Lewis S. Jordan of Winterset is my friend.
We were born nine days apart.
We were in Cub Scouts together.
His dad was den leader. My dad was assistant.
We made pinewood derby cars. We made rubber band guns. We put on a skit for the VFW.
I spent uncounted afternoons at the Jordans’ house watching cartoons and playing with toys belonging to Lewis and his younger brother, Grant.
I wanted to be as funny as Lewis, as smart as Lewis and as cool as Lewis.
I wasn’t. I’m not sure it’s possible.
My childhood was … complicated. I felt the usual uneasiness of growing up more acutely because of instability at home.
I never felt quite comfortable in my own skin. I could be weird. I was sometimes mean and dishonest.
I tried to be cool and with it. I wasn’t.
Lewis was cool, at least I thought so. He always had the best jokes.
Lewis never judged me. More astoundingly, he never made fun of me. We just hung out. We laughed a lot. We watched reruns of the old 1960s “Batman” TV series.
I introduced Lewis and Grant to comic books.
He was my best friend.
I left Winterset after my parents died but before I graduated high school with my classmates.
I finished school at East High School in Des Moines. I lost touch with Lewis.
That sort of thing happened in the days before email, social media and texts.
I ran into Lewis one day in the late 1990s. I was in my second year at the paragraph factory. Lewis was an intern with the U.S. Marshals.
We shook hands and chatted for a moment, but we were headed in different directions. We exchanged a few emails over the years.
Lewis joined the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“There was going to be a war and I was going to be in it,” he told me in an email.
And he was.
He served in the military police and eventually in the Criminal Investigation Command, sort of like the Army’s FBI.
Lewis got married to his college sweetheart, Candy. They have three beautiful, smart and fun children.
Lewis is a builder, like his father and brother. He built a pirate ship for his children in the backyard of his former Urbandale home.
He moved back to an acreage south of Winterset. He turned the basement lounge into a mine cave. Mine cave. Man cave. Get it?
Anyway, there’s a big TV, a comfortable couch and a bar with a lazy river in it.
The lights are old gas lamps on dimmer switches. Sometimes they flicker. He pointed that out to me. I asked him how he got them to do that.
“I don’t know,” he said, “but it looks cool so I didn’t fix it.”
Lewis has a map of the world in the front room of his home. He marks all the places he visited as a soldier with pins. I think the only continent he missed was Antarctica.
Lewis is a great father. He hosted Halloween haunts in his Urbandale backyard with homemade monsters that rivaled a theme park. He continued the tradition in Winterset.
I look at his kids and am warmed by the notion of the fond memories they will have of growing up with this creative man who showed as much enthusiasm for finding a new G.I. Joe or Transformer action figure as the kid did.
I took shelter in the Jordan house last week after the derecho knocked out power to my apartment complex for most of four days.
I don’t venture out much in the age of COVID-19. My asthma and obesity make the virus especially tricky.
I don’t go out much, also, because I don’t like myself very much. That’s not said out of self-pity. It’s recognition of the scourge of depression.
I am obese and I can’t stand to see myself in the mirror.
I am unemployed and feel the sting of rejection from every job I don’t get.
I lost a career I gave 23 years of my working life to. They tell you it isn’t personal.
But it is.
The company is telling you that either your skills aren’t good enough to keep making them money or, after decades of microscopic (and often no) raises, you now make too much money to be of value to the company.
The pandemic, of course, has made everything more frustrating.
I keep my distance from Parents 2.0. They’re both 71. They’re healthy, but vulnerable.
I see few friends.
I am often alone with my thoughts. My thoughts are usually variations on the theme “I hate myself.”
The derecho brought darkness. Depression’s bastard brother anxiety crept in.
The power outage was another damn thing on top of all the other damn things.
I called my therapist. He brought me back from the edge.
But my apartment got hotter and hotter and hotter. The sweat dripped. The self-loathing raged.
I picked up my phone. I scrolled through my contacts. I fell on Lewis’ name.
I texted and asked if he lost power. He hadn’t. I replied I was in the dark and not doing well.
“Come on down,” he said.
I had forgotten. I forgot I was a person who mattered to other people. Blame the heat or the depression and anxiety.
But Lewis’ three-word sentence restored my humanity.
I showered and packed a bag.
I spent three days and two nights at the Jordan house. I hung out with his kids.
One night, Lew fixed us a pair of White Russians. We watched a few episodes of the “G.I. Joe” cartoon from our youth.
We talked about our favorite episodes, comic books and toys. It felt like old times, well, except for the booze.
Thursday, the lights came on at my house by midday, but I stayed in Winterset for dinner with Lewis and his family.
I drove home. The next day, Lewis and his sons were going to Cedar Rapids to help clear debris for old and infirm residents.
“I’m feeling that Army thing,” Lewis said. “If you can help, you should.”
That’s my friend, Lewis. He’s all heart and always helping.
I should know. He’s helped me in more ways than he could know.
Lewis probably didn’t know how close I was to the edge in the heat and dark. He just knew his buddy was without AC on a hot day. He welcomed me into his home. That’s his way.
He personifies the lesson of Mr. Rogers, the late children’s television host, who urged us all to “Look for the helpers.”
We should all take a lesson from Lewis. He’s every bit of a real American hero that those guys in the old “G.I. Joe” cartoon were.
Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.
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