05
Oct
09

Kleinwalker

His name was Kleinwalker.  I’m sure he’s dead now – it HAS been more than 30 years.  He was the first mate on a tiny ferry I worked on as a deckhand in the summer after I turned 16.

He had an enormous belly, a great pendulous chunk of thick, hard flesh that closed so low over his overstretched, sagging belt, the bottom lip seemed to curl back under to touch his thighs.

He smoked roll-your-own cigarettes, the curly brown frays stained wet on short and stubby fingers burnished hard to tones of oak to mahogany.

I’d never seen anyone smoke a cigarette like Kleinwalker.  He had no teeth, but wore no dentures, so that when he took a drag, the burning ember would plunge to the back of his mouth as if pulled by an invisible string, the smoking ember almost disappearing before sprouting forward, spring-loaded.    The first time I saw him suck in that butt, I thought I was watching a cartoon.

He didn’t pay much attention to me.  As a two-month summer relief hire, my job was to make a good pot of coffee in the morning, clean the heads with a rag mop once a day, polish the brass fittings once a week, and stay out of the way.  That and raise the bar upon docking to release the cluster of workers leaning forward, impatient to drive home.  At the mill side I’d have to haul the chain across in preparation for departure.  It was a brain-dead easy, overpaid union job, but at 800 bucks free and clear in one month – a huge sum for a 16-year-old in the mid-70s – I wasn’t complaining.

Standing around the dock one morning with three other colleagues before the first shift of pulp mill workers stepped aboard, Kleinwalker was holding court.   Suddenly, he came out with this:

You know, this morning gettin’ up, I gave the wife a nudge ‘cuz I felt a little bit of a rise comin’ on, just a sec or two, but then I had to get up to take a piss and it was gone.  Damn.  I haven’t felt what that was like in years.

Just as I was absorbing the fact that this man was spilling to his colleagues things I’d never heard spoken of in my own home before, he turned to me and growled out: What about you, you young cunt?  You gettin’ any on it?

No, I wasn’t getting any on it, but I was too stunned to even stammer out the words.

The moment passed and we were soon taking up our positions on the ferry.  As he walked away to climb the steep metal stairs to his office, wheezing as he walked and straining to lift his enormous bulk up the narrow passageway, I remember thinking: no adult, not even – or perhaps, especially -  my father, has ever asked me that.


13 Responses to “Kleinwalker”


  1. October 5, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    It always blows my mind that some people find that conversation normal, and then it occurs to me that my conversation is not normal either…

    But still, asking a 16 year old that kind of question???? Wow….

  2. 2 Vorpal
    October 6, 2009 at 3:21 am

    Perhaps it was the era — or the end of one — where such conversation among men was normal. When I worked at age 16 I was often asked, “Ya gettin’ any?” by people who would have know for almost certain that I wasn’t. In a town of less thn 500 people, if a 16-yr old boy and a girl of similar age spend an hour alone together, the fact is transmitted through the very stones themselves. So much so that when the door opens at the end of the hour and the boy walks out, his friends all want to know about the experience. Mind you, I often spent more than an hour at various female friends’ houses “doing homework”. Being a complete nerd, it never dawned on me to include the quotation marks — all we ever did was homework. Worse, my friends believed me.

    –Vorpal

    • October 6, 2009 at 8:13 am

      @Vorpal + Adam – I can remember clearly among the guys I grew up with who was getting it, who wasn’t, who wasn’t and bullshitting he was, who was and saying he wasn’t.

      @Lea – Hi! First time here? I’m intrigued by “odd.” Odd compared to what?? :)

      @Jeannine – that’s an image I never want to see.

  3. 4 Lea
    October 6, 2009 at 3:39 am

    great details, well written (if slightly odd) post.

  4. October 6, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Superb post, I can just imagine Kleinwalker’s early morning return to the er, glory of his youth. Nearly put me off my Weetabix.

  5. 6 Manny
    October 6, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Nice to read it after hearing it once. I think I said what I had to say on it before. Nice imagery, unrelated begining compared to ending, yet flows perfectly together aka you don’t expect where the story will go. Nicely done

  6. 7 TC
    October 6, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Let me be the first adult. So, are you?

  7. 9 Khaled
    October 7, 2009 at 3:25 am

    I am glad you decided to post it. I remember laughing hard the first time I heard it.

  8. October 9, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I’ve had similar situations, as a youngster working summer jobs and internships and such, being put on the spot and asked questions such as the one you mentioned. It happened in a group situation too. I think it’s either some kind of test on the part of the asker, or some kind of pissing contest. They are either testing you and, in a way, initiating you into the adult group, or they are marking their territory and making sure you understand that you are not a part of the inner circle at that place of work.

    • October 11, 2009 at 7:00 am

      Hi C,
      Have you seen Little Miss Sunshine? Just saw it on DVD last night for the first time. There’s a funny scene in the VW bus where the heroin-snorting Grandpa asks the vow-of-silence 15-year-old whether he’s getting laid, and that if he was his age, he’d be doing it all the time. It goes on and on – the movie is a farce after all – but there’s some truth in what the old gaffer’s telling the guy.

  9. October 9, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    No one has ever asked me that. And don’t you start! Splendid wordpainting, Ian, as we have come to expect from you. I now have an image of Kleinwalker burned into my bio-processor. Not sure whether or not to thank you.


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