The Epic Joe Series Continues (Part 2)

I discover that planting in the larger pot is not much more difficult, but it is meticulous and the evening is growing long. It takes about half an hour to do each tray because every pot is different and requires a handwriten label – Latin name and all. I start to feel a little weary from the 24 hour bug I’m kicking and glance at the clock. It is nearly 8 p.m.. Joe’s dinner still sits on the stove untouched as I work.

“Joe, don’t mind me. Eat up! I’ve got food at home I can nibble on when I’m done,” I say, nodding in the direction of the stove.

“Nope, that’s alright. I’m fine,” he mutters. I decide not to press it and return to my work.

Terry Gross comes on the radio, broadcasting her nightly Fresh Air show. In an excellent coincidence, Neil Young is being interviewed about his recent annurism removal, his latest album, and the new film of his live performance. The film director is part of the show as well.

“He’s so distinctive!” Joe says, smling to himself while he types an email at his desk. “Not a soul can sing like he can.” I agree completely and tell him about the time my parents got to see him with Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Between questions and answers, NPR cuts to some of Neils tracks from the new album, as well as some classics such as Harvest Moon.

“I went through a phase where I ran to this album every afternoon. It was when I was living in the Adirondacks,” I say, describing the isolation and snow there. On the privacy of a six mile long lake with only a handful of friends my age, I lived for one year and did service work in the 6 million acre state park (that’s three times the size of Yellowstone). I tell him a little about my life there, the scenery, the snowpack, and the running.

“Yup, sounds pretty idyllic. Pretty idyllic,” Joe says, moving to the table next to me to sort more seed packets.

Neil explains more about his visual migraine, his wife, his life as a performer, then the program cuts to “Old Man.” Suddenly, Joe and I, sitting side by side, find ourselves singing together:

“Old man look at my life,
Twenty four
and there’s so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two.

Love lost, such a cost,
Give me things
that don’t get lost.
Like a coin that won’t get tossed
Rolling home to you.”

Joe taps his feet on the hollow floor beneath the table. I watch his profile as he smiles while we sing, though I’m certain he’s pretty aware that he’s even singing himself. The irony of our situation hits me like a brick wall. He is an old man. Yet he is also alone. Now I’m closer to 24 and yes, I live alone though tirelessly “think of two.” We sing together – I for my unknown other half and for the peace of sharing this work with Joe, and Joe for perhaps out of simplicity, or perhaps for hidden reasons that only come out at times like this.

The song ands as I finish the second to last tray. Joe moves to the coach and resolves to watching me work. He has been so patient, and by now I’m certain his dinner is cold. Of course, he is totally unphased, like a cat resting in the noonday sun that lifts its head only to blink blissfully at the busy world around him.

As we talk further I discover that Joe is really animated in the evenings, almost the polar opposite of our work mornings together. We discuss music and he puts on Manu Chao, bobbing his beret-covered head in time to the ultra-hip indy music. I ask if he’s heard of Andrew Bird.

“Oh, and the Bowl of Fire?” he perks up. I nod. “Yeah, course. Hear of them.”

“But what about the Mysterious Production of Eggs?” I inquire, totally impressed that he’s down with the Bird.

“Oh yeah, yeah, heard that too.” I tell him how it affected me and he listens with focus, nodding his head, curious. “I see, oh. Wow.”

As I put the finishing touches on the last tray, I ask how his son, my former student, it doing. “Does he still have a girlfriend Joe?”

“Nope, oh, and he was so sad about that. So sad.” He shakes his head and gets up from the couch to stoke the fire. “And she was so cute too. Yup.” At this I cannot help but laugh, and a few gurgles sneak out before I stop myself. Here is this sixty-something man who parties like Neil Young, gets down with Manu Chao, comments on his teenage son’s girlfriend completely naturally, knows Chinese Herbology better than most people in the United States, doesn’t give a damn about time of day or time in general, and has the politeness to hold his dinner until after I leave. Wow.

Just before 9 p.m. I say sianara and hit the road. We agree on more bartner next Tuesday, perhaps grining cinnamon, “But yeah, you never know, we’ll see.”

I find my way by moonlight down the steep slope to his gravel drive with bunker sized potholes. I pass the terraced garden beds that will eventually hold many of the plants whose seeds I’ve tried to start tonight. Once I get to my car, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore what time it is to me, either. The evening has grown long and dark, and Orion lifts himself above the horizon like a giant beast hoisting himself from another realm.

At home, there are still coals in the woodstove and I toss a poplar log on, then step into the kitchen to cook up my own dinner before resting up for a full Friday the next day.

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