You have to be your own boss, he says. He smiles and there is blood on his teeth. He tells me that he has been rich and he has been not-rich but he has never been poor. He is telling me poor is a mentality while coughing into his sleeve.
He is saying you never work a day in your life if you enjoy what you do. He is making a smoothie for a twelve-year-old while he says this. He is setting the finished smoothie on the counter and ringing it up. He’s staring at the cash register, blinking, swallowing. He’s telling me you never work a day in your life, inhaling deeply, if you do what you love. Cough.
You have to be in business for yourself, he tells me. I watch him restock the coolers. You can’t sit around or be lazy, he says. It displays weakness, a lack of energy. There are days you pay in knee cartilage, arterial decay.
It’s all about living right, he says, breathing heavily. You have to live right and treat people right and do good. And if you do that, he says, the universe will do good to you too. His hand tremors.
You can’t be afraid to work, he tells me. He uses his arms to drag his body through the door, defying physics and sense. There are small streaks of blood everywhere that will be mopped without anyone mentioning.
You can’t ever slow down. He’s sixty-seven and he’s never felt better. He tells me this. His breath is gasoline. His teeth spilling out of his mouth, dried bloody hair falling from his head to his shoulders and then the floor.
Customers buy drinks and he is restocking the coolers immediately, pulling things forward, facing the drinks. He eats a stale muffin and stumbles to the cooler for a Coca Cola, choking, his mouth dry and crusted with muffin crumbs. He tries to breathe but can’t. Coca Cola. A gasp. He’s breathing again.
You have to know what you want and go out and get it. You have to shake off rejection. Focus on the positive. Be prepared for the worst outcome. Stay committed.
People ask if he is okay and other people say he is. Collusive glances, worried mouths, headshakes.
He is late sometimes, he forgets things. He is given lists, instructions, reminders. Buy more muffins. It’s always muffins. He eats a muffin and washes it down with a Coca Cola. He is misremembering things. He is sweaty all the time.
You have to know a little first aid, he tells me, licking the thumb he sliced open. He is slicing bread, preparing sandwiches. His knife hand rattles and he cuts himself again. He finishes the sandwiches and wipes a little blood off the turkey and provolone. He wraps them in wax paper and hands them to the customers.
He takes aspirin a handful at a time. His tiny, watery eyes twitch. Know what you want out of life, he warns. Don’t chase someone else’s dream.
Can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. One of his favorite phrases. He punches numbers into the cash register with bloody, bandaged fingers.
You have to love what you do.
He holds the counter to steady himself.
People remind him there is a catering event for forty-five people. Forty-five sandwiches. Coffee for forty-five.
He’s moving, he’s on his feet, he’s wobbling, he’s trying to find his balance, he’s falling, he’s through the door, he’s staggering towards his car with coffee and sandwiches under his arms.
You have to help me, he says. You have to drive me, you have to lift me, you have to take these sandwiches.
His phone is buzzing on the hot asphalt next to him.
You’ve got to learn to love the heat, he says.
Calvin Westra drives a 2012 Mercedes GLK 350 4matic. It gets 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.