Last year, I appeared as Skid Row Santa at the Christmas show finale in Eugene, Oregon. Complete with a rubber nose, a plastic bag full of beer cans, and a pint of peppermint schnapps to boost the holiday spirit. He also borrowed his wife Faye’s blue egg bucket and labeled it “Homeless.” While working in the aisle seat on the main floor, I was jangling cans like the bells of a bagful of aluminum sleds. Put something in the bucket, Chrysaces. Don’t you know it’s Christmas time? hey, that’s good. god bless you. You are beautiful. “
I ended up with about $75. It’s no big deal to get a full house at a Christmas show. But even $75 was a wad too big to fit in your pocket. So, after removing my red suit and rubber snoot, I drove off in search of a suitable recipient. I found a group of candidates in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven on the corner of Six and Blair. I went inside and held the bucket out the window.
“Okay. Who’s the most unlucky case in this lot?”
All but one wore ponytails, sloping shoulders, and chins tucked into the collars of canvas camouflage jackets. “I had an unlucky run all the way back to New Jersey,” he said. “How is it?”
“I have a mission from St. Nicholas,” I told him. “And if you’re actually the luckiest person” — in the spirit of the season, I didn’t say “biggest loser” — “Then this could be your lucky night. Hmm.”
“Yes,” he said. “Are you a kind of Holy Roller? Where’s the string? What’s the hustle?”
“No leash, no catch, no hustle. I’m giving. You’re getting. Get it?”
he did He runs with the money and bargains Faye’s egg bucket. The last time I saw him he was scurrying off in search of a hole.
Since then, I’ve been wondering about him. Did that little windfall make a difference? Did he rent a cheap room? take a bath? companion? Every time he passed one of Eugene’s ill-fated harbors, his eyes were half-peeled at the sight of a long tail of black hair dragging down behind his jacket in camouflage. A year after that day, last week, I witnessed it.
I was in town with Faye and my daughter to do some Christmas shopping and then have dinner with my mom. We spent a few hours at the mall while I shopped. I announced that I wanted to do some personal shopping and slipped into the rainy cold alone. I headed to the liquor store on the 8th.I thought the spirits could use a bit of enhancement.But my trusty peppermint wasn’t strong enough.The streets of my hometown were too strange and too empty. And so sad… Six Corners of Olive: Empty. The great Dangold Creamery that my father built from a small farmer’s cooperative in Eugene: Demolition. I put my head down and continued walking through the rain.
Anyway, the street in my memory was the clearer path. At John Warrens Hardware there, you could buy Blast his powder behind the counter. Corral Novelty Shop where you can buy itch powder. The Heilig Theater, with its arches all the way across the street, so big that you could read it all the way out the window of an arriving train, flashed what we all thought was the Norwegian word for “Hello” : “High rig, high rig, high rig.” All gone.
Once in the city center, I noticed that what people had finally given up on calling a fountain was now disguised in pine branches and potted plants. but to no avail. It looked like the remains of a bombed-out French cathedral. Later, when the rain stopped, I was surprised to find that the ruins were not completely deserted. I could see loose black braids hanging behind my camouflage jacket. It looks like it was right. He was at the basin of an old fountain, hunched over his one of the potted pines.
I approached him from behind and slapped him on the shoulder. “What’s the matter, Hardluck? Count another bucket of money?
Before I could finish his words, he moved and squeezed my wrist into a bone-crushing grip. That’s when I realized this wasn’t a jawless street rat standing in a basin—this was a jaw-blocked American, made like his two fire plugs sitting in a wheelchair. was an Indian.
“Wow! Man! Let go! I thought you were someone else!”
He loosened his grip, but held his wrist. He told me about last year’s long hair and matching jacket.
He listened and looked into my eyes. “Okay. Sorry for the twist. I was taking the leak. You spooked me. Let’s get out of the rain and see what drugs are sticking out of our pockets.”
We retired under some scaffolding. He wasn’t too keen on my choice of pocket medicine. “If I had to choose a sugar drink, I’d drink something like Southern Comfort,” he said.
As he leaned over to spit, a folded Army blanket slid down his knees. His legs were as much gone as the main bowels of my impoverished hometown.
He was a part-time fileman at Seattle’s Pike Place Market on his way to spend Christmas with his family at “The Rez” outside Albuquerque. His bus had been laying around for several hours.
When the pint was about three-quarters empty, I twisted the lid and held it out. “I have to meet a woman. Please protect me.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” he said.
“You’re pretty picky with thirsty guys, aren’t you? What’s your best druthers?”
“Take your money and make your own choices.”
I reached for my wallet. “I think I got a few bucks.”
“And a quarter? Cream of Kentucky.”
I hesitated. Was I Hustling? “Okay, let’s see what we have.” I emptied my wallet and pockets onto his blanket. He added a few coins and counted his collection.
“Ninety-seven five. For two dollars more, I can get a bottle of Bushmills Irish. Do you think I can beg for two dollars between here and the liquor store?”
“No doubt,” I assured him. “Tie both pan handles behind your back.”
We waved goodbye and went our separate ways, walking and rolling in the rain. At the restaurant, my mother wanted to know what I was thinking.
“I thought that if a beggar cannot be a chooser, then a chooser is not, by definition, a beggar.”
For this year’s Christmas show, Santa got a more classy outfit and recruited holiday helpers from his high school choir. God bless. And we move all passages. Come here, helper, come on. Get down there and panhandle! And then, folks in the audience, start handing your money down the aisle here. It’s Christmas.
Ken Kesy, one of the Merry Pranksters, over the cuckoo’s nest When sometimes a great concept.
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