He's done a lot of hard work in cold weather.
This is -- glancing at the gnarled hands, the buckskin sheen of his face, the folds of flesh around his eyes -- my first impression of John Loper.
Which happens to be exactly the case: born in Racine, Wisconsin, the son of a waitress and a welder, Loper worked road construction in Wisconsin until he joined the army 25 years ago.
When he got out, he married the woman who would eventually give birth to his son. But care of Loper's child fell to him -- his wife's struggles with addiction eventually led to her incarceration.
And that's where, now re-telling Loper's story, things get a little choppy. I doubt I could put into words what happened between Loper and his wife -- to try would only pervert the experience. Here's as good as I can do: when Lyly wrote that all was fair in love and war, he had never met Loper's ex.
And in the tempest of multiple households, warrants, drugs (his wife's), and money, Loper lost custody of their son.
"No running water in my camper," he says, shaking his head. "I lost him to the system."
To add injury to insult, Loper's son was placed in a facility where no public transportation ran -- visits required a ride from Loper's ex-sister-in-law. So Loper made up his mind to move to Alaska, save up money, and sue the state for his kid. In short, to move on.
But things have a tendency to stand in our way, and a brick-to-the-head mugging later, Loper was homeless, his plans lost to the streets of Seattle.
Now, though, Loper has Real Change. And he sells plenty -- once he has enough money ("I never move anywhere without two grand," he intones), he's headed for Alaska.
And, in time, back to his son.