Silver and Golden Christmas Falls (Part 8)

Dusk settled over Coos Bay on Christmas Eve. Downtown was dead. So was the lot. But Wayne, Chief and Jared soldiered on. The music played. The fire crackled. The locomotive kept chugging through the idyllic landscape all of us want to inhabit.

Wayne whipped up a turnip and rutabaga stew and baked cornbread. Jared stoked the fire and they sat down around the flames to eat and talk and drink. They agreed to hit the sauce lightly until they closed the lot. Wayne knew some straggler would eventually show up needing a tree or needing to see the train set in action. There was just something about seeing a toy train chugging along that does a sad grown man good.

Drizzle floated through the park. Wayne decided it was now or never to pitch an idea that popped into his head while reading Matterhorn two nights ago. He was about to speak when Jared said, “I guess I’ll be shoving off tomorrow.”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” said Wayne. “What about coming to live out on the farm through the winter? It’s got to be rough out there in the rain.”

“You mean it?”

“I mean it.”

“What would I do out there?”

“Work. Like I do. Cut firewood. Cut brush. Run errands. Tend the greenhouse. I’ll pay you a wage and you don’t have to pay any rent.”

“Where would I live?”

“The house.”

“A whole house to myself?”

“If you want it.”

“I think I’d like a little trailer like yours. It’s perfect.”

“How about we find an old one and fix it up for you. There are dozens of them left behind in storage units. I see them for sale in Nickel Ads all the time.”

“I don’t know how to do any carpentry.”

“I’d teach you.”

“Wayne, I’m probably going to fuck up again. I don’t want to let you down. That’s why I’m out here the way I am. I don’t let anyone down.”

“What about your kid and mom?”

They looked at each other. Wayne knew he’d hurt Jared. There was no call for that on Christmas Eve. But then again, maybe there was. Maybe that was precisely the time for it.

Of course, Wayne wasn’t on the receiving end. Jared didn’t really have that in him.

“So you fuck up again,” said Wayne. “But maybe you won’t. We can’t predict anything in this world. Why try?”

“Could I have visitors?”

Wayne hesitated for a moment. He thought of Jared in Winston. He thought of a transvestite logger mainlining meth and ferrets running loose.

“Just no Winston types,” said Wayne.

Jared laughed. “No Winston. I only do Winston in Winston. I was thinking my kid could visit if I could track him down. Maybe another vet or two if someone needs a break from the road.”

“Sure. Good ideas. No guns.”

“Never again for me after what I did.”

“You didn’t do it. Your government did. Never forget that. And another thing. If you see something that needs changed or improved around the farm, you speak your mind.”

“What about bringing in the Internet?”

“Oh Jesus! Okay. But you’re paying for it.”

“All right. I’ll stay and we’ll see how it goes.”

“Whatever happens, can I work the lot with you and Chief next Christmas?”

“Hell yes! And you can stay in your own trailer!”

A can of malt liquor collided with mug of red wine. It made an unusual thud but a toast is a toast.

They talked of the farm. Jared surprised himself by talking about opportunities and possibilities They sounded strange coming out of his mouth. He felt it probably was like speaking a foreign language and in one respect, it was. It required practice.

A bedraggled man appeared at the edges of the firelight. Two bowling bags rested behind him. They weren’t carrying bowling balls. The man spooked Chief and he growled. Wayne quieted him. He wanted to know if he could have a tree. He didn’t have any money.

Jared jumped out of his chair and offered to help him choose one. Wayne wondered how the man would carry it along with two bowling ball bags. He and Jared would rig it up somehow. They were Marines!

A few minutes later the man walked away with a tiny potted tree in a kid’s Disney Frozen backpack Wayne dug out of lost and found. It was all preposterous and all beautiful.

After he left, Jared said, “Where is he going tonight?”

“Where were you going last Christmas?” said Wayne.

“I can’t remember.”

“There sure seems to be a lot more people like you living outdoors these days.”

“There are more. A lot more. Why is that you think?”

“I don’t really know. There was nothing like that around Coos Bay forty or even twenty years ago. We turned a bad corner somewhere.”

“You think it will all go away?”

“Well, are you going to ever get off the streets for good?”

Jared didn’t respond. But he had thought about it. Most of the homeless people he met had as well.

Silence reigned for a few minutes. Jared was thinking. He wasn’t equipped intellectually to discuss matters of policy. But he was certainly able to discuss matters of the heart. Maybe there needed to be more heart-making than policymaking on this issue. Because policymaking on the homeless crisis wasn’t cutting it in America even though it was a dictionary word and heart-making only rated a hyphen and not a dictionary listing at all.