Dustman

My old man’s a dustman. He wears a dustman’s hat. Unless you are a dustman yourself – or a milliner – you may be unfamiliar with the dustman’s hat. I am neither a dustman nor a milliner, but I am wearing my old man’s hat as I write, so I know exactly what I am talking about.

Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili, the pockmarled, moustachioed Georgian, famously renamed himself Stalin, the Man of Steel. At the height of the Solidarity protests in Poland in the early 1980s, Lech Walesa was conflated with the Man of Iron of Andrej Wajda’s film of that title. Neither steel nor iron, my old man is a Man of Dust.

I said that he wears a dustman’s hat, but then contradicted myself by saying that I am wearing it. I ought to have said he wore a dustman’s hat, before I stole it from him and plopped it, at a decidedly non-rakish angle, on my own head. Just as I stole from him his cardigan and his tobacco pouch and his Italian-made and unexpectedly stylish Armando Del Foppo boots.

I hasten to add that the old man is not my father. I call him “my” old man because he is the latest in a series of old men I have abducted off the streets and chained up in my attic. I help myself to whatever they have about their person that takes my fancy, be it hat, cardigan, pouch and boots or, say, wig, dentures, walking stick and ear trumpet, and I commission Old Ma Popsicle to take up to them a bowl of gruel or milk slops once a day. But being old, my old men invariably die within a few days. I haul the corpses downstairs and into the garden and bury them in the flowerbeds under the Pointy Town moonlight. Old Ma Popsicle is sworn to silence. I know far too much about her past for her to blab to the coppers.

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