When Hank DeWick was a boy, he never imagined having a career in Hollywood. The glamour of Cary Grant and Gary Cooper was the stuff of dreams. Hank was a farm boy. He was as far from the silver screen as he was from the moon. But when Hank stumbled across the ad for a Hollywood Boulevard “maintenance man”, his curiosity was tickled. At first glance, he imagined it must be an ad for some kind of sexual street worker. A gigolo to the stars, perhaps. But after a quick phone call, he learned it was a job position that he was perfectly crafted for. The requirements; someone who liked being outdoors, didn’t mind long hours, and who had sturdy knees.
“So you don’t have any problem with being on your knees most of the day?" the man on the other end barked.
“That won’t be a problem, sir, because I don’t have knees."
“I don’t have legs. Well I do, but they stop just above the knee.” Silence. “Sir?”
“Yeah, I’m here. I just, uh, I’m not really sure if this is right for you. No offense or anything, I just don’t know how you’d manage getting around.”
“I’ve managed for years, sir. Everything from the waist up is in prime shape. I can get in and out of my chair in 43 seconds flat and, not to brag, but I’m the arm wrestling champ of my building. And I live with mostly Russians, sir, who aren’t too keen on being beaten by a Yankee. But they drag my ass around the chess board, I can tell you that.”
“Have you had any other job experience?” he replied, a bit warmer than before.
“I worked at the library downtown for a bit, but to tell you the truth, I don’t like being cooped up all the time. The government sends me money every month, so I don’t really have to work, but I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to work outside every day if I could.”
“You’re a vet?”
“Desert Storm. 97th brigade.”
“I got back from Afghanistan four months ago. Goddamn shit-storm over there. Why don’t you come in tomorrow morning, 9:30 okay?”
Being a U.S veteran finally provided some of its benefits. Over some strong instant coffee, Hank and Donald Burke quickly became friends, in the way only soldiers know how. Trading stories of far off regions of the world and comparing war wounds, although Hank easily won that contest. Then Donald went over the specifics of the job: daily hours of 9 to 5, cleaning the stars from the corner of Hollywood and Vine to the corner of Hollywood and La Brea, an hourly rate of $10.50, and paid lunch on Fridays, when Donald would take him out for burgers at his favorite diner in Hollywood. A handshake sealed the deal.
The current of energy on the boulevard made Hank’s blood race. And it felt great. It was quite a difference from the hushed voices and stale monotony of the downtown library. Out here on the boulevard, tan legs in four-inch heels sashayed by with toes painted Merlot red. People shouted into cell-phones about meetings gone wrong or love gone right. The world was starting to regain its brilliant colors, and Hank felt blessed.
Being on his knees for most of the day, Hank had a vantage point that few people have in the world. He could envision the face of a person simply by observing their legs from the knee down. Faded, torn jeans with a phone number scrawled in black marker just below the knee, black converse sneakers with worn soles and frayed laces…most likely a tired face, but with some frenetic energy just behind the eyes, a five o’clock shadow, and some piercings of the eyebrow and nose. Hank had grown so skilled that he felt as if he were versed in some sort of new language, like Shi-nese or Kor-kneean.
Amongst the jungle of legs that hurried from one place to the next, a pair that seemed to take its time. That seemed to be curious about where its feet landed next. And that was rare in this town. People always seemed like they couldn’t wait to step out of the present and into the future. But these legs had a self-awareness. And Hank was drawn to these legs. More than all the rest. For they were strong legs that walked with confidence and that knew their purpose. And they were also punctual. Every day at 11:35 A.M., when Hank was making Merv Griffin sparkle, these legs would appear. He imagined that he was on one of Merv’s game shows, ‘Name those Legs’, and with these particular legs, there was no way he could lose. He just had to find out her name.
And on one particular day, as it sometimes does, the Universe decided to align itself to Hank's desire. At 11:32 A.M. on an unusually overcast Tuesday, a small pack of teen boys roared across the boulevard on their matching skateboards. Like a gang of wild beasts, they rolled where they pleased, with no concern for the people around them. And as they sped past Hank, the last boy of the bunch plowed through Hank's bucket, rudely spilling the cleaning solution across Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.
"Hey! Watch where you're going, you friggin'-!" Before Hank could deliver his expletive, he was stopped by a hand on his shoulder. Looking up, his eyes settled on the face of the legs he had slowly began to fall in love with.
"Kids. They're so unaware of the world around them."
He tried to say something, anything, but he was lost for words. Her hand left his shoulder as quickly as it had arrived, and she went to gather his things. Hank tried with all his might to will her hand back, but it did not return. Bringing his bucket and rag back to him, she gracefully crouched down and settled her gaze on his.
"Are you okay?" she asked, with a sincerity that made his heart melt.
"Yes, ma'am," were the nervous words that fell out.
"I'm Allison. I see you out here a lot."
"I see you too. I'm Hank."
She reached out and shook his trepid hand. "It's nice to meet you, Hank. I'm sure I'll see you around."As she released his hand, Hank watched her glide off into the sea of legs. Raising his hand up to his face, he could still felt the warmth from her touch.
And it was in this touch that Hank began to believe in love again. Maybe not the kind of love where he would place her on his lap and roll off into the sunset, although that would be nice. But the kind of love that makes loneliness dip into the shadows and that helps bring hope back into the light. Love that lives in a smile, a glance, and sometimes a touch.