Let me tell you a story about a man named Ned

                "Let me tell you a story about a man named Ned"

             Many of the stories I tell have characters that appear often and because of our antics we have become close friends.  I feel fortunate that I was able to continue to make close friends as I got older and I truly hope that I can continue to do so throughout the rest of my life.  Writing these posts about them may seem counter-intuitive to keeping them as friends, but let me emphasize that one of the common denominators among my friends is a thick outer shell. 



                Ned is one of those characters.  He has had many nicknames over the years, most of which just suited the situation of the day, and then stuck for years.   “Garlic-nickel Ned”, as he would eat either a garlic or pumpernickel bagel; ”9 and ½ Ned”, as he lost the top half of his right hand index finger on a table saw; “Ned of men”, as he looks a little like a lumberjack; and “Edmund IV”, when he was acting like a kingly ass. His real name mimicked that of an Australian criminal/hero who had a movie named after him.

Whatever we called him, Ned has played a role in many stories of my life.  I am not qualified to adequately detail all that is wrong with him, but over the years I think I have put in enough time to tell you what is right about him.  First thing you notice is that he is tall and lean with an athletic and strong build.  He has reddish hair when he lets it grow past a tight brush cut or lets the beard go unshaven. His thick brow and serious glare make most people a little uncomfortable approaching him and as a general rule this fits nicely with his desire to avoid people.   A professional might say he had a derivative of one of those “attention-deficit” issues. Ned lends credibility to these theories by speaking in fragments of multiple conversations all at once. Sadly I can always understand him and I do not know if this says more about his communication skills or my inability to listen for long periods.   

                Because he knows himself he is prone to speaking with great efficiency and in short bursts. Unlike “Van” there are times when Ned feels comfortable enough to let down whatever guard he using and shows a bit more of himself. For many years he used to call me around 5:30 AM at work, knowing I was there alone to ask if I needed anything from the store. I would like to note that this in no way diverges from his personality.  You see, he would be coming from the gym, where he had just showered after his 4:00 am morning run.  There is a grocery store between the gym and the parking lot behind my store where Ned works.  See?  Very efficient.  He wasn't going out of his way but knew that if he was there and coming here he could save on the overall energy output of the neighborhood. 

                Ned was also an “off hour” guy.  You would think he was an 85 year old grandfather as he woke up at 3 a.m. and was usually in bed by 9 p.m.   I always knew if I needed something in the middle of the night he was the go to guy.  Not because he wanted to help, but because he wanted something to do at that hour as he was usually awake. The opposite was true any time after about 7 p.m.

                Over the years Ned and I found each other drinking at the same establishments around the same time and this served to enhance a budding friendship.  One year we both found ourselves in minor car accidents (not alcohol related, by the way) on each other’s birthdays.   This had led to a mandatory phone call every year stating “Hey, it’s my birthday, be careful driving.”       
        
                One afternoon I was home resting after work and I got a phone call from Ned.  He was calling to ask me for a ride from work.  This was a very odd request as he usually planned any car repairs or other needed assistance early in the morning.  I told him “sure” but asked him if something was wrong.  I gathered what had transpired by listening to a conversation he was having with a police officer. His car was stolen at work and he was currently filling out the paperwork with a cop in the parking lot at his place of employment.  Ned was audibly shaken and I could tell it had more to do with how this might interfere with the tight schedule in the following days. 

                I headed right over to the parking lot and found him just finishing up with the police officer (efficient again).    I pulled up and he got in the car and I just looked at him.  I wanted to see how he was doing and evaluate the situation.   He was still shaken but most people wouldn't notice the difference.  We waited a minute or two as the police cars were pulling out of the parking lot. It was about 5 in the afternoon on a fall day and the weather was chilly but cooperative for the time of year.  Ned drove a older Chevy Astro Van.  It was between a minivan and a traditional box van and he treated the back of it like a pickup truck. It was full of things he might need over the next week including his golf clubs, spare clothes, and a cardboard box with the most recent liquor store purchase.   I can only assume this was one of the reasons his van was targeted by the thieves as it certainly wasn't for its resale value.  However after further inquiry I learned that he usually left a set of keys in the van locking it with a remote.  It is quite possible he forgot to lock the car and the thieves had easy pickings that afternoon.  

                Now that he unwillingly told me all of this I asked him what he wanted to do next. 
He looked at me and was still uncertain about his immediate plans and those for the next day.  “I guess I’ll just go home.” I paused as I contemplated other options - possibly a beer, a rental car, or calling the insurance company.  However what came out of my mouth was very uncharacteristic of me, but made complete sense at the time.  “Let’s go get your van.”

Ned looked at me with confusion and I knew he was honestly startled.  “We both know this neighborhood pretty well and I’ll bet we can find your van.”

 “But, ah. . . , what, ah. . .”

“C’mon,” I said. “We will just drive around for a bit and see if we can spot it.”  I knew he was coming around when that furrow brow of his starting meeting the course hair line of his brush cut.    

                Neither of us knew what we would do if we found the van, but I was certain we were both smart enough to figure it out if it happened.   We zig-zagged the streets of that neighborhood for about 25 minutes honestly believing we would see the van.  At first we had the exuberance and confidence of two twenty something’s. The type that has no rational backbone and a belief they own the world, but quickly our spirits started waning like the old men we had become. The sun started setting as the evening approached and our motivation started setting as well.  Ned turned to me and suggested we call it a day and head home. 

 As it happens in the movies, just as we had given up Ned spotted his Astro van driving down one of the side streets.  Now the chase in on.  Well, not really a chase but more of a nervous following that never exceeded the speed limit.  I am pretty sure the guy driving Ned’s van had no idea we were behind him until he pulled into a driveway and was staring us down.  Ned wanted me to pull into the driveway and block him in.  This was an idea that didn't sit well with me and so I drove right by to the end of street.  I thought I was being stealth, but I think they made me.  I convinced him to call the police to let them know we had a visual and hope they would come to take care of the dirty work. After all, if we were successful in retrieving the vehicle it was still listed as stolen.  What do you do then? Call the police and say “Oh, never mind, they returned the car”?

                What started out as two out of place guys cruising around an area looking for a stolen car was now a multi-car, multi-phone call, full access search for an old piece of crap van loaded with easily hocked items in a below average neighborhood.  The police would call Ned.  We would call them. They spotted it here. We spotted it going down that street. I am telling you, it was just like an episode of Adam-12. I could see that Ned was getting more excited and nervous as the calls would come in, or when we would catch a glimpse of the car going the other way on a perpendicular street. 

                After about 10 minutes, we got a call from one of the cops that said they had the guys and the van and gave us the street name.  We found the action about 2 blocks away only to find the street blocked off by one police car. Two other cars blocked the way of Ned’s van that was angled on the grass of some unsuspecting home.  Two “gentlemen” were face down on the grass with their hands cuffed behind their backs.  I stopped the car and Ned jumped out of the car and started running full steam towards the action. I have never seen before, or since, a look that intense and without control on Ned.  The cop that was handling the perimeter saw him running and unclipped his gun and assumed a stance that indicated he was about to pull his weapon and started shouting at Ned.  The screaming must have lightened the intensity in Ned’s brain as he started to come down a bit.  The cop kept his body in front of Ned’s with one arm extended and an open palm following his chest.  A few other cops were making their way towards this new action and by now I had gotten out the car and was trying to calm him down. 

                Things were escalating for less than a minute, but plenty of damage can happen in that short amount of time.  As things became clear Ned was no danger the atmosphere was much calmer.  We hung around while the police put the guys in the back of the police car and cleared the area of onlookers.  The police asked Ned to look through the van and let them know what he thought was missing.   It seems that someone had been driving around selling off the contents and maybe stayed out on the sales trail for one stop too many.  The liquor was still in the car which made Ned very happy.   I am not sure how this happened, but after the onlookers dissipated and the accused was taken away the police let him take his van from the scene.  A few years later, Ned had the same van stolen again (from his driveway this time) and when it turned up days later he wasn't allowed to take it with him.  

                    Ned and I drove away from the scene in our respective cars after all the excitement had died off.  We decided we should celebrate with a drink and regale in the story of being heroes that day.  We would relive the events of the last two hours and the people would rejoice.  When we retold the story, not even the bartender (who has a financial interest in acting concerned) showed any interest in our actions. Ned and I had a few drinks with the remnants of our busted balloons. Our excitement waned, the sun set, and we went home. Like nothing happened.  We both got up for work the next day and Ned called me at 5:30 am and asked me if I needed anything at the store. 

3 comments:

  1. Love it! This sounds like a story that my husband or father would be involved in.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Knowing Ned, I am not suprised by this story. I am suprised that it took so long for me to hear [about] this story.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I already love John Vito. Man, he really does "get" Ned!! One question- did the punks get Ned's clubs!

    ReplyDelete

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