Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tales from the Creep'd

Someone I know, whose family titles rhyme with "laddie" and "bother," is the V-- Creeper.

He is a retired ITT guy who used to work at V-- AFB, back when ITT had all the contracts on base. When any of the shops would order overage or have leftovers from a project, back in those days, they would squirrel away all the spare parts under a tarp somewhere in a "rathole": an unused building, the space above a ceiling tile, an unused, old desk, a corner.

Times change. Companies stop making parts crucial to repair elderly equipment. Bureaucracies get burdensome in ways that cause any project approval or revision take 30 months. If a project orders the wrong kind of wire or screws, it can take 30 months to approve the replacement... or so the Creeper says. It may be straight-faced hyperbole.

Most of the guys who know where the ratholes are are dead, now. Only the Creeper remains.

When the companies now occupying the base want something, they call him. He has a magnificent spatial memory and, like a squirrel, he knows not only where his own ratholes are, but those of other people. Dead men and women who laid their tools by for another time when they were needed have created a niche for someone like a Creeper. "But they don't MAKE that part anymore," people say to him. "Give me a couple hours," he replies. And he brings them what they need.

This has been his job since he retired. He is the V-- Creeper. When project coordinators, dutiful bureaucrats, and desk-jockeys see him, they ask pointedly, "Why are YOU here?" He says, "Somebody has a problem. I'll be gone in 15 minutes, and so will the problem."

But the times, they change again. He says that now they have followed him, searched, or accidentally found all his ratholes --and destroyed them, at long last. There's no purpose to it: the space they occupied isn't being used and they cost nothing. It will only cause problems for those items to be discarded, before --and after-- their time. Now, the only ratholes that remain belong to dead people long gone, and he doesn't have their inventories memorized.

This is a person with whom I have very little in common, except that weird knack for the spatial dimension of memory (which is why I am utterly useless if somebody tidies my desk or helps me with paperwork.) Well, that's not quite true. I guess we share many features of our sense of humor. He's the only other person in the world, except MAYBE my brother, who says "framistat" to indicate a generic object for which one doesn't remember the name, or suspects that the other conversant doesn't know it. I do think of the life stories of inanimate objects in much the same way as he does (his specialty is guns; mine is jewelry and paper, like memoirs or cookbooks.)

Yet we have profound and keenly felt differences. For instance, he believes that communion with the Divine happens in a church; I'm a nature girl myself. He believes life is a struggle, often bloody, in which the most powerful and prepared will win. He believes the End is nigh and that I should be a mommy. He calls all useless animals "varmints" and does his best to eradicate them one or several at a time; coincidentally, he calls all animals "varmints."

But once in a while, it's delightful to realize that everyone around you is a superhero, a spy, a bounty hunter, a McGuyver, a ninja, somebody's hero, somebody's beloved, somebody's nemesis, a vital force in the world who is to be reckoned with and remembered. They have a special nickname and a talent that nobody else in the world can replicate, and that will be missed, unless times change so quickly that it is a memory before they are.

Reexamine your most exasperating loved one. I promise you won't regret the process.

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