Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

It is Thanksgiving Day and you are excited to have been let off work an hour early. On the train ride home, you contact an old high school friend, Amy, via cell phone. Bask in stories of young drunks transformed to old drunks over the last six years. Compared to most kids of your graduating class, you are doing pretty well for yourself. This coupled with your early exit from work -- this never happens -- sets you in a very good mood.

Also on the plate for later today is a trip to the Outer Rings to spend the rest of the evening with your girlfriend's family. You do not own a car, but have reserved a vehicle through a car share program. Leaving the train station, still on the phone, you are accosted by a man dressed in construction gear. He still wears his white helmet and has a neon vest over top of a Carhartt coverall. You are just about at the top of a set of concrete steps out of the train station when he yells 'Hey' from behind. It is not a call of desperation, and does not carry much weight, though there is an undercurrent of shame that makes you stop and listen to the man. You tell Amy to hold on a second.

First off, the man thanks you for actually stopping to listen to him. Most people in your neighborhood, the man says, looked at him like he was Osama Bin Laden and ran away from him. More than likely, you realize, this is because he was going to ask them for money, of which you are sure he is to ask you. Still, you'd like to think yourself better than most of the tight-asses in your uppity neighborhood, which provides additional incentive to hear the man's story. He begins by saying that he is a construction worker, helping to build the Euclid Corridor. This immediately finds a soft spot in your soul, for this man is helping to create the thing that will save Cleveland. Today, he says, he is on-site, laying down a large metal plate in the road that this city uses to fix all its problems. He accidentally backs his truck over a lip on one of said plates and pops his tire and bends his rim.

He deviates for a second, says that he lives on Coventry Road, which is not all that far from where you live. It is not all that close either, but enough to make you think of him as a neighbor; a brother from another mother on this Earth on Thanksgiving Day. Now, the man goes on to say, if you would be so kind as to give him 12 dollars or so to have the rim hammered out at a service station, his faith in mankind would be restored.

Suddenly the fate of mankind rests upon your shoulders as you consider all the good Samaritans throughout history. Apart from Jesus Christ, Mother Theresa, Ralph Nader, and your grandmother, you cannot think of anyone else. To restore this man's faith would place you in a class of human beings with few peers.

The man's story has taken a few minutes to tell. He is obviously tired. 'Now how can you make me say this whole thing to another person all over again?' he asks.

'I'm sorry man,' you say, stuttering. 'I seriously don't have any money on me, not even any change.' To prove your point, you remove your wallet and open it. True to your word, it is full of library cards, bus tickets, a bank card, but no cash. The man slumps his shoulders -- not the answer he wanted to hear. 'Look, if there was an ATM around here, I'd do it,' you say. There are none in the immediate vicinity and you know this.

'Hey man, there's a National City down the hill, we can walk over and you can help me out. I'll go with you.' He is very hopeful now and his face has brightened.

A number of things go through your mind. Due to a scheduling conflict between your shift at work and when you reserved the car, you have a good two hours before you are allowed to drive it, despite the fact that it is probably parked in a lot just near the station. The thought of walking all the way up Cedar Hill to your apartment and then all the way back down an hour later to pick up the car is not particularly appetizing. This man needs help, he is friendly enough, it is Thanksgiving and you feel benevolent. You tell Amy you will call her back.

'Are you about to give money to a homeless guy?' Amy asks, for she has seen you give money to homeless people before.

'No.' you say, for this man is not homeless. He is building Cleveland and just needs a little help. You hang up. 'All right, let's go,' you say to the man.

'All right,' he says, happy that you are helping him.

On the way down to the bank, you realize that it is much farther than you originally thought. But the man asks what you do and you tell him: Editorial; press releases; distributing financial news that does not make much sense to you. He asks how you feel about the economy. You say it's a big problem, and not something that is easily fixed without looking at the whole nature of how this country does business. A bailout was not the answer. The man agrees, says that we are already paying them once, why should we pay them again with our taxes? You believe in an equal distribution of wealth; you do not necessarily believe in capitalism; you are maybe a socialist. But you do not say this to the man. He needs help, not a lecture.

The man directs you onto a grassy median between opposite directions of traffic. He says that he'd have been a millionaire if he hadn't played football. You are confused, for usually it is the other way around. You ask him how this could be. As it were, he played high school football instead of pursuing his art. When he was in first grade, he won grand prize in an art contest and has been passionate about it since. But it appears as though he never received a big break to propel him into the art world. Now he is nearly 50 years old.

You ask if he has ever done graffiti. He says no, for he prefers realism, not cartoons, and works mostly in pencil. One time, he says, that he made a cartoon of Mickey Mouse for his friend's daughter on her birthday. That is the only time he draws cartoons -- on kids' birthdays. The little girl really liked it, he said.

You pull a small notepad out of your bag, hand it to the man and fumble around for a pen. You do not have one. The man reaches into his coverall and produces a permanent marker. You hand him the notepad, and tell him to draw something for you. This is to be the exchange. Your money for his art. The man tries to shirk the task, saying that he hasn't drawn in years, and that he never works with magic marker. You tell him to make due. Surely he can draw something. He says he can't. You press him. He begins gesturing and accidentally drops your book on the sidewalk. He immediately bends down to pick it up.

Now you two are in a parking lot behind an elementary school. The bank lies just beyond the stretch of asphalt. The man says that he will have to get your contact information to pay you back. His girlfriend, he says, is in microbiology and she will be able to hook you up in the future. You think to ask if the man has weed but you reconsider. You do not plan on supplying contact info.

As you approach the ATM, you again remind the man to work on a quick drawing in your notepad.

'Okay,' he says, 'I'm gonna sit down right here.' He sits on a concrete support at the bottom of a light post.

'You draw me something,' you say.

National City is not your bank and the ATM charges you a 3 dollar fee. The lowest denomination you can withdraw out is 20 dollars but you knew this coming in. This is the amount you take. You go back down and give the money to the man, ask if he can cover your surcharge. He cannot.

You ask to see what he has for you. The man says that he really does not like drawing with permanent marker but he shows you. It is an eye, just one, with his signature underneath: Chris. The eye is not very big, but it is a good eye and you are impressed at it, for you could not draw an eye so well. Yours would look like a cartoon. Again, the man asks for your contact info so his microbiologist girlfriend can pay you back. You say that it's not necessary and to not worry about it. Instead, if sees you again and you need help, he should return the favor; or return the favor should he come across someone else that needs help.

'That's how it's supposed to work,' Chris says.

'Yeah, pay it forward,' you say.

Chris thanks you a lot for the money. He shakes your hand and shakes your hand and shakes your hand, says that he hopes he sees you again sometime. You say likewise. The two of you shake hands again. Then he walks off toward Euclid. You turn and walk back toward the train station and the parking lot where hopefully the car you are borrowing is waiting. You have effectively killed an hour.

Later, you embark for the Outer Rings and your girlfriend's family, with no intention of ever telling anyone this story.

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