There was something about the thin-armed, beer-bellied man as he walked along the sidewalk and passed the house. He had a thin, stringy beard and a severely receding hair line with the unkempt ends hanging over his tee-shirt collar.
“Good afternoon,” I called out.
“Good afternoon,” he replied as he continued up the street.
Yes. There was something that was vaguely familiar about the guy, but I couldn’t put my finger on it at the moment.
That night as I lay in bed hoping for sleep to overtake me, I thought about him again. Perhaps I’d seen him at the local Walmart or maybe the Save Mart – I couldn’t remember – but I knew I’d seen him someplace as I tend to recall faces all the time.
Then it hit me like a bolt out of the blue, a jarring memory that sent me sitting upright and absolved of all thought or want of sleep at that very moment. It was a stinging memory that I’d laid to rest years ago – but was suddenly walking through my neighborhood like a real Zombie.
“Martin,” I gasped.
He and I first crossed paths in early 1986. I’d been living in a boarding-house on Tripp Drive in Reno for a several months when Martin rented the room directly across from mine.
Martin was five years younger than me and because of this, his lack of body mass and extraordinarily hairless moustache on his upper lip, I considered him a kid. And as first impressions go, he set my alarm bell off as being a sneak.
And it didn’t take too long for my impression to prove itself out.
One Monday morning as I was leaving for work, I noticed my VW Bug’s front end pushed away from the curb. Furthermore, it had a nasty crack in the newly purchased fiberglass wheel well I’d recently installed.
Rushing back inside, I asked the landlord if she knew anything about what had happened to my car. She didn’t have a clue.
So, I went up stairs and knocked on Martin’s door. I told him about my car and he swore he had no knowledge of what had happened to cause the body damage.
Not wanting to be late for work, I drove off. However, I didn’t stop puzzling over the fact that my car was moved a good eight-inches from the curb and there was hefty crack in the body.
After work I drove home and parked in my usual spot. As I sat there it occurred to me that the landlord’s big old 1972 Chevy station wagon was recently moved.
Since she no longer drove, and the only time the ‘Beast’ as she called it moved was when I took her to the market to do her weekly shopping on Friday’s, I knew it had been driven. I had to find out by who, because I concluded that person had run the Beast’s bumper into my car.
“Did you take the car out?” I asked Ethel.
“No,” she answered, “You know I’m not allowed to drive anymore.”
“I know,” I replied, “But I had to ask. Anyone else drive your car since Friday evening?”
“No one,” she returned, “The keys are in my purse like always.”
Two days later, as I came in the front door and headed for the stairs, Ethel stopped me and in a near whisper told me, “Patsy from next door told me she saw someone she didn’t recognize driving the car late Sunday night. She described Martin.”
“So, do you want him out, because I’ll kick his ass down the stairs and out the front door, right now?” I asked.
“No. You can’t do that,” she countered, “I can’t very well simply accuse him of taking my car with proof. But do keep an eye on him.”
By now my rage was seething slightly below explosive. All I need was an excuse to pop him up along side of the head and drag him outside and give him a real smack down. I didn’t have to wait very long.
One evening I returned home from working overtime to discover my door unsecured. Every morning before I left the house I pulled it hard and rattled the knob to make certain it was locked.
As I pushed the door open, I looked around the room, but could find nothing missing. This caused me to question my recollection – perhaps I failed to double-check my door after all.
But that doubt was put to rest the next day as I realized a pocket knife I’d had in a desk drawer was missing. I searched high and low and never found it.
Then that evening, I was putting away my skivvies when I discovered both my birth certificate and my expired passport missing. They had been neatly tucked under the paper drawer-liner for safe keeping.
That seething rage became an explosive inferno as I stepped across the hall and pounded on Martin’s door. There was no answer, yet I felt certain he was inside cowering, so I pushed the door in by force.
I was wrong – Martin wasn’t in his room – but I wasn’t about to let an opportunity to search his room slip by me.
After trashing the place, I found absolutely nothing. He either had it so well hidden that it would take a team of detectives to find my stuff or he had taken it with him to wherever he disappeared.
Quietly, I sat up throughout much of the night waiting for the little asshole to return. He never did and eventually, Ethel had me clean out his room and repair the door so she could rent the space out to another boarder.
A few weeks later, with Mary moving to the area, we rented an apartment on Sutro Street where we would live for the next 12 years. As I was moving my stuff out of the boarding house I learned than Martin had also robbed me of a 20-dollar gold piece that I’d had hidden in my shaking kit and tucked under my bed.
There was nothing that could be done about any of it, so I resolved to let it go and move forward. Then about four-years later, as I pulled into the nearby Albertston’s on Oddie Blvd., I saw Martin coming out of the store with several grocery bags in his arms.
“Here, let me help you with those,” I offered with happiness in my voice.
Martin, not recognizing me at all, gladly allowed me to take five of the bags from him as he fished out his car keys out of his pocket. Behind him trailed a woman, a baby carrier in her arms.
Joyfully, I helped him load the truck with his groceries as his wife buckled the carrier into the back seat. That’s when I surprised him, saying, “I’d really like to have my birth certificate and passport back, Martin.”
His head snapped back and his face went pale as he knew instantly who I was and what I was talking about. Still a scrawny, stick figure of a man, he must have sensed I was more than willing to kick his ass if he got smart-mouthed or resisted me in anyway.
A fast as a ground-squirrel, he hoping behind the wheel and slammed his door shut; slapping the button lock down to make certain I couldn’t open the door and yank him out. I heard him yell at his wife to forget strapping the car seat down and to get in quick.
She had to scramble to get in the passenger seat as he had the car in gear and was pulling away within seconds of learning my identity. Martin nearly hit a mother and daughter as they came out of the grocery store and headed across the parking lot.
Yes, I could have followed him – but I decided not too. Instead I savored the fear of god I had jus’ put into the little man as he disappeared down the road.
That was the last time I saw Martin, that is until he walked by my home a few days ago.
The funny thing is that for years I’ve been trying to get a certified copy of my birth certificate from the federal government since I was born overseas as a military dependent, but to no avail, because I don’t have the hospital registry number. Then about a month ago, I accidentally stumbled on a copy that my parents placed in a ‘school record’s book,’ they started when I was baby – so now I have the necessary number.
Maybe it’s time I invite Martin over for cup of coffee. The whole idea makes me laugh.