Dick Buford’s home smelled like drying paint, yeast and
sausages. Dick himself was splayed recumbent on the couch, a plate rising and
falling on his bare, hairy orb of a stomach. In his other hand he held a small
canvas. Above him sat a hunting rifle, the one he’d used to fell the lion whose
taxidermy head snarled beside it.
said, giving me a wave with a sausage-skewered fork. Dick’s face was that inflated,
ruddy kind that always looks like its owner is under considerable physical
approached he twisted, burped, and, using his sausage, raked a tube of mauve
acrylic paint toward him. I caught a whiff of hops on his breath and heard bottles
tinkle somewhere deep in the couch’s cushions.
this,” he said, holding up a painting of what might have been a mountain but
really looked like a monstrous tit, purple clouds circling its magenta areola. “I
call it, Ol’ Benamuckee.”
and patiently let him explain to me the cultural insignificance of altitude
among the natives of the Juan Fernandez Islands.
exploits were as legendary as they were true.
worship height as we do,” Dick said. “Listen!”
I had been.
a worship of flesh…”
off. The plate slid from his stomach and shattered on the white tile floor.
With a roar, Dick awoke. “The yeast!”
Springing from the couch, Dick
bowled me out of the way and did that beer belly shuffle where his ass and legs
oscillated around the orb of his stomach with splayed feet, knees wide. Dick no
longer went on adventures to all points of the globe. He made bread now. Famous
bread, of course.
“Ham,” he called from the kitchen.
My name is actually LeSean, but
Dick just called me Ham because during our first lunch together I had decided
to get a ham sandwich for lunch and Dick claimed it was my favorite and I ate
it every day. I doubt he even remembered my real name. I’m Dick’s driver. I
have been for ten years.
“You ever think about kids?” said
“Having them?” I asked.
“Of course having them you
pederast.” The smell of yeast smothered the kitchen. The room was painted orange
with countertops of white tile: a creamsicle of a room. Dick sprinkled a
careful spoonful of light brown sugar on his prized bacteria.
“Sure,” I said. “I’ve considered
“Right,” said Dick, slamming the
yeast back into the refrigerator. The matter was settled.
“Well,” said Dick. “We better get going.”
I looked out the bay window behind
the sink as Dick went to put on shoes. The sole foliage in the yard was an elm,
its topmost branches withered, while the rest was a violent green. The lawn
around the elm sloped long and emerald all the way down to the tree line. Dick
had settled down in Nice New Jersey — a world away from the New Jersey everyone
thought they knew.
From the other room, I could hear
the grunts that came with Dick attempting to reach anything below his belly.
Why had I been driving Dick around
for ten years? Sure, there were other jobs out there but this had been the most
interesting. Plus, it paid damn well since I have to be on call five days a
week. Dick chose not to have a weekend driver. Needed time with his yeast alone,
Dick continued to work away at his
shoes. Between his grunts were wheezes and peeps I’d only heard when he was
getting really worked up.
“Toadpiss,” Dick said. I poked my
head around the corner just to double check.
Dick was on his back beside the
bench like a giant pill bug, grappling with his left boot’s shoelaces.
“Almost…” said Dick. I knew more
than well enough never to offer Dick assistance when he was in a bind. He was a
rugged individualist who’d grew up in an orphanage and made it his sole mission
to never ask for anyone’s help again. I’d once asked if he wanted some help
getting into his jacket only to find myself pinned against the wall with a Ka-Bar
to my throat.
“I’ll just go get the car ready,” I
I sat in the car. I listened to
country. I watched the other luxury vehicles native to Dick’s neighborhood
whisper by. The sun had moved significantly across the sky by the time I
decided to go back in. I’d become incredibly patient with Dick, but this had
been too much time.
Beyond the wrenching squeak of his
front door’s massive iron hinges, there was no other sound in the place. I
found Dick nearly where I’d left him, sitting silently on the wooden mudroom bench,
elbows on his knees, his head hung low. His shoelaces lolled onto the ground,
“Still want to go to the gardens?”
I asked. We always went to the New Jersey Botanicle Gardens on Wednesday. Dick
was silent. Two small dime-sized pools reflected up off the slate tile floor,
just between Dick’s shoes.
Dick looked up at me with red eyes.
“I couldn’t,” he said. “Couldn’t…” He
held his open palms above his untied shoes, looking at his outstretched fingers
with growing hate. “Protesilaus…”
“What?” I asked.
“Go home!” said Dick, rising and stepping out
of his shoes. “Get out.”
I left quickly. I never questioned
a direct order from Dick.
The next day I came the same time I always did. Dick was in
none of his usual spots. The couch was bare. The kitchen was as we’d left it
yesterday. Only the smell of sausage had dissipated, the caustic smell of yeast
and wet paint remained.
Dick on the back porch, wearing sandals and the same clothes as yesterday, his
hunting rifle stretched across his thighs. On the lawn, the elm stood straight
ahead of him.
“Ham,” Dick said. His voice sounded
thick and he was curled in a way that suggested a stomachache. He sat with his
back facing me.
“Huh,” I said. “Fired?”
I approached him from behind.
“Stop,” he said. Commanded. “Envelope.
The table. Take it.”
Dick didn’t move. It was the first
conversation I’d ever had with him that he hadn’t looked me directly in the face.
Where he hadn’t made sure I broke eye contact first. Alpha male dominance
maneuver he’d learned from the Surma of South Sudan.
On the teak picnic table next to me
was an envelope, no name written on it.
“What’s this?” I asked.
He still hadn’t turned. Hadn't moved at all, in fact. The words he had managed seemed squeezed out of him — like an automaton with
just enough energy to force them out. He stayed stationary, looking out at the
elm, that hunting rifle draped across his knees.
The envelope was thin and I could
see the silhouette of one of Dick’s signature rainforest-themed checks. I
ripped open a corner
“Not now!” said Dick.
“OK,” I said, putting the envelope
into my jacket. “Sorry.” I didn’t want to leave it like this. I wanted to shake
Dick’s hand, or at least thank him for the job and companionship if you could
call it that.
“Can I at least give you a hand
shake?” I said.
“No!” Dick barked.
“Well,” I said, wringing my hands.
“Thanks, Dick. For… um, everything.”
It was a lame goodbye.
“Leave the keys,” said Dick.
In my dusty car I opened the check.
Its contents had been written with deliberate effort, though the penmanship was
still shaky. Even in his writing he’d tried to hide his loss of control. I wish
I could say it was for a million dollars or ten million or something, but it
was still an impressive five thousand dollar bonus on top of a month’s pay: something
to help with my mortgage.
You might wonder why I didn’t call
an ambulance for Dick. Why I didn’t try to help more. You don’t know him like I
did. Help in his time of greatest need would have been a knife in the back,
twisted — the ultimate betrayal.
The next week Dick’s obituary
appeared in the paper. No service. No next of kin. No cause of death. But I
knew what it was.
You might wonder why I told this
story, since it’s sad and it’s anticlimactic. I told it because it feels like
the sort of story that actually happens, rather than the kind anyone wants. That’s
what I like about it. It’s a story that makes us know we’re not alone. That bad
things happen to everyone all of the time and that everything hard and terrible
in the world has been endured before. That especially in loss and in grief
we’re closer to everyone else than we are in happiness — though it always feels
the opposite. I think that’s the sort of story that really matters. But that’s
just what I think.
Gritty McDuff’s — Gritty’s — was the first brewpub in Portland.
Essentially, it was the seed that became the forest of brew pubs we
Portlanders now enjoy. You can nearly feel the rich ambience oozing out of
the bricks while sitting at one of the picnic-style tables at their Portland
location. Unfortunately, though the culinary landscape of Portland has
evolved, Gritty’s seems in stasis. Is their menu extensive? Absolutely. Is
their food made with care? Check. Is it just fine? Yes. But that’s just it.
It’s fine. This is the undisputed first brewpub in Portland! I want the food
to be amazing.
Just your societally agreed-upon bar food prices. ~$10
burgers/sandwiches. Normal-price Beers.
Gritty’s shines when it comes to two factors, ambience and
brew. The Portland location especially warms the cockles of my heart with its
convivial atmosphere and sense of monument-like solidity in the heart of the
The bartenders and service staff have been tip top. They know
how to handle a crowd.
EAT OR SKIP:
I’m breaking convention here because I really do like Gritty’s.
I like the mugs — of their exclusive Mug Club — hanging above the bar. I like
how much they’re involved in philanthropy in the Portland community. I like
that they’re the pioneers of the Maine microbrew explosion, and their beers
continue to delight. It’s simply their food that could stand a 21st
century renaissance to match the excellence of everything else they offer.