Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Day 222 - June 10th

Purvis, Mississippi
Crazy weather ushered in the new day. High winds imported lightning and storms and there was even a tornado warning. With the staccato patter of rain against the kitchen window, I spent the better parts of the morning and afternoon writing, mostly letters and comments on the writing of my friends. In addition to my own work, I intend to always make time for the poems and stories my writer friends produce.  I know in the future when I write my poems and essays I will need the same outside perspective. Today, I reread the short story written by my friend Emily. It’s entitled “North” and it’s about a runaway who winds up hitchhiking across the desert, her destination the same as the title. “North” was written several months before I began walking through the desert and it strikes me as a funny coincidence and I enjoyed comparing it against my experience.

The brain can only write for so long before the words become nonsensical mush. When Michael had to inspect a couple sites, I hopped along for the ride. I admire the integrity and skill that informs Michael’s work. Within a minute or two of pacing about the skeleton of a house he can point out flaws or where a carpenter performed a particularly thorough job.

Michael’s professional history is rather remarkable. Michael grew up in poverty, in a house with a packed dirt floor. Snakes would sometimes sneak through gaps in the boards and snuggle in the corners for warmth. When he was 14, he and his older brother took over the family cosmetics business. They grew it into a 2,000 employee business. After improving the business they could afford to build themselves a bigger home. In his 20’s, Michael immigrated to New York City. He didn’t speak a lick of English. He remembers arriving in a t-shirt and shorts in the middle of winter with 2 feet of snow outside. For warmth he walked into a McDonald’s and while he was inside attempted to order a “Biggie Mackie.” Seeking gainful employment he sought out construction jobs even though he’d never worked as a carpenter before. But he studied it, taking scrupulous notes and asking questions. One day, a general contractor who had grown to admire Michael’s work ethic asked him if he knew how to read plans and if so, could he oversee the construction of a townhouse? Michael bluffed and said he had a crew (he didn’t) and that he had experience reading and executing blueprints (he didn’t). Yet somehow, within that month, Michael hired a crew and built three townhouses. And after two years of throwing himself into the frustrating task of learning English, he could speak it. Michael attributes both feats to God.

Michael ran a construction company for 17 years and moved to Mississippi where he met Tammy. They started a family. Michael transitioned into a myriad of other professions: real estate investment, off-shore oil work, insurance agent, construction consultant. I’m sure there are others I didn’t hear about. His skill set is incredibly broad.

One last job Michael performed has a very intriguing plot. Throughout his business ventures Michael forges a lot of connections. One was a Swiss banker who approached him with a job on behalf of a Swiss billionaire who needed someone to sell $2 million dollars worth of gold. Michael refused to learn the gold’s origin but he insisted on selling it through legitimate avenues. He and his banker friend spent a month in New York City scouting out locations, comparing prices and figuring out how to safely move $2 million dollars in cash. When the day arrived, Michael walked into their predetermined location with a backpack full of mini 50-gram gold bars and emerged with it full of cash. His cut was 75k!

In the late afternoon Michael and I picked more blueberries and observed the chickens jumping up to the lowest branches (the blueberries here grow on trees instead of the low-lying shrubs found in colder regions) to reach the fat berries. I hung out with Tammy and Michael and watched TV. Before turning in I stepped outside to see the spectacle of lightning fissure the clouds and fill them with light from within. Electricity pulsed the atmosphere with its pale blue light once. Twice. Again and again. Five times. 

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