Last Saturday morning I was up late, 8:00. I’d been out to the office read my email and check on Alex, who was supposed to be painting the office floor. He wasn’t there, and I’d come back into the house to make cookies. BANG BANG BANG nobody who works with me knocks on the door like that. Possibilities present themselves; it’s most likely someone who with a road emergency. My employees knock so timidly at the door sometimes I don’t hear them. They stand on the porch and call my cell phone.
I opened the door and there is a large black man standing on my porch. This is a great rarity. I have no black customers in my business, no black potters in my guild, no black friends in my circle. I am a hopeless old whitey. I grew up in Eastern Oregon and never knew a black person, in fact when I was growing up there was only one person of Mexican descent in my school, Andrea Zaragosa. She was a beautiful, sober girl with long face who rarely smiled.
Now my world is full of people from Mexico and in fact I speak respectable Spanish, but I still don’t know any black people. The guy on my porch was very tall, had a wide smile, and was charming in sort of a raggedy way. He said are you Ginger and I said yes I’m Ginger what can I do for you? He said your man said I needed to talk with you, I’m a scrap guy, and I want I want to buy metal. You have some stuff here that I’d like to buy from you. I’m Johnny.
I thought for a minute, and said my neighbor Richard is a salvage guy too, and he hauls all that sort of stuff away for me. It’s true, Richard comes around with the big old trailer with a come along attached to it, and loads up stoves and refrigerators and scrap metal onto his trailer. Johnny said well, I just have a little truck and I’ve come a long way and from the easy way he spoke, and smiled – so completely at home on my porch asking for junk I knew at once that he had kissed some sort of Blarney stone of scrap men. But running in parallel was the realization that he had already driven around my dock and viewed the realms of stuff necessary to operate a nursery. How would he know what there is to haul if he hadn’t had a good look? Robbery is a terrible problem these days, the meth people will even steal your sprinkler heads and sell them by the pound.
I thought what the hell, Richard is sort of out of commission right now, and this guy is here. So I put on my coat and walked back with him and see what it was he wanted. I saw Santiago off behind the dock, and knew it had been Santiago that had sent him to the house. Johnny more or less led me over to the open shed where we keep all kinds of stuff. He was looking at dead unit heater, a Modine, with another aluminum cadaver right behind it. They only last about five years, and then the heat exchangers rust out. A replacement heat exchanger costs as much as a new unit heater, so we don’t fix them
Johnny says something to me about the motors, do you want to keep the motors? Santiago walks towards us and I ask him in Spanish, do we want to keep the motors? Johnny says to me, how much do you want for these two heaters, and I think about it. They’re aluminum, I have no idea what it’s bringing per pound right now. Richard just hauls stuff away and then come back later and peels off bills. I tell the guy 20 bucks, because I don’t want to just give him the danged things. Johnny and Santiago turn their attention to the motors. Santiago is seems distracted; Johnny says, I have tools and will all pull them off for you. They will work it out; I head back to the house, with my 20.
I am just finished making the cookies when I hear BANG BANG BANG BANG. It’s Johnny again, and he says your man has a bunch of old electric motors, can I buy those too? Santiago is with him this time; half his size, smiling. The scrap guy is working his blarney on Santiago across the language barrier. I say okay….
I’m almost ready to head to Portland when I remember we may have some cuttings coming in today. Cuttings on Saturday is a big problem, because there’s no one to open the boxes, cut open the bags, stick the cuttings. They fester in there with their own evil ethylene, not good. I had arranged with some ladies to come in today but somebody needs to call them when the cuttings get here. Alex was supposed to do it, but he’s not here. I think, I’d better set it up with Santiago before I leave. I walked out to the green barn where Santiago keeps tools, and still more of the farm’s junk.
Johnny’s truck is backed up to the barn door, it is a little truck. It’s dinky dark blue Ford pickup, plenty old, with rear springs shot from hauling scrap. I hear Santiago and Johnny inside the barn, not talking but banging stuff around. Santiago is standing up on a ladder hauling down cantaloupe-sized electric motors with both hands and passing them to Johnny. There are a lot of them: poor deceased gadgets, for which I paid hard-gotten petunia dollars on some forgotten day.
They’re not talking, just working. Johnny has a big grin on his face. How much for these he says? I say 30, he gives me a 50 and I give him back the 20. Santiago seems to have a secret joke. Johnny asks me about my Spanish, he is deferential but confident. I want to talk… he has a way about him that I can’t quite figure out.
As I drive away from the farm, I think I should have taken his picture. Johnny had some crazy mojo that made you like him, want to help him, sell him your scrap. If I had his picture, I could show it to the law if I get robbed. But mostly, I just wanted to look at it and think about Johnny’s way of being in the world.
Johnny did give me a card, it says: Call Johnny if you have any scrap metal, washers, dryers, stoves, ovens, water heaters, refrigerators, or any metal you do not want. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Richard called me the very next day to tell me that he’d been over to visit. He said, I left you something I found scrapping. You’ll like it.