Me and the Duck|and the Stories

     Most afternoons you’ll find me sitting on top of a mountain next to a duck, talking to people about cars.
     I sit in the shade on the porch of an old fruit stand and look at faces in the clouds, listen to the birds, and pretend to be interested in cars.
     I don’t care about cars. It’s just a way to get people talking. I love to listen to stories.
     An old lady told me her husband was chief of cancer research at a big drug company in Boston. She disagreed with everything I said. What a pain in the ass she was. If I had told her the Earth orbits the Sun and it was Tuesday, she would have said it didn’t and it wasn’t. I felt like I was in a Woody Allen movie. I enjoyed talking with her.
     A Mexican guy drove up in a brand shiny new truck cab. The sleeping quarters in that thing looked as big as a Holiday Inn.
     “I want one of those,” I said.
     He smiled.
     “What did that cost?”
     It cost $125,000. He had two of them. His fluent English was heavily accented. We talked until he got a call on his earphone and had to go.
     I love that guy. Came here from Mexico with nothing, worked his butt off and now he’s his own boss, and somebody else’s, hauling stuff all over the United States in trucks whose cabs cost more than my house.
     That’s a real story about immigrants.
     I’ve worked my whole life to support myself, but I never worked as hard as he did, and I never will. I don’t even know his name.
     I like old people’s stories best – people over 80 who don’t give a damn. And I love the little girls. They’re usually there with their grandma. If grandma bought her a new dress, the little girl will be smoothing it down all the time. If grandma bought her a barrette, she’ll be smoothing her hair. Little girls kill me.
     I like pretty much all human beings younger than 10 or older than 70. In between, you have to pick and choose.
     This fruit stand has a duck pond. Three weeks ago a mama duck waddled up and in the next nine days she laid nine eggs under a bush right next to my chair. Now I sit next to the mama duck and we wait for the eggs to hatch.
     Last week an old lady told me that ducks won’t sit on eggs until they lay all of them, so they’ll all hatch at the same time. Then she tried to convert me to her religion, so I didn’t believe a word she said.
     But today an old farmer told me it was true. “Twenty-one days for chickens, 28 days for ducks,” he said.
     If an old farmer says it, it must be true.
     Every day as I sit on top of that mountain talking to a duck, birds screech in the blueberry fields across the highway. The other day I asked a field worker what kind those screeching birds were.
     “Those aren’t birds,” he said. “It’s a recording.”
     Some smart guy makes his living selling recordings of birds’ stress calls to orchards. Hooked up to motion sensors, the stress calls are supposed to frighten the birds away.
     Five crows browsed in the lawn by the blueberry fields. We watched a sixth one cruise in, setting off the sensors and the shrieks. The crow landed next to his pals. I asked the field worker if the system worked.
     “Nah,” he said.
     It reminded me of a story Mark Twain wrote at the end of his life, about his own funeral. Tom Edison had just invented a marvelous talking machine, and Twain wanted to use it to talk to his friends at his funeral.
     When someone, inevitably, looked at his corpse and said, “He looks so natural,” Twain wanted to say from the grave, “You should have seen me last week.”

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