Monday, February 28, 2011

How Seth Met Fred

I work as a rancher, and I’ve met a lot of interesting people. Fred sticks out from all the rest.

I saw him at the local farmer’s market, selling fish. His sign always interested me, even though I don’t usually eat fish (it stinks up the whole house when you make it). His sign listed the price of the various cuts of various local caught fish he was selling, with a note that he was willing to barter, and there was a sentence at the bottom with stars around it. It said “free story with every purchase.”

I was having a cookout in a few days and I thought maybe I could try my hand at grilling some fish (since it’s outdoors and all), so I came up to his stand. He’s old looking, very haggard. I think people in the city might mistake him for homeless, but I’m used to seeing farm hands present themselves worse. He had holes in his shirt and his shoes were more mud than leather.

I looked at the ziplock bags of fish he had. I remember rethinking my decision, because I tend to shy away from meat vendors who don’t have a vacuum-sealer. But I was determined to get a story. I picked up a few U-shaped salmon steaks that turned out to be delicious with a lemon-honey marinade.

As I handed it to him, he asked me if I was the guy who worked at the meat stand, and he motioned towards my wife at our table. I said yes, and he asked if he might trouble me for an equal value of soup bones. I told him that I don’t think we had enough to equal the salmon, which was $18. We usually only bring a dozen soup bones and we sell them for a buck each. He said he’d take what we had, minus one, “just in case anyone comes wanting one.”

I jogged back to our table, told our wife to bag up all but one of the soup bones, and I came back to get my salmon and story. He just sort of handed me the salmon steaks and put his head back down, without saying a word. I asked him what about my story, and he looked up and smiled. He said most people think they get better stories from TV, so they usually didn’t want to hear his. I told him the whole reason I came over was the story. And I’ll never forget what he told me.

There was this ant and this caterpillar walking on a tree branch one day. The ant came up to the caterpillar and said, “You are so slow! I can run circles around you.” And the ant did just that, he ran in circles around the caterpillar. “All you do is eat!” said the ant, and he continued to mock him like this as the caterpillar slowly but surely made his way to a leaf, which he devoured while the ant hurled insults at him. “One of these days you’re going to get so fat you won’t be able to move!” said the ant. Sure enough, one day the caterpillar was so fat he was almost bursting, and he wove himself a cocoon. “Now look at you, you can’t even go anywhere! I can still climb the tallest trees, but you’re now stuck to this branch and as inactive as a rock!” One day the ant came back to further mock the caterpillar when all he could find was pieces of the chrysalis beneath where he hung. He looked up and saw a butterfly, which said, “Where are your boasts now, ant?” before winging his way high into the air.

I don’t know why, but that story really struck me. I bought a few more fish from him over the course of months, I got more stories, and he even gave me some great recipes and cooking tips on not just the fish, but other stuff as well. I’m thinking of sharing those in the future, because some of them are downright delicious and they’re so simple. Like, the easiest one is he suggested I just use apple cider vinegar by itself as a salad dressing, and it’s now my favorite dressing. I even ask the restaurant me and my wife go out to for date-night to use it, after I asked if they have any apple cider vinegar and it turns out they use it for cooking something on the menu.

Over time, I got to talking to him about what he does and how he’s come to have so many stories. He says he reads a lot, spends a lot of time at the library, and what obviously struck me was when he said he talks to “the gods.” He said it so matter-of-factly. I didn’t know what to do but smile, and it wasn’t until later when I thought about it that I thought he was crazy.

But crazy he is not. I don’t know if he talks to gods or spirits or whatever, but I know he’s sharp as a tack and wouldn’t harm a fly. In my book, that makes you a good person. The gods don’t seem to be telling him to burn down city hall or kill the news anchor, so I reckon it’s pretty harmless. I’ve discussed this all with him, and he says that’s why he’s kind of a loner. People try to get him committed, apparently.

I maybe thought he was a little nuts again when he showed me where he lived, but I guess it isn’t a problem for one guy. He lives like I imagine people might live if they never invented TV or electricity or running water. He’s very austere, as my grandpa might have said. Me, I need my TV. Can’t live without that.

He comes over every other day or so. We actually switched it up recently because apparently he found out he is only allowed to post on odd numbered days. I let him use our shower and we plug in his new cell phone to recharge, since his place has no outlets. We used to just sit and chat, but I suggested he write stuff down and post it online. I told him it was completely anonymous, and he agreed. I got him set up with a Microsoft word document and when he was happy with it, we made a blog and posted it online.

Thanks for the support and questions. Sometimes I was making comments on Fred’s account before I made my own, but I think I should be able to keep them straight by having Fred logged into his account and me logged into mine.

Thank for reading.

- Seth

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