The Solitary Man
It’s been another one of them kinda days…cold, dark, rainy and depressin’. Seems the more I try to cut my way through these bad feelings I get, the deeper in I go. Do you know what I mean? Maybe so, maybe not. If I may, let me tell you a little bit about how I got to feelin’ this way, that is, if you’re interested in hearin’ about it.
I remember a long time ago a lady friend told me that I’m the kind of person who wears his heart on his sleeve and to that, I plead guilty as charged. “Quit bein’ so nice! People’ll take advantage of you!” she’d scold, as her ruby-speckled fingernails poked at my chest. But I never did once heed her unkind words or advice.
Instead I’d stop to give a hitchhiker a lift, I’d lay a dollar in the shakin’ hand of a bum who said he needed a cup of coffee, even though I knew he was gonna get somethin’ else. I’d take that dead dog lyin’ on the side of the road out to the woods and bury ’im. I’d open doors for strangers, smile, and say hi to folks I never knew and would always call my mother every Sunday night. Why, even today I try to read my bible on a regular sorta basis.
Now to you, does this sound like the makings of a bad person? I don’t think so and here in lies my confusion. I know it’s been said that if a man’s bad, bad things are gonna befall him, as they should. But if a man’s been good, good things are gonna happen to him. Well, if this is true, I’m still waitin’ for those good things because there’s been plenty of the bad to go around.
“Enough already!” are sometimes the last words that part my lips before fallin’ asleep at night. Sometimes too, they’re the first ones to greet me in the very light of a new day. It’s all part of these feelins’ I get all too often; i also hear that some folks call it the "black dog" disease.
Lookin’ out my window over to the house next door, I see her lights are still off. Musta’ve been out all night with another of them boyfriends. She’s a nice enough girl I suppose and deserves her privacy. Kinda pretty too but is a bit on the heavy side. She lives over there all alone, except for her black cat Geezer. I see him in the yard every once in a while, scratchin’ around, and I still haven’t figured out how he’s lasted so long, livin’ so close to such a busy road and all. I reckon he must be pretty smart. I recently thought about gettin’ one too, but I don’t know if I can afford it right now, especially since they raised my rent. I guess the landlord somehow figured out I was makin’ more money.
Her last pet, a puppy, Buddy, didn’t last long. I can still see his little wooden cross, over there, stickin’ up in that patch of dirt between our houses. I made that cross and buried him because she was too upset to do it. She once tried to plant some flowers on his grave but she wasn’t very successful in keepin’ ‘em alive, forgot she had to water ‘em too. So instead she got some plastic ones over at the Super D Discount and they seem to be holdin’ up okay. I can see them right now, even though they’re startin’ to look a bit ragged around the edges.
I’ve thought about askin’ her out a couple of times but I just haven’t had the nerve to do it. Anyway, it’s probably best we carry on as neighbors only because if it didn’t work out, well, things could get kinda sticky and I sure don’t feel like havin’ to move. The other thing is that if I did ask her out and she said no, then I’d be embarrassed. And I don’t need to be embarrassed no more, believe me.
Look! There she is now! Just getting’ home! At this hour! Well, God bless! And I bet she’s been havin’ a good time partyin', even though those boyfriends keep leavin’ her high and dry. It’s too bad because her face is nice and I think she’d look real good if she lost some of that weight.
She’s out of his car now and goin’ into the house. Made it safely home again. Oh, watch out! Careful on that loose step Amber! And as for you, mister two-timer, git outta her driveway! Scoot!
Anyway, I guess I should be startin’ to get ready for work pretty soon. I can’t afford to miss the 2 o’clock bus and I don’t want to be late. I like my job okay and the boss says I’m the best floor cleaner on the crew, so I feel pretty good about that. Up to $9.36 an hour, with first dibs on overtime, when it’s available.
However, the other part of my job I don’t like so much. The other people on the crew are always teasin’ me, callin’ me a hillbilly. Though I might've started out on the wrong side of the tracks, I was born and raised here, in this city! And they say that my name, Darryl Jedidiah Hodges III, sounds like a hillbilly name too. I’m proud of my name. It’s was my daddy’s and his daddy’s before that and I think it's deservin' of some respect.
And to just make matters worse, they’ve also given me a nickname. Dipshit Daryl, Dee Dee for short. You see, I tend to stutter when I get upset, so you can probably guess that makes me mess up a lot at work. But lately there’s been some changes takin’ place within the workin’ arrangement that I kinda like. There’s been more and more Mexicans gettin’ hired by J & W Enterprises, my employer. That’s okay by me, as long as they don’t take my job too! At least they’re nicer and ain't makin’ fun of me…yet.
Workin’ the cleanup shift in those big glass towers over on Liberty does have its advantages, I gotta tell you. Startin’ late in the afternoon means that after five o’clock the folks who work there thin out pretty quick, meaning I don’t have to worry too much about people in fancy suits lookin’ down at me or givin’ me a hard time. I just do my job, cleanin’ and polishin’ the floors. When I’m workin’ the boss lets me wear my headphones too, so long they don’t interfere with me doin’ my job. It also helps me ignore those crew members who want to be hard on me.
I especially like listenin’ to Country and Western music on my headphones, anything by Johnny Cash in particular. I enjoy his old songs like Ring of Fire, A Boy Named Sue, and some newer ones too, like The Man Comes Around and especially another called Solitary Man, even though it was first sung by somebody else. It seems that when I’m vaccuumin’ and I’ve got Johnny singin‘ in my ear, I can suck my sad thoughts into that dirty old dust bag and throw ‘em out with the trash.And come to think about it, and I gotta be honest here, sometimes when I’m sweepin’ or polishin’, I do think about my neighbor, Amber. I do think she’s kinda pretty and I like to imagine how she’d look if she wasn't so heavy. I wonder if she ever thinks about me…
Been a nearly a year since Amber’s car broke down and about that long since I gave mine back to Howard’s Quality Cars after seein’ I couldn’t make the payments no more. I feel like those fellas took full advantage of me, giving me a higher loan rate that they knew I could afford and knowin’ that one day, sooner or later, they’d get it back. And I also happen to know they did resell it to somebody else and are again waiting on its return. I’ll tell you this too, those cheaters can get a lot of mileage out of one vehicle and I don’t mean highway miles!
Well what’s past is what’s past and everyday I see a perfectly good one sittin’ next door, now with two flat tires, and it makes me want get it runnin’ again for her. I’m pretty handy with tools and I’ve got a decent selection of them; probably enough to get that car goin’ anyway. It’s one of those IROC-Z Camaros. Comes with a big V8 and I’ve got to tell you, they can really move. If someone enjoys doin’ such things, it can also lay down the meanest patch of rubber you’ve ever seen! I bet that’d certainly impress somebody! It’s my favorite color too, red. I wonder if that’s her favorite. If I could get it runnin’, I bet I could straighten out those dents on the front fender, pick up a grill at the junkyard and do some touchin' up on the paint. After finishin’ all that, I’d top it off with a good warsh and wax job and why, it’d look real nice!
Now, gettin’ back to my neighbor Amber, I’ve got a pretty good notion as to where she finds all those boyfriends. She works some long hours over at Herbie's Convenient MegaMart. Sometimes days and sometimes nights, which of course can only lead to encounters with her payin’ and for that matter, not-so-payin’ customers. She’s got such a pretty face so I can understand why all those customers are drawn to her. But I do worry about them takin’ her out drinkin’ and then, heaven forbid, takin’ advantage of her. I know they do, I can just feel it. As for that Geezer, he’s a good cat and all, but she needs more companionship that he alone can offer. What she really needs is a good boyfriend who's honest, hard-workin’ and steady.
Thinkin’ back, I know I didn’t leave a very good impression when we first met. I was gettin’ home late one cold, wintery night and had just moved in next door. At the time her car was runnin’ and I still had mine. What happened next was the craziest of things. I was comin’ home from work, oh, must’ve been three in the morning or so, when I pulled into my driveway to discover Amber sittin’ alone in her car. A trail of wispy white smoke was slowly curlin’ up from its tailpipe and inside the Camaro she sat, cryin’ her eyes out.
I'd first noticed that it was runnin’, brake lights on too, and I could see the silhouette of someone sittin’ behind the wheel. It seemed kinda strange, bein’ the time of night and all, so I figured I needed to investigate further, you know, to make sure everything was alright. So I walked over to her car and as a frozen world crunched beneath my footsteps, I tapped on the window to get her attention. Surprised, she looked back at me through the fogged, half-frozen glass with the strangest and craziest of looks on her face.
“Who are you? What do you want?” she screamed at me. “Is that you, Dewey? I already told you I don’t want to see you no more!”
“I—I—it’s just m-me, Da-Da-Darryl H-Hodges, your n-ne-new neighbor!” I exclaimed. I started stutterin’ hard because she seemed so angry and upset.
Well, it turns out that one of those fine boyfriends had just jilted her and she was feelin’ pretty bad about it. I tried to calm her down a bit by explainin’ that I was only there to help her and meant her no harm.
“M-M-Miss. I-I’-m s-s-sorry to bo-ba-bother you but are you okay?” I said. “Is there anything I can do to h-he-help?” Why , it still makes me want to stutter just thinkin' about it!
Then she stared back at me for what seemed like eternity before answerin’.
“Yeah, I think there might be something you can do”, she finally said as she rolled down the window as the hint of a smile crossed her round, pretty face. “Come 'round the other side and get in.”
Well, I did as I was told. Though it smelled like perfume and smoked cigarettes, the warmth of the car was invitin’ and felt real good. Crumpled up food bags and soda cups littered the floor and from the dashboard, a small dirty white teddy bear with black beady eyes stared back at me. There was a song softly playin’ on the radio, somethin’ sad, but I can’t recall who was doin’ the singin’.
Once seated she abruptly grabbed me by the coat sleeve, leaned in and stared at me, wild-eyed an' then proclaimed, “Tell me the truth new neighbor! Have you ever loved somebody? I need to be loved, real bad!”
“N-N-No! I don’t th-th-think so”, I nervously replied. Then, before I could think of sumptin’ else to say, she locked lips with mine, planting on me a big, wet kiss that seemed to go on forever.
“Wa-wa-weatherman sa-says this cold spell is gonna la-la-last for awhile”. It was the only thing I could think to say as our lips parted.
She pulled back, her teary eyes retreating and gave me a quizzical look before saying, “New neighbor, do you think I’m pretty?”
“Why, ye-ye-yes, I do”, I replied.
“Would you like to come over to my place? The night’s still young…”, she asked, a soft whisper about her voice.
“N-N-No thank you m-miss”, I hastily said. I’ve got to go to b-b-bed ‘cuz I gotta get up early to go see my ma-mother. She’s been kinda s-s-sick lately.”
“Well”, she sniffed, a spark of tension rising again in her voice. “If that’s what you need to do, you better get on with it then. Oh and by the way, my name is Amber.”
“O-O-Okay Amber. I-I’m sorry but I’m glad you’re alright.”
“I ain’t alright”, she said softly. “Good night new neighbor.”
“Good night Amber.”
As I retreated from the car and slipped back into the night, I heard her begin to cry again. The sounds of her sadness telegraphed through the cold winter air, landin’ squarely on my heart. “I feel your pain Amber, I truly do”, I muttered to myself as I walked, with some hesitation, up the driveway and to my front door.
Suddenly somethin’ passin’ overhead caught my attention. I paused for a moment to look at the sky, immediately findin’ the source of my distraction. Lookin’ up, I could see the outline of a big passenger jet, set against a backdrop of what musta been a million and one stars, its takeoff lights still illuminated as it made its climb to a safer place. It was an enticin’ sight.
I found it interestin’ to see things so clearly, both the stars and the airplane that is, when one lives so close to the city. Normally the glare of its lights compromises one’s ability to enjoy such an event. On this evenin’ however and for one reason or another, it was different.
I had wished I was up there too, flyin’ away to a safe destination, away from the worry that seems to have a knack for findin’ me. Away from those folks who enjoy gettin’ under my skin with their unkind words. Away from others tryin’ to take unfair advantage of me. Away from my stutterin’ and the embarrassment it brings, and most of all, gone from this lonely feelin’ that eats at my soul, makin’ me sometimes feel like I ain’t worth a lick.
When she was alive, my mother told me to trust in the Lord and everything would be alright. Well, I tried that and it didn’t work. I tried to get right with Jesus; to smile and turn the other cheek. That didn’t work either. My pastor told me that I needed to pray harder because I was a bad sinner an’ all, thinkin’ bad thoughts about all those who’ve been unkind to me. I quit listenin’ to him.
Though the noise in my head continues bother me, I’m at the point now where my vision’s clearer, a bit like it was on the night I saw that jet passin’ overhead. I’ve come to the conclusion that although it’s good to believe in the Lord Almighty, you’ve gotta first believe in yourself, that is, if you want things to get better. An' seein’ I’m havin’ some trouble in that department, the bad keeps a-comin’ and as I said earlier, “Enough already!”
I guess the bus is runnin’ a few minutes late today. Been assigned the whole seventh floor tonight and can’t afford to be late. Look! Oh, there it is now! Just around the corner! Had to stop to pick up Mr. Van Dyke, he lives over there, in that fallin’ down-lookin’ place.
Though a shadow of its former self and wrapped in peelin’ paint, I bet in another time that house was a special sight, with all those big windows overlookin’ its grand front porch. On the right front corner, three stories up, is one of them turrets called a widow’s peak.
I remember one night a while back when I was out for a stroll and happened about the place. Pausin’ out front to enjoy the summer evening, I looked up to see a light on in the tower. It was strange because the rest of the house was dark, like nobody was home, and it was the only time I’d ever seen a light on up there. Suddenly the image of a young woman appeared in its window, movin’ around as if in a hurry. My first impression was that she was lookin’ for somethin’. She was wearin’ what appeared to be a fancy dress and also had long, dark hair. I could tell right away that she was attractive and I found her captivatin’ to watch.
Well, I stood there for a couple of minutes, tryin’ hard to focus on her activities when suddenly and sensin’ someone was watchin’, she turned to face the window. Peering downward she immediately spotted me, there on the sidewalk under the streetlight checkin’ her out! Her eyes widened and I could see her mouthin’ somethin’ to me in surprise. Not knowin’ what to do and feelin’ like some kinda peepin’ Tom, I panicked and ran, lickety split, in the direction of my house. As I scampered home, I turned to look over my shoulder to see that the turret had once again gone dark. Bein’ embarrassed by my behavior regardin’ the encounter, I ain’t ever had the courage to bring up the subject in my conversations with Mr. Van Dyke. But I have to tell you, I’d sure like to know more!
Mr. Van Dyke told me that at one time he was once rich. Had the money to do anything, go anywhere he pleased but then things, for a number of reasons, went bad. After losin’ his money and his business, he took to bad ways and started ignorin’ his family. By the time he got himself back on track, they’d all left and he ain’t seen ‘em since. He’s a pleasant enough old fella, nice to me anyway, and promised someday to let me in on a little secret he’s kept for all these years. But I’m not so sure that I want to hear it though, if it’s the reason for his misfortunes. As I said earlier, I’ve got enough problems of my own. But you know, curiosity can be a pretty powerful thing but I certainly don’t want it to kill this cat!
Oh good. The bus is here...
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