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John Nippolt
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        I just sunk the eight ball and Lenny yelled at me from the bar, "Hey, John, you gotta meet my friend, Mel." As soon as he said it, I had the feeling he was talking about the same guy I was thinking of, one of the few people named Mel that I had known. I can't say how these things work for other people, but for me, if somebody mentions a certain name, at a certain time, something opens up in me and usually it turns out I know the person who is being talked about.
       "He knows about trees and lumber," Lenny went on, "and, from what he told me he's poached some pretty fabulous stuff up in the Pacific Northwest."
       The Mel I knew, a friend from my childhood, and whom I hadn't seen since that time, was a slob. My favorite memory of him was when he went to kick a football another friend of mine was holding on the ground. Mel wore thick horseshoe taps on the soles of his shoes and when he went to kick the ball, my friend pulled it away "Charlie Brown" style. Mel slid on one foot for a few feet before he rumbled, tumbled and crashed to the ground. We had a great laugh at Mel's expense, which was usually how it went. The poaching part sounded like the guy I knew, the lumber aficionado, no. "I'm going to pick him up from the airport tomorrow before we play tennis."
I didn't think anything more of it until the next day, just before I got to the tennis courts.
       I parked my truck, grabbed my bag and headed for the court. Len was already there, warming up with the other guys and I looked down the court to where he was sitting. Some things just never change and Mel was one of them.
       Lenny introduced us, "John, I want you to meet a friend of mine who just got back from Australia. Mel, this is John." Good, no last names. Mel grunted, and dismissed me with hardly a glance in my direction. Perfect, I thought, Mel doesn't even recognize me. After all, it had been at least forty years since we'd laid eyes on each other but I knew it was him from a mile away.
       I'd already warned Len that I might know this friend of his, and if it was the same guy, not to give me away. I winked at Len and gave him the thumbs up and he knew not to say a word.
       Once our game started, Mel joined the friendly banter between us from where he was sitting, and wouldn't you know it, he turned his attention on me. I was older than him, but I was in better shape, and I could run circles around him. I traded a few barbs with him but intentionally allowed him to think I was his junior in mind and deed while we played on. The ruse was easy to put over on him, he thought too much of himself. We finished our match and decided to head back to Len's house for some cold refreshments. Oh boy, I could hardly wait.
       We went in very separate directions, Mel and I. I was a surfer who aspired to be an artist, and became a teacher. Mel was a tough guy, a crook, and a bully. He was used to brow beating people for the fun of it, but the thing was, I was from the neighborhood, I was once one of the boys. I could hold my own and Mel knew it, had he been able to tell who I was.
       The beers were passed around and Mel didn't waste a minute starting in on me, and then, out of the blue, I interrupted him. "So, your name is Mel, huh?" The timing, and the way I said it, stopped Mel in mid-sentence. He stared at me, slack jawed, looking hard for some unknown connection. He looked over at Lenny, who was grinning from ear to ear, waiting in anticipation for whatever was going to happen. Before he could say another word, I asked him two more sage like questions: "You wouldn't happen to have a brother or two, would you?" followed with, "A couple of guys named Bobby and Wes?"
       This was way more than Mel had bargained for. He avoided my fixed gaze now, as he swallowed hard, and he started to look over at the doorway and other exits out of the room. He was getting ready to make a run for it.
I knew both of Mel's older brothers. I had to prove myself with one of them, fighting his brother, Bobby, when I first moved into that neighborhood so very long ago.
       I guess Mel must of thought I was a cop or undercover agent of some sort that had finally tracked him down; he was so sadly mistaken, and one look at him would tell you that life had already done the job sufficiently of tracking him down.
       He almost rose out of his chair when I pronounced his full name, "You are Melvin Collins, and I, I am Johnny Nippolt."
       I couldn't tell if it was his happiness at meeting up with his long lost childhood friend or his relief at not being arrested on the spot. "Johnny....Johnny Nippolt." He staggered to his feet to come across the room and hug me. He smiled a smile that came straight out of those wondrous days of our youth. A smile that he had probably not worn for a very long time. Even though it came about the usual way, at his expense, it made me quite happy to see that smile one more time.