Century #11: Time, Despair, and a Summer Storm

From the Journal of Martin Way

August 20, 1935

Does time exist? I can’t remember which one, but one of the Greek philosophers said he was not sure. Here outside my little shack at sunset. I know time is different than the time I spent anywhere else. I know it is just my perception, but what else exists for me? Sheep and grass. I have run out of light which tells me the earth continues to spin. Is this time?

August 21, 1935

At the soup kitchen today a drunk disheveled and dusty man staggered down the stairs, bumping into a group of women and children. He tipped his hat and bowed almost toppling into them again. Myra, the hostess and cook, grabbed my arm and whispered, “Martin, git that bum outta here. He can eat outside.” I grabbed a bowl and spoon, ladled some soup, and grabbed a piece of bread, dropped it in the soup. I maneuvered through some other patrons.

“Can I help you up the stairs, sir?” I said putting an arm under his elbow.

 “Wha?” he said blinking and swaying.

“I have your soup. Let’s go outside.”

“Oh, I see this place is too good for old Mac. I useta own this town!”

“Well, now you’re drunk. You can tell me all about it outside, sir.”

“You gotta lotta nerve. I could teach you somethin’.  Jes a young pup like you thinkin’ you  can push me around.” He tore his arm away and staggered back into the wall.

“I got my orders, sir.” I said quietly glancing back at Myra who was busy serving, “We can go up and have a nice lunch, and you can tell me all about how you came to this. Or I can put this soup down and throw you out.”

“Now, now, no need to get surly young man.” He nodded at Myra, and straightening his suit, wobbled up the stairs. I followed with a hand on his back and one carrying the bowl of soup.

I settled him on the steps in front of the little church and went back for my soup. I sat with him while we ate. I could only understand a little of what he said. He talked about being a big man and owning several businesses.

“Then it all went away, bit by bit, slipped away.”

He was silent for a while.

“What the hell happened anyway?  I was a big man around here.”

In his eyes there was a wonder, like someone seeing something immense stretching out, the ocean or a vast stretch of sand, or mountain that’s peak is shrouded in clouds. It was not fear but wonder and a pathetic sense of helplessness in the face of overwhelming nature.

I am sure that there are many people these days that feel the same way, probably hundreds in this small town. Now he is an unpleasant fellow, but once he was respected and prosperous. Was he unpleasant then and people just put up with him because of his standing in the community? Does circumstance change people that much? This man has been shaken to the core of his being, but it does not seem to make him more humble. I have nothing and no prospects, and yet I feel I could never sink so low. How does a man come to this? I have been drunk, and I know that it leads a person to do things he would not ordinarily do. I have done things when I was drunk that would shock my parents and even now I feel shame, but to give all the way into it. How does it happen? Does he still feel shame, regret? I am sure he does, but why then is he unable to change his behavior?

Myra thanked me and gave me nickel for my trouble. I went to buy some bread. She also gave me some soap and a basin and cloth to take home with me for washing up.

“I can tell you have a good upbringing. You look to be a decent young man, and you should smell like one as well.”

She is a woman who says what she thinks and follows her conscience.

August 22, 1935

Black sky, storming flashes and rumbles in the distance, clouds piling over ahead of a hot wind. The rain came. My little shack only leaks in one corner. Viola brought me a pale to catch the water, and invited me to share their supper. I accepted politely, but only ate a little. I fear taking too much from her and the boys. I am starting to feel truly hungry for the first time in my life. I have always been well fed and housed, taken care of. I can always go home, but not yet. I have so much more to learn and think about.

This entry was posted in All part of the process, Century, conversations, developing relationships, Family, nature, novel projects, paying attention, Pennsylvania, Questions and riddles, summer, Telling Stories, thinking in words and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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