Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Summer Saga - Part Two

I wrote yesterday about living in Matchbox, Texas one summer and finding it an odd experience. Not that I gave it a fair chance; I don't claim that. If I were to pass through Matchbox today, I'd probably expect it to be no worse or better than any other unfamiliar place. The teenaged boys who harassed us are, if not in jail or dead, pillars of the community, fat-bellied city officials. Back then, though, they had a hostile sense of humor and it was a damn strange place for a misfit like me.

I was selling belts and other leather goods on the Drag, across the street from the University of Texas, where the busiest foot traffic generally occurred. (The arts and crafts area has since moved around the corner to 23rd Street.) If you were going to be a street vendor, it was the best street for it, since UT students generally had disposable income. I'd taken to selling Gayle's candles as well, since he, oddly enough, made a worse salesman than I did. I took a percentage of his sales while he took a little bit more of a vacation from reality than most people.

Tim's Motorcycle

At some point this same summer, my friend Tim hit some hard times and he also needed a place with cheap rent. He moved in with us, thinking how much he might enjoy a house in the country, for he liked nature a great deal, certainly more than I did. He had a motorcycle, his only means of transportation at the time.

We had no phone and were too far off the beaten track to get many random visitors from town, so most visits were both a surprise and an Event. One day when Gayle and I were both home, we were surprised to hear a car coming down the long driveway. When the car came into view, we didn't recognize it. It was a total stranger giving Tim a lift home. He limped out of the back seat, thanked the man, and told us how he'd wrecked his bike back down the road on his way home. He thought his leg might be broken, so I got him in my car and headed for Breckenridge Hospital in Austin.

On the way past the site of his accident, we saw the motorcycle, but there was nothing we could do. It didn't look too bad, but it certainly couldn't fit in the trunk of my Ford Falcon. Besides, I would have been afraid of it leaking gasoline. I can't remember how long we waited at the emergency room, but it was a couple of hours, at least. Tim came out with a cast and crutch, grinning and hobbling.

"Is it broken?" I asked, and he nodded.

"Couldn't ride a bike anyway, could I?" he said sheepishly.

On the way back, the motorcycle was no longer there. Someone had taken it. Eventually time proved that it had not been taken by a Good Samaritan, but by the local joyous roughnecks, possibly the same ones who kept arranging our unseasonable decorations out by the cattle guard. Despondent Tim would've held his head, I think, except that he was already holding onto his leg, trying not to let it bounce around too much as my little car went down the bumpy roads.

Home For Some Rest

We got home and Tim lay down on his bed and exhaled deeply. Now he could rest. Well, I call it a bed, though it was actually just a mattress on the floor. As young men, that was perfectly comfortable to us back then, though it was not necessarily a good idea out there in the country. We weren't very good housekeepers. At least, we did not vacuum up every speck of dust in the place, the way that Ladies Home Journal might have dictated. We might have done well to do so, but we didn't.

Among the specks of dust we didn't remove, there was also the occasional scorpion. We used to check the room at night, shake out the bed covers and pillows, and so forth. We weren't completely stupid; we knew the scorpions could get in the house. Still, there is no perfect system.

Scorpions Never Rest

I came home one late afternoon and Gayle informed me that Tim had been stung by one of the scorpions.

"Is he all right?" I asked. I didn't know anything about scorpion stings, I didn't know how much to worry.

I went to Tim's room and he was sitting on the mattress, looking just a little desolate. He'd been hobbling around the house on "his crutch and his one good foot", Tim explained, when he put his foot down right by the scorpion. But the scorpion wasn't having it!

Tim didn't look happy, but he didn't look like he was fixing to die, either.

"Well, how bad does it hurt?" I asked.

"I've always been afraid of getting stung by scorpions, especially since moving out here," he sighed. "I guess I can say that it's bad. Yeah, it's pretty bad. But it's not as bad as I'd imagined it'd be!"

As pitiful as Tim looked, I still couldn't stifle my laughter. Even in adversity and agony, Tim could be a pretty droll fellow. He ignored my laughter and continued.

"Now everything's happened," he said in exasperation. "The wreck. The motorcycle stolen. The broken leg. This goddamn scorpion. The only thing left to go wrong now would be if a bird flew over me and crapped right on my head!"

I laughed and couldn't stop. I couldn't help it! Even though he seemed to accept his plight, he was obviously miserable about the whole thing. I had an attack of the giggles so bad that I had to leave the room so that I wouldn't just keep laughing in his face.

I barely recall anything about how the rest of the story played out-- how long it took him to mend or anything about the day I finally moved out of Matchbox or if Gayle continued making candles there after I left. I do recall perfectly well how hilarious it was that a beleaguered man who ordinarily had such great spirit could feel so down that even the birds in the sky seemed to menace him!

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four. Katharine Hepburn

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