This is the quintessential beer joint. There are pool tables, chain-smokers, dartboards, a jukebox, and a plywood stage. There’s a young guitarist. He knows three songs. He repeats them.
I think he’s overdue for a break.
My friend tells a waitress that I am a writer—if that’s what you call it. My pal is only teasing me. The waitress says she has a good story.
And without awaiting my response, she’s already telling it.
She is the quintessential barmaid—a no-nonsense woman, mid-fifties, a few tattoos on her forearm. Tough.
“Okay,” she begins, like she’s rehearsed. “So there was this homeless guy…”
I like the story already.
She tells me the man rode his bike all over town. She often saw him on her way to work and wondered where he was going.
So one day, she followed him. He lived behind a strip mall, in the woods. She discovered he had a son.
“It was enough to break your heart,” she adds. “They were living underneath a tarp.”
The next day, she and a friend delivered gift bags. A prepaid cellphone, snacks, clothes, toys, food. As many items as they could fit into a few gym bags.
“He was skittish,” she said. “Very protective of his son, didn’t want us getting close.”
She couldn’t get him off her mind. She contacted her brother-in-law—a church deacon. She convinced his church to offer the man a room and meals.
One night, she approached the homeless man with the offer. She walked right into his camp. This woman is fearless.
He refused. He told her he didn’t want her charity.
“So I got in his face,” she says. “Told him if he didn’t take my handout, I was gon’ call the law and have his kid removed.”
He moved into a small Sunday-school room which she and her friends had outfitted with beds and a mini-fridge. The church agreed to hire him as a custodian. They even paid him. People brought casseroles upon casseroles.
The boy attended school. He was smart. And I understand he was a good athlete. She went to his games.
She says it didn’t take long for the man to save enough to buy a car and get his own apartment. Eventually, he got on his feet and she’s never heard from him again. That was a decade ago.
“The end,” she says.
I ask if she’d let me write about it. She nods and tells me she doesn’t want recognition. That’s not why she told me the story. She is clear about this.
She goes on, “All I want’s average folks to know we CAN make a frickin’ difference in this world if we just TRY, you know? I mean, come on, y’all. Damn.”
“Shoot, if I can do it…” she says. “I mean just look at me, I ain’t no big Christian or nothing.”
You’re the biggest kind there is.