Dé Luain, Nollaig 18, 2006

Tales from North Platte

I knew this guy once. We'll call him Bruce out of respect to his fifth amendment rights. Bruce was a janitor at the same place where I got my first job, the old Skelly's truck stop near the I-80/U.S. 83 truck stop in North Platte. I was a busboy, and a damned good one at that.

Bruce had an office about fifty feet from the resturant, you went through the little store full of Jeff Foxworthy tapes and jingoistic T-shirts and made a right down the little hallway that led to the semi-repair shop, and there was Bruce's office. I think he was the only janitor in the world with his own office. It wasn't just a closet with all of his supplies in it. He had his own desk, lamp, stationary, etc.

Bruce worked the late afternoon/early evening shift, same as me. I would pass him and say what's up every now in than, while I was on the way to the C-store to steal cigarettes. For the most part, Bruce spent his shifts in his office, reading Penthouse. This was for the best.

There was always a fine layer of grime around the truck stop, but it didn't bother anybody, there were dirtier truck stops. The parking lot was paved, prostitutes (lot lizards) were at a minumum, There were no glory holes in the bathrooms manned by local closet-cases. We had a good reputation, and nobody expected a truck stop to be totally hygenic. There was a constant smell of skin stuck to leather throughout the place, and the customere liked it that way. A truck stop that's too clean reminds them too much of home. That's all you have today for truckstops, squeaky clean Wal-Marts with flags and Tom Clancy novels, and it's a shame. I've heard of soldiers in Iraq complain that having constant contact with their families was bad for them, left them too well connected to the civilized world to do their dirty work. It's a lot like that with truck drivers. A man needs some level of barbarism to help him do an unpleasent job.

So what all that means is that Skelly's probably shouldn't have hired a janitor and given him his own office so he could read Penthouse for eight hours. The place closed down about eighteen months after I started on. Too much payroll was part of the reason. My mother was the head cook at the place, worked there for twenty years, damn shame. The owner of Skelly's still lives in a suburban area of town called Indian Hills, he still controls much of the oil that goes through North Platte. That might not sound impressive, but keep in mind just how much money there is to be made in any facet of the oil business. The man is a low-level millionare. He used to come to Skelly's just so he wouldn't have to pay for coffee and a paper.

So Bruce, his real job was dealing pot. I dealt with him many times. He dabbled a bit in crystal meth too, both as a used and a dealer, he was never a high roller in that department.

One time I went to a Blues fest in Arnold, Ne. about 40 miles northeast of North Platte. You may have heard of this little show. It's nothing more than the house bands from Lincoln's Zoo Bar coming out to the country. But it's outdoors in the clean air in the summer and a couple of thousand people get drunk and the village of Arnold tolerates all sorts of nonsense because of the money that's brought in and it's a good time.

So about six years ago I was at the Blues Fest and I ran into Bruce and some of his family members. It was between acts, and they were fighting each other, just for the sake of competition. It was five in the afternoon and we were all already drunk. They asked me if I wanted to join in and I said sure. I lost a fight to Bruce's 15-year old cousin. I was 20. It was quite humiliating. He bloodied my nose and somebody's gnarly badass biker mom handed me a tissue.

About a year and a half before that, in winter, just after Christmas when everybody's drug and alcohol tolerance reaches a peak, Bruce was worried that the police had an informant spying on him. Maybe they did, but it's not likely. He would form a suspect in his head, proclaim his mortal hatred for him and than move on to someone else the next day.

So he kept hitting the light bulb, and started having morbid thoughts, what should he do if he ever really knew who the informant was? He had a life, a wife and kid, and needed to protect it. He said that if he ever needed to kill somebody, he would shave himself naked, cover himself in plastic, stab his victim with a knife, and than throw the knife in a sewage lagoon where it would be covered with the DNA of thousands of people. Those were his exact words by the way. He really did use the phrase "shave myself naked."

I doubt it would have worked. North Platte isn't quite so small that everybody knows everybody, but it is small enough to where everybody knows who knows who. So if a murder victim had an aquantiance who had suddenly shaved himself naked, it probably would have attracted police attention. The sewage lagoon idea might work, I'll have to study the logistics of it.

But don't worry. Nobody was spying on Bruce, and he didn't need to kill anybody. As far as I know, he's still living in his trailor with his wife and kid on the north side of town. His kid had a rat tail the last time I saw him, he was about five, he would be nine now. I have extended family members who still deal with Bruce, so maybe I'll see him over the holidays. I would prefer not to, and that kind of makes me feel bad for some reason.

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