Hard to tell, sometimes, as I fix my mind’s eye on the unkempt fleece of his beard amid which his mouth moves like something undercover, if what I remember or even register is what I said or what I thought, or what he said or what I hope he said. Oddest of all is the sense I have that he is one of the most important people I’m going to know. He feels momentous without being even different. He hasn’t come into his own yet, which is weird inasmuch as his life is nearly over. Yet I stay on, seeing in fact little of him, although pondering and embellishing his image during the nights. Minor things—at least things that seem minor now—stick in my head for reasons unknown: his grandfather’s hands smelled of meatfat (his grandfather owned a small butcher shop), and he has vivid memories of how his mother dealt with boils, applying a scalding bread poultice to his rear or some other part, mostly his rear.
“Well I’ll be a Dutchman,” he exclaims when I have said something stupid, and I point out that, if what he says about his name is true, he’s a Dutchman already, but he ignores that and regales me with his thing about how Dutchmen founded this country: “Van Nostrand, van Cortland,” he says, “Peter Stuyvesant, De Witt and Spuyten Duyvil. Flying Dutchmen,” he tells me, “Dutchmen in flight, in baggy pants, getting away from all those canals.” Goeloeps was one of thousands.
I blink. One of his ancestors made a living by removing dead cows and rendering them down, and his grandfather was a butcher, so I wonder if all his ancestors made a living from dead meat and so, cumulatively over the length of history, have driven him to the cool sheen of ball bearings, which have no fat on them, no hide. Yet as often as I ask him these things, like an interviewer warming up, he dismisses the whole conversation with a flouncing shake of his beard and heads for the back room merely to put his face in order again.