By Matthew Wallenstein
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
He is big enough to break someone in half if he wanted to, but I have only seen Big Dirty hit another man in anger once and it was deserved. That’s another story though. He is and has been by all accounts and experience what I consider to be a rare thing; a genuinely good person. He is large, kind, and can fix anything with a motor.
He bought the truck and loved it. This old rust-colored Ford he got for transporting his dirt bike from place to place. The first time I saw it I was hanging out in front of Dave’s garage in Braddock where Big Dirty, Dave, and Jay usually took turns fixing the clunkers I bought. Big Dirty was fixing some part of my car that he explained to me but I didn’t understand. He said he wanted to show me his new truck and took me around the side of the building to see it. I was happy that he had bought it, it made him happy. He had had a rough go of it lately. He’d just split with his live-in girlfriend, among other things. He showed me the inside, the outside, laughed when he said you didn’t need a key to start it. He asked me what I thought about it, I told him I liked it, told him I used to have a truck, he asked what kind, I told him blue.
A couple days later it was stolen for the first time. It was a blow to him. He had taken it to West Virginia once to ride his dirt bike, brought it back, and then one day when he showed up at Dave’s garage where he had parked it, it was gone. Jay had borrowed it a couple times and he thought that may have been what happened. He made some calls and no one knew where it was. He caved and called the cops to say it was stolen.
Two days later he got the call saying it was in an impound lot a couple towns over. The cop explained it’d been taken by some 15-year-old kid. They had pulled him over in Mckeesport, he told them he was on his way to his girlfriends house and he had borrowed the truck from a friend. So Big Dirty drove his dirt bike over to the impound lot, paid his $220, and got the truck back. There was a broken-off key in the ignition belonging to a different vehicle that he had to fish out. When he turned it on he found the radio cranked all the way up on a pop country station. The kid must have stolen it and turned it all the way up listening to Tim McGraw. He told me later the kid must have pried the old-fashioned smokers’ windows open and gotten in that way.
When Big Dirty got it back to the shop he boxed it in to ensure it couldn’t be stolen again. He parked it right up against the building and had a car parked on each side of it. About a week later he showed up to work at Dave’s around 8 in the morning and found a big empty space where his truck had been. The car that he’d parked behind it was sitting in the middle of the road. He just stood there a minute looking before an older man who was sitting on a nearby porch gestured to him. Dirty went over.
“I seen what happened.”
“You did? You saw what they did to my truck?”
“About 3, 4 in the morning, they come up in a minivan, a whole bunch of them get out. They get around that car and there was enough of them, they picked it up and moved it to the middle of the street right there and the one kid, he just got in that truck and drove away, scrawny kid, redhead maybe. I would have called somebody but I was smoking a joint, I didn’t want to get myself in trouble.”
Dirty reported it stolen again. And he put the word out to friends that it was missing. He got a phone call, it was from his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend of all people, telling him he found the truck. Big Dirty went over to where he’d said it was. It had been crashed, blunt wrappers were on the seat and floor, the door was open, the battery was dead. Jay brought him a battery and when they hooked it up the radio was on full blast again playing pop-country. Same kid.
When Big Dirty got the truck back to Dave’s he unplugged the battery and took it inside, He removed the starter, he unplugged the distributor. If the kid was going to try again it would be impossible for him to take the truck without those parts.
Dave installed cameras on his garage. For a few days things were back to normal. Then Dirty showed up to work one morning to find the hood of the truck open with a battery and a distributor cable plugged in. If the kid had a starter Dirty would have been out of a truck again. I walked my dog down to the garage and they showed me the security footage. It showed a redheaded teenager looking around, popping the hood, trying the setup, then leaving. He didn’t look like much to me. In high school, I probably would have beaten him up and taken his shoes.
Later that week Jay was making small talk with the guy who ran the junkyard across the street. He asked the guy if anyone had ever tried stealing a car out of there. As it turned out the junkyard had dealt with the same kid who took Big Dirty’s truck. Apparently he had come by there a few times doing damage to things, breaking into cars. Most recently he had climbed the fence, broken into a car and driven it right through the fence to get out.
He told him this time he had caused around 20 grand worth of damage. The junkyard man explained that, as it turned out, the kid’s uncle was a cop, which is why he kept getting let go without any consequences. But according to him, he had had enough. He knew who the kid was so he found out where he lived, dragged him out of the house bare-footed and scared the hell out of him, convinced him to tell the police the truth. His uncle got the charges down but couldn’t make them disappear. He ended up with an ankle bracelet, but according to the junkyard man, the last anyone knew was that the kid had cut it off and left town.
Big Dirty eventually sold the truck for what would have been a good profit if you don’t factor in the cost of the impound lot, and towing, the cops, the wasted time, the frustration and all the rest of it.
Matthew Wallenstein is the author of the recently released short story collection Buckteeth (March 2020) as well as Tiny Alms, book of poetry published by Permanent Sleep Press (2017). His work has previously been published by the University of Maine Farmington, Albany Poets, the University of Chicago, Easy Village, Ryerson University, and others. He lives in Braddock.