The Porter

[Take heed: This post is not for the faint of heart.] 

Pop’s mechanic’s porter shakes my hand every time we meet. He drives me back to Pop’s house, then picks me up when the Caddy’s been tuned-up, patched up, or whatever. I ride shotgun and we chitchat.

This porter tells me he’s seen fifteen dead bodies. No, not all at once, but that’s quite a few stiffs for a dude who’s still in his twenties. I’m at least a decade older and I’ve only seen one. And, no, this guy isn’t a war vet. His folks don’t run a funeral parlor, either. 

This porter, he’s all muscular bulk. His black hair is crew-cut short. His arms are tan and hairless. Besides being the porter, he’ll change oil and wash the cars. He’s not interested in being a mechanic, though. He’s only doing this to make ends meet. He’s got a wife and kids in a suburb north of here. He grew up in Chicago, but he doesn’t want to raise a family there. 

Where the Russian mafia haunts and where the Polish mafia haunts, that’s where this porter’s from, that part of Chicago. Until I met this porter, I didn’t even know Chicago had respective Russian and Polish mafia representation. Who’s ever even heard of the Polish mafia? Does everybody have a mafia these days? Well, it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a Kosher mafia out there. And if there’s a Kosher mafia, then there’s probably a Vegan mafia, too. Is there a Gay mafia? If so, of all the mafias, they probably have the most fun. Unless there’s a clown mafia. Clowns really do need a mafia of their own. Believe it or not, there was a time when people laughed at clowns. TV kid show clowns like Bozo were very nearly role models. Given all the fear and loathing of clowns these days, why shouldn’t they band together to form a mafia? 

Mafias aside, this porter, when he’s not being a porter, or changing oil, or washing cars, he’s a volunteer firefighter, he’s a tuck-pointer, or he’s building condos. For a while, he was an EMT. He’s also worked in the sewers of Costa Rica. What he really wants is to be a firefighter, full-time. 

And this porter guy, he hates needles. Maybe that’s why he’s not an EMT anymore. His mother’s a nurse, and even when she draws his blood, his brothers have to hold him down. He once threw a knock-out punch at a doctor who pointed a syringe his way. He assured me the punch was not delivered without ample warning. 

I confess to a fear of needles myself. I tell him, “Everyone’s got something.” 

He tells me of one firefighter he knows—a fella big and strong enough to take on Mike Tyson in his prime—who suffers arachnophobia. As a practical joke, someone put a plastic spider with a string web in this big fella’s helmet. The next time a call came in and everyone slid down the poll and suited up, this big fella, with that fake spider dangling out of his helmet, he let out the kind of shriek you’d hear from a middle school girl creeping through her first Halloween haunted house. 

The first dead body this porter ever saw belonged to a Russian mafioso. This was way back before this porter was a porter, before he’d even hit puberty. The body was lying on its back in a warehouse where, in the middle of his forehead, a knife had been driven through to the hilt. Not long after that, this porter, still prepubescent, he watched his best friend bleed to death from a bullet wound. 

Years later, in a Costa Rican sewer, he hoisted another bloated body up through a manhole. Another time, when he was in a river holding onto a motorboat’s boom, a nine year old’s body floated right into his chest. The kid’s skin was sagging off his bones. This porter guy told me he once put out a car fire where the charred remains of a three-year-old girl lay buckled to a melted baby seat. 

The both of us, we’re in this beater Buick, and this young porter, he’s got no qualms with all the BMWs, Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes, and Cadillacs that vroom by and cut us off on the highway. In a calm, world-weary whisper, to every one of them, he says, “Go on, go ahead, go on…” 

7 August 2005 

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