Thursday, January 26, 2012

what they point to...

Signs       Strapping and jovial, clean shaven, the 240 pound young man, dressed biker style, in jeans and a black t-shirt, approached me. An earring jiggled slightly as he stated, “A copy of No Gold Stars, please.” Since I’d assigned my book as extra credit reading for my students., he’d come to my store to buy a copy.

“That’s my great-uncle,” he said, pointing at the man with his back to me, my assistant manager, Herb, of more than twenty years. Herb turned, saw my student, grinned, and said hello.

“What’s that on your t-shirt?” Herb asked. “Those three green stripes. What do they represent?”

I didn’t know either. But I did recognize some of the images and symbols that decorated my student’s shirt.

“It’s the logo of an energy drink,” he said.

Herb seemed disappointed. He’d thouught it meant something more.

I was amused. At 6’2” or 3”, my student appeared to be an imposing advertisement. Politely, he thanked me for my book, then left.

Although he’d not been wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket, another young man, about the same age, but almost a foot shorter, who’d approached me the day before, had been.

“Can you help me?” he’d asked. “I can do any kind of clean up work, anything for a few dollars.”

Daily, I get similar requests. Often I try to help. But this young man seemed to want to explain why he needed money.

“See this bill? They’ve turned off the power at my wife’s apartment. She has my one year old  and my four and six year old boys. It’s cold in there.”

I studied the bill, saw that it was dated in December. “She gets assistance, help with the utilities, but she still owes $174.” He told me that he’d been everywhere looking for work. “I’ll do anything,” he told me again.

Business was sllow, I didn’t have anything that needed doing. Again, I looked at the utility bill. He carried it like a white flag of truce. When I read the name on the bill, I recognized it; his wife had been one of my students, or was supposed to be. She never came to class, eventually dropped.

I asked his name. It wasn’t the same as hers. He volunteered that they weren’t married, but were like man and wife.

“Except I stay with my mother,” he told me.

 That surprised me. “Are her utilities still on?” I asked.


“Would your Mom allow your wife and children to stay there too?”

“Yes,” he answered meekly, “but my wife doesn’t want to. She wants her own apartment”

“Doesn’t want to? So your children are having to stay in the cold?”

“Yes,” he answered.

I was upset. “Do you think your children should have to stay in the cold just because their mother wants her own place? Shouldn’t you take your children to your Mom’s? Aren’t they your first responsibility? Shouldn’t they be hers?”

He shook his head yes. “Why don’t you get your mother to call her?”

“She’s deaf,” he said. “I have to sign for her.”

“You know sign language?” I asked.

“I do, but I’m not certified. I need that to get a job. Even so, they wanted me to work at the courthouse with deaf people who had trials there.”

“Who asked you?”

“A woman out on Franklin Turnpike. That was a few months ago.”

“Why don’t you call her? She probably still needs you,” I suggested.

“I will,” he said, as if he were shaking off the effects of an abrupt epiphany. “Thanks for talking straight to me.” He indicated that he was going to get his children.

I took that as a good sign that I, too, may have done the right thing.

               B. Koplen  1/26/12
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