The official greeting from Dirty John, if you pass him in traffic along the rag-tag stretch of Surf Route 101 that goes through Quilcene, Washington is the double eagle flip-off.
This also might be the greeting (if you’re lucky enough to be his friend) at the Post Office, at the Fire Hall, or pretty much anywhere else in town. The proper response is to return the favor.
Not that I mind.
If we talked about surfing (and I seem to include it in most conversations), John always recounted his childhood on Coronado Island, Admiral’s Row.
“I had a big, long board, and my thing was to go out on the biggest days, and just take off.” “You mean, like, um, go straight?” “Yeah.” “Sometimes I’d paddle across the bay to Ralph’s.” “Across San Diego Bay?” “Yeah, why?” “Because it’s crazy.” “Oh. Maybe.”
The ‘maybe’ was accompanied by a bit of a smile.
I’ve known John for over 37 years. We were new guys in the Quilcene Fire Department in 1981 (Trish filled me in on this). John’s a tough guy, as tough as they come; but, send him on an aid call where a child is hurt (Trish, John, and I were Emergency Medical Technicians for years), and John’s empathetic side would be revealed. And he loved cats. Our kids called him John McKitty.
John got to Quilcene because there was a halfway house here at the time. He freely admits he, son of a career Naval officer, abused drugs.
That was years ago. John traded hard drugs for working hard, drinking copious amounts of Pepsi; he held on to smoking cigarettes, added chewing tobacco.
When he got COPD, emphysema, he quit smoking. He refuses to be on oxygen.
It would embarrass John if I… shit, even knowing about this piece would embarrass John. If I listed the times he helped us out, cutting down dangerous trees in our yard with fellow curmudgeon George Hansberry, towing my truck when the wheel fell off… more; it would definitely embarrass him; might just anger him.
I saw John the other day in the local bank. There was a line, and he was waiting in a chair. “How’s it going?” John’s voice was a whisper. I tried to whisper. “Not so good.”
He told me about the cancer. “Lung cancer?” “Pancreatic.” “Oh.” We all know the prognosis. Not good. “When did you get the, um…” “Two weeks ago.”
“I just inherited a… money,” he said. “Oh.”
There was a pause. “Spend it,” I said. “I am,” he answered. He nodded toward a new Suburu outside. “I bought that for Melinda,” he said. “Good. Uh, hey, sorry, man.” “It is what it is.”
When I was done with my transaction, John was standing at the counter, next teller over, saying something about having chemo the day before. “Um, uh, yeah; but you feel better, huh?” “Yeah. Better.” “Um, what was your last name, again?”
“You probably think his first name is ‘Dirty,'” I said. “it’s actually not.”
“I couldn’t do this is it wasn’t in a public space,” I said, giving John a sideways shoulder hug. “He’d hit me.”
He didn’t, but he did give me a semi-hidden version of the official greeting.