A random memory

This took place back somewhere around 1984, when I was working as a yardman in a lumber yard.

One of the truck drivers — we’ll call him Skipper — was a young guy, maybe twenty or twenty-two, with sandy hair down to his shoulders and a friendly open face. Like all of us, he always wore a baseball cap, and like most of us younger guys he always wore shorts and a T-shirt in the summer; like me, he wore wire-rimmed aviator glasses of the type that were popular back then.

But he was a little louder and more cheerful than the rest of us, and he had a wicked west-of-Boston accent, and above all he partied much harder than anyone else who worked there. He was late for work more than once because he was hung over, or he slept through the alarm clock, or (so it was said) he was still drunk or stoned when he got up in the morning and couldn’t get it together enough even to drive to work.

Skipper managed to make it work for a couple of years; he wasn’t the best driver we had, but he was good enough. Then he started getting worse. One morning, Bob, the senior driver, came back from a delivery just before lunch. “Where’s Skipper?” he said. “I don’t see his truck.”

One of the other drivers said that Skipper wasn’t back yet.

Bob, a master at sounding disgusted, said, “Jesus, he just had to go up to Carlisle, and he left before I did.”

Pretty soon everyone, even the kid who came in to work after school, was aware that Skipper was screwing up. The other drivers were resentful because Skipper wasn’t pulling his weight. Georgia, the yard foreman, would make a point of checking his watch when he saw Skipper driving into the yard. It became obvious that the shipper and the vice-president were also keeping an eye on him. Skipper didn’t seem to care; he was the same happy-go-lucky, half-stoned, cheerful guy as usual. This went on for a few weeks: tension building around Skipper, while he seemed utterly unaware of it.

One day, late in the afternoon, several of us were standing around in the coffee shack, pretending to wait for customers but really waiting for five o’clock to come around. One of the drivers came out of the shipper’s office. “They caught Skipper.” “What? Whaddya mean, they caught him?” He told us what he had heard, a bare-bones account of what had happened: Skipper was driving one of the box trucks; the vice-president shadowed Skipper in a car, followed him to a jobsite, a place where there was no delivery scheduled; Skipper was selling drugs off the back of his truck.

That’s all we ever heard about it. Nobody had to say that they fired Skipper, we all knew that. But was he just selling marijuana, or was it something more serious? Were the cops called? Was he arrested? I never found out, and no one ever talked about it. Skipper never came back, and I never saw him again.