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A Sad Liver Story

“Service with a smile,” the customer said sarcastically as I opened the taxicab door for him.

“Two months to live. Liver is gone,” he continued, apparently referring to himself.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Once you get to know me, you won’t be sorry.” He chuckled bleakly. “No one but myself to blame.”

I wished I could have taken a photograph of him for the benefit of future diagnosticians. He was a tall, graying Caucasian man in his sixties with actor Sam Elliott’s moustache and (“Beef, it’s what’s for dinner”) voice, but with a distended belly and yellow greenish skin. He wasn’t lying. Two months was optimistic.

He owned what he called a “Cadillac walker,” but he left it at his southwest hillside home not needing it for this brief trip to the store and back. He had a shiny new Harley at home too—not his only one, he wanted me to know—and a new generator that he showed me to illustrate his buyer’s confidence in contemporary chaos paranoia. Many survivalists will regale taxi drivers about their stockpile, perhaps because the two groups—whether their enemies are Uber, for cabbies, or undisciplined liberals in general, for survivalists—share an enervating fear that they’re clasping society’s bottom rung with exhausted fingers and are about to slip off into an unimaginably bad future.

“Take me to the liquor store on Barbur,” he said. “They told me to stop drinking,and I said, ‘Fuck you. I’m going out with a smile on my face.’”

So we went to the liquor store, and he went home with a fifth of something clear and twenty ounces of Squirt. The rest of our conversation was an unspectacular litany of complaints about previous cab drivers, slow-witted city officials, exorbitant taxes, and his horse-obsessed sister who she said was married to Portland’s only world-renowned wealthy man. When we returned to his house, he opened his garage with a clicker remote he was carrying but then left in the cab. I started to leave, saw the clicker, and promptly returned it to him.

When I started this livelihood five years ago no one ever said, “Drive a cab, and you’ll get to meet numerous people who are close to dying.” But that’s the way my job often goes, and today was no different. I remember most of the folks on borrowed time that I meet. There’s always something vaguely portentous in the circumstances or discussions, but I can never quite put a finger on it.

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