The first time I saw Georgia Rick was the day he walked onto the job site with a can of beer in his hand asking if we had any extra work.
Gary, our foreman, looked at the can, looked at Rick’s face, looked back to the can again. Rick’s own eyes drifted down to look at the can. “I didn’t mean right now,” he said.
We all busted up laughing. Even Gary busted up laughing. It was the only time any of us had ever heard Gary laugh, and after that we sort of wished we hadn’t. It sounded like a weasel caught in a trap.
Gary told the new guy to come back Monday. He needed somebody to hoist around some lumber and do some mindless work, which was the same sort of work I was doing at the time. I was eighteen and I was on the road trying to become the next Jack Kerouac.
Everyone liked Rick, even though he didn’t really do much of anything, if anything at all. He was a funny dude.
The first day at lunch, Rick was sitting there with no food, so people asked him where his food was. Rick said he forgot to bring it, so we all gave him an item out of our bags.
Mikey, who was about five-foot-four and often (especially on Fridays) liked to walk around on his hands, asked Rick why he’d driven all the way up from Georgia without a job or a friend in the area.
Rick looked around at all of us innocently, as if he didn’t fully understand the question, and said, “I just wanted to see what all you Colorado boys was up to.”
That got all of us laughing, and for the rest of the week Rick was a sort of mascot for our crew. That’s also when he got the name “Georgia.” Seemed fitting for a character like him.
He wasn’t a very good worker. I hardly ever saw him do anything, actually. Most the time he’d just talk while I moved stuff around. But he seemed like a genuine, goodhearted guy, so I didn’t complain.
It was one week after Rick had been there that we were moving wood together and he asked, “You reckon Gary would give me an advance?”
“I don’t know. Gary’s a real strict guy when it comes to basically everything.”
“I’ll tell you what, I’d sure to like get me a room for the night,” Rick said. “Sure would.”
“A’yup. Been sleeping in my truck for two weeks.”
I set my stack of lumber down. “Two weeks? Why?”
Georgia Rick tapped a smoke out of his pack. He offered me one, as he always did, no matter how many times I told him I didn’t smoke. Rick lit the cigarette and squinted at me though the blueish smoke. “You ever hear of the Mud People?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, I sure do wish I never did, neither.” He took another drag. “Sure do.”
On his first day in Colorado, Rick had gone to Glenwood Springs. “They’ve got these hot springs there,” he told me. “I figured I’d try them out.”
Rick walked a trail to one of the more remote springs and found several people hanging out there. “Hippies, they looked,” Rick said. “Hair up and dreadlocks and beads and all that. Some of them were out on the rocks and swimming, but I could even see some up in these caves in the high banks. They were back in the shadows. It was freaky.”
As Rick sat on the shore smoking a cigarette, two hippie girls stood up naked from the water. They teased him and invited him in.
Rick was hesitant at first, because the hippies in the caves all seemed to be watching him. The whole thing gave him a strange feeling. “But, hell, the sight of two buck-naked young ladies gets me to feeling just about a bloodhound on scent. I took everything off, even my damn underwear, and jumped in.”
They splashed around and played in the water. Rick thought he was in paradise. “I figured I must have died somewhere on the highway between Colorado and Georgie and I was actually in Heaven,” Rick said. “I thanked God for letting me in. Sure did.”
Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped. The girls abruptly stopped playing, climbed out of the pool, and went up to join the others in the caves. Rick called after them. They didn’t even acknowledge him.
He climbed out of the water and went back to get his clothes. His wallet was gone.
“Can you believe that?” Rick asked with almost childlike innocence. “They ain’t any hippies I’d want part of.”
Rick called the police and filed a report, but the wallet was never recovered.
I was angry. Rick was like a big, dumb Labrador Retriever. He was more than a decade older than me, but I felt protective over him. It was more than that, though — I felt like I had to balance out the scales of the world’s injustices.
“I can loan you a couple hundred, man.”
“Ah, no,” Rick said. “That’s alright. I don’t want to take nobody’s money.”
“Seriously,” I said, feeling very righteous. “I want to.”
That night after work I gave Rick three hundred dollars. It was a significant sum for me in those days.
The following Monday, I got to work to find everyone furious. Gary stormed over to me. “Have you seen Rick?”
“No,” I said. “Not since Friday.”
Turns out that Rick hadn’t just “borrowed” money from me.
He’d gotten cash out of every person on the site, including Gary, who’d not only advanced his paycheck but also put in a little extra out of his own pocket. We estimated he’d gotten around five grand, total.
Later, we found out that he’d gotten a motel room in town, but he’d talked his way into it and disappeared without paying the well-meaning owners a dime. They said he’d shown them an Arizona ID card, not Georgia.
Everyone was furious about the whole thing for a long time. They changed “Georgia Rock” to “Arizona Rick” and cursed his name.
I got over it pretty quick. I was young, and I was out there to become a writer. Three hundred dollars seemed like a reasonable price for one life lesson and one hell of a good story to tell.
Copyright 2018 Jeff Suwak