Wednesday, July 20, 2016

In Defense of the Name Blaine

Blaine was the name of my childhood neighbor, a WWII vet with the best stories and all of them earned, not overheard. At nearly 80 he still lit his smokes with a Zippo and rolled his packs of unfiltered Camels into his t-shirt sleeve. He was dying of congestive heart failure but wouldn’t admit it, his conversations interrupted by long hacking coughs that drained his color. I’d see him walking on the side of the road in Florida’s 95 degree summer heat because his unloving wife drove their only car to Sears where she managed the shoe department. I’d stop and motion him in – he’d resist, complain that I had more important things to do. If I had more important things to do that merited letting him die in the summer heat, I don’t know what they could be.

Blaine deserved better. His children up north never called, forgot his birthday but used his place as a rest stop on the rare occasion they visited Disney. I really loved the guy, he was an appreciated substitute for my own deadbeat dad when I was in high school. Before he passed away in my sophomore year of college I’d sent him a new Zippo, monogrammed with my appreciation for my stand-in dad and a pack of Camels with a stern Sharpie’d note on them that they were NOT to be smoked. I was too broke to come home for the funeral but my mom said that Zippo was in his box of greatest treasures, next to the medals and Purple Heart and other sparse jewelry that a man acquires who’s too practical for such vane things. I've missed him ever since, not a week goes by that I don't think about him or ruminate on his battlefield stories of boredom and terror. I hope you've had a Blaine in your life too.

"Blaine? His name is Blaine? That's not a name it's a major appliance!"