I am nothing if not a man of the people (and to know me is to know what an indictment that truly is). And it just so happens that because of who I am, that I tend to encounter the most special, the most unique, the most interesting of those people when I go out amongst them.
And so it came to pass that yesterday, I set out in search of a Target gift card which would be the present I’d be giving to a child who’s birthday celebration I’d be taking part in later that night. I’d assumed this would be an easy task. Every grocery store has a kiosk with gift cards in pre-paid denominations. All that was left to do was to head a few blocks west to the local Jewel-Osco and pick one up.
The problem was that apparently Target is the only major retail chain that doesn’t participate in this gift card bonanza—at least not at Jewel-Osco. So, after leaving there, I thought I’d try the local Walgreen’s and it was in the parking lot there that I met him.
I could tell he was special right away because as I got out of my Jeep Liberty, while sitting in the passenger seat of a car one spot over, he pointed at the silver medallion affixed to the side of my chariot that reads TRAIL RATED and asked me, “Is that thing trail rated?”
The way you respond to such a amazingly stupid question depends greatly on the person doing the asking. Only a pretty girl or a senior citizen had any hope of an answer sans murderously pointed sarcasm. My special friend was the latter, so I looked at him, looked back at the medallion, looked at him again and simply said yes.
Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a dissertation on car frames, the automobile industry, ambidextrous people, hammers, general anesthesia, health care, retirement, youth today, and of course, how he was unaware that the Liberty’s were trail rated.
In between each subject, he hastily pointed out that I probably had to be going and he didn’t want to waste any more of my time. I smiled politely and started to go on my way when he’d invariably start off on another diatribe.
Eventually, I just stopped trying to escape, leaned up against the front fender of my Jeep (right next to Trail Rated medallion—just in case I need to reference it again) and took my medicine like a good little boy.
Through the course of this very one-sided conversation, I came to learn that he was recently retired over the past couple years. He was in a cast and sling because he’d hit his hand with a hammer and done damage to his tendons. The cast was on his left hand. He was lefty. The day before had been the last day he’d be able to shave himself for quite some time. He didn’t mention wiping his ass, but we shared a look and both thought about it.
He felt useless. He talked about his own Jeep, a Grand Cherokee (which isn’t Trail Rated) and about how he couldn’t drive it now, about how instead he was dependant on a chauffer. He never said if his chauffer was a wife, a child or a grand child, a neighbor or a friend. I assumed that someone who cared about him was inside picking up some prescription for him though.
He was a man had grown accustomed to people listening to him. I got the impression that he was a man whom at one time had an audience and was now reduced to accosting young men in Walgreen’s parking lots with pick-up lines as lame as his had been.
When it was all said and done, when he finally said that he didn’t want to keep me any longer, that I must have things I needed to be doing—and actually meant it, we said our goodbyes, I wished him luck and went about the business of finding my gift card. It turned out that Walgreen’s didn’t have them either. It looked like it was off to Target for me.
The funny thing was that I couldn’t get that old man out of my head as I drove there. I think, when it comes down to it, all any of us really want is to be heard. All we ever want is an audience of our own, who listens to what we have to say, whose opinions we value and whose debate we always welcome. We want our thoughts and ideas and our rants to be validated.
It’s why, I suppose, I write. Even if some days, my audience is myself alone, it’s good to know that my thoughts and ideas are out there, somewhere, available and real. It’s what makes me a man of the people, and keeps me from being nothing. I think I gave that gift to the old man yesterday. It’s the gift you all give me every day, perhaps without even realizing it. It’s why today’s theme is a very simple, but very important one: Thank you.