Thursday, October 22, 2015

I’m at the auxiliary office, McD’s, relaxing, catching a little personal space with a Coke and a McChicken, watching NASCAR with subtitles. The sandwich is ESPECially goooood. I am thinking "Nummm” and apparently showing it. “Hey, are you enjoying that?” I look to my right. A large, expressive hand is pointing my way, attached to a weathered face with a gap-toothed grin set behind a black and silver Van Dyke beneath aviator sunglasses, crowned by thick hair swept back and tied in an impressive pony tail. A smallish, used-to-be blonde lady is sitting quietly to the gentleman’s right. They are drinking water and finishing cheese burgers. “Are you enjoying that?” “Yes, very much” (and I am not in a social mood which is why I am sitting here absorbed in my num num watching race cars of all things, not my usual). After a short smile I look up and away. “Do you like cookies?” OK. “Yes, I am fond of cookies” (are you offering me a cookie?). “Why did the cookie go to the hospital?”, he asks, intent, hands open in serious supplication. Hands gesture, come on, come on. OK. “OK, why DID the cookie go to the hospital?” Grin . . . “Because he felt . . . C R U M M Y.” The lady next to him remains expressionless. “So, do you have kids? Yes? How many?” I hold up three fingers. “Two, eh? Well, guess how many I have?” Ponder. “Fifteen”, I say. The lady raises an eyebrow. I’m getting somewhere. “I have eleven boys and seven girls from my first wife, and six with her! That’s twenty-five!” The lady turns to him and says, “He was a lot closer than anyone, guessing fifteen.” The lad pauses, mouth open but no words for a sec, then charges on . . . “How old am I? (He holds up his right hand) when I do this (thumb up) keep going, if I do this (thumb down) you are too far.” I take a moment and size him up. The lady puts one eye on me, one on him. “Eighty-two”, says I. He puts his thumb up. “Eighty-seven!" I blurt. Thumb still up. My last offer -- “Ninety-four!!”. The lady looks at him and says, “He was really close the first time. He said ‘eighty-two’”. Another pause. "People always think I am young! I was born in 1933! Do you know why I have so much hair? Because I was born in Casper, Wyoming, where it gets really cold! Plus I am Cherokee. That’s Native American. She (indicating his companion) is German. (Yes, that she definitely is). I’m not Latino or Hispanic or Cuban or anything like that. Want to know my name? What do the signs on the highway say, you know, the ones with the numbers? What is above the numbers?” “Speed”, says I. “Add a ‘y’ to that, that is my name!” “Speedy!” “Yes! Like the cat in the cartoon! You know, the one that drives a fast car and says ‘Andale, andale, yi yi yi yi yi yi yi!’ I created him! I WAS him! For many years. Then I was in the service for twenty-seven years in Oklahoma. I worked hard, but they didn’t give me any benefits when I retired.” The lady looks right at me and says, “He does not have any benefits.” “Now I give all my money to homeless people. I don’t need any money! All I need is my LIFE.” Some kind of happiness barges in here, the real deal. “I NEVER eat any food in my RV.” He points past me, toward the door of the restaurant. I look, and see, in a peculiarly clear way, a peculiar looking rig with a yellow dog sitting, peculiarly, in the driver’s seat. The dog is blondish, and is sitting completely still, somewhat Germanic. “See my dog in the driver’s seat? He never eats anything in the RV either.” I smile and say, “It must be nice, having the dog drive so you can relax.” “Yes!” He stretches back and puts both hands behind his head, and smiles. I offer, “I think your dog is day-dreaming. No wait, he just watched that person go out the door. I think he is looking for you.” The lady gets up, collects the leftover papers and napkins, and with a turn of her chin motions for the most interesting man in the world to come along now. He rises, steps toward me, and holds out his knuckles for a fist bump. I start bumping back, then he opens his hand as if to shake mine. I open my hand to shake his, and he closes his back to a fist. “I never shake hands! I always fist-bump!” So I make a fist and we bump. “Nice to meet you! God bless you!” he says, with enthusiastic warmth. “God bless you, too.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Last week I joined our youth group, and many others, in helping with a downtown Portland ministry that provides services and a human touch for homeless folks. The operation is called "Night Strike". You can read about it at The local leaders tabbed our group to do a "Walk About", which involves patrolling the streets in the Burnside Bridge vicinity for folks who may not make it to a big service mall under the bridge. We met interesting human beings as our feet carried us up and down city streets, offering conversation, PBJ sandwiches, socks, and a drink. The talking part meant the most to me, as we didn't just hand out gifts but some effort to hand out caring, as well. That all felt really good. After a couple of hours, we met back at the somewhat ramshackle downtown church that serves as the headquarters -- all of us except my friend, Rhoda, who did in fact go the bridge, several blocks away, to apply her sewing skills to help mend clothes. I left the group at one point, venturing out in the dark street outside the church, to watch for Rhoda, worried a bit that she might have to walk back by herself. Something in my demeanor or my dress attracted a couple of large, youngish black men. It might help to know I wore ratty, paint-stained blue jeans, a purple sweater vest, and a neon chartreuse running cap -- thinking that would help me fit in the setting, which it did, but more effectively than I anticipated, as things developed . . . As these guys passed our eyes met and they stopped in front of me. I just smiled and held out my hand as I had been doing all evening, and got big smiles and handshakes back. Then I got an offer to purchase what sounded like Chardonnay. Hmm. Well, I didn't tell the honest truth, that Chard is not my favorite wine, so simply smiled and insisted I was fine and didn't need any tonight. No, really, I'm good. Well, OK, take it easy then. You too, good night. You've probably already figured out that I was being offered the opportunity to buy street drugs of some kind. Well, Rhoda came ambling along shortly after that and home we all went. As soon as I got back to my computer I looked up "Chardonnay" as a code word for a drug, and sure enough "shard" is street slang for meth. So now we all know. Bad things are easier to get than good things, sometimes; all the more reason to do good things, as often as possible, I think.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I ran about three miles today, at an easy pace,enjoying a pretty October afternoon. I circled back home pleasantly sweaty. I drip for a while after a workout, so to warm down I snatched a broom and swept off spiderwebs from the front porch. I turned to sweep the steps and caught a neighbor lady giving her grey Scottie dog leash enough to lift its leg on the sweet gum tree on part of my lawn. A nice looking lady - also in the sense that she looks like a nice lady, maybe late 40's, fit looking, with a grey curly hair to match her pet. I looked curiously at the dog, perhaps somewhat accusingly, though I didn't care . . . The lady blanched, pulled her dog away from the tree, and ventured a distraction by saying what must have been the first thing to come to mind. "Whew, smells like we have a skunk in the neighborhood!" Remember I am still a bit lathered up from my run. "Gee", says I, "I hope it isn't me! I've just been running." "Oh! No, I don't think it's you!" Perhaps we'd both like a rerun on that exchange. When I see her again sometime with her dog, I will not will not comment on the resemblance.

Monday, October 5, 2015

I walked to my first day of school, around the block and up a hill to first grade. I remember feeling nervous and excited about what school would be like. Turned out I rather enjoyed school, but most of all I enjoyed walking there in the morning, and walking home in the afternoon. As years passed, I continued to walk or bike to school when I could. Some days I continued to feel nervous about going to school, depending on what faced me any particular day. But these were not issues of safety. I would worry about a speech in the works, or a P.E. test, or the occasional meathead classmate. Getting myself there and home just required putting one foot in front of the other, and gave me space to think and day dream. On to college, then grad school, and still I walked, and still that time between home and school felt like a pleasant world between worlds. I think it helped me a lot to have confidence that if my feet carried me in the school door they would carry me out the door at day's end. I knew I would live through the day. I don't use the word hate much; it is to me a violent emotion. But there is something I am coming to hate, and using the word seems appropriate. I hate it that children go to school these days, and wonder if they will be killed during the day by a nut with a gun. I am not against guns, and I feel compassion for nuts. But the two together are a bad, bad thing. I think more than thoughts and prayers are needed. Time to take real steps.