on the edge, looking over
by tobias crabtree
It’s a big, orange sun spinning away tonight, down and down over the western horizon. All these rocks are sending slanty shadows toward the opposite horizon and it’s dying moon. Ain’t that much to say because the words don’t work for this kind of thing anyway. Too big. Too much. There used to be dances that told stories of fiery suns and heavy moons, but they died with office walls and busy streets and cell phones. The real world has no “like” button. The real world doesn’t even care, It just Is.
Gary’s sign reads, S.O.S. just trying to get out. I assume it still reads that, unless the sign worked and he got out. When I rode up on him, I recognized him from a time before this time. Last year I was riding in from some ocean time and I passed him sleeping along the bike path that runs alongside the sad, weak San Diego River as it slops into the ocean. He was asleep in the sun with his big, bare feet pointing into the blue and his left mitt gripping an axe handle. His shit was splayed and drying from the night before. The sight was memorable, to me at least.
So there I was, on my bike, next to Gary. He was smoking a cig and he looked at me sidelong to see what kind of human had just rolled up on ‘im.
“Hey man. What’s happ’nin’?”
His answer was steady, “This.”
“I seen you before, last year with one mitt on an ax handle while you slept.”
A grin split his face and showed me some remarkable beautiful teeth. I took the moment to see him, a big, strapping man. He knelt and pealed back the top layer on the trailer that I’d noticed with appreciation (I built a trailer myself and pulled it for a thousand miles…I feel like I am at least a bit of a connoisseur.) and there, under his bedding was the hickory ax handle. His fingers were black toward the ends, like his cigarette. Gary’s cool. I like him.
“Where you gettin’ out too?”
“Ohio. It’s where I come from. San Diego ran it’s course, I’m done here.”
“You gonna walk there? With that trailer?”
“Don’t know. Don’t know if I can.”
“You’re a pretty burly dude, I think you’d make it.”
Gary peeled up his left pant-leg and showed a calf muscle that was bigger that any I’ve ever seen, except for Ethan Feltgus, whose calves orbited the Earth before they found a home under his knees.
“I was a power lifter in college. I squatted 400lbs 25 times at one point.”
I believed him. Gary. His tan face and curly hair and big teeth. His meat-hook forearms and baggy britches and blown-out shoes. His green-grey eyes and Camel wides.
“Where’r you sleeping tonight, man.”
There the smile. There the look into my eyes because he knew he could tell me what it was. There the hard real life that is just a knock on the head away from all of us. I’ll be anywhere, man. As he said that to me, I took the time to look into the cars that waited for the light to change. Of all the cars, one man, a tough looking fella, about 50 or so, looked and acknowledged my existence and that of my friend. The rest could not bear to look. Too much to deal with. Too many lights ahead to stop at and stare, straightaheadintooblivion. When I looked back at Gary, he knew what I had been thinking. He knew that I had just felt his invisibility. He nodded at his sign, and said, “I ain’t too good at that…I ain’t too good at asking.”
I reached in my pocket. I already knew how much money was there, i just wasn’t sure the denominations. Twenty dollars, broken. I found the four dollars and change and i dumped that into his palm.
“Here, man, I have 20, but I can’t give ya that. Here’s 4 and change.”
Gary loved it. He showed me what he was gonna do to improve his trailer (his life’s possessions).
I shook his hand and rode off toward the bridge and the beach and the waves breaking big. On the far side of the bridge, about a half-mile distant, I allowed myself the thought. I don’t really need the rest of that 20. I don’t. I have food and shelter and extra everything. I am better than surviving, I am well. So i turned around and pedaled back to the place where the 8 meets Sports Arena Blvd. There he was, squatting by his trailer, talking with full gusto to himself. I heard his words as i neared, he was raving. I felt that feeling of disappointment, that he might be too crazy to help. He saw me and stood.
“Yo Gary, I was thinking and realized that I really can afford to give you all I have in my pocket, so here’s the rest.”
He took the twenty, he squinted his eyes like he was seeing from out of the past into now. The fire of before lit him up.
“Yahah! That’s something!” and now he was laughing and now i was laughing and the cars at the light disappeared. They became invisible and my world was one of possibility. I told him I didn’t care how he used that money. I told him that I just liked him and the return smile and nod spoke truth, with a capital T.
Then I was free to go. Because it was the way it might have been if I had opened my heart, and I had.
So the waves that rolled in from the storms that day, met me and lifted me and allowed me to be a part of them. And all that was came with it. I am allowed these privileges when I follow the tracks laid by my heart. And what is the difference between those waves and the beating of my simple heart? There is only a difference when i disallow my heart it’s sameness.
Roll on Gary, you tough old cuss.
(this essay written with honor and respect while remembering a hero of mine, Christian Regenhard, who i would strive to be like and die falling short. you live on, dear brother, long since the dust of them towers cleared and carried and carried away your very being. there is little else if we cannot remember. i can. i do. let the years pass, let time heal, and let me sing your song.)