Let me tell you about my friend Jed. But first, in case you are new here, I’ll give you a little background. I grew up in rural Eastern North Carolina. I guess the plots and farms in my neck of the woods qualified as a town. But in reality, acreage of tobacco and pig farms outnumbered the general population. That being said, the individuals that occupied this wild country, were unique, to put it mildly.
My family lived in a carved out court built in the woods. There were about ten homes on this court surrounded by lush trees in-between each neighbor, separated by a few acres of property. By modern-day standards, the homes and families that filled this court would be considered blue-collar working-class folks. And then across the road was Dog City.
It just so happened that my best friend lived in Dog City. And the things I saw here shaped my perspective of true individualistic unconventional living. But I am getting ahead of myself. Dog City was a street perhaps 10 miles long and for the most part, the first half was a typical neighborhood like you’d see anywhere in middle-class suburban America circa the early 1990s. But the back portion of Dog City is where the name came from, this is where uniqueness thrived, and this is where I would traverse just about every day of the week.
Dog City was not the official name of this area. It was a local nickname due to the wild roaming dogs that appeared once you hit the back portion of the street. But that is not all that one saw. Adversity, poverty, the textbook definition of redneck living was perfectly displayed as I outraced the wild dogs that chased me on my bicycle, as I drove right passed slumped-over James. Who was a drunken unemployed trucker asleep on his front porch from partying the night before. James may have lost all his teeth, but he surely didn’t lose that bottle of Jack gripped ever so tightly as drool showered his coveted Dale Earnhardt sleeveless shirt.
As mentioned earlier, this part of town is where my best friend lived. So I would trek up to dog City often and challenge the elements such as heat, wild K9s, or the occasional scene of domestic violence from the habitual fighting couple.
But there was something else here. Right next to my best friend was a fellow by the name of Jed and he lived in the tiniest little trailer home planted on a wild unmanicured plot of land. I am going, to be honest. When I first met Jed, I figured he was just another poor undesirable, another lost soul amid the social leprosy that plagues those that live in trailer parks. But there was more to the story…
While hunting with Jed and a few of the neighborhood boys. We got to learn a little about his life. After a series of stories, I learned that my new friend was a retired Vietnam veteran who collected a pension and did part-time work at the local post office as a mechanic. In addition, he would taxidermy road-kill and sell it for profit. These two occupations were fascinating and flipped my world upside down once I learned their true purpose.
So by now, you have learned about a handy old redneck who lived in a rusty trailer, located in a quirky part of town. But there is more to the story here. Upon learning more about Jed, I got to see that he traveled a lot. Way more than the traditional local. When I asked him about the trips, he would say that he goes fishing in Michigan, surfing in California, visits friends in the North East, the list goes on.
When I asked him, wasn’t this expensive? His reply was stark, “If you are self-sufficient” you can go anywhere. Upon querying further, I learned that the two occupations of my fastidious friend had a unique purpose. They enabled him a rudimentary level of financial self-reliance.
The Mechanic job allowed Jed to have access to all the latest tools he needed to keep his trailer running. He never had to buy tools or pay a mechanic since he could do the work himself anywhere in the country. As he explained, there were many times he would rebuild engines for other clients all over the country and trade labor for food and or shelter. In the words of Jed, “So long as folks have cars, there will always be a need for a mechanic so I can work anywhere and anytime I want.”
With the Taxidermy, Jed would “double-dip” in his words. He would get paid by the local government to pick-up dead animals off the road, and then he would receive a second payment selling the animal or, making jerky to sell at local farmers markets. In his words, “So long as folks keep eating meat or wearing fur, I can work anywhere and anytime I want.”
Since Jed’s time in the service gave him a pension, his trailer was paid for, maintenance of his home was free, and his side-gigs, gave him petty cash, he was pretty much financially independent.
Taking it all in
To this day I am still befuddled by this experience. This story is a textbook example of how we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. When I compare Jed to my cohorts here in modern consumerist America, he has seen more, saved more and lived more. I am not proposing we become nomads like my friend. But perhaps we could all learn a thing are two from my friend Jed 🙂