Copyright ©2017 by Thomas W. Edgemon
All Rights Reserved
It is late at night. At one end of a grocery store parking lot, people are shouting. Nearby, a man appears in the window of an old delivery truck. A gunshot rings out, and then a car peels out of sight. A woman is lying on the ground crying out and clutching her thigh. The man rushes out of the delivery truck and crouches over her. With one hand he applies pressure to the wound, and with the other he removes his belt. He speaks soothingly to her as he applies a makeshift tourniquet. He tears off a portion of his shirt and hands it to her to apply pressure with. He gets up and runs with a limp into the store, shouting for someone to call an ambulance.
The following day, around noon. The old delivery truck is in the same spot. It appears there used to be a business name along the side of it, but was poorly scraped off. All of its doors are shut. A young man in his late twenties walks up to it and looks around. He knocks on the driver’s side door. The old man sticks his head out of the window. The top of his head is bald and shiny with sweat. Bits of grease are smeared across his face and in his beard.
Journalist: Um, yeah. Hi. I’m looking for [looks down at legal pad] a Mr. George Bennett. My name’s Eric Johnson, [he offers a handshake] and I’m with the Sun. [George shakes his hand briefly and transfers a good amount of grease in the process]
George: Yeah, I know you’re a journalist.
Eric: How’s that?
George: Well, you’re not a sheriff and you aint dressed nice enough to be a politician who’s come to thank me for my “selfless act of courage and heroism” [Old Man disappears, is heard shuffling around inside the truck, drops something heavy, swears loudly, and then slides open the side door. He sits down on the side. He is a smaller man, and his feet do not touch the ground. He swings them freely]
Eric: What you did last night was amazing.
George: Was it?
Eric: Sure it was. It took quick thinking. Not everyone would have thought to apply a tourniquet, which may have been the difference between life and death for that woman. Surely you know how far we are from the nearest hospital.
George: It’s basic stuff, really. Anyone with good first aid knowledge would have done it.
Eric: [chuckles] You don’t know how to take a compliment, do you?
George: The fact that someone was there made the difference, not the fact that it was me specifically. It was pure chance.
Eric: And who would have thought to get the license plate of the car driving away? And remember it in the heat of the moment?
George: You gonna hound me until what? I admit my superior presence of mind under duress?
George: And so an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.
Eric: Even still. Out of seven billion people, it was you who happened to be there, and it was you who did what needed to be done. You can’t humbly slide out of that one.
George: I guess not.
Eric: It might interest you to know the suspects were caught and the victim is expected to make a full recovery.
George: Not really interesting, no, but I am glad for the lady.
Eric: You’re not glad they were caught and will answer for their crimes?
George: A small justice, to be sure. But it’s a single ounce of water in the Sahara.
Eric: How’s that?
George: Hard to be excited about that when you consider the number and magnitude of daily injustices in this country. Especially the legalized and institutionalized ones.
Eric: So you’ve instead relegated yourself to be depressed about everything? Sounds like some nihilistic, existence-is-pain mentality. [pauses] Doesn’t the volume of misfortune warrant the celebration of small victories more than ever? I think the heat in that truck has cooked your brain a little.
George: [laughs] Maybe it has.
Eric: Are you at all interested in meeting the woman whose life you probably saved?
George: Probably saved? I sure hope that aint gonna be your headline. [raises hands to spread an invisible banner] “Man in Delivery Truck Probably Saves Woman.” [laughs] Meet her why? So my presence can put her on the spot and compel her to publicly thank me? Seems rather presumptuous. And what, so she can see me in the light-and realize I’m a dirty old man out of a delivery truck and she can wince at the memory of me touching her body with these greasy hands? No thanks.
Eric: You are just set on selling yourself short at every turn.
George: Humility is cheap. It’s in high supply and low demand. But I bought in. I think it’s on the upswing. I’m playing the long game.
Eric: So, do you live out of this?
George: Live out of it? No. I just sleep in it and drive it. [Eric looks confused, and George cracks a rueful smile] Besides, this old thing aint that interesting. [he points a thumb back behind himself]
Eric: You can’t show me the elephant in the room and then tell me to not look at it.
Eric: Where are you going?
George: Going? That implies I got a destination, which I don’t. I’m just making my way around. Waaay around.
Eric: [writes a few lines on his pad] Seeing the sights?
George: Sure, if you wanna put it that way.
Eric: Well, I don’t wanna put it like any way. I wanna put it the way it is. [he puts the pen tip to the paper and looks expectantly at George]
George: [raps his knuckles on the metal floorboard] It aint a means to an end. It’s the result, not the process, Son.
Eric: How’s that?
George: I didn’t put four wheels on a block of rust just so that I could drive around and pretend to be Thoreau, all “close with nature” with my feet in the dirt. Even if my feet are kinda dirty at the moment. [he presents them to Eric] I aint lookin for God or Truth or Meaning or my Walden. I did away with all the extra stuff I didn’t need, and what was left over happens to look like an old delivery truck with some shit in the back of it.
[Eric’s pen is still and his mouth is slightly ajar]
George: And you’re probably wondering what the straw was that broke the camel’s back. Did my wife leave me? Was it a midlife crisis? Did I lose my life’s savings? Did I beat cancer and grow a newfound appreciation for travel? But what if I told you it didn’t matter one way or the other? [one of his arms disappears and comes back with a stool in it. He hands it to Eric, who sits down without even thinking about it] What if I said where I’m at is independent of how I got here?
Eric: Then I would say that sounds like fate or destiny or pre-determinism.
George: Suffice it to say I think I would have ended up here any which way.
Eric: [lays his legal pad and pen on the ground] Which you seem content with. Maybe even happy.
George: And you would be right.
Eric: And you’re gonna tell me you want for nothing?
George: Is wanting something always reason enough to indulge it? What does that get you, other than a vague, empty feeling while you stand in a house filled with “stuff”?
Eric: [furrows his brow]
George: Chew on it. I aint trying to make a monk out of anyone. But Socrates said the unexamined life aint worth living. I think there’s some merit to it.
Eric: There’s a term for people who live like you. They call themselves Minimalists.
George: Well, this day and age everything needs to sound pretty and novel. How else they gonna market it? But you ever stop and think about the necessity of it? A way of life so uncommon and starkly contrasting they need a specific name for it. Which is to say the opposite is normal. Because the American Dream is online shopping. Anything at your doorstep with the click of a button and three easy payments of $19.95. Hallelujah!
Eric: You just drive around the country philosophizing to everyone you meet?
George: [raises his eyebrows] Only the ones who look like they want it.
Eric: And I fit the bill?
George: The only real question you’ve asked me about last night was to verify my name.
Eric: [glances down at his legal pad] Huh. I guess so. So if you don’t like the American Dream or materialism or shoes or anything other than saint-like humility, then what do you like?
George: Colorado in the summertime. New Hampshire on a foggy morning. The Shenandoah valley during fall. Alaska any time. And as of yesterday, Florida springs. Also Carolina barbeque barbeque and Kentucky bourbon.
Eric: You’ve been all over the place. Is there a state you haven’t been to?
Eric: Makes sense. This thing looks like its seaworthy days are behind it.
George: No but I do have a canoe back here.
Eric: Oh really?
George: No. [laughs] Wouldn’t get enough use out of it to justify.
Eric: How long have you been on the road?
George: Almost a year.
Eric: With no sign of stopping, I bet.
George: Not that I can tell, but I can’t see the future, so who knows.
Eric: Who indeed.
[George pulls out a small liquor bottle and offers it to Eric, who declines. George shrugs and takes a quick pull]
Eric: Where are you originally from?
George: I was born on Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I’ve lived all over, but I guess that’s home. But God, Jacksonville is a shit hole.
Eric: And you served, too, didn’t you?
George: Why do you say that?
Eric: The overwhelming majority of veterans are also children of veterans. I read that somewhere.
George: In my case, you would be right. Like my father, I did some time in the Marine Corps.
Eric: Did some time? You make it sound like a prison sentence. Even if you were in Vietnam, those forces were mostly volunteer. Which means no one made you.
George: Right again. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t sunshine and rainbows. A sense of obligation drove me to it.
Eric: To your family?
George: To this country.
Eric: Spoken like the true patriot.
George: It’s easy to jump headlong into things as a kid and wholly commit to shit that’s so far above and beyond you it may as well be on the moon. But the older you get, the more you realize things will roll on with our without you. You see how complicated the world really is. You start to understand just how much you don’t understand. The average age of the modern warfighter is twenty-one or so. Half these boys can’t even drink, but they’re taking lives across the world for minimum wage because politicians in three thousand dollar suits tell them to.
Eric: You sound disillusioned.
George: It’s just a funny thing. Which is to say it aint really funny at all. Not to me. But I think patriotism can exist independent of blind obedience.
Eric: Anything in particular bring you to North Florida?
George: A coin toss. I got on 75 South in Nashville and drove until I saw something I liked.
Eric: And you like Publix parking lots?
George: Sure. They got clean bathrooms nearby. The springs aren’t too far from here. Some good restaurants. All these oak trees! I’ve never seen so many so big. It’s like you could get lost in the woods driving down the street. It’s great. And I’ve heard there’s some such bat house around here that’s got some absurd number of bats in it.
Eric: Yeah, it’s on campus. There’s two of them, actually. I think they’ve got almost a half million bats between them.
George: No kidding? And they just fly all around you, huh? That’s some wild shit. I need to see that.
Eric: It’s open to the public. You can basically walk up to the houses. You could go stand there every night of the week, if you wanted to.
George: So y’all do have something other than geriatrics in this state!
Eric: You know, I have this theory old people just appear here. They have no idea how they get here, but they say screw it, and just stay. They get their revenge on the universe by driving ten under and shopping on the weekends with the rest of us, when they could do it any time. Hell, look at you!
Eric: [loosens his tie and releases the top button on his shirt. He drags the back of his hand across his forehead.] I’ve lived all of my twenty-five years in this state, and I still don’t think I’m used to this heat.
George: I doubt that mop on your head is helping much.
Eric: I know, I know. But I don’t look good with a buzz cut.
George: It’s all in your head…
Eric: I see what you did there. [George snickers] That’s such a dad joke.
George: A what?
Eric: A dad joke. It’s just a really cheesy pun.
George: Kids these days…
Eric: You got any kids?
George: I got a couple, yeah.
Eric: Where are they?
George: All over the place. One of them’s an officer the in the Marine Corps, and the other is a carpenter up in New England.
Eric: And their mother, where is she?
George: Out of the picture for the last decade. She left us out of some dire dissatisfaction which she never bothered to explain to anyone. Makes you wonder if one can ever fully, truly know someone else. Maybe Conrad was right.
Eric: How so?
George: In Heart of Darkness, there’s a bit about how it’s impossible to perfectly convey the essence of one’s experience to another person. There’s always some fog between people.
Eric: An interesting sentiment, albeit a bleak one.
George: Should we really shy away from facts just because they don’t marry up with our sentiments? No pun intended. [takes another quick pull from the liquor bottle, then places it back in the truck] Believe me, I was as broken up about it as one can-and maybe should-be. But you can’t dwell on it forever. To live in the past is to squander the present. Besides, that and a thousand other moments led me here. And you know I’m alright with that. This life will kill you if you take it too seriously.
Eric: [fully unties his tie and slides the back of his hand across his forehead, flicking the collected sweat away] Well, I think I’ll go and get out of your hair.
George: I aint got much left of it.
Eric: It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bennett. [extends his hand, George shakes it] Good luck with your adventure.
George: Likewise, bud. We’ll see you around.
Eric: You say that, but you know it’s not true.
George: Fair enough.
Eric: [begins to walk away, shouts back over his shoulder and waves] Take it easy, George.
George: Oh you know I will. Hey! [Eric reaches for his car door but turns around] Just keep in mind, the only difference between you and me is a good yard sale. [Eric laughs, gets into his car, and drives away]
Eric walks into the newspaper’s office, his tie still untied and hanging about his neck. He collapses into his chair. He sits there for a long moment, starting off into space. He then opens his laptop and begins typing. A colleague walks by.
Colleague: You’re back. How was it?
Eric: [doesn’t look up, continues typing] Interesting, to say the least. The guy lives in an old delivery truck. Well, he sleeps in it and drives it around.
Colleague: A delivery truck? That sounds like a goldmine.
Eric: You could say that.
Colleague: What have you got so far? [walks around to stand behind Eric] Ordinary Man Probably Saves a Life? What the hell kind of title is that?
Eric: [smiling] The most accurate one I can think of.
Colleague: You know the editor aint gonna have it.
Eric: Honestly, I would expect nothing less.
Colleague: Then why bother?
Eric: Because it’s true.
Colleague: Has the heat gotten to your head?
Eric: [laughs] Hell, maybe it has.