Taking the Pulse of Stevens (tf)

Stevens is slacking again. No surprise really, as he suffers these bouts of indolence more and more as he gets older and creakier. And since our local Borders book emporium, where Stevens took all his meals and basked in his recognizability as a television star, has been shuttered, the man has rarely left his gated compound…except of course to crawl around wooded areas with his camera, looking for that one shutter click that would get him on the staff of the National Geographic channel. Sure, everybody compares his on the PA road bits with the late Charles Kuralt’s TV work, but when the cameras are off Stevens really wants to be David Attenborough.

I really think this Borders thing has enfeebled him. The store was perfectly located, a few hundred yards from the Firestone tire place where Stevens would constantly be dropping off his battered red pick-up truck for yet more repairs. I realized the truck was great street-cred for him…..man of the people and all that….but I often wondered why a man who drove literally hundreds of miles a day, on highways and cratered back-roads, had a truck that broke down with such monotonous regularity. When I’d meet him at Borders and somehow always ended up paying for his coffees and his assortment of muffins that he ate with relish, I considered that he was paid a duff salary. But then it came to me. Of course. He was donating much of it to assorted charities. Yes, that must be it.

A sucker for Charity is Stevens.  He’ll get a call to serve as a toastmaster for one group, then shoot off to some town nobody’s ever heard of to judge a pie-baking contest (I wondered what the large totes in the cab of his truck were for…..”samples” he said), then off to the pumpkin patch to drive the bratty little kids around the grounds in one of them tractors….indulging his inner blue-collar. The man is a whirling-dervish of civic responsibility.

And of course through it all, the price of fame. A constant flow of 75 year old ladies queuing up to kiss the ruddy cheek of a television star, and to whisper in his ear of some really strange goings-on in their husband’s garages with pieces of wood, geraniums, and old beer cans…..all of which should be featured on “On the Pennsylvania Road” post haste. So Stevens gets more phone numbers than a rock star. I’ve seen him in action and if he’s interested, he writes it down. If he’s just being polite, he acts like he can memorize them, like one of those lifer-waitresses. Usually, he’s just being polite. I’ve heard some of the story ideas the public pitches to him. If it were me, I’d carry a taser.

Stevens will reappear in these pages soon. The coming of Autumn invigorates him….if only because he can take pictures of the same trees and pass them off as something new. My goal, as always, is to keep him writing. I believe him to be a writer first and foremost….his gargantuan fame as a TV personality notwithstanding. He is smooth as silk on TV mind you, and has one of them pitch perfect voices, but it’s the words that make him so good, not his good looks. And the words are written before they are spoken….which is easy to forget when they are digested like honey.

So there it is. I should probably stop slobbering compliments on the man lest his head grow too big for the cab of his wretched pick-up. He is a bit grumpy at times….which is something he fights from showing off to the general public but doesn’t mind battering me with. His favorite music is 1970s disco, which is worrisome in all sorts of ways. And if you ask him important questions he has a ghastly way of answering in pseudo-riddles that satisfy you initially….until about an hour later when you realize that he fed you gibberish.

Still and all. He’s a good friend who has nary a bad word to say about anyone. Even me. Remarkable self-restraint considering how much I intentionally irritate him.

My attempt to shame him into writing on a semi-regular basis has worked beyond my wildest expectations. It’s been nearly a year since this blog started and he’s only missed a handful of deadlines. Like last week’s. But who’s counting?

–Tom Flannery

~ by admin on September 19, 2011.

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