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Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday, July 25

I’ve made an executive decision. Friday’s submissions are going to be the following:
* A request from you (one of the smartest people I know!) for your favorite blogs – especially the smaller blogs (you know, like mine!);
* a mutter or two;
* What-Was-On-The-iPod-This-Morning;
* and a quick story.

So! Know any good blogs? Tell me!

Secondly, let me tell you that the weather this morning is, like, 97% humidity, which basically means that I swam to the bus stop. Luckily for me, I already knew this would happen, thanks to the gift of weather-predicting hair (see this previous post for what in the world I’m talking about). The bus ride was an air-conditioned hunka hunka burnin’ love, and I say that with all the Elvis-related sincerity I can muster. When the air outside is warm and steamy and the bus, inside, is cool and dry, it says only good things about what’s comin’ up, don’t you think? Top that with the fact that I got to sit next to a very slender woman whose body and bags were on her side of the bench only, allowing me room for my body and bags, well, you just can’t ask more from a bus ride than that.

I also decided this morning, in a casting-the-chicken-bones/reading-tea-leaves kind of way, that the songs on my iPod will predict the weekend. No skipping, no repeating, this is “shuffle” in its purest form. So what lies ahead for me?

Apple Tree -- Wolfmother
Secret Agent Man -- The Ventures
I Will Never Forget You -- Husker Du
Dead Flowers -- Rhinocerose
The Letter -- Eva Cassidy
Famous Blue Raincoat -- Leonard Cohen
George Washington -- Stnnng
Knocked Up -- Kings of Leon
Shotgun -- Southern Culture on the Skids

A couple songs more than usual (I stopped at a Starbucks on the way in). What’s it all mean? Hmm. A little wistful, a little goofy, a little like someone’s going away, and a little rockin’. Yipes!

Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed, both in writing and in person, is that I seem to be full of “beggar” stories lately. I think it’s the summer that’s brought them on. The beggars are here in the winter, of course, but a new batch, fresh from wintering in Florida, migrates to Minnesota for the summer, fresh cardboard signs with them, plastic cups at the ready. Standing on corners, in doorways, waiting. Excuse me, ma’am? Would you have any spare change? God bless.

Don’t think that I am unsympathetic. I wonder what their stories are, and I’ve been known to give change (not “spare” change, as I’ve never heard of anyone having “spare” money). After awhile, though, it becomes overwhelming. One becomes hardened to the signs, whether they are claiming to be Viet Nam vets, offering God’s blessings on you, or proclaiming that they will “work for food” – which, as a quick aside, always intrigues me. What kind of work? Do I pick you up, then, bring you to my house?

Beggars/transients/indigents, whatever the terminology you use, come in different categories, it seems; and when I don’t get the feeling that I’m being bowled over with lies, I’ll do what I can to help.

I was in the alley behind my house this spring, clearing out the weeds between the garage and the alley itself. Dirty workpants, layers of long- and short-sleeved t-shirts, I’m pretty sure I had dirt smeared on my face. I’d been at it for about one cold windy hour when I heard a throat clear behind me. I jumped up.

Right next to me was a man, sallow, tired-looking, in a filthy jacket that he had wrapped tightly around him and belted with rope. The zipper was broken. He didn’t have a hat on, and his dishwater blond hair hadn’t seen shampoo or a comb for a long time. He was a young man with old eyes.

“Do you have four dollars?”

“What?”

He looked around, his face completely impassive. “I need seven dollars so I can sleep inside tonight. Can you give me four?”

I didn’t have seven dollars, not on me, and maybe not even in the house. Since the advent of the cash card, I just don’t have real money on me anymore. I patted my pants pockets. “I don’t have any money out here, and I’ve got all this to clear before the sun goes down.”

He stood and stared at me. “I need seven dollars,” he repeated.

“Well, I don’t have seven dollars. Now if you want to help me with some of this, I can run into the house later and see what I can find to pay you for your trouble. I know I can find around four.”

He stood there, looking further down the alley. It was getting dark, and the wind was coming up.

I handed him the shovel that had been leaning against the garage. There was about 15 feet by 2 feet of earth to turn over.

He took it.

“You turn the earth over,” I said. “I’ll grab the clumps of weeds, shake them out and toss them in the garbage bag.”

And that’s what we did. His name was Glen, he said when I asked him, but he didn’t say anything more than that.

Ten minutes into it, Glen stopped to take off his coat. He wasn’t very yellow anymore. He looked a little pink. I asked him if he was okay, and he said he was.

It only occurred to me once, while Glen stood over me with a shovel and I was leaning forward on my hands and knees, pulling weeds, that something bad could happen. I pictured the neighbors finding me with a shovel embedded in my brain, maybe with the words “I just wanted seven lousy dollars!” carved into my forehead…

When we were done, I ran into the house while Glen waited in the alley. All I could find was six dollars. I came out with it and a bottle of water.

“This is all I have,” I said. “Seriously.”

He put the money in his pants pocket, put his jacket back on, re-secured the rope around his waist.

“Come back in the spring, Glen,” I said. “There’s always work to do.”

He didn’t say anything, just walked away.

I’d like to say that Glen came back in the spring, but he didn’t. Actually, I’m not sure I’d recognize him. All I know for certain is that, on the one hand, Glen left looking physically better than he did when he arrived, and on the other, disappointed that I didn’t have the full seven dollars for him.

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