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I’m not sure what part of a person’s brain is responsible for it but Walter’s sense of humor is completely intact. He’s pretty good on an escalator too but watching him can make a person nervous. Earlier that morning during our bank visit, I insisted (much against his gentlemanly nature) on riding the escalator behind him. We were going up.
He said, “If I fall down this thing and take you with me, who’s going to call the ambulance?”
“It’s Regions Bank Walter,” I said, “they probably have an EMT and a lawyer on standby.”
“Neat,” he said.
We successfully navigated the two escalators that took us to the library but getting there wasn’t free of challenges.
Between the parking garage and the check out desk we were nearly run over half a dozen times. By people. Each time it was like trying to dodge a cannon ball. Four people were talking on cell phones. They glanced in his direction just long enough to convey their irritation. One person visibly relaxed after seeing him from the front but not a single person slowed down. Twice, someone stopped to hold the door for Walt but when it came to walking patiently then behind him, only one meditative soul was able to jump into a different groove for the fifteen seconds it took him to get through the lobby door. Fifteen seconds doesn’t seem like a long time until there’s someone behind you huffing their aggravation. It was nice that one person was able to resist. Of course, Walter was apologizing at every turn; even when a child (maybe three or four years old) ran between him and the walking stick to get by.
The people working at the library interact with a wide variety of people so nothing much takes them by surprise. I steered Walter to the counter where he was given his new library card and then across the lobby to a doorway that led to the latest fiction. I breathed a sigh of relief once we made it to the carpet.
He walked into the room, picked up a book and with little in the way of deliberation announced, “I’ll take it!” and headed for the door.
“That’s it?” I said “You don’t want to look around or sit down or anything?”
He looked back over his shoulder at me, amused. “Nope.”
He checked out the book and we headed for the coffee shop.
I knew from that bank visit that Walter had ten dollars. Whenever we go to the bank he withdraws either five or ten dollars which charms the socks right off the tellers every time. Walter had decided he was going to buy me lunch for bringing him to the library but when he lumbered up to the refrigerated case he reevaluated this decision. Salads were six dollars. Sandwiches were nearly eight.
“What else do you get with that?” he said to me, pointing at the shelf.
“I don’t know Walter,” I said “maybe you should ask that gentleman behind the counter.”
Knowing full well this was a set-up I redirected his attention, “Soup is three dollars, what if you buy that and I’ll get us something to drink?”
He agreed and we sat at a table facing the windows. I could tell he was happy just being out of his usual surroundings. He slid the new book over in front of him and reached in his pocket to retrieve a hard shelled case. He gingerly removed a pair of reading glasses and at that point I was forced to suppress a giggle. “Where did you get those glasses Walter?” I asked him. They were trimmed with rhinestones. Before he could answer one of the lenses popped out onto the table. He removed the glasses, carefully replaced it and returned them to his nose whereupon the other lens fell out. Suddenly, I felt like we were in a cartoon.
“Jesus Walter,” I said “I think maybe you could use a new pair of glasses.”
“But the problem is:” he said, “I never have any money leftover, or any way to get to a store that sells glasses.”
“Well,” I said, “after we eat, I say we run by the Family Dollar and get a pair. They’ll be like six dollars or something. We’ll call it a birthday present.”
“My birthday isn’t until December,”
“Okay, then it’s just a gift.”
“I can’t promise you rhinestones though.”
“All right,” he said sipping his coffee.
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