Dave – The Homeless Guy

21 August 2011

You see them standing at the foot of a freeway off-ramp.  Sad, worn men and women holding signs, usually made of cardboard, telling of their homeless and need.

Some stand out more than others.  One, a young man of maybe thirty, was standing on North East 8th Street at the foot of I-405.  His sign said he was the father of two and in desperate need of money lest his family be dispossessed.  He could find no work.  The poor devil looked strung out.  He was there for about a week, then gone.

Another, a woman who looked about six months along, stood on the off-ramp of SR-520.  She earnestly looked at each passing driver, trying to make eye contact the better to ask for alms.  Her clothes were ratty and she wore the same outfit for days on en . . .  No, now that I think about it, she wore it every day.  One afternoon, she seemed to be at the end of her tether for she just sat there on the dirty macadam, clutching her little sign and sobbing her head off.  I should have called 9-1-1 but didn’t think to do it.  She too has moved on.

Our ravaged economy and two wars are responsible for this — by which I mean the practitioners of Wall Street jiggery-pokery and the jingos of the previous administration.  If I ran things, I’d round-up all the broken people these horses asses created and take them out to the estates of hedge fund managers and war profiteers.  There they would be allowed to squat as long as they pleased.  They would spend their recovery eating the food, wearing the duds, and seeing the doctors and dentists of their hosts.

A few decades ago, such homelessness was caused by the Viet Nam war’s ejection of unprepared veterans back into a nation become viciously hostile.  Many of these good men and women were discharged from the military without so much as a by-your-leave and with heads full of snakes.  “Baby killer” was the epithet greeting so many soldiers as they stepped of the airplane.

While taking yet another stab at higher education, I did some spot-labor during class breaks.  One such place was a recycler of car batteries — a hot, filthy and utterly dangerous job if ever there were one.  Standing around a vat of boiling lead in our haz-mat suits, we were instructed in the finer points of the job.  We were looking from one to the other, passing looks that said Do you believe this? when I locked eyes with a fellow on the vat’s far side.  We seemed to have an instant rapport and camaraderie.   After work, he and I went for beers where he and I became friends.

During our conversation, it came out that he was a former US Marine who’d fought in Viet Nam.  He’d come home to a life he no longer understood and soon left his wife and kids to travel the country as a mendicant and doing some stoop-labor when possible.  On this day, he’d stopped in Seattle and ended up at the recycler.  His name was Dave and he told me he was living in his car.  At the time, Jo and I were living in the Shit Hole, which was hardly bigger than Dave’s little Vega, so I could empathize.

For many years, I’d been a salesman.  As such, one gets to read people pretty well and you can a spot a bad hombre miles away — and so is the corollary; you can also spot the good ones.  It’s almost an instinctive thing.  In any case, Dave was a good one so I called Jo and asked if we could have him in for dinner.  Jo said yes, so Dave followed me home.

Long story short, as small as the Shit Hole was, we invited Dave to stay.  And so he did.  The three of us enjoyed each others company for six weeks.  During that time, Dave mad a few calls home and, from what I could hear, seemed to be working on a rapprochement with the wife.

One afternoon, on our way home from another foul and nasty job, Dave pulled into a parking lot, stopped, and with an anguished face, looked out the windshield for a long moment.  Then he turned to me and said there was something he’d like to tell me.  He paused, evidently deciding whither or not he really should.  After a few seconds of indecision, he put his Vega into gear.  “Maybe later,” he said as we rode off.  He never did tell me what was on his mind, though I pressed him a bit.  Some dark and terrible thing from the war, no doubt.

One afternoon when the first hit of Fall was in the air, Dave said it was time he left.  He asked if I’d help tune a few things on his car and get it loaded with his bindle, and so I did.  I then suggested going to our favorite Chinese for a last supper, and so we did.  We had become fast friends by that time so I urged him to make Seattle his home.  Dave declined, saying it was time to maybe go back to his family, or maybe do some more traveling.  “Whatever,” he said, “it’ll emerge.”

We awoke to a gray Fall morning, which fit the mood.  We had a breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, jam, hot cakes, milk and coffee.  Then Dave pushed back from the table and said, “Well, I’d better be off.”

Jo and I walked Dave out to his car where we had some last hugs and handshakes.  Dave climbed in rolled down the window and made ready.  After starting the engine, Dave turned to us and said, “It’s been great.  Thanks, guys,” then put it in gear and was off.  We stood in the street watching as Dave drove up to the intersection.  There he stopped, gave us a final wave, then turned onto Greenwood and was gone.

We haven’t heard from him since.  I hope things have gone well.

So, then: Not all those people you see at off-ramps are shiftless, worthless criminals out to fleece you out of $5, $10 or $20.  Nor are they all psychotics who kick dogs and murder small children.  Indeed, most of them were quietly living the American Dream when they got clobbered by something they never saw coming — nor could see coming.  In their destitution, we see our vaunted country has failed them.  Now, with the churlish and mean-spirited mood sweeping the land, it looks like America will go on failing them a while longer.

Perhaps, though, might not our experience serve as an inspiration?

I’m sure, dear reader, you’ll think of something.


Heard in the Bus

13 August 2011

I picked up two guys from an assisted living community (i.e., high-class nursing home).  One was in a wheelchair but otherwise, seemed OK.  The second had shaking palsy way bad but could move around.  As soon as I had them buckled-in, they picked up the conversation where they’d left off when I came to collect them.  Naturally, I listen in on these kinds of chats.  Once in a while, I hear something worth repeating.  Here’s what the guy in the wheelchair said.

  • Up until I was twenty, I’d never even heard of the Grim Reaper.
  • In my twenties, I heard people talking about him.
  • In my thirties, I got a glimpse of him now and again,
  • In my forties, I saw him walking around.
  • In my fifties, I saw him standing still, looking about.
  • In my sixties, I caught him staring at me.
  • Now, in my seventies, the son-of-a-bitch is walking in my direction.
Is this what’s meant by the 7 Stages of Life?  Guess so.

One Starless Winter Night

6 August 2011

Sitting around the fire roasting marshmallows, we were looking at the stars when Susan said, “I wonder how many other people there are out there?”

“Ya mean Little Green Men?” came a hoot from the florid and bilious Ichabod Snerd, he of the hip flask fame.  “Ain’t no such-a thing.  We’z all the people the Good Lord needs.  Just a bunch-a horseshit, `tall it is,” said Ichabod with a tone of finality as he uncapped his flask for another snort.

Well, that sort of put a damper on things.  We all stopped talking and looked into the flames as little Gretchen mounted another marshmallow and thrust it into the fire.  It remained quiet for several minutes until I decided to speak.

“Hey, Snerd,” I said, “gimme a pull of that flask and I’ll tell you a story.”  He handed it over and I drank deeply.

“Back in the late `60s, I had a job peddling test equipment in and around Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Kind of a no-account job, but it sometimes paid enough to buy food.  Now the company’s branch office was over in Golden Valley in Minnesota and one day, the boss called a meeting.  It was in January, the dead of winter.

“So I loaded the company van with my lunch and a Thermos of hot coffee, and set out.  The meeting took about three hours longer than I’d expected, which means it let out at around six-thirty.  I gassed up at a Mobil station and headed east on I-94.

“The night was starless; a low ceiling of clouds hung in the sky, though the snow offered a bit of light reflected from the city.  From East of St.Paul, I-94 had not yet been completed to Chicago and Milwaukee, though it did pass by Eau Clair.  Which meant traffic on this stretch was almost non-existent — maybe one car per half-hour.  Oh, and was it cold!  If I remember correctly, some twenty-odd degrees below zero accompanied by a light haze.

“Once past Hudson, Wisconsin, the city lights were far behind and it was as dark as the Infernal Pit.  The only light to be seen came from my headlights and the dashboard.  After all the coffee, I had to take a leak but it was so lonely out there I just pulled over on the shoulder and went (something you could not do today).

“Anyway, there was this bend going around a low hill on my left and as I came around the curve on the far side of the hill, I saw some farmer on the other side of the freeway, out in his field with a big-assed machine.  ‘What the hell’s that fool doing out here?’ I wondered.  I was going around sixty, so I slowed and took a good look.  With lights all over it, I thought it was a tractor rigged for night work.

“Well, this ‘tractor’ was about the size of a three-story house and it had three tiers of big floodlights, some white, some red, some a sort of greenish-blue.  Each tier appeared to be rotating around the machine, one to the right, one to the left, the other to the right.

“I was trying to figure out what it was but another hill was beginning to eclipse it.  ‘I’ll be damned,’ I said to myself and decided to go back for another look.  The only place to turn around was four-to-six miles up the road so I zeroed the trip odometer in order to find this spot.

“Ten minutes or so later, the hill came into sight and I slowed.  Adjacent to the shallow declivity in which I saw the “farmer’s” machine, I stopped, parked, killed the engine and got out.  The machine was gone.  Moreover, there was no sound like a large diesel engine would make, and it would take a large one to move a thing like that.  Also there was no glow from the thing’s lights, which one would expect at night — and there were no visible tracks.  I knew there were no farm buildings within miles, so it couldn’t have gotten to a barn or garage.  I stood there in the still, cold night, smoking a cigarette and wondering just what was that thing?

“It didn’t fit with anything in my experience.

“Then it hit me; I’d read descriptions of things almost exactly like this: Flying saucers.  I redoubled my efforts to see or hear anything and scanned the sky for signs.  Nothing.  Vowing to come back in the morning to look for tracks, I again zeroed my odometer and headed home.  Well, I came back and, sure enough, there were no tracks; the snow lay there unblemished.”

Snerd took another snort as Westcott leaned forward and said, “Yeah, right.”  Ellen had wrapped her arms around herself and her eyes were bigger than usual.

“Jo, you buying any of this?” Snerd asked, nodding in my direction.

“Yes, absolutely,” my wife said flatly.

Snerd took a deep breath and exhaled loudly.  “Yeah, well,” he said, “I gotta be goin home.  Five o`clock comes early.”  The others agreed and picked up their stuff while I put out the embers.  Jo and I walked everyone out to the street and we all said our good nights.  We waived at one another and as they moved off down the street, I saw some steal looks at the sky.

Some other interesting tid-bits:

  • Infrequent stories of things in the sky have come down through the ages.  But they only really got going after we blew off the A-bomb in the New Mexican desert.
  • The so-called “Roswell Incident” took place just miles from the US Air Force base where the 509th Composite Group is based — the 509th being the outfit that A-bombed Japan.
  • President Carter saw one.

Assuming these things are what they appear to be, our government probably keeps them under wraps for fear Earth’s civilization will collapse, should we ever find out.  They’re probably right.  Religion will take a big hit as people lose their faiths (Ya mean we’z ain’t the only ones?).  Otherwise-stable people will blow out their brains or jump out of windows.  Most folks will just be scared shitless.  Not a few will feel so inferior to the Space Aliens that they give up working and take to drink — just like the Inca after the Spaniards landed.

So the Little Green Men will continue flitting about the sky, letting us get used to them — and we are.  When I was a kid, stories about Bug-Eyed Monsters were confined to the dime-store pulps.  Now we have Star Trek, Star Wars, Alien, Avatar and so on, all peopled by extra terrestrials of every sort.  Plus, we’ve been to the moon, built a space station, flew the shuttle and have sent probes out beyond the solar system.

If the Little Green Men give us a few more years of gentle and increasing exposure, most people will be inoculated against fear and dread.  The Space Aliens will know we won’t come unglued when, one fine day, they land on the White House lawn.