As I left the Kroger a few ticks past 6 a.m. last week, the women at the cash registers brought in an old, old man who’d been sleeping in the parking lot. It was 14 below zero in Denver.
They parked him in one of those electric scooters, where he sat, bent over and shaking. Poor old guy had to be on the dark side of 75; or maybe he was just worn out.
I like grocery store cashiers. Always have. They give me food in exchange for money. Never underestimate grocery store ladies. They know things that you and I don’t.
One of the cashiers whispered his story to me, so far as she knew it.
As I left the store with the Times under my arm and a bag of bones for the dogs, I felt ashamed, and turned back.
“Buy yourself some coffee, man,” I said, thrusting a Hamilton into his hand. He looked up and I saw his beat-up, withered face for a moment, his gray scraggly beard. He looked like Santa in the Gulag, or in a Texas immigration prison. (“North Pole, huh? Your papers, please.”)
“Thank you,” he said.
He would have died in the parking lot that morning if the nice women at the Kroger hadn’t picked him up and brought him in.
I felt bad on the way home, with The New York Times and the dog bones safe on the shotgun seat. Because what, after all, could that 10 bucks do for him?
Nothing. Stave it off.
Snow was falling, and the wind blew.
If we have any brains left at all after this rugged year, now’s the time when we traditionally — supposedly — think back on what’s happened, and wonder what’s to come. We count our blessings, as Mom used to say — drill into my head, rather. So in tribute to my Mom, Carolyn Joann Shadley Kahn Litman, who joined the angels this year, here are a few blessings she taught me to count.
- That I am warm and fed, with my dogs, in my own house, and that I do not have so goddam much money that I can throw thousands of people out of work, on a whim, and think myself clever for it.
- That my Dad always had a book in his hand, which led me, by the time I was 10, to be sneaking into his bedroom to read whatever he was reading, including “The Marching Morons,” “Waiting for Godot” and “Catch-22.”
- That I was not indoctrinated into any religion, but informed about several, then read up on every one I could find. Action movies, man. That’s all religion is.
- That I lived, and still do, in a time when at the touch of a button I could listen to Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Beethoven, Hank Williams — at the touch of a button.
In El Salvador there is a tradition that whatever you are doing as the New Year enters — at 12:00:01 a.m., Jan. 1 — is what you will be doing all year. I have always tried but never managed to be … (here the papyrus is torn)
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