Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

I Have A Friend

I work with my hands all day but I rarely injure them. A long time ago I wearied of hurting myself in minor ways and began to keep a lookout for things that might bite me on the way through my palms. I thought it was a sign of foolishness to willingly submit to the abrasion of the hands while working until they felt like curbstones. One does not have to work dumb to work hard. But who of us is perfect?

It was nothing, really. My hands are cold and so made ten percent clumsy and I have a headache and it’s only in the forties in here and the board passes along your hand as you feed it and it leaves its tiny child in the meat of your thumb. It’s too small to pluck back out — small enough to be entirely subsumed in the flesh. I won’t dig it out. It will throb a bit for a week or so, and then be forgotten. It is my friend.

It doesn’t want anything of me. It only gives. It reminds you constantly, just a gentle sussurus of discomfort whispered lovingly into my ear via my thumb: Look out! Remember. 

It’s the only advice worth a damn. Everyone’s full of advice. Advice generally should be taken by the giver. It’s information that suits them, after all. The board didn’t have any advice beforehand. It showed me something. It is equally mute now. The splinter sticks by me.

I got lots of advice when I caught the poverty. I got it from people that I figure would lay down and die if they were in my place. They are clarks and tollbooth operators and sleep at work whether their eyes are open or not, and wonder aloud why I didn’t just find a featherbed like they did. What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you find one now?

They shun us, now. It’s not in the front of their head, it’s way in the reptile back, but the decision is the same: They might catch the poverty from us. Best find a way to forget our phone number. You knew it well enough when you needed things from us. But now we must be lonely because it is the only way others can deal with it.

The splinter isn’t just a companion. He is a good friend. He talks to me about important matters. Life, death, pain, resolution, patience, risk — even kindness, because the same machine that delivered a sliver can take a finger; a limb; a life. But it can deliver a living, too, if you learn to get along with it.

I’d be all alone more than I’d like without this little bit of pinus strobus. I know he’ll stay with me until I don’t need him anymore, and then he’ll go. He won’t make a big deal of leaving, either; one day I’ll just notice that my thumb used to hurt, and now it doesn’t.

I always remember kindnesses paid to me. I’ll remember every splinter.

15 Responses

  1. I too have caught the poverty. Ten years ago, I was a well paid contractor at a Major Aerospace Company in Southern California. Now, I'm trying to get along on Social (in)Security and what little pension I have from said Major Aerospace Company; renting my friend's house in SE Pennsylvania from her so she doesn't get foreclosed.

    I love it and wouldn't trade it for anything, except, perhaps, to hear from my daughter on a more regular basis.

  2. We are beginning to embrace our new lack of status. I will die poor, which is okay. I'll be on an equal basis with the rich dead as I am with the poor living.

  3. Sorry, Sipp; splendid splinter is already spoken for, as I suspect you know full well, from way back. But
    Gerard is indeed splendid, in his own right – a man of the quill, for sure – so I'm sure we should be able to come up with something equally suitable for him.

  4. We are all povutists, now.

    Okay, that pun's getting old. However, your prose never does, so that is a good thing.

  5. I've gotten rather used to my recent penury. It certainly focuses the mind. And I never had any deep friends before anyway, so there's not that much to miss. Godspeed, Sippican.

  6. A further thought. I infer from the comments here, that we all are relatively safe and dry (if not as warm as we might like). I presume we have enough to eat, lights in the house, and (obviously) the interweb.

    We are not impoverished, just broke. Yes, the lack o' cash does focus the mind, as V-man says. IT seems to focus it on the more important things, like God, family, friends and country.

    You know, the important things.

  7. Hi Leelu- You are making an important point. By any measure of it, we are living in poverty. What we are decidedly not living in is squalor. If you give disreputable people money, they live in high-budget squalor. We are not disreputable. We just don't have any money to speak of. I have a feeling that many people are in the same boat. I'm gratified that my essays are of interest, or perhaps, some comfort to others that are like us.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  8. Your writing is arresting. It flows well and then it sticks a knife in me as some important point hits home. Thank you.

    I grew up with poverty on one side of the family and prosperity on the other. Mom, my brother, and me were mostly poor, most of the time. Another explanation for some of the people that seem to drift away is that they are so uncertain about how to be in contact without either making you uncomfortable or them appear to be showing off. It keeps people away. Their imagination can run a bit wild and they aren't sure if the simplest reference or display of something won't be misunderstood by the newly poor.

    A relative had cancer and some people drifted away, not because they didn't care but because nobody was sure how to help and they were very afraid of making things worse. Let people know how they can help. Some of the drift away people want to help.

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