(This is an excerpt from my collection Better Handshakes.)
Jack is a statue of Y-chromosome Australia. I’ve known him for thirty-seven minutes give or take a few long breaths of controlled silence. The untrue fact is I’ve known Jack since I was knee high to a grasshopper—him blowing smoke rings for us kids to jump through because tobacco still cured cancer then. Our meeting was a fluke and his handshake was as sincere as nails.
I was helping a nice Japanese couple move into his home around the corner. They spoke under twenty words of English and Jack much less of Japanese. I was the translator. I wasn’t there to ease the heavy lifting (two backpacks, five groceries bags, and a case of beer) but rather to explain how to use the toilet, lights and oven. Once my duties were finished I struck up a conversation with Jack and we wasted no time being old friends.
Yeah, it’s a real nice thing you are doing helping travelers like ourselves settle into your home, your country, hell, your backyard, I said.
He offered a smile then lost no time looking about the house beginning a tour of his ongoing renovations.
What commenced was a ten minute expedition through a huge house with new cement, fresh pipes, cleaned floors, waiting lumber and cinder, seven surf boards, a finished bathroom, two unfinished bathrooms, a few ship wheels and an endless array of ship debris and beach artifacts. When we finally made it to the backyard I was taken aback by the huge palm trees, tepid rainforest growth, spiders bigger than my hand and a hundred tropical birds straight out of National Geographic. Every square inch, inside and out, had a story.
Jack’s been pouring his own cement and plumbing new bathrooms into his home for just under five years, and like most Australian men, he’s in no rush.
Yeah, I take my time, he said. The house will be here tomorrow. The surf, my friends, my youth… they may not.
He’s the kind of man that wears a shirt only if he absolutely needs to and heads to the ocean whenever there are waves. He’s fit because he never sits down, smart because he listens and unworldly cheerful because he grew up five minutes from the beach and helped others build their lives for a living.
Our conversation didn’t last long and didn’t need to. Tomorrow he is stopping over at 8AM to take a good look at my broken radiator. It’s on my way to the beach, he said.