Tuck Delisle called me for a ride into town. "My car is stuck at the mechanic's, and there's an appointment I don't want to miss."
He shared the pertinent details, and we arranged a pickup for the following morning. Tuck's home was on Spear Street in Charlotte, "a single-family ranch with a green roof and a bit worn around the edges," as he described it.
In a neighborhood sprinkled with high-end properties, Tuck's house was, let's say, noteworthy: not what you'd call ramshackle, but give it a few years. My customer emerged as soon as I pulled into the driveway.
I've always been drawn to big, brawny guys, and Tuck, though an older man, was all that — a Viking raider, a warrior sprung from "Game of Thrones." (If I had to speculate, I'd say my attraction harkens back to some caveman genetic memory; in the battle for survival, you want the big dudes on your team.)
Tuck swung into the shotgun seat, and we shook hands. He had clear, nearly translucent blue-gray eyes, and his wavy hair was a stormy blend of red and gray that brushed his shoulders. His hands, I noticed, were exceptionally large and powerful, as if designed for wielding a battle-ax. I felt like saying, "So, do you really need to make this appointment, or shall we set sail for invasion and plunder?"
Shaking off my Viking fantasy, I asked, "So, Tuck, do you own this property?"
"I do. I bought it in the '80s for $125,000, a couple of prime acres in Charlotte," he replied. "Now it's worth multiple times that, really as a teardown. I might let it go in the next year or two. Taking care of the place, particularly in the winters, jeez — it gets old when you get old, if you know what I mean."
"Copy that," I said with a chuckle. "Ya think you'll move into town?"
"I just don't know. I'm not a condo-type guy."
"You sound like a native. Did you grow up here?"
"You ever hear of Brunswick?"
"Vaguely," I said, trying to recall. "Wait, it's deep in the Kingdom, right?"
"As deep as you can get, brother. Essex County, right on the Connecticut River. Yup, my father was a rural mail carrier. He would supplement the family income by trapping beaver in the summer, and we would help with that. You could get about 30 bucks an animal — a lot of money back then — and we'd take upwards of 50 most years. On our own, we boys would trap muskrat for a buck and a quarter a hide. I later grew to regret that part of my rural heritage. Trapping is just being mean to animals. Simple as that."
"Ya got woke, did ya?"
"Well, I don't call it that," he replied, smiling. "I think you just evolve, hopefully, courtesy of the school of hard knocks."
"How'd you end up in Burlington?"
"I went to UVM, class of '72. We were the first students living in what was known as the 'shoeboxes' — the three nondescript dorms adjacent to the hospital. When they were razed a few years ago, I remember the school sold individual bricks to the alumni as a fundraising gimmick. Anyway, when I graduated, I found work and I've been here ever since."
Williston Road was jammed with traffic, because what else is new? Tuck observed, "These roads get more congested every year, don't they?"
"Well, growing up in New York City molded my perspective on traffic jams," I answered. "The Big Apple puts the 'lock' in 'gridlock,' you see. By comparison, anything Burlington throws at me is just a walk in the park."
"Copy that," he said, echoing me from earlier in our chat.
Aha, this person is a listener, I thought, feeling genuinely touched. In my experience, this is an exceedingly rare quality. I've spent much of my adult life trying to learn that precious art.
"So, you strike me as a creative type," I said. "Are you into, like, music or art?"
"I actually collect art. I have for years. I go through different phases. For a while, I really got into the Hudson River School — you know, the landscape artists from upstate New York."
"That's entirely cool. I'm fascinated by art history. Do you have any valuable pieces?"
"Nothing like a Rembrandt or a Gauguin, but I have owned a few paintings accepted by Sotheby's for auction when I was ready to sell them."
"What about music? Who do you love?"
"You know, I've always felt that was a profound question, because I think you can tell a lot about a person from his or her answer. For me, it's always been Gordon Lightfoot. I've seen him perform live many times. He's just about lost his voice at this point, but it hardly matters to his real fans. In Canada, he's a national treasure. When he passes, the entire country's gonna shut down for a day."
"Yeah, I love the guy, too. I choke up every time I hear 'If You Could Read My Mind,'" I said. "I think it's the greatest song ever written about heartbreak and loss — a man tenderly speaking to his lover in the process of breaking things off. And through the pain, his words are so clear-eyed and honest. It just kills me when he sings, 'But for now, love, let's be real.'"
"Well said, man. How about you? Who's your guy or gal?"
"Jackson Browne," I replied, "since the first time I heard him in the early '70s. I appreciate and enjoy a lot of the other singer-songwriters — Joni, Bruce and James come immediately to mind — but with Jackson it's another level. His music speaks directly to my soul, note by note, word by word."
Tuck just smiled and nodded at me, which conveyed — more effectively than words, really — that he got me.
So, Gordon and Jackson. The big man, I think, was spot-on. It felt like we had indeed learned something fundamental about each other.