When you grow old with a neighborhood it’s hard to see it objectively. The days of the bright new convenience store that I’d patronize for my morning cup of coffee long ago before the first twinkle of sunlight are long past. My neighborhood was fairly new back then and I settled into the community that I’d call home for decades and still do.
I pulled up to the faded gas pumps with the white needle on my gas gauge swimming in the Red Sea. The once proud concrete is cracked and saturated with oil stains. It’s darker than the surrounding surface which on that occasion would be a misleading title of “black top”.
I really didn’t notice how the elements and time had worn my neighborhood as well as myself until I’d spotted the strolling man make his way across the four-lane street that I’d once used for a shortcut back when it was just a dirt road.
The closely shaved headed man with whiskers to match looked to be around my age. Our eyes locked for a second until he glanced away. The man caught my eye a few moments later when he bent over to pick up something in the parking lot.
Just outside the double glass doors of the convenience store, he hit a gold mine. He picked up a few more small items and slipped one into his mouth, fetched a lighter out of his oversized pants and lit up a partially used cigarette.
I took a closer look at the frugal man who was not remotely germ-o-phobic. His clothes must have cost him about as much as his cigarettes. His jeans were much too wide and were cinched around his modest hips in clumps. The blue jeans were fat cuffed at the bottom from too many rolls. His brownish green sweater would have most certainly won him first prize at any ugly Christmas sweater contest.
There wasn’t anything like him around these parts thirty years ago. But then it dawned on me that I’m not anything like I was thirty years ago either. I have cracks and lines like the old streets and sidewalks. And despite all the maintenance, all things wear out. It is the design and process in this fallen world.
I clicked the pump handle over and over until it landed on an even number with no cents behind it, glanced around for the cigarette scrounger, slipped the tired gas pump back into its cradle and headed south.
I spotted the bum looking for more used smokes behind the store.
We’re all wearing out and in search of things to comfort us. Comfort and satisfaction in this flesh are fleeting. We can get rest, not so different than filling up a gas tank, but one day rest or fuel just won’t be enough.
My guess is that the cigarette bum might check out a little earlier, but we all checkout. It’s not a matter of if, but when… yet, more importantly, is Where.
I’ll keep my eye out for the used cigarette chain smoker. He’s not in my neighborhood by chance.