It wasn't my idea to work as a reporter for the school newspaper. I was pushed into it because they knew I liked to write and that meant I should want to write for the school paper. They wanted me to interview people for human interest stories. I said I would give it a try and received my first assignment. They wanted me to interview Chuck, the guy who drove the lunch truck and serviced the area around the school. He was even known to skulk up onto school property from time to time to sell his tightly wrapped sandwiches and bruised apples to kids at the school. He was rather creepy looking, with big hairy forearms, each with matching anchor tattoos. He had a perpetual five o'clock shadow, greasy hair and called women "dames." I was understandably nervous approaching him about an interview for the school paper.

"What d'ya wanna interview me for?"

I tried explaining to Chuck that it was a human interest story and that it was one of a series. He laughed and asked if this was some way to keep kids from dropping out of school since that was a mistake he had made. Chuck had gone back to get his GED, but during the decade between dropping out of high school and getting his GED, he lost too much time. He worked down at the docks, unloading freighters and engaging in night fishing and beer drinking to entertain himself.

"I knew love once, but it wasn't for me."

His tone of voice made me more than a little uncomfortable. There was a tear in the corner of his eye and his voice warbled as he spoke the words. Then he opened the side panel of his lunch truck and began nervously moving pre-wrapped sandwiches around.

"Is this the kind of stuff you want to know about?"

This was my opportunity to steer the interview in another direction. The last thing I wanted to know was the details of this man's love life. I asked him about his truck, whether he owned it or not, and how he got started in the business. This seemed to relax him a bit.

"This is my own business, I bought the route from another driver three years ago. He bought it from the company, where we gets all our food and drinks from. We get in trouble for carrying outside products. Sometimes I get special requests, though. I do my best to satisfy the customer. Regular customers are like gold. I got this one car mechanic down on Maple who buys a ham and cheese sandwich and a carton of chocolate milk every day."

He was in a hurry to leave, but I pushed him for more information. I couldn't go back to Theresa, the editor of the school newspaper, and tell her that Chuck hadn't done well in love and had bought his route from another man and cared about his customers. I needed to know more. Chuck told me he hung out in the parking lot behind the supermarket every night and asked me to join him if I wanted to know more. I quickly agreed, shook his hand and waited until the sun had gone down before driving to the supermarket.

I found him parked out back in an El Camino, drinking beers and cursing at the seagulls hunting in the dumpsters. At first he didn't recognize me, then he got out of his El Camino and embraced me. A full body hug was just what I needed to shake off the doldrums. I felt a thousand emotions running through my mind at once. I thought about love and death and sex and birthday parties. After he broke his sweaty hug, he handed me a beer and told me he wished that I was his daughter. When I told him that I was a boy, he shook his head.

"You sure don't look like a boy."

I thanked him for that and asked if he wanted to look at the family photos I had brought. He agreed. It was the perfect ice breaker. While he looked through the photo albums, I brushed my hair and looked over my notes. This interview was going to get me noticed. I had the fever. I had accurate and insightful journalism fever.

"So, what else do you want to know about me, kid?" 

Some junior high school kids came by on their bicycles. Chuck told them I was "cool" and begged them to come closer. They quietly slipped him a wad of bills and Chuck handed them four very bad smelling bags of cold cuts. With the meat in their possession, they raced over behind the dumpster, popped open the bags and began smelling the rotten cold cuts enthusiastically.

"They have no idea how bad that shit is for them, but if I didn't sell it to them, someone else would."

I agreed with him. If people want to get messed up badly enough, they will find a way. Making a little profit off someone's elses foibles and miseries is simply the right thing to do in a free market economic system. I put my hand on top of Chuck's hand and told him that he was "tops" in my book. Then I asked him more questions, and collected a great deal of data for the piece I would write for the school paper. This would blow them all away. They would know that I had a head for journalism.

"Have you ever traveled in time?"

I told him I had never done anything like that before and that I didn't believe in traveling in time. He told me that not many people did, but that some people were willing to believe. He closed my photo albums and opened his glove compartment. There were several snapshots in the glove box. He handed them to me.

"As you can see, these are scientific proof of my time travel methods."

I looked them over curiously. There was one that showed Chuck standing next to Napoleon and smiling. It was rather blurry and Napoleon looked stiff. I imagined he was made of wax. The second photo showed Chuck standing in front of a painting of dinosaurs. He was patting a brontosaurus on the top of its head. The third photo showed Chuck standing completely naked, having just gotten out of the shower.

"Which one is your favorite?"

I liked the one with the stiff Napoleon the best, and I told him so. He was pleased with my choice and told me I could keep it, since he wasn't sure that one had anything to do with time travel. I dropped it on the floor of the El Camino and had to go down to get it. As I did so, someone came to the door. I sat up straight and looked over to see a very attractive police officer with a very well trimmed moustache.

"We're not doing drugs, officer. We're just gettin' to be friends is all."

The cop left and I felt more relaxed. Chuck asked if I was hungry and took me over to the fast food restaurant. They were closed, but Chuck had a key and knew how to get in through the back door. We enjoyed hamburgers and freedom fries, although the burgers were so greasy that we both had trouble keeping our meat between the buns. I asked if he did this often, and he shrugged. He was a free spirit, a man who lived a life that was all his own. This would be the centerpiece of my story for the school newspaper. Chuck was a great guy. I spent several years writing about him in my secret Strawberry Shortcake diary.

My story didn't do so well in the school paper. They printed it, but no one read that particular issue. It was during exams week and no one had time. Everyone was very devoted to their studies and when it came time for exams, you would never find a face that was not buried in a book. Public school is funny like that. Everyone is so concerned with their grades because of the paranoia that they will have trouble getting into a good college because of the "public school" stigma.

I didn't become a journalist. I became a drunk and a pill popper. I joined a couple of cults and drank a lot of vegetable juice. Even now, though, when I see a bunch of junior high school kids sniffing bags of expired meat behind the dumpster, I think of Chuck. He died a couple years ago in a tragic harpoon accident while whaling. I remember reading his obituary. He was a brave man.

I spent five years in that four-year program called college. I found myself stuck in crappy job after crappy job but always floating on the university’s dollar. Ball State sent me to a deep dungeon they called a “lab” to design web pages and write articles for the Muncie Public Television station. It was during this imprisonment that Warden Val (my boss) of the PBS Teleplex delivers her edict that I must actually get off my ass and do something.

The current project was a lifeline of Muncie report. The concept here was to delve into the simple people that made the town run and I had three choices that were left on the list of people to interview. First: John Carlson, an eighty-year old fireman that has survived third degree burns seven times in his years fighting fires leaving him with a bright piggy pink skin. Second: Pat Yerman, a twelve-year old exchange student from Poland that has the largest paper route in the entire state of Indiana despite of his deep emotional issues of being the son of a strong militant German and a poor Polish widow. Finally: Peter Pitts, a fifty-five year old delivery man who runs a lunch truck for the construction workers of Muncie regardless of the Masters Degree he earned from the University of Phoenix in Business Administration in Global Management. I chose Mr. Pitts simply because I might actually have an intelligent conversation with him. This was my first of many mistakes…

It was freezing. January freezing. The kind of turtle effect cold that ruins any mood. Regardless of my hidden buddy I had to fake like I had balls and approach that damn truck. He was standing, which is tricky to ascertain since he is a whopping five feet tall, loading boxes behind the student center.

Me : Excuse me, Mr. Pitts, can I have a second?
Mr. Pitts : A quick second, what ya want?
Me: Well, my name is Ryan, I’m currently a junior at Ball State University and working under the Teleplex division of Public…
Mr. Pitts (interrupting): Times up shrimp, belly bus is pulling out.

Belly Bus?

This was when he looked up and I got a bright glimpse of a white stomach sticking out from under his tight t-shirt. The shirt was proud to ask: Got Funk? And with that my short, stout, intellectual closed the door and drove away.

So with a quick cell-call to Baron Von Val (my boss) I was going to drop this assignment and get back to ass-sitting and ball-shrinking in front of my computer. Just as quickly she informed me only one piece of the program was missing and apparently it was mine. Furthermore I had one hour to prove to her my ass was worth sitting down there or my balls would be severely kicked with a no-work list meaning no job for Captain Ryan.

I had to keep working. I had to keep working this cushy job. I had to keep Princess Prissy from making me from dropping out of college. I had to be the best damn ass-sitter I could be.

I got in my car and started “the chase”. We sped down McKinley Ave. at a blazing 15 mph then North St. at 20 mph before he stopped. He flung open the door, wisps of massive swearing erupted as he hopped out and dropped to the road… face first. I panicked. I threw my poor 1977 Gremlin into park (it’s called a classic not clunker). I felt a new pain in my body aside from my freezing extremities (and not so extremities with this infernal cold… (Infernal cold? Is that an oxymoron? (Goodness that Oscar movie is actually pretty funny… oxymoron… ))). I was scared as hell that Mr. Pitts had bit the dust, literally.

Me (gently rolling him over): Mr. Pitts! Mr. Pitts! Oh no, Mr. Pitts?
Mr. Pitts: *exhale*
Me: Mr. Pitts please; I just want you to be ok…
Mr. Pitts: *shallow breaths*
Me: This isn’t worth it…

I grabbed my cell phone and started dialing 911 when a hand reached up and knocked the phone away. Mr. Pitts was alive and ok.

Mr. Pitts (frozen hard nipples now disgustingly protruding through his tight shirt of horror): What the hell is wrong with you boy. See? That’s why you can’t deliver food or even empty boxes. Whole world is funked in the head. All’s wrong ya know (climbs back into truck). Well, get it over with what the hell do you want boy? You got no balls as it is, I can tell because you couldn’t even finish me off when I was down. So, well? Well boy? Well?
Me: Just wanted an interview, I’m really sorry.
Mr. Pitts: Look son, I gave you one hell of a story to tell so take a hint, leave me alone, change the next few minutes into some sort of a weird Deliverance scene if you want because the truth of the matter is my job’s boring as hell, public television is no better, and however you tell this story it wasn’t going to be any good unless I gave it some umph.
Me: *speechless*

With that Mr. Pitts climbed off the ground, attempted to pull his shirt down to a respectable position, and took the next few minutes trying to climb back in his truck. I spent the next few minutes staring at the empty space where his truck was, trying to sort the events that just happened, and finally felt frostbite sneaking up.

In the next twenty minutes I wrote one hell of a story.
In the twenty minutes following that they quickly sent my story up.
In the hour after that I got news I was fired.

For the next few years realize Mr. Pitts was doing so much more than delivering sandwiches. He was a teacher in the real world. He rose above the norm to convey to me, and hopefully many others, what it means to be a real man. Never again did I bother with class. My GPA fell an entire point but my life was infinitely improved simply by following Mr. Pitts example.

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