True Story: Community, Okay?

[Editor's Note: Jack Grisham is an author, hypnotherapist, T.S.O.L. front man and all-around troublemaker. This column, True Story, may or may not be factual, with characters who may or may not be real.]

I was driving down Olive when I saw him. He was on his knees. At first, he looked like something that had fallen off the back of a truck, but when I got closer, I could see it was an old man who'd tripped in the street.

I stopped my car and helped him to his feet. His pant leg was torn, and I could see blood--not much, but the cloth of his pants was wet. I got him to my car and had him lean against the hood. He'd been carrying groceries, but the brown paper bag had ripped, and his canned goods and some lettuce heads were scattered about. His milk was dusted--the carton torn and leaking.

"Your bag is trashed," I said. "I think I got one in the back."

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I opened my trunk and pulled out a cloth bag. I have a hundred of them. Every time I go to the market, I forget to bring a bag, so I end up buying new ones. I put his groceries in it. "I usually get paper," he said. "It's only 10 cents."

A car honked, then drove around us. Fuck them--it's a residential neighborhood, and we're stopped in the street, big fucking deal. I hate what they've done to this place, the whole small-town beach vibe has been replaced with ugly, three-story, cookie-cutter monoliths and assholes like this who have no respect for community, and . . .

"Fuck you," I said as they passed. I smiled at the old man. "Sorry."

"It's okay," he said. "I like that." He raised his arm and flashed an old middle finger at the rear window of the Mercedes that had passed us. "Fuck you," He said, and then smiled. I offered him a ride home, which he accepted.

"You're the family that just moved in on Alabama, the ones with the kids jumping and yelling?"   "Yeah, sorry. They, uh . . ."

"No," he said, "I like it. I had kids. I don't see them anymore. My boy, he passed a few years ago, and Jenny, my little girl, before him. Sometimes, I sit in the back yard and listen to yours as I think about mine. . . ." He closed his eyes and lay back against the seat.

"I have five," I said. "Three girls and two boys. I couldn't imagine losing them."

"Oh, you don't ever lose them," he said. "You miss holding them, but they're never really gone."

He lives around the corner from us in an old, single-story Craftsman bordered on each side by a soulless million-dollar mess.

"They want my place," he said, "but not 
yet, huh?"

I got out of the car. I opened his door and helped him out.

"Do you think I could come by someday, watch the kids play?"

"Yeah, of course, we'd love it," I said. "And if 
we don't see you, the boys and I will come looking for you."

He smiled and walked away.

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