Went to the liquor store on the way home yesterday to look for some scotch my grocery store no longer carries. I didn't find it.
On the way out, a man about my age with a cammo backpack who had apparently just bought some Miller High Life heard Lynyrd Skynyrd come over the ceiling speakers. He stopped in the doorway and turned and played an air guitar lick, saying "Skynyrd! .... Tuesday's Gone". And stepped out the door in front of me, then stepped to the side.
I kinda smiled at him. He said "hey, man, if I give you a couple bucks can you give me a ride out by Walmart? I live in the woods back there."
I had seen, this winter, a tent near that Walmart in the woods on a vacant lot. Pretty spot, actually -- I've gone there in the fall to take leaf photos. It's near our neighborhood, but I didn't tell him that.
I had already kind of sized him up. I wasn't too concerned. That's a LONG walk. "Sure, man, hop in".
"What's your name?", he asked. "I go by WhyNot." Told him my name was Phil. We drove an talked. He relayed that he'd grown up here. He'd been in the Navy. Married. He said he'd lost his wife and his daughter in an auto accident several years ago at a US 63 intersection. I talked a little about our kids... San Diego, where I was born. Naval and Marine training base where he and Brian both did Basic.
He rolled down his window a bit. "Sorry, man, I've been drinkin'. I don't want you to have to smell this." I could smell the alcohol on his breath as soon as he got in the car.
I wasn't surprised. "Hey, man, we met at a liquor store. Doesn't bother me."
The more comfortable he got with me, the more he loosened up on the language. F-bomb's began to pepper his comments. Not hostile ones - more like the adolescent ones we used to use to signal how cool and "street" we were back in the day.
He asked about Brian and Iraq. "Is he ok, man?"
"Oh yeah, he's fine."
"Well I knew some guys who went over there who just unloaded trucks and they say they have f*ckin' PTSD. I'm glad he's doin' ok."
He asked me where I worked. Told him the University. He said "yeah, you got the house. You got responsibilities. Pay taxes and all. Do whatever THEY tell you to. I dropped off the grid, man. Been doin' it 2 and a half years now. I'm out of the system. Nobody tells me what to do."
"Yeah, there's a whole community of us out there", he added.
I said "Yeah, I know. ' THEY', huh?. Who is 'THEY'?".
"You haven't figured out who THEY are yet, man?" He shook his head. Grabbed another can of beer from his backpack in the back seat.
I was kinda impressed -- I'm actually kind of curious about it.
Just then the sky opened up with heavy rain and some small hail. "If it's gonna rain like this, maybe I'll go visit my mom. She lives in a retirement home on Bethel."
I knew exactly where that was - I know someone who lives there, but I wasn't going to tell him that. I guessed his house mustn't be super water-proof.
"Yeah, I moved back here to be close to my mom. She's not doing too well. I go visit every now and then."
I continued to the retirement condos to drop him off. Though I was pretty sure this guy posed no danger to anyone, it never escaped me that I really didn't know him. Even then I wasn't worried. I know it's a locked facility with only the front door open and a receptionist.
"Any good man will help people out when he can", he said.
"I know a guy who goes all over the country helping people. Dug through the rubble in New York right after 9/11. And after the Joplin Tornado. And to Colorado when that big rain washed out all the roads and a bunch of houses a couple of years back."
"Well you'd do that."
"I don't, though", I replied, feeling a little less of a man at that moment.
"What did you call yourself again?", I asked.
"Ynot", He grinned. " It's Tony, spelled backwards. That's my name, spelled backwards."
"Ah, that's clever. I like it."
"Yeah, I never had a nickname all my life. I finally got one. A black girl who gave me a blow-job at the homeless shelter, she gave it to me. Now I have one."
He paused and continued, "I'm sorry I'm probably offending your Christian sensibilities. Are you Christian?"
"Yeah", I replied. "It's ok, you're fine."
"Well what do I owe ya?"
"Nothin', man, we're good. Happy to do it."
He slips a quarter into the cup holder in the console. Pride. I recognize it. He's walking a thin line here. I left it there.
"Them Methodists, all they want is money", he added.
"My wife might take offense to that", I replied.
"She a big gal, about 250 lbs? That's the kinda woman I see you with."
Well that was a bit rude, I thought. He must have seen it in my face. "Hey I'm just kiddin'".
I said "You mean like that Jim Croce song?" He breaks into "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown".
"No, I mean 'Roller Derby Queen'", I said. "Nah, she's nothing like that."
"I used to have his album from 1973. I was just listening to that the other day..."
I had to wonder, on what? In your pallet house? No matter. Not important. "Yeah, 'Life and Times'. Great album. This song's on that same album. I'm actually reading his biography right now."
"That's cool! Well thanks, man, you did a good thing today," he thanked me.
"You're welcomed. Enjoy your visit with your mom."
"I'll bet! Well, take care."
I drove off toward home. The storm had passed to the east, and the late afternoon sun cast a bright rainbow against the purple clouds. Which now that I think of it appeared to end in the woods behind Walmart about a mile in the distance.
There's a song in that story somewhere.