Hector’s bicycle had a flat — tricycle rather, with baby trailer containing I don’t know what, maybe spare clothes, etc. I’ve seen him tooling down Clark Street, fedora hat on tight, making his way as to getting from one place to another, but also as to getting on in the world.
$10 It would cost him, money he didn’t have. In the ’70s, a flat was fixable for a buck, he said. So there he is now, without the necessary, a victim of inflation.
Victim of a lot of things, apparently. Caught in an “ambush” in Iraq as a Marine, he got his leg and hip shot up and now has titanium, he told me, plus a plastic knee-area replacement, all of which gives him a lot of pain. He ran out of meds once and lifted some, spent five years in prison, he also told me, the two of us sitting side by side on separate stools at separate high tables at McDonald’s on Clark Street on Sunday morning, 8 a.m. or so, three days after Thanksgiving.
He’d left the tricycle locked up at the White Castle to the north, he indicated with a shrug in that direction.
He laid out coins on his table at one point. Quick glance said less than a dollar’s worth. When the bedraggled and unshaven young man came across the sparsely customered McD’s asking me for something (I declined), he did not also ask Hector, which Hector noticed, commenting briefly.
Hector was a Marine for 13 years, he said, was discharged honorably for medical reasons. In a wheelchair at one time, he currently managed on his own. VA had offered him a place in a nursing home, which he’d have jumped at when wheelchair-bound. Not how, when he can walk around and ride his bike, and he said nuts to that. Nursing home no way to live, he said. I agreed.
He was born in Tijuana of a Puerto Rican mother and a Chicano father, he said. How’d that happen? I asked, meaning the Tijuana birth place. He didn’t know. Was raised in Alabama, in due time fathered eight daughters and four sons, all but four of the 12 in Chicago, he said, and answering my question about it, said he’s in touch with them all, including a Chicago daughter who helps him out.
I found in Hector — I got his name by asking, at end of our conversation as I prepared to leave for mass — a very good conversation, which he’d started when I once looked over at him, having kept my counsel for ten minutes or so, busy with my Wall St. Journal week in review.
One thing, he had a ready narrative, which I paid attention to. That’s half of it, I’d long ago decided: just look at people and take them seriously. He was easy to take seriously, with his tale of woe told matter-of-factly without a sign of self-pity and never asking my help, which I offered at the end as I stood zipping up for the 35-degree outside walk the few blocks to St. Gregory.
“Can I give you a buck?” I asked. “It’s all I can spare.” This latter was a stretch, but it came to me, as did the request to give.
He said sure, I picked the buck out, not the ten-spot next to it. Last I saw him, he’d gone up to the counter, maybe to get coffee at $1.10.
He had rewarded me unwittingly with my first sermon of the morning, about hanging in there and not giving up. He applied it to his own situation, bicycle left at White Castle down the street and the rest. Exact words not significant, but he pronounced them tellingly.
I got a lot out of talking to him. Asked his name, gave mine. I didn’t bullshit him, nor he me, I don’t think.
Down the cross street a few blocks, I had my second sermon, a sleeper in that I am a hard sell and often enough disappointed to be surprised by a quite good one. Fr. John told about watching “HGTV” (with a smile, as if knowing what he was doing), as soporific after an “intense” day that called for a winding-down. The show featured the Property Brothers who list a cruddy-home for sale vs. the restorer, each to do something for the home-owing couple whose house is a mess.
It was about “getting your house in order,” Father said, like the preparation for the end time as depicted in the St. Luke passage for this First Sunday of Advent.
He so much enjoyed talking up his HGTV end-of-day show as to make his easy-going talk easy listening. (He had it written out, by the way — preparation, thine is the name for good sermons.)
So get your house in order with Madame Designer’s help? How about getting your own interior (life) in order with Holy Spirit’s help. Difference there: Designing lady will do it all for you, Spirit helps you do it for yourself.
Question: What’s in your life that a re-do will make livable, lovable, loving, joyous in the Spirit?
You can do it. Get ready for your own end time, so you don’t get trapped. A clever, useful adaptation of the Gospel pitch. So went my second sermon.