So. His name is Bobby. It was Friday, mid-morning, as Santa Fe was under siege from winter’s first brutal attack. The wind was blowing 20 mph-plus, it was raining and sleeting and snowing all at the same time, and the temperature was falling from 33 degrees. I’d already been out in it wearing a sweater, thermals, cozy fleece boots and appropriate outerwear. I’d spent forty-five minutes in it and then, after twenty minutes in the warm truck, I was still cold. Bone cold.
I decided to grab a breakfast taco at a favorite shop and maneuvered the truck through rush hour traffic to pull into El Parasol. Watching traffic on the road rather than on the sidewalk, I almost missed the shadow of a man standing like a light post at the edge of the taco stand’s driveway. I had to jerk the steering wheel to avoid contact
“What the fuck?” I chided at the man through the windshield as I swerved to miss him. “Jesus Christ, shithead, I almost killed you!”
I forgot him, parked and went inside to order my taco. After ordering, I remembered the rail-thin man and walked to the window to look for him. He still stood at the edge of the drive, standing stock still except for the one hand flicking the air as if bothered by pesky mosquitoes. I squinted to get a better look at the man because it appeared he was barefoot.
“Is that man barefoot?” I asked a roomful of taco lovers facing the other way.
He was. “What the fuck?” this time not a chide so much as an exclamation of disbelief. I raced out the door and over to the man. When I got to him, the man was still slapping at mosquitoes with the one hand and the rest of his body was shivering. He practically vibrated. I hadn’t seen the shivering from the window and up close I thought I could feel the air vibrate from the contained violence of his chill.
“Come on, man, let’s get you something to eat,” I told him. “And some shoes for shitsakes.”
The man stood his ground and stared into nowhere. I was getting cold again so I said, Dude, come on. Let’s get out of this weather.”
He took a couple minutes to gather his thoughts. At least I thought he was gathering something inside his head. “Nnnnaaame’s B-b-b-bob-bo-by,” he finally stuttered, said without moving or blinking. In writing those words I left out many “b’s” and “o’s. It took him maybe a full minute to tell me his name is Bobby.
“Well, Bobby, I’m Mo-moo-mooner, and I can’t let you freeze to death when there’s a warm room and hot tacos right over there.”
I pointed at the door to El Parasol, but got no response. I re-raised my now cold pointer finger and passed it in front of his face to gain purchase of his eyes. “Co’mon, dude, I’m freezing my balls off.”
While he still stood in place, his quivering body did start making other motions. His hands started gesturing and he grunted; his head bobbed and nodded and he licked his lips; and he swallowed—all in a sort of sequence repeated. After spending a couple hours with Bobby, I decided to call these actions “spooling”. Bobby could not instigate any specific action or change any course without first spending some amount of time spooling.
I touched his street-side shoulder and said to him, I said, “Come on, Bobby. Let’s get some grub.”
He spooled for another minute and began a frozen-feet shuffle. I wanted to hurry him but knew somehow, instinctively maybe, that I needed to wait him out. We started about fifty feet from the door and it took at least five minutes to make it inside. Once there, he stopped at the entrance and started swatting bugs again, staring into nothing and shivering. Now I noticed his clothing—thin windbreaker, ball cap, tattered old work pants. His bearded face was streaked with tears either from the cold or his soul. Maybe both.
I was warmly dressed and I was frozen. I had to wiggle my face to get my lips to form the words, “What do you want to eat?”
He started spooling. Me—Mister Impatient—waited, and waited motionless. While Bobby spooled, people inside the taco stand started telling me what a good man I am. “You’re a good man,” a woman said as she skirted a broad path around the shoe less man and me.
“God bless you, sir,” another harsh-whispered as she used my bulk to separate herself from Bobby on her way out the door.
An elderly man shook my hand and left a 5-dollar bill in my palm. “For shoes,” he whispered. “I wish I had more to give you,” and he patted Bobby’s back passing out the door.
“Sausage-egg-and-cheese burrito with Christmas,” Bobby chattered. He was still quite cold and I left out maybe fifty vowels and consonants from his breakfast order in writing that. For those of you unfamiliar with New Mexican cuisine, “Christmas” is both red and green chili sauce together rather than all red or all green. Me, I prefer to savor the distinguished differences in the unripe and ripened chili flavors.
I walked to the counter and ordered. “Bobby over there needs a Friday special—Christmas—and a tall cup of coffee, Edna. Make it three specials with my usual.”
The order was readied, and being there’s no place to sit in El Parasol, I said, “Come on, Bobby, we’ll eat in my truck.”
Bobby spooled, then he shuffled on bare feet. When we finally made it to the truck where I had led him to the passenger door, he spooled some more. Instead of barking orders—my usual tactless display of impatience in these situations—I simply opened his door and went to my side and got in.
Bobby spooled. I started the truck, turned the heater up, and pulled my spare pair of boots from the back floorboard. I set them on the front floor and said to Bobby, I said, “Get inside the truck and put these shoes on.”
Bobby spooled another minute before deftly getting inside the warming truck. After sitting and arranging his food in his lap, he spooled. Again, he spooled. I started eating my now only warm breakfast taco while Bobby spooled. I wiped my mouth when I finished and reached for a Stimu-Dent to pick my teeth.
“Need socks!” Bobby didn’t shout, but the firmness and specificity caught me unawares. I almost jumped out of my skin at Bobby’s pronouncement.
“You need more than socks, amigo. Eat your breakfast and we’ll go get you some duds.”
“Take me to Walmart. Low prices,” Bobby said.
“Fuck Walmart. Low prices don’t cut it with me when they treat their employees like shit.”
“OK, fuck Walmart,” Bobby finally agreed, another convert.
“Reagan did this to me,” Bobby told me as if reading my mind.
“How’s that Bobby? Did that asshole’s conservative policies send you over the brink?”
“I disassociate. Schizophrenic. Was in the hospital getting treatment in 1980. In hospital for a year—getting better—Reagan stopped the funding for my program and gave the money to the state. Governor built a road with the money and I was on the street. One bottle of pills and the address for the Salvation Army.”
“Jesus Christ, man. Have you been on the streets since 1980?”
More spooling. “Home on the range, man, that’s my motto.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Bobby, that’s thirty-four years. You’ve been on the streets for thirty-four years?”
Long story short, I got him clothes and a bedroll and took him to the men’s shelter. When we got there he spooled for five minutes without exiting the truck. “I need to go to a meeting, Bobby, I need you to get out.”
Bobby spooled. Then tears flowed, and he spooled some more. He started sucking in his breath and sucking his cheeks as he spooled. And then the tears started. These fat, almost viscous drops of water spooled in his eyes, dammed by his eyelids as he spooled and stared blankly into space. When his lids could hold no more, drops as big as summer rain dripped off and tumbled down the sharp angles of his thin face.
“You’re a good man.” I heard in my head the women’s words from the taco stand as my tears started.
But I’m not that good a man. Instead of actually helping him, I told Bobby that he either needed to get out at the shelter or I could take him to the hospital. He spooled and dripped tears for five more minutes before getting out, wordlessly. No “Thanks”, no “Goodbye”, nothing. I was glad he didn’t acknowledge my almost thoughtless deeds.
I’m not a good man. A good man would have actually helped Bobby somehow while all I did was salve his current symptoms and kick him out. Just like Ronald fucking Reagan did thiry-four years ago. I’ve always thought of myself as a good man. I always try to do the right thing and reflecting on Bobby this last weekend, I had an epiphany. I figured out why it is that I don’t feel a good man.
The reason is that America’s modern right-wing conservative Christians have assaulted every thread of the fabric of our country’s society. Caring people have become desensitized to the individual issues that so matter to us because every issue is a point of attack by the extreme right.
Civil rights, voter rights, women’s’ rights, gun violence, stupid wars, physical and mental health, living wages, uncontrolled big business, the environment. On and on and fucking on. How can we choose an issue to fix?
I find myself so terribly mad at everything that I can’t truly focus my anger on anything. I’m frustrated because I don’t feel I can make a real difference anywhere. I feel like striking out in frustration but I know that is exactly what they want of me.
I want to punish someone in a very passive-aggressive way. Start something—a fight maybe. I’m angry at them and I’m angry at me. My feelings of impotence make me want to act out. I feel like my hands are tied because I can’t do anything about everything.
I can’t be the only one, can I? This must be fixed, we must get our civilized country back. Fuck Walmart, fuck Ronnie Reagan. Fuck them all!