Jim Brantly Was My Friend

     “Looks like those mountain lions ate another vegetarian,” my neighbor Jim told me.
     I begged his pardon.
     “You’re a newspaper editor,” he said. “Haven’t you seen those stories?”
     It was the summer that a mountain lion attacked three people in Southern California.
     My neighbor, Jim Brantly, a retired Border Patrolman, knew I took long runs up on the Santa Rosa Plateau. There are mountain lions up there.
     “I’ve seen the stories,” I said, “but I didn’t see that the people were vegetarians.”
     “A mountain lion will only attack a vegetarian,” Jim said. He was sharpening tools on a grinding stone in his back yard.
     It generally paid to pay attention to Jim. He was one of those guys who can do anything. He taught me how to build the screened-in porch I put on my house, and told me how to roof it. He taught me how to pour the concrete for a front porch, and loaned me the tools to do it. He helped build the Methodist Church in Murrieta, where we lived.
     Jim had hunted mountain lions as a boy in Arkansas, where he grew up. He was part Choctaw Indian. Jim said a dog that made it through one lion hunt would probably be a good lion hunting dog – because it hadn’t made a mistake the first time, and one mistake was all it would get.
     “A predator won’t hunt another predator,” Jim said. “‘Cause, see, even if it kills its prey, it might get hurt doing it, and for a predator that’s as good as a death sentence. So predators won’t go after humans that smell like carnivores. They’ll only go after a vegetarian.”
     Jim sighted down the blade of his machete. I didn’t know if he was giving me advice or putting me on.
     “I’m a vegetarian,” I said.
     “I know you are,” Jim said, putting the machete back to the wheel.
     I thought about that.
     “Maybe I should eat some of Rufus’ dog food before I go for a run,” I said.
     “You don’t have to eat it,” Jim said. “You could just roll around in it.”
     If you asked Jim the time, he would tell you how to make a watch. But for all that, he was still laconic. One morning I walked Rufus around 7 a.m., and Jim was out in his front yard, working on his flowers, as usual.
     “You’re going to have a busy day,” he said.
     What do you mean? I asked.
     “Go home and turn on your TV.”
     I asked him what was up.
     “Go home and turn on your TV,” he said. It was Sept. 11, 2001.
     Jim said that when he was 12 years old he had to take the Choctaw manhood ceremony. “The manhood ceremony is where you have to swim across the swamp with the big bull alligator in it.”
     Jim and his pal Charlie had to do the ceremony the same day. They were supposed to go one at a time, but they made a deal that the one who had to go second would pretend to fall in, so they would swim across together. So they showed up at the swamp and old Charlie welshed on the deal, and pushed Jim in.
     “The next thing I remember, I was standing on the other side of the swamp and my clothes were dry.” Jim didn’t remember swimming and he didn’t remember walking around to dry off. He knows he passed the manhood ceremony, but he couldn’t tell you anything about it.
     Jim and I didn’t see eye to eye politically. He was a retired Border Patrolman from Arkansas, and I wrote a book about corruption in the Immigration and Naturalization Service. But we were good friends. Jim told me not to pay any attention to anything anyone from Arkansas law enforcement said about Bill Clinton.
     Why is that? I said.
     Jim had family and knew fellow retirees in law enforcement all over Arkansas. He just shook his head, and told me not to pay any attention to anything anyone from Arkansas law enforcement said about Bill Clinton.
     Jim was around 75 when he died in an auto accident two days after Christmas. He hit some glare ice. His wife was badly hurt. I just heard about it here in Vermont.
     Something ought to be done when a good man dies. This column won’t do any good, but something ought to be done. Jim had a lot of fun. He lived a good life. He was a good guy.

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