Category Archives: North Little Rock

Parking Lot Oscar Goes To…

666666666666666

We stopped at Conway to eat. Interestingly, I had an interaction with a homeless man wrapped in a large, dirty blanket. He spoke with such a soft voice that I could barely hear him. I gave him $5. He reminded me so much of Omar from “The Wire.” As I waited for my wife to go to the restroom again, I watched the cashier take the bill from the young man and hold it aloft with the very tips of her fingers of her left hand. She didn’t realize that she was also making a very disgusted face as she did so. I’m not judging her. The young man didn’t either. He was laser-focused on getting something to eat. Whatever else was going on, his hunger was real.

After departing Conway, my wife and I had another conversation about being careful around people. Being a hypocrite, I ignored my advice several times already. I used to joke that someone beating me up might accidentally render me better looking.

I don’t worry about getting killed by a stranger, either. It’s obvious to everyone that pepperoni and Mexican food will be my assassins.

As my wife and I arrived at the hotel, we heard a car horn beep a few times. I didn’t see anyone. My wife thought it might have been directed toward us. In general, I ignore all horns until I have reason to believe they’re directed at me, such as the case when the hood of another car suddenly comes through my windshield. This behavior will serve me well, provided I survive to an older age.

On the third trip back to the car, I heard someone shouting. “Hey, you from Arkansas?” I heard a deep male voice shout but couldn’t discern from where it emanated.

I heard it again. As I walked toward the exterior of the hotel, a large man exited his car. Jokingly, I said, “Yes, can you tell by how dumb I sound?” He responded by saying he was from Arkansas, too, and proud of it. He couldn’t be a hog fan. It seemed odd. We were both in Arkansas.

The man had tears running down the right side of his face. He held out his right hand. In it, his driver’s license. My alarm bells rang like they might at a fancy wedding. He began to weave a tale about where he was from, his brother, a pastor, and his mom in a hospice home somewhere in what seemed to be at least two different places.

It’s important to note that in general, I’m a softie. There is an element of danger in these encounters. There are unicorns – cases in which the person truly needs a hand. Honestly, almost all of them are scams.

I gave no sign that I was aware of the long con unfolding in front of me.

As he talked, I already imagined his turn at the podium as he accepted his Oscar for Best Actor. He made Jennifer Love Hewitt look like an amateur as he spun his verbal gold to me.

I love a great scam if it’s creative and intricate. I consider it to be performance art.

He proceeded to tell me about his mom in hospice. He turned and said, “____, give me that envelope.” I didn’t catch his wife’s name. Until he said her name, I didn’t realize anyone was seated in the front passenger seat, despite it being fully light outside. I didn’t need to see proof of anything. His license had blown up the facade of his performance for me. I would have been a fool to cut his act short, however.

Nevertheless, his wife made an angry face and fished an envelope out of the console. The man reached inside the car to retrieve it. He opened it and then pulled out a letter that had seen much use. Across the top, it read “Hospice” something. He then mentioned his daughter in the car. I didn’t see her. His speech then went up three gears, and he recapped his initial spiel and fluffed it up with an additional fifty details. It was impeccable. It’s the best such rehearsed plea I’ve heard.

I got out my wallet and handed him a $20 bill. On a whim, I stepped toward him, very close, and reached out to him with my left hand. As his hand came up, I crossed my right hand over to shake his hand and gave him the bill. It’s difficult to describe, but the veneer of desperation he had on his face disappeared for a split second. I was watching his wife from the corner of my left eye. As I stepped toward her purported husband, her head swiveled rapidly toward me; her disinterest vanished as she seemed to go on high alert. In her defense, with my head freshly-cut, I do look like a skinhead weirdo. The reactions of them both convinced me they thought their scam was successful.

“I just wanted food, sir,” he said, even as the bill expertly vanished into his right front pocket.

I shook his hand and nodded. “Good luck on wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing,” I told him. “I mean that.”

Before I even got back to my car, I looked back. Their vehicle was already disappearing around the backside of the hotel parking lot.

I don’t know how they’ll find him to let him know about his Oscar nomination.
.
.

P.S. I hope his mom stops violating the laws of physics by being in multiple places simultaneously. Had it not been dangerous to bring up, I would have gladly critiqued his story for him so that he could adjust from the errors I caught and improve his act. Practice makes perfect.
.

Cursed Crossed Crosswalk

etetr.jpg

Due to a medical condition known as laziness, I didn’t take a bona fide pre-dawn walk this morning, as is my custom when I’m out of town.

I did take one later. It was coolly fresh and the riverwalk was mostly devoid of the pests otherwise identified as “other people.” It was divine. I listened to music and noted a few clever hiding places that homeless people had managed to find and use in the chilly weather.

Having miscalculated how far down I walked, I traversed an expanse of wet grass and exited onto a busy arterial street. Due to construction on the right, the entire swath of the sidewalk was gone.

Given that the road was marked with substantial 4-foot white letters, a series of bright white perpendicular lines, as well as signs on all sides indicating “Crosswalk” for both sides of traffic, I thought it would work like I’m accustomed to. The Indy 500 roar of engines proved me wrong. I waited. I waited some more. Because I’m brilliant, it dawned on me that I might have to dash to the middle and then proceed the remainder of the way if traffic abated. It was obvious no one was going to stop, despite the multitude of indicators they were supposed to.

I waited for a couple of minutes. As a considerable gap appeared ahead, I waited and stepped from the curb. Just as my foot hit the pavement, a car miraculously zoomed out of a parking lot on the left and took the right turn onto the arterial street, going at least 30 mph. It was very close when it popped out. The driver of the compact and ornately decorated Honda hit the horn and brakes. He came to a complete stop, a little inside both lanes.

As expected, his morning cup was filled with angst and cow manure. He opened the driver’s door and stepped out. He looked like his car if you can imagine what I mean. His hat was on backward. He, of course, wore a bright blue sports jersey advertising an unknown athlete.

“What the f you doing, man? This ain’t a crosswalk!” He seemed excited to see me – except for all the wrong reasons.

I pointed at the markings literally at my feet and then the diamond-shaped “Crosswalk” sign.

“Whatever. I got places to be. Get the f out of the road!” He started to get back in the car.

As he did, my mouth did what it does best: it overpowered me. I’m proud of it, though, if only because it didn’t get me killed this time.

“Jesus loves you!” I shouted.

“Yeah. And?” He asked. It was perfection.

“And everyone else thinks you’re an asshole!” I shouted as he stood there, shocked I had one-upped him.

Behind him, a driver honked his horn, which ratcheted up the man’s obvious anger issues. I hot-footed it across to the median as the Honda driver slammed his door and hit the gas, screeching away.

I’m going to miss him. Jesus misses him, too.

But really.

Everyone else assuredly thinks he’s an asshole.
.
.

P.S. I’m glad this happened because it resulted in a great story. Plus, the Honda jerk will live forever on the internet. I sure hope he figures out what those strange lines on the pavement mean, though, if not those weird signs dotted along all the roads. It’ll save him some trouble.

We Are All Stories For Other People

20181018_055542 tilt shift

As I was once again in the Little Rock area, I had no choice except to get up early and creep outside. Moronic it may be, but as I’ve aged, I’ve been delighted to discover that walking deserted streets is among my favorite ways to enjoy life. I walked across the river bridge this morning, trying not to scare anyone. I was dressed in black pants and jacket in hopes of being mistaken for a suspicious character as I walked the streets. I left my ID in the car in hopes of increasing my chance for a foot race in the event of a ‘suspicious person’ call and ensuing police foot chase. Note: coffee is redundant if you’ve been tased below the waist. (As is the need to use the restroom, depending on the voltage of the device used.)

Regardless of its purported problems, this town is spectacular in the pre-morning hours. If you’re asking if it feels unsafe to be out alone in the dark, the answer is still no. Potato chips are a more realistic threat to me than what some shadowy danger might plan for me.

Walking across the bridge, I could see the top of the capitol building. I passed a moment wondering if anyone was perhaps already inside, possibly leafing through piles of large bills, quietly but maniacally laughing to themselves.

Leaving the hotel property, I edged into the dark sidewalk near the baseball park. A man walking two harnessed and incredibly large labs tried to dodge me at the last second. The dogs, seeking new people to adore them, jerked him back into my path and began to dance and whimper as I petted their heads. “Sorry,” the man said. “Don’t be. The day just improved for all of us,” I told him.

There were a few joggers this morning. Two of them were very athletic women who were trailed by a bodyguard. All of them looked like they could throw me into traffic if I looked at them wrong. I briefly considered pretending to chase them to see if they’d run faster. Since I didn’t have my health insurance card with me, I thought better of the idea. I don’t know who the two ladies were but they reeked of ‘famous.’ They were wearing perfume that undoubtedly was made using the scent of money.

As invariably happens when I walk the Little Rock metro area in the early morning, I had a couple of moments of divinity, the brief seconds of recognition that I’ll always remember this morning in indistinct yet fond imagery. The breeze above the river was a caress and the sight of the river below me reminded me of how lucky I’ve been in this life. I’m too observant to think that the scythe isn’t already arcing to meet me at some point in my life. It’s probably disguised as an anvil or extra large pepperoni pizza.

Coming back through the motel parking lot, I startled a couple as they gossiped and smoked cigarettes. Whoever Ellen is, the couple would like her to know that she’s a vile excuse for a human being. I wish I knew which Ellen they were discussing. I’ll bet she’d had a vigorous reply to their parking-lot gossip.

As I write this, I’ll note that despite having my “Do Not Disturb” on the door, a housekeeper knocked and waited 1/10 of a second before entering with her master key. The look on her face was priceless as I said, “Hold on, I’m just starting the security cameras now.” It’s worth noting that I was sitting at the desk with two laptops and a pile of jumbled electronics, so my joke was probably taken as serious commentary. “I’m SO sorry” she yelled as she turned and fled. It’s too bad I hadn’t yet started my 30 minutes of naked jumping jacks. I went to the hallway and asked one of the housekeepers in Spanish if the lady who just exited my room was the supervisor. She said ‘yes,’ it was. If she tries any shenanigans tomorrow, let’s just say that her reaction will be befitting of a Halloween scream as I surprise her.

I really did walk past the governor this morning. I instinctively checked to see if my wallet was still in my back pocket as I passed by. Just joking, of course; small bills are a nuisance in a world of wealth.

The picture is one from the riverside walk. Those are fallen leaves rather than crumbled currency. I took a couple of the panorama of the bridge, the jutting dome of the capitol building, and even a selfie as a confused driver passed me as I held the camera aloft. I ran through the leaves, scattering them into the air and breeze. The river breeze blew across me, bathing me in the delicious fall smell. As I walked away, I could see someone sitting on a bench in the near distance, smoking. I hope he was wondering if he had just witnessed a middle-aged white man begin his inevitable nervous breakdown.

We are all stories for other people.

Drink It Forward

 

It was dark and I was driving carefully, unlike the demolition derby driver I impersonate when the sun is shining. As I pulled in to the Firewater parking lot, I had to unexpectedly yield to an older man riding his scooter across the parking lot in order to go through the drive-through. His face was one of determination. I laughed because I imagined that he had traveled far in order to get his liquor of choice.

By way of preface, Firewater is a strange little liquor store away from any residential area. A liquor store is a place where one can purchase, among other things, alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is one of those chemicals, when taken in moderation, which will drastically improve your ability to cope with everyone else but conversely will worsen almost every encounter you engage in with another living person, all the while blinding you to your own debilitating lack of judgment. A drive-through is a window at a liquor store in which all parties legally pretend that the person purchasing said liquor doesn’t have more than a 50% chance of imbibing on the way to whatever destination awaits him. (This paragraph will never be used in a Budweiser commercial.)

As I waited at the register to pay for my poison, the elderly gentleman on the scooter was outside, looking inside at the impatient manager, trying to find change to reach his quota in order to get his bottle of flavored vodka. The manager’s face told me the unspoken story of just how many times the man on the scooter had bottlenecked the drive-through like this. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that there was going to be insufficient change to pay for the bottle he had requested. I motioned for the man in charge to look in my direction and offered to pay for the bottle. He told the clerk helping me to add ninety-three cents to my total. I pointed out that I offered to pay for the entire bottle, not just the difference in change.

“Wow, that’s a nice offer. How do you know him? He’s a regular.” The clerk seemed to be asking out of curiosity rather than politeness.

“I’ve never met him. I almost ran him over, coming in as he drove his scooter across the street and into the parking lot. But I’ve known many, many people like him.”

“Well, he’s a character, that one.” The clerk laughed.

The manager at the drive-through window told the man on the scooter that I had paid the difference.

The old man froze and looked inside to see who I was. “Well, thanks, Mister.” He nodded his head in acknowledgment.

“Pay it forward,” I said, and smiled.

“I’ll most certainly drink it forward,” he quipped and cackled like someone who had just discovered a free pizza on his kitchen table, after already being handed a 6-pack of his favorite beer.

I nodded back and the clerk and I looked at each quizzically for a long second and then we both laughed, too. We had taken an awkward situation and made it one of frivolous merriment.

“Hey, you know what?” The clerk asked. “IF you want to pay for a bottle, I’ll give you an extra discount and hold it for the man on the scooter for next time. It will give him such a kick in the pants to be given a surprise.”

“As long as YOU don’t drink it forward, yeah, that will be great. And do me a favor when he comes in. Ask him how fast he can go on that scooter.”

“Will do. Have a great night out there, sir.”

So, on some future night, if you see an elderly black man riding his scooter, restraining an impressive smile on his face, you can think of me. Vodka can power a few smiles, for a little while.

May we all drink it forward as we pass through our respective places.

Orange, No Juice, Me, Steven Spielberg and Stephen King

I think Steven Spielberg and Stephen King were both with me this morning. As is usually the case, it was very early morning and most people were still dreaming of their own private universes as I meandered across a few miles of the urban landscape. Since I had such a nice adventure yesterday morning in a strange city, I had no expectations that this morning’s walk would be as interesting. The universe proved my assumption to be wrong, for which I’m thankful.

I thought that 6th Street in Little Rock, North was fascinating, coming west from Main Street. An abandoned church sat patiently on the corner of 6th and Main, and its steps were adorned with a small pile of brush and a tire. Perversely, I felt the pull to walk up the short steps and yank on the door. What I might do if it were open to me would have been an interesting conundrum. I’d like to think I would have entered.

There are so many interesting houses packed with peculiarities that it’s difficult to find enough time to swivel one’s eyes from one detail to the next. One house, in particular, surprised me due to the quantity and quality of Halloween decorations the owners had packed into the relatively narrow front yard. The porch roof even had a skeleton climbing down face-first, peering underneath the porch. I thought it possible that the owner himself might be a reaper and was using the astounding mass of decorations to conceal his identity, right out in the open. The house next to this decorated one was a beauty, too. Later in the day, I used Google Streetview to find the houses. To my surprise, the 2nd house from the abandoned church didn’t exist in 2013. Someone built it later that year; whoever did so deserves a clap of appreciation, as it is an astounding residence constructed to reflect the history found literally next door. It is a house of substance and evocative of so many elements we once loved and appreciate in our homes.

Turning south onto Orange Street, though, is where the orange glow of the morning blanketed everything. The lights in the area were dim, just bright enough to cast an eerie sheen on everything. Even the modern vehicles parked meticulously along the curb didn’t seem incongruous against the backdrop of pristinely-maintained historic homes. I felt like I’d been there before, truth be told. There were a couple of residences where the upper windows were left uncovered, as is often the case with higher floors, as people stop thinking that they could be observed through them. In one, a ceiling light was on and I could see the wide white trim and walls. As I looked, a woman passed by the window and as she did, she briefly looked down directly at me. For a moment I thought it was the actress Mary-Louise Parker. She had long, flowing black hair. The light went out in the upper hallway. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Mary-Louise had turned back to peer down at me as I walked, wondering what I made of her presence. Since I’ve acquired the habit, I waved up to the window as I walked away, hoping that if she were indeed peering askance at me that she might wonder if I could see her. Early morning hours grant magic to a select few, of this I’m beginning to be more certain.

Passing further along the street, I could feel myself going back in time as I walked along that old street. By the time I reached the area with the community gardens west of the Presbyterian church to my left, the effect was palpable. I felt like Christopher Reeve’s character in “Somewhere in Time,” after he put on his anachronism of a suit and feverishly willed himself backward in time.

In my ear, I could almost hear Mr. Spielberg and King whisper, “This is your time. Stay and drown in this moment.”

And I could have resided there, in space and time, suspended.

Whatever confluence of decisions created and maintained this neighborhood, I will remember it. I almost loathe the idea of returning and seeing it in the duller light of day. The magician of the early morning will have departed, leaving me this memory.

.

(I’ll put the pictures below if you are interested…)

 

20171020_103906.jpg
Abandoned church, corner of Main and 6th, taken later in the day today…

 

google streetview (1)
Google Streetview from 2013, before “new” old house was built…

 

google streetview (2)
Google Streetview from 2014, as “new” old house is being built…

 

20171020_103616.jpg
Today, the front of “new” old house…

20171020_103717.jpg
Mary-Louise Parker place, so to speak, from later in the day today…

20171020_103759.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

An Excursion in Little Rock, North

pelican

 

Note to casual readers: this post is longer than the explanation for the finale to “Lost,” so embark only if sufficiently interested; otherwise, watch baseball or golf until anything suddenly seems interesting – and then come back to this.

To start, I’d like to say that I don’t feel ill at ease in North Little Rock. Despite its problems, the area near the Wyndham Hotel and the Riverside Trail is simply spectacular with its weirdly-mixed juxtaposition of contrasts. Now that I’m an old codger, I can appreciate the dynamic. For the record, though, I think all towns with extra geographical points are unimaginative: North Toledo, for example, has none of the charm of the actual Toledo. “North” Little Rock implies that it is simply another place North of Little Rock wherein the settlers couldn’t be bothered to devise another interesting place name for the area where they were going put down roots and live their entire lives.

I was up and out of the hotel room fully dressed in less than 5 minutes this morning. I knew that sleep was going to be an unlikely and impatient visitor last night and if truth be told my walk would have started at 2 a.m. had my wife not been with me to disapprove of such a plan. Now that I’m walking and discovering things at strange hours, I find myself anticipating the pleasure of these moments as much as any activity I might engage in later in the day, where the normal people of my day feel more comfortable.

As soon as I stepped out the side of the hotel, the white expanse of the bridge in front of me caught my eye. Although it may sound like I’m inventing details, there was also a Batmobile, complete with insignias parked alongside Riverside Drive. Later, I insisted that my wife look out the window to see it, lest she would once again roll her eyes and assume I was fabricating such a detail for my own amusement. Turning the corner near the main entrance, I noted a large NLR police SUV parked under the canopy. I resisted the urge to see if the driver door was unlocked, lest I become the unwilling passenger, plus handcuffs.

A man dressed in what appeared to be 6 layers of clothing sped past me on a bicycle. Despite his legs being covered in multiple layers, he was flying down the street. The very next person I saw was a solitary man waiting near a bus stop sign, adjacent to an empty parking lot. I went wide to the left so as to not startle the man, who I assumed was waiting to go to work. As I reached the next cross street a couple of hundred feet away, he repaid my consideration by shouting something incomprehensible into the early morning darkness. I looked to see who he was shouting at, but no one else was around. He shouted again, even louder. The words sounded the same as the first shout, although the words still eluded me. Toward Main Street I went, laughing, wondering what that man’s story might be about. I heard him shout a couple of more times before his voice was lost to the empty city streets.

As two buses passed me, running along the trolley route, I looked up and laughed, as I couldn’t help but imagine that the crosswalk silhouettes of a human figure, the ones used to convey ‘safe to cross’ or ‘danger,’ were running in pantomime, as if screaming and fleeing the scene.

Main Street at this hour was a long dual succession of double-globed streetlights, each of them conveying a gauzy white light. The street is so wide and the sidewalks so ornate that walking them absent other people once again gave me pause. With so many historic places along this route, all of it seemed perfectly preserved in the amber of early morning magic.

As I passed Capeo Ristorante, a large orange cat jumped from inside the ornate metal trash holder near the street, it’s morning breakfast within interrupted by my passing. Once out of the trash, the cat ran only a few feet away and sat, looking at me. His ears seemed as large as a rabbit’s, high and large above his head. The ears bent toward me as I wished him well.

As I passed the storefront of Ozark Escape I wondered what I might do if I had peered inside to see someone forgotten and trapped inside, a participant in the last escape scenario from last night. Sadly, there were no moving shadows within. It seemed incongruous to me to have such a business on the historic strip of Main Street in North Little Rock. But what do I know? Our last election proved to me that no one knows anything and even when they do, no one listens.

Without pronouncement or fanfare, the globed street lights ended and I was suddenly walking up an inclined overpass, a long arc of pavement reaching above the commercial industrial district below. The lighting seemed to evoke all the romance of a county jail or a dimly-lit back alley. As I reached the opposite side of the long overpass I realized that the mass of machinery below reminded me of a James Cameron Terminator sequel. The air seemed full of two possibilities: hope or dismal despair. Reaching the end of the concrete railing, I passed someone who looked like DJ Khaled. As big as he was, his body language indicated that he was way more concerned about me than I would ever be around him. I realized in that moment that I was dressed entirely in black, even wearing a black jacket, black shoes, black socks, and black shirt. Honestly, a white man wandering around in the dark dressed in all black does sound like the clichéd beginning of just about every crime novel ever written, or a Johnny Cash hipster revival in Oakland.

At the corner of Main and 13th, the ambiance took an Olympic dive. The large brick building opposite of me looked exactly like Hannibal Lecter’s first home. In front of the building, a large green rectangular sign indicated, “Waste Collection Facility This Way.” In my mind, I thought, “Of course it is.” As I crossed to take another direction, a police car stopped and waited for me to cross. Again, my overactive imagination dared me to take off running, as if running away from the police. Studies have shown that getting tased is much more effective than Folgers in one’s cup in the morning.

A few minutes later, I looked down and saw that I was high above a wide train switching yard, full of parallel silver rails below me. It was mesmerizing. Something my grandpa once told me came to mind. He had mentioned to me that such yards were godsends to those riding the rails to get back home. Switch yards with so many accesses points always were an indicator that wherever you were, that another train was undoubtedly headed towards the hearth you called home. I’m not sure how many times my grandpa hopped a train because I was young when he shared those stories, often against the backdrop of harsh summer sun or as the sun faded, leaving the explosive sound of insects to buzz and hum around us. Several years ago, when I visited my hometown of Brinkley, I ran several miles to stand above single set of train tracks below, the ones which ran under highway 49, close to its intersection with Highway 70. I ran all that way just to try to conjure that feeling of those stories my grandpa shared with me.  It was staggering to me to picture myself with the necessity and freedom to jump on a moving train. Those are the kind of memories which will fade into oblivion.

After the switching yard, I looked down and to the left and got to watch as another police SUV moved slowly along, its searchlight zig-zagging across the dirt and gravel. I look up at the road my feet are traveling and see another SUV parked at the intersection. It was at that precise moment I realized that I was coming up on the downtown police substation. The long canopy carport containing a dozen silent and waiting police cruisers convinced me of it. Never one to be silent for long, my inner monologue thought it would be humorous to pound on the door and demand to confess to someone that I was indeed guilty of some public crime – perhaps that of using mayo on french fries.

At Skinny J’s restaurant, I stopped and took a picture of the overhead neon marquee sign. Despite how suspicious it might look, I entered the recess of the main door from the street and leaned in, cupping my hands and resting my face against the painted glass. Inside, tables and chairs stood guard, waiting for occupants. I imagined that just 8 or 9 hours earlier I had sat along the side wall, eating and laughing with good people. For a fleeting instant, I could once again taste the pungency of the fried green tomato sandwich I had chosen. The overlap of my memory and looking at the dark and empty restaurant this morning created a delightful sensation of deja vu.

I turned and made a long pass around the horrendous Verizon Arena structure. The building looks like what an alien invader would leave after being driven away from this world, much like Verizon and AT&T did to Alltel’s loyal staff back in the day. I imagined that I could simultaneously hear the millions of conversations, concerts, and activities that had occurred in that place. Most people undoubtedly drive past it without much consideration, their minds preoccupied with other ideas and demands – and probably a few daydreams about throwing a deserving co-worker through the window once they’ve arrived to work. Looking at the NR Bank tower sign, the one digitally indicating the time in 3-foot numbers, I wondered how much agony that timestamp might cause. I could only picture some poor soul looking at it each day. “9:53 a.m.,” it would indicate upon the first glance. An hour later, it would indicate, “9:54 a.m.,” and in bright large numbers, too. Hour after hour, day after day. I think I would be shooting out the bulbs of that bank’s sign within a week.

Passing the Verizon behemoth, I watched as a man wrangled a portapotty next to a new drive-through restaurant being built there. He noticed me as I watched and he waved, probably glad to be distracted. I was hoping he’d knock over the portable toilet just to amuse me. Next to the new building, I noted that a branch of my bank was on the corner. It occurred to me that it seemed reasonable to get some cash from the ATM around the back. It seemed particularly wise to do this, as nothing seems safer than using an ATM card, on foot, in the dark, in a strange place. So I took some cash out for the day, as I loudly recited my PIN. (I’m just kidding about the PIN part. The rest is true.)

As I stopped to take a picture of the ascending trolley car tracks as they ran next to the on-ramp, I looked toward the distant bridge and in the direction of my hotel. I noticed a man dressed in green dart across the sidewalk, stop, and lean over and drop something near the bushes. At this point, he was directly across from the US Bank pavilion. Having seen “The Wire,” I assumed that something loosely described as “illegal” was probably going on. I crossed the street and as I walked, I tried to look with the corner of my eye toward where the man had been crouched. He seemed to have frozen there, perhaps in response to my presence. I turned away just for a second and when I looked back, he was gone, vanished, doing his own “fastest gun in the West” impression. I assumed he was crouched or hiding behind the bushes, probably on the side closet to the pavilion near the riverside. Invisibility didn’t seem like a reasonable explanation.

It was then that I noticed the large turtle sculpture there. My curiosity got the best of me, even overpowering my desire to avoid being bludgeoned to death a few paces from my hotel. I decided to make another pass around the block. It seemed likely that the man in question wasn’t concealing his favorite literary works in those bushes – nor a sack lunch for later consumption. Coming around the block again, I took a chance to walk by the turtle and the bushes again. A large bus waiting opposite the corner pawn shop gave me the excuse of having a witness. I quickly walked by and snapped a picture of the turtle and it was then I noticed what looked like a duffel bag behind it, in the gap of the bushes. It dawned on me that the man wasn’t a criminal, at least not in an interesting way: he was probably homeless and had devised an incredibly clever way to sleep right out in the middle of everything. You’d need to pass by very close or from the other direction, where shadows ruled one’s vision.

Without much thought as to safety or appropriateness, I took out my wallet and the two $20 bills I had just taken from the ATM by the arena. I placed them on the ground in the grass. I picked up a crushed water bottle lying on the edge of the road and placed it on top of the bills. “Mister,” I hollered. “Sorry to startle you. I left you something to do with as you want to. I hope you have a great day – I won’t say anything about you. Peace.”

As I stood up, my phone rang. Although I wasn’t listening to music during any part of my walk, I had headphones on. The ringer startled me, at full volume inside the headphones. It couldn’t have sounded off at a more inopportune time. Later, I discovered that it was my wife, who had called and texted repeatedly. As I had been gone walking a long time this morning, she had begun to allow her imagination to run wild, probably already to the point where I had been abducted by foreign mercenaries.

As I walked away, it occurred to me that if the man didn’t exit his hiding spot to retrieve the money, I was either going to have to go get it myself or leave it, knowing that the unexpected money on the side of the road was going to improve someone’s morning.

I stopped nearby at the corner of the Wyndham, where I was staying. I watched as the man emerged from the middle of the bushes and picked up the $40. He looked my direction and waved his arm high above his head. I don’t think he said anything. I raised my own arm and waved back without interrupting the silence. I’d like to think there was something magical about that moment, even if it was just a simple acknowledgment. What a strange and brutal urban landscape the man had chosen. No doubt, though, that he had chosen wisely.

As for my wife’s concern, she had every reason to be a little worried. Not for my safety, though, but rather for my humanity. In the midst of all this wonder and steel artifices, people were still just people. For me, I was prepared for anything, as long as it gifted me with a story.

Later, when I sat with my wife to eat breakfast, she jokingly told another co-worker about my penchant for giving everything away. It’s important that you understand that I had not shared any of my early morning adventures with her at that point. She didn’t know that I had given the homeless man my ATM gift this morning. As trite as it sounds, North Little Rock had reached inside me a little bit and as always, I changed imperceptibly because of it, even in the most mundane of circumstances.

I thought that it might be incredibly fitting to be remembered with a complaint, one which accused me of being a minimalist and wanting to give everything away, even my last dollar, the one which would have otherwise gone to the tip jar of the reticent man preparing omelets or to the waitress as a tip. My wife didn’t know that I had given a stranger $40, just because he might need it and because it would fuel my imagination for another long set of days.

 

.

Later, before going to go eat lunch with my favorite cousin, I wandered some of the same sites, to ‘see’ them with a daylight perspective. In the midst of the bushes behind the sculpted tortoise, I found blankets and detritus from lives lived on the outside. Warm weather will soon turn to cold. I hope that the gentleman I surprised this morning finds a place of rest as the air turns lethal. Standing there, in the daylight, looking at the makeshift home, it was my greater wish that he might remember that not all people are to be measured by one’s expectations.

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MoFo Coffee Pot Adventure

My wife should know better than to let me wander in strange towns. It’s like an opportunity to be inside a petri dish, watching – and sometimes commenting.

It’s the commenting part that will one day lead to my body being inside a chalk outline on the sidewalk, probably with onlookers pointing and saying, “He had it coming!”

While Dawn made good use of herself, I went to find a coffee pot. I decided to buy one for the motel room so that we could enjoy coffee-on-demand without the necessity of hiring servants or driving around like electrocuted squirrels. We leave the coffee pot when we leave. They don’t get discarded by the staff. The “coffee pots” provided by most hotels, in my opinion, are secret torture devices that neither make coffee or provide any service, unless it is to test one’s ability to hurl a small appliance out the window and into the parking lot.

As I wandered around the Dollar General store in North Little Rock, I couldn’t help but be amused by the antics of another shopper. His fevered chatter reminded of that time when I gave my Aunt Ardith 2 bottles of 5-Hour Energy Shots instead of whiskey in her coke. (The doctor said she needed to drink less alcohol; the fault is his for not being cautiously specific about this sort of thing.) Not since the early comedy specials of Richard Pryor had I heard the f-bomb and mofo grenade dropped with such frequency. There were so many I thought I was seeing them begin to fall from his mouth and hang in the air, like profane Zeppelins. No matter where I wandered in the store, the F-Bomb Man seemed to materialize, like impossible-to-remove flecks of glitter in one’s underwear drawer.

I finally succumbed to the realization that I had walked around the store so many times that I was about to be made Store Manager. I stopped and bothered a young male employee who was apparently trying to strangle the cash register on the left in frustration. I swear that he said, “Go to the last aisle and jump off the bridge there, where the zombies are.” When I went to the last aisle, there were indeed coffee makers there. There was also an errant display of Halloween merchandise. I surmised that at least some of the keywords in the employee’s reply to my question were reality-based.

Lo and behold, when I got the register, F-Bomb Man and his female companion were behind me. The two children with them were darting around like pinballs in a half-broken machine, one manned by a maniacal player.

After a few more Mofo Grenades, I couldn’t help but to laugh. The little boy with the couple behind me stopped in his tracks and stared up at me, his mouth open, as if he were witnessing a grown man about to lose his mind and/or vote Republican. It struck me as strange that my laugh startled the boy sufficiently to bring his frenzied stomp around the central displays to a halt – but that the impressive onslaught of profanity from the adult male with him hadn’t fazed him. I made myself a note to write that child’s teachers in the future, to let them know that he was in no way responsible for believing that some profane words were substitutes for common adjectives, nouns, verbs, and salutations. (And probably street names too.) I had grown up with world-champion cursers myself. I was quite old when I realized that it was possible to read the menu at a restaurant without inserting colorful and possibly ear-piercing obscenity in the middle of descriptive items.

Turning to make eye contact with the man behind me, I was surprised that he had stopped talking too.

“Hey. How are you doing?” I asked, loudly, as my voice had been amplified by a town crier from the Middle Ages. And I laughed again, possibly from brain damage at this point.

Surprised, the man said, “Just maintaining, man. Sorry about all the cursing.” Which proved he realized he was cursing.

In a moment never to be rivaled by any extemporaneous quip ever, I replied, “Dude, just call me Ritz.”

And I held up might right hand for a fist bump, something I never do.

F-Bomb Man immediately held his fist up and bumped mine.

“Why they call you Ritz?” He asked.

Without hesitation and looking him right in the eye, I replied, “Because I ain’t no common cracker.”

And then we both laughed and laughed, as the man’s female companion and the cashier looked at us like giraffes with top hats on our heads.

PS: This story isn’t about the cursing. It’s like ambient background music to me. Without insult or anger, profanity is just another means of communication; it is often uncouth and undignified, but so too are parts of this life, one which is too busy and too demanding to be derailed by a poor choice of words. Also, the F-Bomb/Mofo Grenade Man was a Rembrandt of his time with cursing.