Stories

In a Pinch

Copyright (c) 2009 J.D. Chapman All Rights Reserved

I got to be honest with you guy. When push comes to shove, when all the chips are down, when the only thing that survives of your American dream is your old walking shoes: what's the one thing left that matters? When the holes in your socks match the size of the holes in your finances can you rescue anything? I'll tell you what matters my friend -- that would be your keys. Those little brass serrated pieces of metal in your pocket, as tarnished as your skin. Yes your keys. And I'll explain to you why this is... your keys are the passage to that little piece of you that actually remains, the part that you alone can profess as your own.

I have a little story for you just to prove my point. This really happened to me. It was back in, oh hell what was it, 1992? I was thirty-six and out of work during a plunge in the economy. I was suffering a divorce that was frazzling me worse than a bad 1960's acid-head trip. My stuff was in storage and I was living out of my car or sleeping over at my girlfriend's place. But I had my keys. And I was obsessed with them. You see this key here? That was the key to my ten-by-ten foot storage locker with all of my stuff from my past momentarily frozen in place. And this key opened my decrepit old car when it was raining and I needed shelter, or when I longed for a place to lean back and relax. So let me tell you what happened.

I was broke. Plumb broke, flat out of cash, my unemployment benefits expired, eating at my girlfriend's place when I was hungry, and dumpster diving seemed like a real possibility. Like I said living out of my car: laundry on the floor, camping gear in the trunk, an extra pillow on the back seat. I was doing a lot of walking around in old shoes, my feet hurt, an old knee injury was acting up, and I had a bad pinch of hemorrhoids. Okay so I wasn't completely broke. Inside my wallet, right beside the little horizontal ledge that held my license, business cards from friends, and photos of my kids, I had stashed in a small plastic pocket an emergency quarter. 25 cents. I had a whole 25 cents.

My feet hurt since I was tired of standing, and I was about to collapse from all the walking I had done while waiting for my girlfriend to get back from her workout. I didn't have a key to her place. Don't get me started on why she wouldn't give me a copy of her apartment key; our relationship was a complex mishmash of compromises and dirty secrets. But I needed her. My feet and my knee hurt and since it was a nice day outside I decided to wait for my girlfriend by sitting down on the curb right there next to my car. So I'm sitting there on the curb waiting for my girlfriend. Enjoying nature, listening to the birds, smelling the city, wrestling with my existence.

Do you know this feeling of waiting for your girlfriend? Oh sure, of course you do. She tells you to sit in the car and wait for five minutes while she runs into Walgreens to get a couple of small items. You listen to some music on the radio. You get bored of the radio, its music turning into the same soul-sucking medicinal pabulum. You read a chapter of a book. You watch the dust drift in the sunlight... dots and squiggles. What could possibly have happened to her? Did she fall into the toilet and disappear? Did she fall in love and abscond with the tall handsome clerk scanning her lip gloss? The sun begins to set behind the mountains. Finally she exits the store carrying five large bags of stuff. This is what waiting for your girlfriend is like.

So I am sitting there on the curb, waiting. She's off somewhere taking an aerobics class, but when will she back? Ten minutes? Two hours? Beats me, but what choice do I have, and where would I go even if I could choose? I count the number of bricks on the building across the street. I hum Farmer-in-the-Dell to myself. Turkey in the hay, turkey in the straw, da de da de de, da de dah de dah. I consider humming a hundred bottles of beer on the wall but then I think better of it... I can't possibly be *that* bored. So then as I'm sitting there waiting, I get to thinking.

I mean seriously friend, do you know any ladies who would wait around for a guy any longer than, say, the time it takes him to pee? Imagine saying to your girlfriend, "wait here a minute, I need to do some work on my car. It'll take, oh around ten minutes." When you finished would she still be there? Of course not: she would have wandered down the street to the nearest boutique. When you walked in to rediscover her she would be holding a dress; she would turn and look over her shoulder and say "oh so there you are."

And since I need more to ponder to distract myself from thinking about my hemorrhoids as I'm sitting there on that oh so hard curb, waiting, I ask myself: so why is that. Why do men wait for, and wait on women? It wasn't always this way. I mean when I was around five years old the young gals had different tastes than the boys, sure, but nobody was going to go out of their way to try to please anybody outside of, say, your best friend. Yeah yeah I know, it's about mating -- a sex thing. We wait so that we can procreate. And maybe that's all it is really. I mean thinking back when my grandma and grandpa were alive, they were both kind of equally courteous around the house, but neither one would wait on one another: they were past the mating stage.

And I think there's more here too: a bigger stars-in-the-universe cause. As I wonder about my nearly homeless life it strikes me how much more frequently men are down and out than women. Somehow this ties into why we end up waiting. We are waiting for.... an opportunity. Face it guys: we middle age gentlemen are skunks. We're scoundrels. We are muggers in the bushes waiting for that right opportunity. Oh sure we're scoundrels for a good cause: it's because we love a woman, or we want to impress a lady.

So as I'm sitting there deep in thought I suddenly hear a young man walking up to me. True story. He is like eight feet away, maybe 29 years old, dressed down in some fancy designer sweatpants. "Hey buddy," he asks. I am quite surprised that a total stranger is approaching me while I'm sitting there on the curb. "Hey, can you help me out?" Now I really am a bit more than shocked... me, help him? What the hell. "I locked my stuff in my car..." he tilts his head back to a BMW parked across the street, "can I borrow your phone?"

I sigh, "Sorry," I say, "no phone." He pauses. "Well do you have some change you can lend me then so I can use the payphone on the corner?" I reach into my empty pants pocket -- just keys. Then I remember I have my "emergency" quarter in my wallet. I pull out my wallet, scrunch around the plastic pocket for the quarter, and hand it to him. "Sorry, but that's all I've got." Thanks he says, cheerfully taking the quarter, nodding, and then springing away like an elk.

After he was out of sight I started laughing. Well there you go. Why would a man, me, completely at the bottom of his life, give his last quarter to a wealthy guy in a jam? Don't be silly (I think) jingling the brass serrated pieces of metal in my pocket. At least *I* have my keys.