Even though he had no proverbial pot to tinkle in, he had the whole world. He had a transistor radio, a burger, and a smile.

A few years ago, I had a very bad day. Very bad.

It doesn’t matter how it happened, but I’d lost my wallet. Inside the wallet was a lot of money. More money than I usually carry. It was a crummy day if ever there was one.

And because I am human, it made me feel despondent. When I get despondent I need saturated fat.

That afternoon, I stopped at a fast-food joint for a burger. I saw a man outside the eatery. He had a large duffel bag and stringy hair. He was young, but he looked old.

Around his neck, a miniature transistor radio was blasting music. In his hand was a foil-wrapped burger. In his other hand was a turtle.

I asked if he needed help.

He answered: “Nah, we’re just looking for a place in the shade. It’s hot out.”

“Why not eat inside the dining room?” I asked.

“Don’t think they want guys like me inside. I’d scare people away.”

Well, he didn’t scare me. We talked in the parking lot. He ate.

“I’m a lucky man,” he said with a mouthful. “The whole world’s my home, dude. I go wherever I want.”

My new friend was happy and upbeat. He did odd jobs when he needed money. In Columbus, for instance, he helped an elderly woman enclose her porch. He built a fence for an eighty-year-old man in town. He’d slept in the man’s guest bedroom for a few days.

“I can’t be indoors very long,” he said. “Makes me all weird.”

He told some of his story. His father abused him. His family kicked him out long ago. He said he’d been homeless, off and on, since his twenties.

“My mom wanted me to be a preacher,” he went on. “She wanted me to do something big with my life, but I never did.”

He laughed. His teeth had brown on them. His beard was sun-bleached. I smelled whiskey on his breath.

Maybe he was only pulling my leg, but he told me he had seen miracles while on the road.

There was the time when a dog followed him for three days across the backroads of Georgia. At the time, the man had a bad fever, no food, and no water. The dog led him to people who saved his life.

I wasn’t sure if the story were true.

“He was a magic dog man,” he said. “I think he was really a reincarnated ninja, you know?”

The dog got hit by a truck a few months later. It was the worst day of his life. Until he found a turtle, crossing a parking lot. He named the turtle “Jimmy.”

The man took pinches from his sandwich and gave them to Jimmy.

I have met a lot of people. But never have I met someone with so little who was so seemingly happy.

Even though he had no proverbial pot to tinkle in, he had the whole world. He had a transistor radio, a burger, and a smile.

It didn’t make any sense. In this world there are so many things to be sad about. Things like: mean people, unfairness, politics, hatred, inequality, intolerance, and the ever increasing threat of smooth jazz.

After a short time together, he stood and bid me goodbye. He had a long way to walk. He said he was on his way to Jacksonville.

“Me and Jimmy enjoyed meeting you,” he said.

I offered to give him a ride somewhere nearby. He declined. Instead, he asked if he could hug me.

“Hug me?” I said.

And I wish I could tell you I was a shining human being. I wish I could tell you I threw my arms around him. But I didn’t. I felt very uncomfortable. I didn’t know whether he would stab me with a rusty pocketknife and steal my wallet.

Then again. I had no wallet.

We hugged. Our hug was not a Hallmark Channel moment. It was awkward, and a little bizarre to tell you the truth. But it meant something to him.

“Bye,” he said.

Then he was gone.

And I have thought about him ever since. I have never known how to write about him. I still don’t know how. After all, nothing really happened.

Even so, I keep thinking about the rough texture of his skin, and his yellow beard. About how cheerful he was. And how a cheap burger, a box turtle, a backpack, and a half-hearted hug from a stranger was enough fuel to last him for several hundred miles.

Would that I might one day be such a simple man.

I never found that wallet.

19 comments

  1. Nancy Thomaston Rogers - September 9, 2018 8:40 am

    There but for the grace of God go I. Maybe you are such a simple man Sean…

    Reply
  2. Leslie Britt - September 9, 2018 11:05 am

    I read somewhere that adults need 10 non-sexual touches a day for optimum mental and emotional health. Children need upwards of 30. So many folks live with a deficit of deliberate friendly touch.

    Reply
  3. Gray - September 9, 2018 11:46 am

    Everyone needs a hug now and then………

    Reply
  4. Rhonda Howell - September 9, 2018 12:08 pm

    Its that cut from different cloth thing. The things that give us peace. The paths that call us. Often unexplained even to feet that walk it. The common thread seems to be need to be occasionally touched by another human. My guess is the time you spent was more important than the hug but the hug was a confirmation. Confirmation that you saw behind the eyes and past the clothes to the person that hard a heart big enough for a turtle. If you are willing to touch them you make them feel less like a curiosity and more like somebody. Touch brings sincerity to conversation. Love Ya followed by hug shows you mean it. A very special teacher taught me the importance of little things that can make a big difference. I miss you everyday Maney……

    Reply
    • Terri C Boykin - September 9, 2018 12:14 pm

      Yes Rhonda, human touch to a lonely person is a very special thing indeed.

      Reply
  5. Joy - September 9, 2018 12:26 pm

    Sean, I am so glad you took the time to talk with him…that you listened, cared and gave the man a hug. If we had more people who gave hugs we would probably have more peace, less hatred and strife. Give a hug, get a hug! What a neat thought! Personally, I like to collect hugs…you don’t have to dust them, or pay a big price for them; the people generally seem like they enjoy them and it makes them and me feel better!

    Reply
  6. Connie Havard Ryland - September 9, 2018 12:42 pm

    I miss a lot of things about having a husband, but hugs are the things I miss most. Sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than a hug. Love your stories.

    Reply
  7. Sally - September 9, 2018 1:39 pm

    There’s an ol’ saying, “Some people are so poor all they have is money.”
    I’ve known a few of those unfortunate souls. On your journey, you meet some of the wealthiest on the face of the earth. I love your stories about them. I love knowing they’re out there and aren’t in any way a part of all the “mean people, unfairness, politics, hatred, inequality, intolerance and the ever increasing threat of smooth jazz.”

    Reply
  8. Edna B. - September 9, 2018 2:43 pm

    Hugs are awesome! Hugs can cure so man things. I love today’s story. What a wonderful fellow you met. Pogo and I are sending you a big hug. You have a beautiful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  9. Sandy Smith - September 9, 2018 3:19 pm

    I think his Mother was wrong…I think he DID become a preacher…
    ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

    Reply
  10. Pamela McEachern - September 9, 2018 4:12 pm

    A Hug is a precious gift, and it doesn’t cost a thing to give. I have always loved a good hug! God bless your daily love for us all.

    Peace Love and a Hug from Birmingham

    Reply
  11. Carol - September 9, 2018 5:33 pm

    No you didn’t find the wallet,But you found treasures from heaven!!
    Love ya!

    Reply
  12. Ed George - September 9, 2018 6:49 pm

    I just saw you on Don Nobles’s interview show. It was a refreshing change to see a writer who was not a shallow blowhard, but was one with his head on straight and his priorities in order.

    Reply
  13. Pat - September 10, 2018 1:06 am

    Everybody needs something to love as in this man’s dog and then turtle.

    Reply
  14. Jack Darnell - September 10, 2018 1:20 am

    You are a good guy (sometimes)I think. LOL. I always enjoy the visits here. We drove thru your state today. Leaving Lagrange and stopping near Lake Charles LA for the night. Great crew here at the RV park. They’s love you. Then maybe they do already I didn’t ask. but I shoulda. Hope the dude and Jimmy made it to JAX

    Reply
  15. Janet Mary Lee - September 10, 2018 4:21 am

    Hugs and connecting are important. Probably the most important thing on earth, along with love. Kiss Thelma and Otis and keep loving…and writing….

    Reply
  16. Marjorie - September 10, 2018 9:23 am

    All people crave the human touch. That is why he ask for a hug. The dog was a spirit helping him survive. God is watching over him. I love you Sean.

    Reply
  17. Shelton Armour - September 10, 2018 4:09 pm

    Sorry about your wallet but you did get a fine story out of it. The hug was one of his ways of connecting and I’m glad you didn’t turn away.

    Reply
  18. Beth - September 11, 2018 2:55 pm

    It takes some so little to find happiness. If I could possess one super power it would be compassion. I try very hard to put myself in other peoples emotions but the truth is I come up empty with words to express what I am feeling when it comes to talking to people face to face.
    I enjoy the comfort that many of us take for granted, including me but I am not a material person most of the time. I have lost my home too many times to hang on to things.
    It is the little things that get you thru life. Hugs, pet turtles, a song on a small radio that makes a joyous sound.
    I love this story and I am glad that you accepted the hug. Even tho it may have been awkward, you both walked away with something special. You helped him feel good with the hug and you received a memory from years ago that lingers still…
    Have an awesome day and go hug someone or something… even a tree if no one is around but I betcha that Thelma Lou will gladly accept a big hug. I am kind of behind but did you get another dog??? Hugs, Beth Reed

    Reply

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