Harold’s sneakers

I used to know a guy named Harold, whom I met through my good friend James. Well, Harold had issues, though he wasn’t a bad guy at heart. In short, Harold was a perpetual, seemingly compulsive liar. He would brass through any lie even when presented with plain evidence to refute it. Harold was convinced that he had been a very important member of a secret special ops unit. If the subject of a language came up, he claimed to speak it fluently. Harold lied about so much that one believed nothing he said, and one was surprised whenever a truth leaked through all the fiction and horseshit.

Even so, I never expected he’d burn a friendship to get a couple grand, but live and learn. He still owes me that money, plus interest, ten years in.

I did have fun one time, when Harold showed up at my door unannounced, wearing his green beret (which was draped on the wrong side). I did not miss a beat. “Little girl, I’d like two boxes of thin mints, and two boxes of the peanut butter dream cookies, please.”

Before entering, Harold raised a middle finger, signifying his disapproval of my greeting.

Another time, Harold got snowed in at my place during a freak Pacific Northwest westside snowstorm. He was stuck there for three days, during which he managed to get my sliding glass door stuck open due to ice, thanks in turn to his frequent need to go out and smoke. Since he had trudged some distance through the slush to reach my place, he had arrived with very wet sneakers, which he removed. My carpet would never be the same again. Harold’s sneakers had a legendary stench, and he was now walking around my place in his wet socks. He claimed to have contracted some sort of jungle fungus in the tropics. I suspected he probably just hadn’t changed his socks often enough.

When I awoke the next morning, and went down the hall, my nostrils cringed before the assault of Harold’s fermenting sneakers (probably almost ready for la remuage et le dégorgement). This will not stand, I told myself. My solution was silent, swift, and sure. I dug three quarters out of my laundry coin jar and scooped up a scoop of laundry detergent. I looked at Harold, pointed at his shoes, then to my door. I sat the coins and detergent on the table and went back to my room, hoping that my body language had conveyed the full urgency.

The funniest one, though, was when James needed his house painted, as he feared he might need to put it on the market due to illness. Harold and I teamed up to paint the house. Now, James had a small mutt named Willie. Willie, an inoffensive creature to anyone partial to dogs, annoyed me and I paid him no attention of any kind. Willie did not care. Willie liked me anyway, and for that reason, James liked me. This was a pretty hot day, Harold had rented a paint sprayer, at the use of which he was inept, and we weren’t having a very easy or clean time.

James, being the good guy that he was, ordered pizza for all of us. (He was too frail at that point to help paint the place. He would eventually need a transplant, which would buy him some more years before we lost him.) Harold and I were glad to go inside for lunch. I was so tired, sweaty, and hungry that I didn’t even care that Harold had removed his sneakers.

We all shared a jovial pizza lunch, eating our way to the crusts. Willie expected that this would be his snack time, and began to get a little eager. James chastised him in that piercing nasal voice I miss to this day: “Willie! Good dogs get, and bad dogs don’t!” Willie, no fool, resumed his patient wait. Soon James pitched a succulent pizza crust in his direction.

I swear to you that this is true: it landed directly in one of Harold’s shoes. I would not fictionalize something like this without telling you so.

James, of course, had not meant to do that. Willie’s reflexes caused him to dart for the thrown food, and within six inches of Harold’s footwear, the dog halted as if he’d hit a force-field. Willie stopped, examined the situation, sniffed, and backed off. He gave James the mournful canine look that says ‘You are such a fucker,’ and trudged away in sorrow.

When it registered what we had just seen, that was probably the best laugh we all ever had together.

It’s how I like to remember James, a man whose eulogy I would one day have to deliver.

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