Tag Archives: strangers

Talking to Strangers: Gary

I’m standing in my kitchen preparing to feed my dog when I suddenly hear an intense, gut-wrenching wail emanate from outside.  The pitch and tone of this noise is so off balance, so absurdly wild that it’s hard to equate it to anything that is “everyday” without bastardizing and perverting it first.  It is whale music if said whale lived on the land and had first consumed a large quantity of oxycontin; sort of a very slow motion ooo-waaaahhh

It is a sound so haunting and unearthly that I assume whatever creature is making it is probably either in the throws of its death rattle or a raging frenzy fueled by pure blood lust.  It is the sound of a cat dying while giving birth.  it is the sound of a real life tree frog so amped up on Monster energy drinks that it’s genuinely trying to sing something by Limp Bizkit.  It is the sound of eternal despair.  Standing at my window, an image from The Princess Bride pops into my mind wherein the main character screams and his friend mentions that it reminds him of The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

This is The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

I set the dog’s food on the counter and approach my side door, peering out, past my driveway and over the tall hedge that separates my family from The Neighbors – the nameless entities that exist within such close proximity to me without actually affecting or intruding upon my bubble of influence.

There in his driveway is The Man, walking by himself, shoulders slouched, head down, feet dragging.  He walks down the concrete path, turns at the sidewalk and heads towards the grocery store; his body shaking and wrenching and racking with sobs.  I am compelled to immediately leave my house and grip him and ask, “What’s wrong?” because he looks to be in so much emotional pain that my heart, as a human, is hurting just watching him… but it feels strange to me and the task feels like a true challenge that I’m not sure I can take on.  I want to call out to him but I don’t know his name.  After seven years of living next to this man and his wife… I don’t know their names.  This fault is a personal short coming of my own and says more about me than it does about them.

I watch him disappear out of sight and then the opportunity is gone…

A physical description of the pair would look something like this…

The guy is tall and slim with uniquely distorted facial features.  He looks to be in his late 50s / early 60s.  Huge eyes behind bigger glasses; long scraggly hair that cascades down his skeletal face but the crown of his head is hopelessly bald; jutting chin with small mouth; thin arms, big hands; long legs that take tiny steps; he’s an odd pairing at every angle and, every time I’ve overheard him speak while sitting outside, I can’t help but imagine Goofy, that famous Disney character, after having smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for the better half of a century.  His voice is bubbly and cartoonish while still maintaining a throaty quality, unexpectantly hitting the highest-highs and lowest-lows seemingly at random.

His wife is short and plump with long black hair and a featureless face.  I have probably glanced at her sideways 300 times and… I’m not even certain that I could pick her out of a line-up.  This, however, is not a short coming of her face.  This is a short coming of myself and my own awareness.

Everywhere the two go, they go together; always and forever the two are a pair.  In all the years that I’ve lived in this house, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen either of them one without the other.  And this is why, on this particular day, I knew something was up.  Something was strange.  Something was wrong.  Something somewhere was not right…

On this day, disappearing from my sight, the man was walking alone.

The next day my sister, her husband, my niece and my wife are all packing into our cars, rushing out of the house; we have hot plans to hit the zoo in about 25 minutes and we’ve got free tickets if we can be there by one o’clock.  A friend of ours is doing us a favor by meeting us there to get us in even though it’s during her children’s nap time and so she’ll have the kids in tow and it’s just, y’know, it’s rude to keep people waiting.  Time is ticking and the kids aren’t listening and they won’t get in their car seats and the sun is beating down on me and dangit I’ve forgotten my phone inside so I run back into the house to grab it.  When I walk out, the first thing I see is my sister and her family sitting inside their car, waiting for me.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  The second thing I see is that my wife has successfully buckled in my children and is now sitting in the driver’s seat, waiting.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.

The whole show – hurry, hurry – is on my – hurry, hurry – back.

The third and final thing I see is my skinny, nameless neighbor standing in his driveway staring at me through the hedge, his eyes peering out between broken shrubbery.  I nod but he doesn’t move.  I step off my porch and say, “Hey,” but he doesn’t respond.  Just those eyes… watching me, staring at me, unblinking, vacant.  I open my gate and begin to walk down my driveway, wondering if this guy is in some kind of drug induced hallucination (because he strikes me as the type who has them once in a while) and I’m trying to debate just how weird this is about to get…

He sidles a few steps to his left to a vantage point wherein I can see him a bit better.  He stares at me and cocks his head and I say, “Hi, there.  How are you doing today?” and he says, in that haunting, helium-high voice, in a tone that suggests he’s done nothing worse than burn the meatloaf, “Well, today I am not doing very well,” fiddles with his hands, looks at his knuckles, looks up at me with direct, piercing eye contact, “You see… my wife died yesterday,” and immediately I am hyper aware of my surroundings.  My sister is watching me.  My brother-in-law is watching me.  My wife is watching me.  This man is watching me.  I do not know his name.  I do not know his wife’s name.  He has been my neighbor for seven years and I do not know their names.  I want to hug this man and give him some comforting words but, first and foremost, I don’t believe there are any words that will help him without simply minimizing his tragedy.  Secondly, there is a hedge separating us.  I pick up a leaf and begin tearing it apart.  I say, “Your… what!?  What happened?” and then immediately wonder if that’s a socially acceptable thing to ask.

How does one respond appropriately?

Why is this man telling me this?  Who am I to him?

And then I realize that, outside of his wife, I am perhaps the closest thing to a human in his life.  I don’t talk to him but when I see him I lift up my hand in recognition.  When we run into each other at the grocery store down the street I nod, I smile.  I say hi.  I do nothing.  I don’t do enough.  But I wonder if I’ve somehow done more than anyone else.  I wonder if most people turn their backs on this guy with his unique features and strange voice and ratty clothes.  I wonder if I, even in my state of absolute minimal contact, am The Guy Next Door for him; a familiar face.

Someone.

My phone in my pocket is on silent but it buzzes.  The Family is wondering what I’m doing; chatting up Mr. Tall Glass of Water when we gotta be hitting the street.  They can’t hear anything.  They don’t know.  They just see Johnny having a quiet conversation with The Neighbor.

I am acutely aware of their waiting and watching.

He gathers himself up and says, “Well… we used to live in Denver.  When we moved to Los Angeles several years back, she developed asthma.  Two days ago she caught a cold.  Night before last it got worse.  I told her that we’d take her into the hospital in the morning if she was still ill.  Yesterday morning we woke up and she was having troubles breathing.  She sat up and I said I’d get her some tea.  When I got back to our bedroom she… she had died.  I tried giving her CPR.  I tried like hell.  I called the paramedics.  This was at 7:45 in the ay-em.  They came and tried to revive her.  They really did try their best.  They took her away and pronounced her dead at Kaiser at 8:16 but… that’s not true.  She was dead at 7:45.  She died here.  In our bed.”

And then he stares at the hedge and picks up a crisp leaf of his own and begins to destroy it, bit by bit.  I don’t say, “Are you alright?” because I’m sure he’s not.  I don’t say, “How are you doing?” because I’m sure he’s not doing well at all.  I don’t say, “Do you need anything?” because I think he just wants to talk to someone and have someone, anyone, listen to him.  I think the words don’t matter as much as the physical presence of a human, leaning in, nodding, making eye contact.  I think he’s a lonely man who was living with a lonely wife and they both took care of stray cats and now…

I look at him and hear his voice and realize that the sound I heard earlier were his true wails of grief; a man sobbing with unexpected loss and inconsolable grief.  It truly was The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

He says, “We always thought I’d die first.  I’ve had Stage 4 cancer for 15 years.  I’m 57.  We talked about what she’d do when I died but we never… we never talked about this… she was only 46.  She was healthy…”

The phone in my pocket buzzes and I’m certain it’s my family again, asking me what gives.  I ignore it and instead say, “I had cancer… I had Stage 4 cancer…” and he says, “You and me… we are both miracles,” and I nod because the idea makes me feel like there is magic living inside of me, as though I somehow cheated death and now everyday is a bonus I wasn’t supposed to receive.

He says, “I don’t want to keep you,” and I say, “Don’t – you’re not…” and, while I am always physically uncomfortable making people wait I just… this is obviously too important to walk away from.  He sees I mean it and I’m not leaving until he’s done talking and so he opens a floodgate and begins drowning me in a very personal history about how he used to be addicted to oxycontin but now he only strictly consumes methadone (which he “pack rats away”).  He tells me horror stories about oxycontin and about his struggle with drug addiction and how he couldn’t let it go.  He calls it a Merry-Go-Round from Hell that I couldn’t get off of

He shrugs, done with his story.  Done talking.  Done, maybe, with everything.  I stick out my hand and say, “I’ve lived next to you for so many years but we’ve never met.”  He grabs my hand tightly, in a firm man-handshake that I would not expect from his physical frame, and says, “I’m Gary,” and I say, “I’m Johnny.  What is your wife’s name?” and then a thought runs through my mind that tells me I should have said, “What was your wife’s name,” but I don’t bother correcting my macabre grammar.

He says, “Veronica,” and I say, “Beautiful.”  I say, “Gary, I don’t know what you’re going through but let me know if there’s anything I can do…” and he says, “There is nothing you can do for me.  I see your kids.  Hug them.  Enjoy every day.  Because it will be taken away…”

And then he turns and walks up the driveway.

Two days later I see him returning yet again from the grocery store (alone) with a bag of cat food while I’m sitting on my front porch.  I raise my hand in the air and shout, “Hi, Gary!” and he stops in his tracks, stares at me for a quick moment before averting his eyes, mumbling something under his breath and disappearing out of my sight.

Another two days pass and, as I’m pulling into my driveway I see a couple of Jehova Witnesses walking up to Gary’s house, towards his front door.  They knock but there is no answer so they turn and try their luck elsewhere.

Another 48 hours have slipped by and still I’ve neither seen nor heard any sign of life from The Tall Man that Lives Over the Hedge.

It’s now been five days since I’ve seen him and I’m beginning to wonder at what point I realistically need to walk over there and knock on his door because, honestly, all I can think about is his large stockpile of methadone.

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Talking to Strangers: Norma

The 405 freeway splits through Los Angeles like a bad scar, leading from The Valley, over the hill and into The City, finally ending somewhere further south.  It’s a terrible freeway and a horrible commute if you’re forced to take it; five lanes of 24 hour traffic jams.  You see that bumper sticker in front of you?  Get ready to read it 900 times.  The 15 mile drive I take on the 405 takes me just over an hour – two if it’s raining.  My gas pedal becomes obsolete and I do nothing but ride the break.  People always say, “Stay off the freeway if you’re driving a motorcycle!” and I always respond with, “Uh… the freeway at rush hour is probably the safest place you can be.  It’s a parking lot.”

The trick is this… well, there are a couple tricks.  The first is to not drive during rush hour, the second is to drive on the shoulder of the road, where it’s illegal, the third is to buy a helicopter but the fourth and most realistic option is to slap a baby in your back seat and take the car pool lane.

So my wife, she’s got an appointment on “the other side of the hill” and does just that; she snatches up Baby Bryce, buckles her into the mini-van and she’s suddenly gone and I have two kids with me and I’m so tired because I was up until 4am the previous night / morning working on a pet project and long gone are the days when I can sleep in until noon and so I decide to just turn on The Gumby Movie and lie down on the couch and shut my eyes but even that won’t work because Quinn is standing in front of me shouting, “DADDY, DON’T SLEEP!  YOU CAN’T SLEEP!  IT’S MORNING!” and she’s right… It is morning… and I can’t sleep… when a three year old is screaming into my eyeballs.

I sit up and rub my face and say, “You want breakfast?” and Quinn says, “I want cereal!” and Rory jumps, completely naked, from a chair, with his fists held in the air, nails a perfect landing and shouts, “I WANT…… TOAST!” and I say, “Let’s get dressed.  Let’s go get pancakes,” and they both say, “Pancakes?  PANCAKES!  OH-KAY!” and then we’re walking down the street together and then three blocks later we’re at a restaurant called The Hungry Fox – a place who’s tagline is “Happiness You Can Eat” – and then we’re sitting at a table and I’m ordering pancakes with Cool Whip and sausage and scrambled eggs and hash browns and coffee and orange juice and water and it’s just one meal and, yes, thank you, Waitress, I would like three plates.

Being Tuesday morning, the restaurant is nearly empty.  Quinn and Rory hop out of the booth and run a few aisles over to a fish tank to peruse its inhabitants.  “There’s a fish!  There’s his house!  There’s water!  There’s a rock!”  Everything is a majestic discovery.

The waitress, a woman sporting a simple name tag that says, “HUNGRY FOX” and then, beneath that, “NORMA” approaches my table wearing a large smile and carrying our food.  I’ve been coming to this diner for a while and, while all of the employees seem to be of an Asian persuasion with choppy English, Norma looks as though she’s entering her late 50s and is from somewhere in South America, deeper than Mexico.  Her English isn’t perfect but it’s close enough that it makes no difference.

She sets our pancakes on the table and my children scream, PAAAANCAAAAKES!” and come running.  Luckily, I’ve had the foresight to seat myself in the deepest, darkest corner of the restaurant, back in a place where we’ll be the least concern and bother to any of the other patrons.  Rory jumps into my lap and I say, “Don’t run in here,” and Norma says, “Let them run!  They are children!” and to Quinn I say, “Don’t scream in here,” and Norma says, “Let them scream!  They are children!” and then she pours me more coffee and Rory points at the Cool Whip and says, “I.  Don’t.  WANT.  THAT!” and I say, “Uh… that’s delicious and you DO want it.  Trust me,” but he persists and Norma says, “I will take it off for you,” and she picks up a fork, ready to scrape it away,” when I stop her and say, “It’s, uh, it’s okay.  I got it.”

Rory lifts up the fork I’ve used to scrape the Cool Whip off the pancake and he says, “I.  Want.  A.  NEW.  FORK!” and I say, “Hey… listen,” and Norma says, “Here you go, little one!  Brand new fork!” and then Rory, seeing that this woman is the weakest link, he says, “I.  WANT….” but I cut him short and twist his little body towards me and grab his cheeks and say, “You need to be less demanding.  Here’s some syrup.  Eat your pancakes,” and he sits down, picks up his fork and begins to eat.  He says, “This is good,” and I say, “Thank you,” and he says, “You’re welcome, Daddy.”

Norma refills the two sips of coffee I’ve taken and says, “Children, they are so wonderful.  I have four.  They are grown up now; the youngest is 24.  I am a grandma.  Four grandchildren,” and I ask her a few questions about her kids and I expect her to say, “Enjoy them… because they grow up so fast,” which is the Go-To Answer for all parents but instead she prophetically says, “Someday you will be an old man and you will be sitting in your house and your children will be gathered around you and their children will be gathered around them and they will all be looking at you and you will see your whole family and you will be so proud.”

The image in my mind is magnificent and I know that what she’s saying is true.  I’m by no means excited to get old but when I do finally crawl into that aged room, I want to make sure it’s furnished with all the things I’ve built over the past several decades.

She sets the coffee pot down on the table and, with very few words from me, continues speaking.

“I was married very young.  I was 22 and my husband was 17.  We were in love but… he has not always been faithful.  He has, well, floundered, I guess.  Listen, I’m no goodie-two-shoe and I been around but, he was around… he was always very good to his family, to his children.  He always made sure we were taken care of,” and I nod, not sure how to respond to her confession of infidelity.  She continues, “You wanna be happy in this life?  You gotta make the choice.  You can’t change someone.  You just say, I love you and I want to be with you and that is that.  I told him, you did what you did, I love you, I will stay.  And we’re still together.  So many people they get divorced.  Don’t get divorced.  It is such a yucky thing but… listen…”

And this is the part of the conversation that really stuck with me through the day; this is the part of the conversation that has had countless books written for countless audiences; this is the part of the conversation that affects every married or to-be-married person reading this.  Tune in.  Perk up those ears.  Here it comes.

She says, “People get married and they love each other.  They have a very beautiful marriage and they have kids and the kids are very beautiful and the parents love the kids and then five, ten, twenty years pass and the kids move away and now you live in a house with this person you don’t know.  You knew them twenty years ago but you’ve been living for your kids.  Now you have nothing in common,” and I nod, thinking of all my writing about kids and all Jade’s photos of our kids and all of our family time and how, specifically, beautiful I think it is and then she says, “Love your children.  Love your family.  It is wonderful.  But love your wife.  Otherwise you might be 45 years old and suddenly you’ve got divorce papers because neither of you know what you’re doing with each other anymore.”

This story from Norma really affected me and I want to throw it out into the masses and hope that it hits some of you the way it hit me.  I hope it rattles some of you the way it rattled me.  I hope that we never forget our spouses.  I hope we always prioritize them.  It’s very scary to think that safety in marriage is just an illusion.  I believe it’s when we think we’ve entered into that Safety Zone that things get careless and dangerous.  That’s when we stop paying attention.  That’s when things leave Co-Pilot and enter Auto-Pilot.

What can I do to prioritize my wife and my marriage and make sure that I don’t forget about them?  Or, more selfishly, what can I do to make sure my wife doesn’t forget about me?

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Talking to Strangers: Pam

There are two forms of help you can offer a person.  The first is a kind that helps them; this might look like buying someone a meal, giving someone a ride, feeding someone’s dogs for them or volunteering at a food shelter.  Whether the act is big or small, it’s the kind of help that serves others.  It’s a selfless act that strictly affects them.  This is a good and healthy brand of interaction; giving of your time and energy and compassion and it’s a very difficult activity to take part in because most of us, myself included, are guilty of the second kind of helping…

The Helping Disease.

This is the kind of helping wherein I do something for a purpose or a reason and that purpose and that reason are never just to help.  There are one of two underlying motives in this type of help, both of them equally destructive.  The first is the You-Owe-Me mentality that comes along with helping, specifically, a friend or family member and I hate it when this sort of thinking creeps into my psyche.  “Oh, I’m taking So-and-So’s parents to the airport this morning?  Well, now they owe me big!”  or, “I lent this person my circular saw and it’s so expensive and now next time I need something…” Or, “Sure, I’ll baby sit your kids…” and then in the back of your mind you know you have an Ace up your sleeve for later.

I hate it.  I hate feeling like that and I hate rolling that first kind of Helping over into the mud and watching it transform into that second, gross kind of Helping.  It’s not healthy, it’s not selfless, it’s not good.  This second brand of Helping People is nothing more than Greed in Disguise and we’ve all been guilty of it.

It’s Helping Others only to Help Yourself.

Once in a great while, however, you’ll help someone for a third reason, and maybe this third reason is even just a little worse than the second one.  This third reason can’t be pinned down and it does a much better job of hiding because we’re able to slyly slip it into conversations while trying to make it look like something beautiful.  We say things like, “Oh, yeah… so I was mowing my grandmother’s lawn…” Or, “The other day I gave someone a fifty dollar tip on a forty dollar check.”

It’s this kind of Helping that quietly serves you and draws attention to you.  It’s the kind of Helping that one does and then holds onto like an expensive gem and waits for the perfect opportunity to alert those around them of their actions.  They want to be noticed and talked about and awarded for their kindness.

Worse than that they (or me) are not doing it to Help someone else, they’re (I’m) only doing it to Help themselves (myself).  It’s damaging and taints the whole process and the Heart of Helping.  It changes you and is a sickness; a cancer in the heart of generosity.  And it’s this third disease that is brought forth and put on display in today’s Talking To Strangers.

This morning I found myself sitting solo at a table outside a Jamba Juice.  Having just walked out of a chiropractor appointment, I was feeling loose as a goose and decided to treat myself to a fruity beverage, kick back in the morning sunshine and soak in the entertainment on my phone in the particular flavor of Plants vs. Zombies 2 (a free download, FYI) when suddenly, a raspy voice calls out to me, “‘Scuse me, sir?  You got any change you can spare fer some food?”

I want to help the homeless and the needy.  I really do.  Let me start by saying that.  It’s very Jesus-y and I like that.  I like being as Jesus-y as possible.  But… there’s this other part of me that says, “I want to help you… I just want to do it tomorrow… or at some other juncture in time when I’m not actually around…”  I want to help but helping the homeless is so… I don’t know… hands-on-interactive.

I want to give you food and help but I’m afraid that I will become trapped in some kind of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie scenario wherein our relationship will spiral out of control and soon you’ll be living on my couch and wearing my ties.

I hear a lot of people say, “I try my best!” and they are either, A.) not very good at trying or B.) clearly delusional because we don’t try our best.  We don’t do all we can do to help those around us.  We don’t, in fact, often try a fraction of our best.  The truth is, we try sometimes and only if it’s convenient for us.

My knee jerk reaction is for my martyr’s heart to leap into my throat at the sight of a person in need directly before quietly mumbling some half baked lie, looking away and heading for the nearest cover where I can work on hating myself for the rest of the day for being too much of a coward to stop what I’m doing to help.  It’s that Selfish Human Technique we’re all so good at.  Don’t pop my bubble!  The Bubble of Safety!  The Bubble of Separation!  I’ve spent many hours getting my bubble just the way I like it and I don’t need any strangers coming in here and messing things up.  Don’t.  Pop.  My.  Bubble.

But today, in this story, I try.  Because… the truth is, this story would actually be pretty boring if it started with, “A guy asked me for some money” and then immediately ended with me saying, “BEAT IT, NERD!”

That said… allow me to get back to the matter at hand.

I put down my phone and look over.  Hold eye contact.  Talk.

I say, “No,” and I say, “I don’t carry cash,” and, the truth is, these are both lies.  I have about sixty dollars made up of various denominations in my front, right pocket but I won’t be giving a dime to someone who clearly has a difficult time managing their finances.  Sidenote, I always try to look The Homeless in the eyes to let them know that I’m not afraid of them.  Not in a Knife-Fight sort of way but more in the I Understand That You Exist and I Want to Respectfully Acknowledge Your Presence sort of way.

The guy is slightly overweight and sitting in a wheel chair.  His hands are filthy but his socks are pearly white like they’d just been washed or recently purchased.  He has on black sweat pants and an Avengers superhero t-shirt that has been stuffed to make it intentionally look like he has breasts.  Above that is a rugged grey beard that he’d been growing for a while and on top of his head is a shoulder length woman’s wig with bangs.  He is a brunette.

I say, “I’ve got a credit card and I can buy you something from Noah’s Bagels if you’d like,” and he says, “Yeah, that would be nice,” and I say, “What do you want?  What sounds good?” and he says, “I don’t care,” and I say, with just a hint of playful humor in my voice, “You don’t care?  You don’t have a preference?  You don’t prefer something special?” because now I’m invested and I don’t just want to help this guy, I want to really help him.  Not like… help him get back on his feet or anything, I just really want him to have a spectacular breakfast.  I want him to walk away going, “I ASKED THE RIGHT GUY THIS MORNING!  WOO-HOO!  THAT BREAKFAST HIT THE SPOT!”  because this exchange is no longer about him.

It’s about me.

It’s that third type of helping that has just taken over; The Kind of Helping that is about me getting my jollies.  The kind that is about me feeling good about myself.  The kind that specifically says things like, “I don’t want to help you get back on your feet, I just want you to know you asked the right guy for breakfast this morning.”

The Selfish Helper.

Me.

I repeat my question and say, “Anything?  Anything at all?  Any special requests?” but he just says, “Nope.  Beggars can’t be choosers”.

I tell him I’ll be right back and, just before entering the bagel shop I’m struck by genius and turn around to say, “You want coffee?” and he says, “I can’t drink coffee,” and I think to myself, Man, this guy is really killing my Helper Buzz.  I’m having a hard time feeling good about myself with him being so polite about his needs.  LET ME HELP YOU!  LET ME BE YOUR 9:30AM BREAKFAST HERO!

I walk inside and tell the worker I need to order something healthy.  If the homeless guy can’t drink coffee, he’s obviously UNhealthy (fair reasoning)… so I’m going to get him the healthiest but still most delicious thing on the menu and when he opens it up he’s going to be like, “What a thoughtful person that bald fellow was!  Healthy and delicious!  I usually only get one or the other, what with being poor and all and my beggars-can’t-be-choosers life motto but here it is – delicious AND nutritious in a single sandwich!”

The worker points out some wheat bread selection that has mushrooms and Swiss cheese and asparagus on it.  It’s under their SMART CHOICE menu that’s been written on a chalk board in fancy cursive handwriting so you know it’s good.  I mean, you know it’s a Smart Choice if you’re ordering off of a menu specifically labeled Smart Choice.  I look around and briefly feel sorry for all the other frumpy ghouls dining off the Idiot’s Choice menu.  Dummies.

I toss on a lemonade flavored vitamin water thinking he’d love that; getting a refreshing drink – that’s been filled with vitamins no less! – when he didn’t even ask for one.  The clerk rings it up and… nine bucks.  That’s the cost of integrity.  I am a person with integrity and it was purchased for almost an entire ten dollar bill.  Now we’re talkin’.  Karma Payment Plan, baby.  This is coming around BIG TIME.  THIS IS WHAT GENEROSITY LOOKS LIKE!

I’m standing there and I just wish there were some way that all these people in the store could KNOW that I wasn’t actually going to eat this sandwich I’d just purchased off of the slightly more expensive Smart Choice menu.  I was going to leave and give it to a horribly crippled, transgender man in desperate need of my services.  How could I show them without actually SHOWING THEM?  How could I tell people that I’d helped someone (third brand of helping) without being too On-The-Nose about it?  How can I draw attention to myself without turning a spotlight on?  And then, like a cattle prod to the rectum, I knew… I’d go home and write a blog about it, disguising my selfish gloating in staccato bursts of pathetic, self examining humor.

I walk outside with a little bounce in my step and sit back at my table.  The guy stares at me like I’m trying to pull something over on him.  I don’t think he’s used to people taking a moment to “Give back to the community” as I like to call it.  I slowly and deliberately hand him his sandwich so he knows that I’m not afraid of his interaction.  His presence does not offend me.  I am in no rush to get back to Plants vs. Zombies 2.  I’m okay with being in proximity to him and his homeless aura.  To show him that I’m serious about the interesting moment that we’re sharing, I ask him a personal question.  I say, “Where do you live?” and he says, “Here. On the street.”

I say, “How long you been out here?” and he says, “Three months,” and I ask where he was before this and he tells me that he took an Amtrak from Missouri with a friend.  I say that I’ve never been on the Amtrak before and that it sounds like a fun adventure.  He tells me he’s probably going to leave after a few more months to go home.  I suppose even the homeless like to get a vacation in from time to time because working to stay alive is a full time job.

I ask him what his name is and he looks off towards the horizon.  He hesitates and his eyes seem to gloss over for a moment under that wig that may or may not have been purchased in a party store before he says, “Pam.”  I say, “You’ve got nice hair, Pam,” and he says, “Thank you.  I wish it were mine.”

And then he blurts out something about how he has to get going and I can almost see the awkward fear in his eyes.  Something in his voice is too familiar and then… yeah, he sounds like me trying to avoid someone.  He sounds like me mumbling up my half baked lies.  We had crossed over from the customary exchange of strangers and he wanted to say, “Don’t pop my bubble!”

I told him goodbye and watched him roll away, all alone, down the sidewalk.  I sat in my chair sipping my Mango Delight Smoothie and watched him eat his sandwich half a block away, all alone.

Made me feel good.

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Talking to Strangers: Linda

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I dropped out of High School for a semester during my Junior year.  I was already bombing each and every one of my classes with such hard F’s that even making a D- in anything was out of the question.  I observed the situation, analyzed my statistics, spoke to my Guidance Counselor, read my horoscope and decided to draw a line in the sand.  “Self,” I said to myself, “We’re going on a small sojourn.”

And I did.  For the following 4 months of school and 3 months of summer break I became, what some would call, a Lump.  I didn’t become a “Productive Member of Society”, I didn’t get a full time job and I didn’t move out of my parent’s basement.  Instead, I continued working at Subway during the night and, always the avid reader, spent my days at the lake with my face buried in a book.

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It was incredible and, I think, a very formative experience for my adult life.  I was given the opportunity wherein I had the chance to examine what I was supposed to be doing ie school in a cement building but instead got to exist in the lush outdoors.  Even today I have a hard time crawling into my office when I know that there are trees and lakes and trails to be seen and explored.  It often feels like we are living life backwards and the system that we’ve set up isn’t really working for most of us.

Anyway, I never had plans to NOT go back.  I always assumed that when the school year started again, I’d count my losses and start with a fresh slate.  Really give it the ol’ college try.  SO… September rolled around and I DID go back… but not to the local High School.  Instead, I enrolled in “an experimental program” called The Alternative School; a place with a terrible rap that is doing incredible things for wandering and lost youth.  This is the place where kids who, frankly, can’t get their shit together, go in a last ditch effort.  You bomb Alt School, you’re gone for good.  There is no Third Chance High.

The program provides an environment with smaller classroom sizes wherein kids like myself have their feet held to the fire by a small handful of mentors.  It’s thanks to this school that I was able to graduate high school, leave my hometown, go to college and pursue a career that I’m passionate about.  Did my grades at the Alt School accomplish this?  No.  But the teachers at the school helped me to see what my worth was.  It’s very easy for a teenager to get stuck in the mentality of “This is What I Am This is What I’ll Always Be” and it simply isn’t true.

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I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who helped alter my course fairly early in my adult life.  I understand, however, that this is not the case for everyone.  Case in point: Linda, a 50-something who is still attempting to recognize her full potential, which just goes to show you that, even though school is over, you’re never too old to learn…

I’m sitting at a Mongolian BBQ with my extended family; wife, mother-in-law, 2 brother-in-laws and a sister-in-law, my two children and my 7 week old nephew.  The baby has been good so far as baby’s are concerned; sort of just lying there and counting dots on the ceiling and making the occasional fart.  My children, on the other hand, are nearing The Breaking Point.  Every parent is familiar with this.  It happens at around the 45 minute mark when you’re eating out and nothing can stop it; no amount of stern looks or promises of punishments can help it.  Even those lousy crayons buddied with the water-ringed paper place mat stand zero probability of success.

See also: Ants in the Pants.

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They’re out of their seats, climbing under the table, pushing chairs around, rolling on the ground, covering their eyes and darting left and right, squealing and laughing.  They’re not “misbehaving” so much as they are just “being rowdy”.  A fine line.  Luckily, the restaurant is about to close and there’s only one other couple that’s just getting ready to wrap things up.  It’s 9:30pm, an hour past the children’s bedtime but, since it’s our last night in town and, due to a few other scheduling issues, we decided to make an exception on a late supper.

Our waitress approaches us with the check and says, “These are cute kids,” and we give our customary, “Thank you,” and she asks, “How old?” and we say, “Two and a half,” and she says, “Twins?” and, because our son is enormous and our daughter is dainty, she, like everyone, says, “REALLY!?” and we smile.  But this woman, Linda, doesn’t care about our children.  She is, after all, a stranger.  She doesn’t care about how old they are or how well rounded their vocabulary is or that they can count to 11, recite their ABCs frontwards and backwards, sing Twinkle Twinkle and play Moonlight Sonata on the French horn.  Linda, like so many unfortunate people with blogs, is just waiting for her turn to speak.  Linda, like so many strangers, just wants a turn to tell their story.  Linda, God bless her, begins throwing down her personal demons onto my plate right on top of my leftover noodles and spicy chicken.

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In one long, nearly uninterrupted spew of rhetoric, she tells a table of six complete strangers…

“I have a daughter.  This girl is a mess.  A mess!  A real mess.  From day one.  She’s 26 now but still acts like she’s 13.  Had a child when she was 16 years old, didn’t drop out of high school, they just wouldn’t let her in.  The High School got a restraining order on her.  From the police.  Girl loved to fight.  Just loved to fight.  She went to an alt school; what do you call those….alt schools, yeah.  She went there but they kicked her out.”

I take a sip of my water and wonder if it’s rude of me to ask questions; the topic being so intimate.  I decide to, instead, make a personal statement by confessing that I, too, went to an Alt School but– she talks right over me.  This goose is cooking and there’s no stopping her.

“Her son – my grandson – cutest fella.  Eight years old.  He’s so quiet and nice and just – hates his mother.  Can’t be around her so I took her to court and gained custody of the child.  Now the kid just lives with my husband and I – Grandma and Grandpa.  This is supposed to be The Golden Years of our lives but, well —

I knew the martyr statement was coming next.  The point of it all.  The thing she was getting at from her first breath.  Whatever she said next was supposed to lift me off my feet and make me see her in a different light.

She finishes with, “You do what you gotta do.”

As she’s staring at my son and saying, “Hello.  Hello.  Hello, how are you?  Hello,” I try to imagine what this kind woman must be like in the quiet moments of life when no one is watching.  What was her reaction to her 16 year old getting pregnant and kicked out of school?  Did she scream?  Shout?  Did she throw something and break a mirror?  Did she tell her daughter to get out of her house in a fit of rage?  I begin to wonder what sort of guidance she gave her daughter; did she give her guidance / advice / encouragement?  Was this woman a good parent?  Did the courts have the right to hand over a child to a person that already tried to raise a human and turned out a hotdog?  I’m not saying they’re wrong.  I’m just saying that I don’t know.

I wonder if this woman, Linda, looks at her grandson and sees a second chance for herself.  Some sort of redemption to her “previous life”.  Something that pushes her to sacrifice her “Golden Years” for the peace of knowing that she didn’t drop the ball completely… or at the very least, for the peace of knowing that she picked it up and tried again.

We pay for our meal and Linda walks us to the door, locking it behind us.  I turn around before I step off the curb and see her waving at my daughter.  I squeeze her hand and think that this is my chance.  I don’t want to have to take a redo.

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Talking to Strangers: Dale

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I’m standing on a dirt road holding a rifle somewhere in Montana.  There are no bullets in the gun so, as of right now, it’s really nothing more than a fancy club.  I look around and, as far as the eye can see, there is nothing but pasture.  It’s not even farm land.  It’s just… grass and weeds and rocks.  I suspect that people call it “God’s Country” because it looks just like it did on the day He created it.

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I’m at a shooting range just outside Billing’s city limits with my two brother-in-laws, each of them flanking either side of me, all of us trying to gather in the dwindling shade of the SUV’s popped hatch.  The first, to my left, is Jarod.  He’s just entered his mid-30s and has the body of a guy that used to be a wrestler (because he was) and dark wavy hair that covers his earlobes.  When he heard we were going to go shoot guns, he rolled out of bed and hopped in the car, sweatpants still on from the night before.  He holds a coffee and rubs sleep from his eyes.

On my right is Jarod’s younger brother and my other brother-in-law, a red-haired man named Jordan who is one of these people that, once you meet him, you won’t forget him.

Ever.

He has bright red hair that wafts out into tight curls, creating the illusion of sun-fire surrounding his head.  Underneath that, a scraggly red beard encompasses his face, ending somewhere around his collar bone.  His skin is pale and covered in freckles.  He’s one part Ronald McDonald and one part Unibomber.  He also has, what one may consider, an encyclopedic knowledge of guns and gun history and gun production and the mechanisms of guns and gun safety and what, in his opinion, is best and why and why you’re probably wrong.

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As I set the rifle down on the table, Jordan begins walking over the gun with me; Wikipedia giving me my own private lesson.  “This gun is called a such-and-such,”  Frankly, I can’t remember all / any of the details that were being thrown at me in rapid sucession so you’ll just have to bare with me, “This is the safety.  Red means fire.  You’ll see how the ergonomics of this gun works.  Your left hand goes here, your right hand goes here,” and he moves my hands so I know.  “Hug the gun, rest your cheek against the side of the stock and look through the scope.  Let me tell you about parallax,” and he does, “Here is the magazine, it’s loaded, insert it here; pull this back,” click-click, “Okay, you’ve got one in the chamber.  Once you take this gun off of safety, it’s ready to fire.  Keep your finger off the trigger until–”

“HOWDY FOLKS!”

I turn sideways and see a heavy set man approaching our car.  He’s got a shaved head and a mustache that resembles Monterrey Jack from the old Chip n’ Dale cartoon; shaved right down the middle but dangling in waxed shoestrings on either side of his mouth.  He looks like a Mongolian Warlord……. a white Mongolian Warlord.  His cream colored vest has a million pockets and a name-tag attached to it that reads, “DALE”.  He’s got, what appears to me, in my extremely limited knowledge of video game firearms, to be a shotgun slung over his shoulder which he carries around like an electric guitar.

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“WHATCHYOO FELLAS UP TO OVER HERE?!”  He talks like this, in all caps, his eyes enormous white orbs.  He laughs after almost everything he says and his jolly belly jiggles; Santa with a gun.  Jordan steps forward and tells the man that he’s just out here teaching me how to shoot a gun.  The subtext of this statement is, of course, “Leave us alone, we’re in the middle of some stuff.”

“TEACHIN’ SOME GUNPLAY, HUH?,”  Then, noticing the rifle, “OH!  SHE’S A PURTY ONE!  JUST A BEAUTIFUL STOCK!  BEAUTIFUL STOCK!  SCOPE TOO?!  I HAD A BROTHER-IN-LAW THAT WAS A CRYPTOLOGIST IN THE MILITARY BUT THEN HE QUIT AND BECAME A SNIPER AND NOW I HUNT WITH HIM!  THE MAN CAN HIT A GOPHER AT 1/2 A MILE AWAY WITH A HANDGUN……..NO SCOPE!  NO SCOPE!”

Having no idea if this is possible or not, I look over at Jordan, who slowly crosses his arms and says, “Sounds like a real sharp shooter.”  Subtext, “No, he can’t.”

Monterrey Jack continues, “I WAS WATCHIN’ IN MY BINOCULARS!  SAW THE LITTLE CRITTER FLIP INTO THE AIR ON THE FIRST BLAST AND THEN, GET THIS, BEFORE HE EVEN HIT THE GROUND, MY OL’ BROTHER-IN-LAW SHOT HIM AGAIN, POPPED HIM RIGHT UP IN THE AIR AGAIN!  AND SIX BLOCKS AIN’T EVEN AN EXAGGERATION!  BELIEVE IT OR NOT, WE GOT BACK IN THAT CAR AND WATCHED THE ODOMETER AS WE DROVE OVER TO THIS LITTLE FELLA.  1/2 MILE, THERE IT IS!”

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Jordan says, “Impressive,” and then turns around and begins organizing his truck, hoping to shun the man out of existence.  Dale continues, “I WAS IN VIETNAM, ONE OF THOSE TINY BOATS; 1000 ROUNDS PER EVERY HIT OVER THERE!  HAR-HAR-HAR!  TODAY I MAKE MY OWN DYNAMITE!  MAKE MY OWN FUSES AND ALL!” at which point he goes into very long-winded detail about the best way to make a fuse.  Jordan, being a man that re-shells his own bullets and a perfectionist of the art, speaks up and says, “Okay, so you make this fuse.  Certainly we’re talking about human error in the process; how are you able to gauge how long the burn is?  How can you KNOW?” and Dale looks at him and says, “I JUST LIGHT THE SUNNABITCH AND THROW IT!”

Jordan walks away, back to organizing his truck.  His nature won’t allow him to entertain such idiocy.  Meanwhile, Jarod keeps throwing out the casual, “Wow, sounds like you’ve got a great thing – anyway – we’re just trying to–” “I JUST SOLD ALL MY GUNS!  HAD TO MOVE INTO A DIFFERENT APARTMENT!  BOUGHT THIS ONE INSTEAD!  FRONT LOADED, BLACK POWDER, SOMETHING-SOMETHING!”  Me, I can’t help it.  I find the man fascinating, like Daffy Duck with a shotgun, and just keep asking him questions.  “How long were you in the military?  What branch?  How many guns did you sell?  What is this one here?  What is black powder?  You make your own DYNAMITE?!  You make your own FUSES?!  Why do you need to make your own dynamite?  What are you using it for?”

No pause, “BLOW SHIT UP!  HAR-HAR-HAR!”

I give a laugh but it’s sort of nervous.

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“WELL, BOYS!”…. and just like that, he wanders back to his Jeep, presumably to leave.  Jordan shouts at me, “Let’s go, Cocheese!” (side note, I have no idea where this nickname came from but it has become a staple, along with Buford.)  I straddle up along the rifle again and find all the grips.  I shut my left eye against the sun and gaze through the scope.  I find the bright yellow gopher target we’ve placed at the end of the path, roughly 70 yards away, line up my sights and slowly exhale.  I’ve never sighted anything on a scope before and I could count the number of guns I’ve fired on two fingers and everything is silent and the wind is blowing and I’m trying to figure out how much the wind would effect my trajectory and mostly, I just want to nail that fake gopher to the ground and show my brothers (by law) that I can.

I push my thumb against the safety and hear it click.  To my right, Jordan says, very quietly, “That’s a live gun.  Just pull the trigger.”  I pull my index finger off the trigger guard and place it on the trigger proper.  “Lightly,” Jordan whispers.  I raise the cross-hairs from the gopher’s guts to his head.  We’re gonna make this one count.  I squeeze the gun to my body, brace myself, everything goes quiet and BANG!!!  It’s the loudest recoil I’ve ever heard… and I didn’t even have to pull the trigger.

I pull my face away from the sight, push my thumb onto the safety again and look over the gun stock.  Fifteen feet to my right, Dale has just fired his front loading shotgun into the wild.  He’s not aiming at anything, he’s just… firing huge bullets at dirt.

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“YEE-HAW!  SONNABITCH!  WUNNA YOU BOYS WANNA FIRE THIS BABY?  HAR-HAR-HAR!”  We all smile and turn back to our target.  I line it up again, test the wind again, pretend I’m a sniper again, exhale my breath, hold it, kick the safety off, touch the trigger and behind me Dale is yammering on about a magnum and blowing up gophers and the proper boar butter to use on a crossbow and world records and his old gun collection and statistics and how things have changed in the last 30 years and I am silent, trying to aim and Jordan is silent, standing in blatant refusal to partake in conversation with this man and Jarod just drinks his coffee, occasionally spitting and giving heavy sighs that are indicative of him being exhausted with your presence.

There is a blessed lull in the conversation and I take full advantage of it.  Pull the trigger and PHHTT!  The gun pops and barely kicks at all.  70 yards away the gopher spins on it’s stand; a direct hit.  “YEE-HAW!  NAILED HER!  HAR-HAR-HAR!”  Jordan cracks his neck without using his hands and says, “There ya go, Cocheese.  You’ve killed the mama gopher.  Now, while all her youngins are moping around, mourning her death, you need to peg each of them,” and he points at the shattered remains of various clay pigeons.  “Make every shot count.  Clean house.”

I miss all of the imaginary fake gopher babies.

I kill a lot of dirt.

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ABOVE: How I feel when I hold a gun.

BELOW: How I look when I hold a gun.

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I look up and Dale is packing things up.  He says, “I GIVE YOU BOYS MY CARD?” and Jordan says, “Nope,” and Dale says, “WELL, HELL!  WHERE’S MY MANNERS!?” and he snaps a card out of his vest pocket.  Jordan stares at it for a moment before he says, “I knew I knew you!  You used to come into (insert famous Montana Sporting Goods Store here) a couple years ago!  I knew you looked familiar!” and Dale says, “OH, YEAH!  OH, YEAH!  I USED TO COME IN THERE BUT THEY SCREWED ME OVER,” and Jordan says, “I worked there for a couple years.  I knew I knew your face,” and the way Jordan says this makes me think something is up.

“SURE!  SURE!  SUPPOSE YOU DID!  I APPLIED TWICE BUT THE IDIOT MANAGER NEVER HIRED ME!  WHOEVER WAS RUNNING THAT GUN DEPARTMENT SURE AS SHIT DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THEY WAS DOING!” and Jordan says, “Well… Corporate America.”

Dale gets into his Jeep and shouts, “HAVE FUN!” and then he’s driving away, gone forever, plumes of dirt chasing him down the road.

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ABOVE: Guns don’t kill people.  Richard kills people.

Jordan turns around and says, “That man would come into (insert famous Montana Sporting Goods store here) for hours and hours and ramble endlessly to anyone that would listen to his “knowledge” of guns.  He applied twice and the idiot manager who worked in the gun department that refused to hire him was ME.”

Har.  Har.  Har.

As I watched Dale’s car shrink into the distance, I couldn’t help but wonder if all of his puffery were just a subtle F-You to the unforgettable face that wouldn’t hire him.  “LOOK HOW MUCH I KNOW!  LOOK WHAT YOU MISSED OUT ON!  HAR-HAR-HAR!”

I fire the rifle again and the fake mother gopher spins on her stand, leaving another round of imaginary gopher children orphaned.

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Talking to Strangers: Jake

I like to set daily challenges for myself; something that betters me, in my opinion, as a person.  Sometimes that means trying to be extra kind to that co-worker that I’m not a fan of.  I force myself to go into work and, although my blood curdles when I’m in his or her vicinity, I smile and ask how their day is and hold the door open and they say, “Thank you,” but I can tell that they despise me as well because we’ve had several run-ins and we’re both being totally fake but it builds good character, I guess…

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Sometimes I’ll say, “Today I’m buying dinner for the car behind me in the drive-thru”.  This is one of those good deeds that is a gamble because you’re either going to get $4.16 worth of good karma or you’re going to get $62.34 worth of good karma.  You just kind of spin that wheel and cross your fingers.  And yes, I’ll admit that when I’m feeling generous, I will often glance into my rear view mirror and try to gage just how much generosity the car behind me could eat…

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Lately, however, I’ve been trying something a little different.  It started while I was standing inside of a Jimmy John’s sub sandwich shop and was staring at this sweaty teenager that was making my sandwich.  This specific incident happened just over a week ago so my dog was still alive but I knew that I had to dig a grave for her in the morning.  While I stood in this semi-empty restaurant, I stared at this scrawny little geek and I thought about myself when I used to work at Subway in high school.  I thought about how I had to dig this grave and put my dog to sleep and how I was pretty sad and about how I used to have cancer and boy, oh, boy, aren’t I just down on my luck and I bet every single person standing here has absolutely zero problems going on in their lives and then……… I realized how completely arrogant I was being.  Disgustingly, grotesquely, self-centered.

It’s so easy to picture the entire world revolving around your life story when you live inside your own head; everyone else just an extra in your movie.

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I took another look around and tried to imagine what was really happening in their lives.  Sick parents.  Dying siblings.  Welfare.  Ulcers.  Migraines.  Depression.  Most the kids behind the counter looked like they were about ready to graduate from high school.  I wondered what they were all planning to do now that “life” was starting.

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I suddenly, desperately (and weirdly) wanted to know what everyone was experiencing.  I knew all these people were just like me and I wanted to connect with them and tell them about my cancer and my children and here’s some advice and I wanted them to tell me something about my dog and help me put things into perspective.

Everyone has a story.  Not only that, everyone has a good story.  They’ve done something, they’ve been somewhere, they’ve seen something, they’ve been involved in some way.  There is something dynamic and interesting and fascinating and incredible about everyone but these things just float right under the radar and are forgotten because nobody asks.

So I’ve started asking.

Engaging.

This is my new challenge.

If I meet someone on the street, I push against every instinct that is inside of me to push the conversation past the standard, “Hello / how are you / thank you / that will be seven-twenty-five-please-pull-ahead-have-a-good-day-sir” into the meatier stuff… and it’s this stuff, these bizarre small stories that I’d like to share here in a scattered series.  Talking to Strangers.

I don’t always have all the details and the stories aren’t always long but the bits and pieces I hear are so rich, I think they’re worth passing along.

This first one is about a man named Jake from Montana.

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Jake is early 30s, white.  Tall.  Very tall.  The type of guy that sets his water on top of a refrigerator because it’s closer to his range than the kitchen table.  He’s got a red baseball cap on, a Miller High Life t-shirt and a Foster’s beer clutched in his hand; one of those enormous cans that really contain three “American” beers itself.  It might be his second one.  It might be his third.  His eyes are the same color as his cap.

We’re at a barbecue and I’ve just met this man a few hours previous but haven’t really spoken to him.  We’re sitting across from one another in a sloppy circle consisting of five people.

A dog slowly saunters through our group and Jake says, “How much does that dog weigh?” and my brother-in-law says, “80 pounds” and Jake says, “80 pounds?  Last time I weighed Bud, he was 120.”

I ask who Bud is and he says it’s his dog.  Something called a Chesapeake.  After a quick Google search I find that it’s not dissimilar to a variety of Retrievers.

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Then Jake says, mostly reminiscent to himself, “Getting that dog over the fence was not easy,” and I say, “Why were you lifting a dog over a fence?” and he says, “Because I stole him,” and I say, “What do you mean?” and he says, “The dog didn’t belong to me and I stole him.  I crawled over a fence, picked up the dog, and stole him.  My dog is a stolen dog.  Stole,” and me, still confused by standard definitions say, “This dog belonged to somebody and you took him?” and he says, “Yes.”

And then he goes on.

Bud was living in the country, on a farm, in someone’s backyard.  They had tied him to a tree with a small piece of rope, so short that he wasn’t able to move more than three or four feet away from the tree he’d spent his life at.  The rope was so tight around his neck that all of the fur from his shoulder blades to the backs of his ears had worn away, making him look like some kind of reverse mane-less lion.

His “owners” had set a piece of plywood up at a 45 degree angle so he had shade from the sun and Bud had taken it upon himself to dig a hole into the ground as far as he could, presumably because the Earth is cooler the deeper you go.

Well, some dogs get all the luck and one Fourth of July someone shot a firework at Bud and he panicked and ran down into his hole and got his leg tangled in his short length of rope and nobody ever noticed or cared and finally the leg sort of just fell off and it truly is a wonder that it didn’t become infected.

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ABOVE: A Chesapeake Retriever missing a leg carrying a duck missing a life.

So it’s at this point in time that Jake is working at a very popular sporting goods store in Montana and he gets wind about this three-legged dog from a friend of a friend and he decides to go out and investigate the situation.  Well, low and behold, there actually is a three legged dog in the middle of nowhere stuck to a tree.  He says, “It’s being fed, I guess, and it’s being watered, I guess, and it has shelter, I guess but………..” He takes a long drink from his Foster’s and grimaces.

Jake says he goes out there just to see the dog.  It sounded mostly like he was trying to size up the situation… could it be as bad as this girl was saying?  Could this be like one of those Animal Planet rescue shows?  He tells me that he didn’t plan to take the dog and he didn’t plan to keep the dog but rarely does life care about our plans.

He hops the fence, slowly approaches the growling yellow eyes coming from this earthy hole and befriends the lonely / angry / neglected canine with a few kind words.  In my mind he lures him out with beef jerky but he never actual said that so rest assured that it is me taking creative liberty.

Jake cuts the rope with his pocket knife, takes the nameless three-legged dog back to the fence and somehow (I never asked) hoisted him up and over.  He gets back to his car and calls his wife, telling her that he’s headed straight to the vet.

I asked if the vet had questions and he says, “Yes.”  I say, “Did you tell him the dog was stolen?” and he says, “Yes” and I ask, “What did the vet say?” and he just shrugs and instead of answering the question simply says, “$45 bucks for shots.  Dog loves my kids.”

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