Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Those Darn Mossimos

This weekend I met Randal.

Randal looks to be in his early 50's. He wears a few days' worth of sad grey stubble, a beige cap with cloth flaps that cover his ears, and spectacles held together with medical tape. It's easy to see the dip stains between Randal's teeth, because Randal talks a lot. About all sorts of things.

When you meet a guy sitting on a street corner, a lot of times the guy wants to talk about why he's on the street corner. Or, in Randal's case, why he's coming to pick up his wife, who is panhandling at the intersection of an access road and a four-lane highway.

I've known Randal's wife, Deborah, for several months now. I see her every morning at 8 a.m., marching from her pitiful rent house to this intersection on the edge of town. She always comes to this intersection, even though it's on a highway with sparse traffic. The cops make her move from the intersections in town, she says. At this intersection she can sit all day, hoping people will toss her some rent money. But I hadn't yet met her husband.

I pull up to the intersection with two leftover blueberry muffins and a jug of ice water that Deborah had asked me to refill. Randal's bike is parked next to the concrete island where Deborah camps out, and he is sitting next to her, laughing about something.

I hand the water to Deborah.

"Matt," she says, "this is my husband, Randal.". We shake hands.

"I'm a welder," Randal says. "Least I used to be, until those mossimos came around and started taking my welding jobs."

Blink.

"Mossimos?" I think.

After a few minutes of diatribe, I figure out that the Mossimos are probably Mexicans, although they could be Italians or Russians, I guess. Whoever they are, they are partly to blame for the loss of Randal's welding job. Them and the robots.

"Robots?" I ask.

The robots, of course, are the other force responsible for the country's economic downturn. Industrial robots, the kind that make cars.

"Ok," I think, glad I brought sunglasses to hide behind. "I'm meeting a racist ex-welder."

Then, perhaps to prove his welding prowess, Randal starts telling me about his bike. It looks like a tandem bicycle, but with a sidecar. On the back, Randal has affixed a 4-cycle, 5-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine.

"Like a lawnmower engine," I say.

It is, Randal explains, just like a lawnmower engine. But he's made some modifications to keep the engine cool.

At this point, Deborah stops paying attention to us and resumes making pitiful faces at the passing cars.

Randal, on the other hand, is engrossed in our conversation. He talks for a good 10 minutes about the air scoop he added, and how he can get 150 miles per half-gallon of gas, and how he can get his bike going 30, maybe 40 miles an hour, and how he can pull his two nephews (200 and 190 lbs) from Abilene to Tye (that's where they live).

"150 miles per half-gallon?" I ask.

Yes, he says. His motorcycle is the wave of the future, what with gas prices being so high. It's much more fuel-efficient than any car, and therefore better for the environment. But that's nothing compared to the air-powered cars and electric cars and vegetable oil cars that are coming. Why, a good electric car can accelerate as fast as a Dodge Viper! And his motorcycle is also good because you always kill the engine at stoplights.

"Ok," I think. "Add inventor and environmentalist."

"Yeah," Randal says, "My daughter had a dream about how I sold it on Ebay for $30,000. So I wrote them a letter to find out what I need to get an auction started. I thought I might try to sell it for $1,200, because then I could build another one."

"Entrepreneur," I add, smiling and nodding.

About this time, a black truck zips by.

"Get a job!", the passenger shouts, helpfully.

"If only your mom hadn't spent all her money on crack," I think. But I don't say anything.

"You know," Randal says, "the president and government and stuff think that we're over there to protect the oil. But I think God has us over there for a different reason. We're over there to protect Israel."

A zionist! I manage to pull myself together behind my sunglasses.

"Oh," I say.

Randal goes on to tell me some other things: How the river of life will be restored, and how computers are the tool of the beast, and how we will all have to give up our cash money, and have little grains of rice implanted in our foreheads.

After some discussion, I agree to put together Randal's motorcycle auction on Ebay, although I suppose this makes me his emissary to the beast. We shake hands again, and Deborah gives me an embarrassed grin. She squeezes into the sidecar. Randal mounts up, checks for traffic, and pedals his bike out into the intersection. I hear the motor start, and watch the 9-foot motorcycle race down the highway.

"Hm," I say. I climb into my gas-guzzling Toyota and drive home.

3 comments:

Jenni Jamison said...

wow. this made me laugh, but it also made me think about how life circumstances influence our viewpoints, and probably vice versa.

Nanette Richards said...

this was a great read. I always find people's perspective amusing... nature vs nurture... you never know what someone is going to schpeel out.

Matthew's Wife said...

Great story, sweetie.

As I was driving to the library on Wednesday I saw a curious contraption coming toward me on the other side of the road. It turned right and I quickly turned left to follow it since I suspected it might be Randal. Sure enough, it was a bicycle with a sidecar and the driver was wearing that beige hat with ear flaps! There was a lady in the sidecar too...she looked too young to be Deborah though. Maybe it was their daughter. I was amazed at how fast the bicycle went...I was following him at 30 mph! And he wasn't pedaling at all!

I love the part in your story about the driver who "helpfully" yells: "get a job." That's hilarious. What a jerk.

Actually though, his exclamation does communicate my feelings about people who sit on street corners. They drive me nuts. Can't they just go get some help from the many resources in town that are willing to help them with shelter, food, etc.?

Some would say, "What do you know? You've never been in their shoes!" True.

Or some say that they make a pretty good living from spare change and then they buy drugs.

Deborah doesn't really seem like the drug type, though. I think she really just likes to make her living that way.

Even though it bothers me that Deborah sits on the street corner, I respect you for often helping her. I like that you never give her money, but always give her a hamburger or some water or some of your yummy blueberry muffins. Sometimes you even just stop to talk. I think the relationship that you are building with her and now with Randal will go a lot farther than the driver who yells at her to get a job or even someone like me who might stop once to nicely offer to take her to the Salvation Army or the food bank and then give up when they refuse.

I think you are doing what Jesus would do.

I love you.