Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Random Man

I once knew this man named Wes. He went to my father's church. Sometimes he was homeless and lived in his station wagon, full of his belongings, packed to the ceiling. Sometimes he lived in rent homes of some of his clients...he was a painter. He would sleep on the floor on blankets until he finished the job. He was probably in his 50's. I'm using the past tense but as far as I know, he's still around. People tell me they see him from time to time.

Wes had crazy, white hair that almost looked like it had been taped around his head, like a fake Santa Clause beard. He was bald in the center. He had no teeth and he seemed to be pretty proud of that fact. He sure talked about it all the time. He looked like he had once been very muscular and strong, like a grizzly bear, but now, his stomach was huge...mammoth. He wore white t-shirts with holes in the stomach so you could see pink flesh shining through. His jeans were always covered in paint and at least two inches too short. He wore white socks with black patent leather loafers every, single day. Rain or shine, work or play, whatever...the shoes were always shined to perfection.

He breathed so loudly and whistled through his nose that you could hear him coming from around the corner.

I worked in the church office and Wes made an appearance daily. Sometimes, more than once. Sometimes three, four times. We called him random man. We'd see him pull up in his old station-wagon, watch him walk up the sidewalk and then he'd burst in the office...whistling through his nose and panting. And usually, he'd have some random gift to bestow on one of us who worked there. He loved flea markets. Sometimes, on trash days, he'd cruise the local neighborhoods, looking through their thrown away items, finding treasure. He brought us boots, tiny books, salt and pepper shakers, license plates, old cassette tapes, paddles, a rusted golf club, coffee cups with broken handles.

He never came in empty-handed. It was if he felt he had to pay a price to visit. And that's all he wanted. Just to visit. Just someone to acknowledge his existence. When he couldn't find a trinket to bring, he'd come in with a riddle or a joke. Sometimes just an odd quote, like, "The man who works hard from morning to night never thirsts for water." I'm pretty sure he made them up, or adapted them from scriptures. Then he'd ask for a cup of coffee. Then he'd sit down. And whistle through his nose. And tell stories.

Wes's father was a horrible, alcoholic, violent man. But even when he told us stories about how terrible he was, there was something in his voice that sounded proud. Like the time he told us how once his father hit him so hard that he literally knocked him out of his boots. "One minute, I was standin' there in my boots, the next, I was flat on my back in my stockin' feet. The boots were still standin' there in front of me, just like my feet were still in 'em." I always wanted to cry when he told me that story. He liked it though. He told it at least once a month.

One time, I went to the bank and when I got back, Wes had set the table in the breakroom with paperplates, plastic forks and spoons, and a little vase with a daisy, in the center. Next to the daisy was a KFC bucket. He gestured grandly to the table, like one of the Price Is Right models, and pulled my chair out. I had eaten lunch while I was out, but he seemed like it was important to him, so I sat down and fixed a plate and told him how nice everything was. He probably told a joke or two, or a story, I don't remember. I was a little uncomfortable because I didn't know if he was trying to be romantic or just to create a nice memory. Maybe a little of both. When we were done, he thanked me for having lunch with him. I wondered how many lunch dates Wes had been on in his life. And I wondered what had happened to him in all those years between the time he was knocked out of his boots, and now.

We eventually left the church and I've only seen Wes once since then. Sometimes you meet people and you wonder why they're in your life. Sometimes they even annoy you. But for whatever reason, your paths cross for a little while and they become a part of who you are by becoming part of your memories. And you become a part of theirs. And then you never see each other again.

Sometimes you think about them from time to time and kind of miss them, like Wes.

Random man.


Diahn said...

This is a masterful piece of writing, my friend - I can *see* Wes, and immediately wanted to know more about him. Wonderful...

Dan Kent said...

Diahn and I are not the only ones painting pictures! Funny, I was just about to say "I can see Wes", and then I glanced over and saw the Diahn wrote the same thing! Your descriptive paragraph of his features - the second paragraph - is amazingly vivid. Maybe you can craft some fiction around this character! Thank you - now I have memories of Wes too. :)