May 19, 2015 3:22 pm EDT
I’m sitting with a man I just met.
He’s overweight, but not unattractively so. He’s smoking Marlboro Reds. Says he gave em up for the fortieth time; started back up today, a day he calls grey.
He went to church Sunday; says he sang with angels. Healed a woman with chronic arthritis. Says it without pride, just matter-of-fact.
He enjoys the quiet irony of the Batman t-shirt he’s wearing. “Never take life too damned seriously,” he counsels.
“Are you suggesting—?”
“Ain’t suggesting nothin’, son. Just observin’.”
“Observing.” I let the word echo in the still spring air, moist from the morning’s rain.
“Yup. Just observing.”
I decide to move to another topic. “What brings you to Delaware?”
“Seemed as good a place as any to stop. I caught a ride with a couple takin’ the scenic route to North Carolina. Decided I didn’t want to hear any more of their subtle bickering.”
“Yeah. You know. It’s the looks I noticed first. Suzy put three sugars in his coffee and I think he only wanted two. He watched her put in the third packet, then there’s this little shake of his head. I been riding with em since Boston. Had enough.”
“You have plans to stay?”
“I don’t never make plans, son. Not beyond a couple days out anyway.”
I wonder why he calls me son. It’s clear he’s no older than I am, or if he is, it’s no more than a couple years. I decide not to be offended. “What sort of work do you do?”
“A little of this, a little of that. Don’t matter much. I don’t need much.”
I have a sense that his simple words are chosen to hide a deep intellect. He’s got that bright shine in his eyes, seems not only aware, but peaceful—he’s got a knowing.
“Mostly I do yard work in the summer, handyman stuff in the winter. Like I said, I don’t need much.”
“What did you mean earlier when you alluded that I was somehow lacking?”
“Alluded? You some sorta professor?”
“No. I just read a lot.” I’m sure he knows the word, so I decline from defining it. I give him some time, leave the question hanging in the moist air.
He takes a Marlboro from the box, a Bic lighter from his pocket, motions to me, asking if I want one.
“No thanks.” I maintain the silence, waiting for him to light the cigarette, take two deep pulls.
“You sure you wanna hear this?”
“Yeah, go for it.”
“Look, bud, I’m sure you got it all figured out. You don’t need some drifter givin’ you life advice.”
“Go ahead.” This time it’s more challenge than prompt. He’s teasing me, stringing me along, but I don’t mind. I’m intrigued.
“I’m sure you got a good job; you’ve got a nice house, two cars in the driveway.”
“Yes,” I say, noncommittal. I wait for him to pull a Bible out of his worn knapsack. He doesn’t.
“I wasn’t entirely honest when I said I just do ‘this and that’; them things pay for soup and hamburgers and an occasional night at Motel 6. But my real job is just talkin’ to folks, listening. It’s my gift.” He says this without pride, matter-of-fact, as before.
“I think we all have gifts; most of us just haven’t found them yet.”
I wait for him to continue.
“I get these feelings when I talk to folks. Sometimes I know they’ve got a hole in their soul and I know how to patch it. Like patchin’ sheetrock. Like I said, I’m a handyman.”
“So I’ve got a hole?”
“You said it.”
“But you alluded to it.”
“I get a feelin’ talkin’ to you that you know what you outghta be doin’ but you ain’t been doin’ it.”
I think about writing, that he’s alluding to my writing. I’ve been caught up in work lately, and haven’t given it much attention. I keep my thoughts to myself.
“It’s as clear as that smirk on your face, hiding a frown. Like I said, I see things. I get these feelings. You know damn well what it is.”
“Yes. You’re right. But it’s hard.”
“I ain’t your momma, son. I ain’t got a shoulder for you to cry on. I know it’s hard, but so what? You think it’s easy for any of us to follow the path we’re put on?”
“No. I guess you’re right.”
“You know damn well I am.”
“How do I change? How do I start?”
“Hell, that’s easy, son. You just do. You just start. You tell yourself it might be hard, but so what? And then you do it. It might get easy in time or it might not, but you know it’s really the only thing that matters.”
I take a deep breath. Release an audible sigh.
“Completely up to you. Like I said, I ain’t your momma. I’m just a drifter with a little free advice. Well, mostly free. How ‘bout a beer?”
“Sounds perfect. Thanks… What’s your name?”
“Call me Clarence.”
I go inside and grab two beers, open them, and carry them outside.
Clarence is gone.
I drink both beers. Then I write. And drink a third beer. And write some more.