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.