the milkman of human kindness

As of today, I can go to my grave with absolutely no regrets.

My friend and partner blogger Slider K Shaftacular is a big man. Big in size (clocking in at 7’2” and a ripped 330 lbs soaking wet) and big of heart. I have never sung a song for him at a festival in his honor, but I would if given the opportunity.

In 2002 Slider wrote a novel. He poured his 22-year-old soul onto the page and then sent it to his most trusted friends. I am proud to say I was on that list. What happened next haunted me every day until just recently.

Slider sent the book as a series of Word files. I had a small computer and no way to print 300 pages. It came down to me sitting at the computer, trying to enjoy my friend’s soul. I couldn’t get past the third chapter. Slider, to his everlasting credit, did not prod me about the book. By simply not telling him I never read his book, we both understood implicitly that I was a failure of a friend without having to actually say the words.

Longtime readers of this blog have probably inferred that I love technology. Not only does technology make life easier, it makes life better. I have every Falling Rock strip I ever made on my phone just because I like to see how my work can be stored and accessed as easily as The Beatles’ entire catalog.

It occurred to me recently that I could read just about anything on my kindle. As long as I have a digital file, I can convert it and upload. Somewhere in my lizard brain, a connection was made. I dug up Slider’s book (fortunately my packrat tendencies extend into the digital realm) and converted it to kindle’s file type. This all sounds very exciting – I know. I include it in this blog entry not for padding but as a matter of historical record. At long last, I could read Slider’s book with ease and comfort.

And read I did! Right after I finished the Tom Perotta book I was into at the time.

Hitler’s Milkman is the story of one man’s life as told by other people. Some, like his son, know him quite well. Others, like the young artist who sketches him before he abruptly leaves the coffee shop, don’t even know his name. It is a life story as written by a man who just graduated college and can’t wait to begin his own.

My favorite chapters chronicled the man’s gig as a night janitor at the courthouse and his teenage job at a retail stockroom. The former rang true due to Slider’s own reminiscences of his days working night shift at a hospital (he is now Dr. Slider, so working long hours late at night are well behind him. Ho ho ho). The latter, because most of us have had to work bad jobs for small pay while corporate stooges berate us for our perceived shortcomings.

There is a very sweet chapter near the end in which the man sells two valuable baseball cards to a card shop. The book is at its strongest when the narrator of the chapter has a small but meaningful exchange with the man, even if they only meet briefly. When a simple transaction, the exchange of goods for legal tender, can be spiritually meaningful, the book becomes more than a series of connected short stories.

What interests me most about the book now is that I can listen to Slider as a younger man, before marriage and career and kids. He was calling his swing. Better than merely laying all this out in an email, he wrote a book. A funny, sweet, and clumsy projection of what may be.

Now that I have finished Slider’s first novel, our friendship is secure. It was a bit touch-and-go there for the past decade. I only hope that, when he writes his second, I will be more prompt with my attentions.

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