a kind of huge pretty daisy chain pattern that he would hang in the back of his truck. He told me his grandfather – a sly old Yankee contractor/carpenter – had taught him how to put away tools correctly. He hates it when the young guys just throw their tools anywhere – not giving a damn. I loved the way he looked when he showed me the old level he got from his grandfather – and still uses. While he hated his alcoholic parents and what they did to him, he loved his old granny and her second husband, the carpenter.
How can you NOT love an old tool? They are so beautifully, solidly made. And they have a history! In the case of the Old Injun Fighter, his grandfather’s, The Old Injun Fighter’s, now mine.
Why wasn’t the Old Injun Fighter born in America 175 years ago? He would have fit in perfectly! It was his kind that tamed the land, killed any one who got it their way with quiet efficiency. They made America – exploited America. Oh, brutal Americans!
He would have made a great General Custer. He looks a lot like him!
Once he told me how he was still looking in his house for the photo of his great grandfather, an officer in the Civil War – on the Union side. His alcoholic parents had loosened the photo from its frame so that they could sell it for a pittance – $20. The photo was forgotten. Now it lives somewhere in … his house? his memory … my memory … this story.
Today, while I write this, I see the Old Injun Fighter so clearly: striding, galloping (if he’s on a horse) through an American landscape. I think of the lyrics of an old Rickie Lee Jones song:
“Long coats on the prairie/
lying in the dust/
Who can I turn to?/
Who can I trust?”
So what are you gonna do about your knee? I ask the Old Injun Fighter over the phone?
Go to the hospital tomorrow, he says.
I cry when I hang up the phone.