Short story by George Wynn
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ome people lie down on the street at midnight and are dead at dawn. 64-year-old Mitch taught creative writing at a prison in the Great Northwest and had a weakness for the bottle — which intensified when he suffered the double whammy of a pink slip and divorce from a red-haired beauty half his age.
After months of depression and passivity, he arrived in the Golden State and wound up sleeping on the cold concrete of Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco.
Mitch and the stocky fellow next to him stretched out their aching limbs. Mitch extended his hand and smiled, “Name’s Mitch.” The stocky man gave a firm handshake, “Joey.”
“Let’s have some cheese and French bread,” said Mitch, while taking the food out of his big pack. He broke off a big piece of bread and sliced a hunk of cheese with his pocketknife and handed it to Joey, and cut a small piece of cheese for himself. Between bites, Mitch proceeded to tell Joey the story of his life.
“You’ve been around some bad dudes,” said Joey.
“They weren’t all bad,” said Mitch. “Lot of smart ones in prison.”
“Guess so,” said Joey, sounding unconvinced. “Anyway, I was a prizefighter, lost my left eye in the ring. Detached retina did me in. It’s been a struggle ever since.”
“I bet it has,” said Mitch. “How’s the cheese?”
“Good, real good,” said Joey. Mitch talked to him in a language he could understand. They hit it off right away, perhaps because both men were honest, salt-of-the-earth types. The next day, Mitch gathered together some fishing gear and they went fishing down at the wharf. At Muni Pier, they cast for fish in silence with mindful intent, as if they were casting to quiet their troubled minds.
Mitch gave Joey a dog-eared copy of Hermann Hesse’s spiritual novel, Siddharta. A few days later Joey reported, “Mitch, this is the best little book I ever read. I’m ready for another book.”
Mitch slapped Joey on the back, “Let’s go to the Main.” At the Main Library, he introduced Joey to Hemingway’s stories, which also engrossed Joey.
Around Mitch, Joey had a sparkle in his right eye. Something had been missing from his life before. When Joey dwelled on the aura of language, his body — grown cold during evenings spent on Tenderloin pavements — seemed to warm itself. Often, Mitch would drift off, preferring to drink in private, not bother anyone, not be a nuisance. One evening, Joey turned a corner and saw a man of bulk rummaging through Mitch’s pants and stripping him of his watch. Joey snatched the watch out of the man’s hands.
“What the hell?” exclaimed the big man.
“This watch belongs to a good friend of mine,” Joey shot back. “Walk away.”
The big man stared at Joey but took a step back after seeing the wild look in Joey’s eye, and the tension in the veins of his bull neck, vibrating with latent aggression, and the balled-up fists which still carried dynamite in either hand.
“Wasn’t nothing but a cheap watch,” said the big man and walked off.
Joey woke Mitch up, and said, “I got paid today for some casual labor work I did last week. We’ll get a cheap hotel for the night.”
“I owe you, Joey,” replied Mitch.
“No you don’t. You taught me to grab on to life. I owe you!”
One morning, Joey woke to a terrible sense of big loss. Mitch didn’t wake up. A combination of liver damage from booze and Tenderloin evening chills did him in. Now Joey was left alone in this gentrified city with the dispossessed fighting over scraps. Once again Joey was in darkness. Mitch was the light. His last words to Joey were, “You have to escape from the streets of broken dreams.”
“Not good enough. Trying is dying. Promise me.”
“I promise,” said Joey. It was those words that led Joey to the Zen center where he meditated to quiet his mind and get focused, like Siddhartha Buddha of his favorite book. After a month of steady work, Joey decided it was time to leave.
He would visit his 90-year-old grandmother in Kansas City whose ramshackle house was in dire need of repair. For several months, he dedicated himself to the world of wiring and roofing and painting and all kinds of patch-up work.
Suddenly one morning, just like Mitch, his grandmother didn’t wake up. To Joey’s amazement, she left the house to him. A neighbor told him, “She really appreciated your help and the other relatives were doing fine and you needed a break big time.”
Joey got a job in a fast food diner to pay off the mortgage. One evening, he saw a contest for inspirational people in the Kansas City Star. Joey sent in his submission about Mitch and to his disbelief he won. “Imagine that, Mitch, I got published in the same newspaper where Hemingway got his start,” he said out loud — as if Mitch was still around.