I opened the trunk of the car to fetch the treats. Behind me, behind the gate, Bonnie and Clyde were going insane, crying, howling, barking, speaking, There is something new and crazy excited in their anticipation every time I visit.
Why isn’t it like that when visiting people you know?
Maybe it will be that way for me when I start meeting people I used to know. Maybe I’ll bring treats. Maybe they will.
The box felt light. I was down to one measly treat! How could I have forgotten to restock? Bonnie and Clyde would tear me to smithereens!
Then I saw it: a roll of summer sausage among a sealed Christmas gift pack that included cheese, nuts and chocolate, stored in the trunk for a roadside emergency, non-Christmas meal.
I ripped the sausage from the pack and stuffed it in the pocket of my corduroy coat. I unlatched the gate and Bonnie and Clyde bolted out. Clyde went for the sausage pocket and nearly bowled me over. I went to one knee and laughed. I herded the crew toward the pasture and we bounded (somewhat) toward the river. I stopped once, took out the roll and let the dogs sniff it. They cried and whimpered and did little canine Grateful Dead dances in the grass. I then cradled the sausage like a football and took off at a trot, making open field cuts and stiff arms against the two, would-be, veteran, furry tacklers.
We reached the river. It ran slack and thirsted for rain. I dug out my trusty Swiss army knife that has gone all over the world with me. I cut open the sausage roll and sliced up the meat for Bonnie and Clyde. I placed their snacks on the ground and they went at it.
I sat down on a rock and cleaned my knife in the river. My mind drifted to the probation office. Some 30 minutes earlier, I had sat alone in an office with my probation officer. There was supposed to be a whole group in attendance, but there wasn’t.
They were gone, all gone, to the willows, a van, a ditch, a bridge, a slough, a couch, jail, slumber, delusion, booze, pills, hell, a fishing boat, everywhere except for where they were supposed to be to punch the clock of the faceless clock.
It was simple attrition of the human soul. I was the only one left standing, or in this case, sitting.
For the last nine months, I had been doling out Christmas gift packs, McDonald’s gift certificates, clothes, shoes, toiletry kits and books I had written, to the homeless and almost homeless men of the probation group. I was running a rescue mission out of the trunk of my car, and good friends in Astoria had provided the supplies after I shared probation stories of utter human misery, stories that had shattered my belief in the American criminal justice system and drilled a hole in my heart.
No one was left. I had no one left to help.
A few months earlier, after telling my father of my rescue mission efforts, he told me. “Don’t get too involved, take care of yourself first.”
It was not what I expected to hear from him. He always taught me to serve others and I had done exactly that my entire professional life. In this probation group, I had the ultimate OTHERS sitting in front of me, doped up, denuded, delaminated, distended, disintegrating across the table from me, almost invisible like a Ralph Ellison-kind-of invisible, but an insidious new invisibility, a profitable one, (for the corporations) and one largely unseen to the American public who are rapidly deconstructing a nation that will end up intestate.
I saw men devolve in real time. Try that from three feet away. I’ll never be the same and I’ve got to bear witness.
Maybe that’s not such a bad outcome for us, intestate. Let the coyotes and gulls inherit what’s left. Let a wily coyote lift his leg on a Statue of Liberty half buried in the sand. I won’t be the Charlton Heston character wearing a loincloth ,pounding his fist in the sand, furious at the result. I’d be doing a little jig in the surf. I’d being wearing corduroy.
“I’ve got to help some way,” I said to Dad. “It’s who I am.”
We left it at that.
I stood up and put my knife in pocket. I had lost all track of time and Bonnie and Clyde had dozed off in the grass, passed out from sausage overload.
They rousted, came over, and I noticed the sausage wrapper had vanished. Clyde, of course.
I held them close for a moment, a kestrel swooped by, and then we took the trail to home.
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