If anyone were to need a clear illustration of how hurried people are these days, or for that matter a rundown of the many millions of things we take for granted – I recommend spending an afternoon downtown with a six-foot tall, crippled man. While it probably isn’t politically correct to call a person crippled these days, mine is a visual business and in Walter’s case the word disabled just doesn’t cut it.
Recently, I agreed to take Walter downtown to the bank and to get a new library card. We made this same trip a couple of weeks earlier but he couldn’t get a card that day. Not only did his state I.D. list an old address, but it turns out in 1994 he checked out two books about Jesus and failed to return them.
After a long-winded apology on his part, I tried to make a deal with the man behind the counter, hoping he would give Walt some special consideration, maybe offer a discount or work with him on the fine. After rent and food, he has thirty dollars left to live on each month but of course the librarian didn’t know this and my words bounced off of the counter like jawbreakers. “No discount,” he said politely. Walt was ready to give up then and there but given the opportunity, he is a voracious reader and it seemed a shame to exempt someone from reading who so desperately wanted to do it. He’s all about spy thrillers and mysteries. And poetry. And Jesus. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I finally caved and paid the sixty-four dollar fine myself with Walt in the background saying he’d pay me five dollars a month, for the next thirteen months. “Don’t worry about it Walter,” I said. “Barney’s buying.”
I paid the librarian who then politely instructed Walter to wait for his card to arrive in the mail. Once it arrived he was to bring it back to the library as proof of his address and get his official library card.
“That’s allllll right,” Walter said after the librarian finished, “Slick City.”
I’ve written about Walter’s condition in the past but it bears repeating that his disability was the result of a terrible car accident a day or so before his high school graduation. It was that same heartbreaking story you hear every spring about some student or group of students who didn’t make it to graduation; whose lives were changed forever in the blink of an eye. Since that time, which included many months of rehabilitation on all fronts, he’s done the majority of his walking with a hand carved stick, nearly as tall as he is. Years ago when we first met he was using an industrial-sized broom stick. At some point there came a homeless man who burned custom designs into walking sticks with a magnifying glass and the sun. They became fast friends and he’s used one of those sticks ever since. He walks in slow motion and if you didn’t know better, you might think he’d just finished a pint of gin. Just when you think he’s about to go left, he veers right. It’s very unpredictable and it makes walking through a crowd really interesting because people constantly try to pass him and very often, he bangs into them as they do.
His voice carries. He falls down. A lot. It happens so fast you wonder why his knees didn’t snap. I’ve suggested a crash helmet but he won’t hear of it. The weight of it would probably throw him completely off anyway. So there we were at the library, for the second time in two weeks, headed up two escalators to a marble floor.
Part 2 is HERE