The holidays were over. Rose and I didn’t really miss Jack, we just kind of just brought up his name occasionally and then went about our business with family and friends. It was rather pleasant, but still left a gnawing feeling in the back of my head that something was brewing and it wasn’t just Jack’s favorite coffee and breakfast pastries.
In the midst of the doing the crossword puzzles in the Seattle Time, I paused. My head turned ever so slowly letting me see all the way from our breakfast table to the front door. Rose cleared a few items on the table and walked towards our storm porch. Half-way there, the doorbell rang. Within sixty seconds Rose, Jack, and I were sitting and enjoying the view of Puget Sound as we opened the lids on the coffee containers. The aroma, the blueberry fritters, and the donuts let Rose and me know that Jack was back and the world was about to get just a little stranger.
Without any other greetings or left-over holiday cheer, Jack simply said, “A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.” Rose nodded her head and said, “John Steinbeck.” I chirped in with, “Travels with Charley in Search of America.” Jack smiled and continued, “I knew you two would know the quote, too. It came to mind just after New Year’s Day.” Rose and I simply waited without offering any more book knowledge. Rose could have added plenty, more than enough to cover my lapse, besides there was soon to be reasoning behind the comment.
“I met a truly sad soul. Some people might call him a loser . . . or someone without gumption.” Somehow, I knew this was going to involve Rose and me. As long as it didn’t mean breaking the law we would be in the middle of whatever was cooking in Jack’s mind. My mind had already jumped ahead to bending the law perhaps . . . stretching the law a bit . . . or somehow aiding the law kinda maybe. Rose and I waited for the other shoe to drop.
“His name is Willy Washack. He rents a run down house just off Portland Avenue about a mile from the casino. Over the next sixty days I want you to make him a success. I want his sad soul traded for a friendly soul that looks forward to every single day. I want him to make a difference, not only in his life but in the lives of others. You know, getting him out working and to winning for a change. I want people to look up to him . . . but not so successful that he looks down on others.”
With half a mouth full of fritter Rose nearly choked. I remarked, “Piece of cake.” 67 seconds later Jack was off to see the rest of the world. Rose and I just looked at each other. I broke the ice with a question, “How about a nice little trip to Portland . . . Avenue?”
After a few trips up and down Portland Avenue, we already had some ideas brewing. One of the ideas was to stay at the brand new Puyallup Indian Tribe Casino – The Emerald Queen. It would save us time and mileage.
The first thing we did was buy several different Washington State Lottery Tickets. We had done well with those before and were going to plant them for Willy to find. Bad Luck Willy Washack rubbed off on us, however, and we won nothing. Next we went a direct route and stuffed a couple hundred dollar bills in a envelop and threw it into Willy’s yard. His dog raced out and retrieved it for us and kept bringing it back to us. We left with a slightly soiled envelope with teeth marks on it. Nice dog.
We reserved a great room at the Emerald Queen as our center of operations. We found several great viewing points to watch Willy’s house, but he rarely went anywhere. He did go to a nearby tavern. After the third day of Willy stopping in there, I cozied up to the bartender. “You’re best customer?” He just looked at me and said, “You can’t beat our prices for this one beer on tap. We only make a little profit, but that guy eats more than his share of free peanuts. I guess it’s good to have one steady customer, but we would probably do better with a stuffed dummy at the bar.
After almost a week we got out and leisurely asked people around the neighborhood about Willy. One guy asked, “You mean someone lives in that house?” I saw him a couple of times at a little grocery store and nodded my head . . . he just passed me in the aisle and said nothing. A couple of weeks later I saw him again in the store and said, “How’s it going Willy?” He frowned and looked at me and asked, “Do I know you?” I just smiled and said, “Yeah, we talked a few weeks ago over a beer at the bar.” “Oh, yeah . . . Now, I remember,” he said. He didn’t have a clue, but I continued, “My name is Joe. Remember we talked about Joe Namath of the New York Jets and the third Super Bowl back in 69? We laughed about his nickname, (Joe Willy) which kinda connected us.” Willy laughed and said, “Yeah . . . that was funny. Well, I got things to do. See ya.” Well, I had at least broken the ice . . . kinda . . .
After another few days Rose and I came up with a plan. I was to stop over and see Willy and ask to leave my cheap, used lawnmower there, because I was going out of town and couldn’t leave it in my apartment garage. When I stopped by and saw Willy I gave him my explanation and told him I made a nice chunk of change by mowing lawns on the side to supplement my income . . . and he was welcome to do the same with my mower. I also left a one gallon gas can filled to the brim.
Rose bet me $20 that after a week nothing would change. I bet her that Willy would make a few bucks mowing and be well on the way to earning a living of sorts.
We kept an eye on Willy’s house, but never saw him anywhere. On the fourth day, however we noticed that his front lawn was mowed. Rose remarked, “Well, at least he’s doing something.” I thought perhaps one little extra push on our part, might make an even larger contribution to the stimulation of Willy Washack.
I stopped in at the bar and asked the barkeep about Willy, and he remarked, “He bought a couple of bottles of Hazey’s Comet IPA from Puyallup River Brewing yesterday. That was a big jump for Willy.” I suggested another little push on our part might charge Willy’s ambition battery to capacity.
Rose and I went shopping at our favorite store: St Vinnie’s on South 56th. We bought half a dozen pieces of lawn care equipment, including a second mower just in case. We then drove over to Willy’s, but he wasn’t around. I put the equipment in his back yard and left a note. I was hoping to give him personal encouragement and shared dreams of success, but in the end just left him a note and wished him good luck.
A few days later Rose and I stopped in at the bar, but no Willy. He hadn’t been there for some time. Ted, the bartender said Willy was too busy to stop in for a drink. Rose and I were relieved. We had fulfilled our promise and fired up a successful worker.
We slowly drove by Willy’s house and stopped by the gate when we saw someone else in the front yard. Rose got out of the car and entered the yard and talked with a young teenager for about twenty minutes and then came back to the car and just nodded her head and pointed for me just to drive down the road.
Evidently, Willy never did any work. Jackson, the teenager was our success. He took deposits for the equipment and rented them out to neighbors and drive-by customers. A buddy made him a graffiti mowing sign. The traffic on Portland Avenue was busy all the time and the new business was growing. Jackson gave a percentage to Willy for the location and paid him a nominal amount. He made more renting out equipment than he even did selling dope. He plans on opening his little lawn equipment business at several other locations. Willy is happy with a few extra dollars for a pint or two each day. It turned out that Willy was a germ and Jackson was a gem . . . but both were happy. Success and your soul is what you make of it.
— Written by Don and Peg Doman
— Illustrated by Dr Johnny Wow
c. 2022 Don and Peg Doman