By the Ancient Law

[I grow weary of making injury reports, so I'll leave it at this: the day--nay, the moment--I can write something new, I will. I wrote this column in Atlanta back in 2003, when I lived on virtually no money and often would go days without food. This was before the website, when I just emailed the column out, and it was always a crowd favorite. Since I admittedly sometimes use magic realism in my stories, let me assure you that every thing in this column actually happened just like I wrote it. Enjoy. - H]

The Hyperion Chronicles
“Ain't a fit night out for Man nor Beast!”

#88 By the Ancient Law

Musings on a winter morning:

My little Weather Bug icon on my computer says it’s 21°F, but with the wind chill factor it’s -6°F. For that much of a difference, the wind must be howling. I am up to the challenge. I have to take out the trash anyway, and I decide to do it without a shirt.

Dear Lord. I don’t get chilled easily, but it’s colder than a witch’s tit out here. And speaking of that, I idly wonder if strippers could make more money in this kind of weather. There certainly are…enhancements. I better get back indoors before my enhancements fall off.

Back inside I put on a shirt and coat to head back out. I like it outside this early in the morning. It’s still very dark, and very peaceful. I often get some of my best writing done on these early morning walks. I go back out and look up with wonder to see it’s snowing, real lightly, but flakes nonetheless. I know you Northerners who deal with snow all the time are probably rolling your eyes. But down here we don’t get snow too often, and I can still enjoy the spectacle.

I remember growing up in Oregon, on those rare days when it snowed, getting up early without prompting; listening to the radio and waiting with fingers crossed and prayers lifted to Heaven for the announcer to call out our little school. Those were the days. I’m reminded of a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin sees the snow coming down at night while falling asleep, and thinks to himself that snow is one of the few pleasures reserved for those who don’t drive. Amen.

I start walking, and almost immediately get run over by a little woman carrying her child to the bus stop. The boy is bundled up like he’s preparing to scale K-2, but the poor woman is wearing her work uniform, which includes a skirt that must be sending drafts…BRR! I don’t even want to think about it. She’s evidently walked a fur piece, and is obviously so tired that even though she doesn’t speak a word of English, she barely hesitates to look me over when I wordlessly offer to carry the child the rest of the way before nodding her assent.

We set off at a quick pace, and this small child rapidly turns into the Incredible Bulk. I am shocked this tiny 5’1” woman, 100 pounds soaking wet has lugged this youngster as far as she has.

After a few minutes we arrive at the bus stop, and though the language barrier prevents much conversation, I’m more than winded, so it’s okay. It’s at this point I realize the morning thus far would make a good column, and so I pull out my trusty pad and pen to start jotting some notes down. Except…the pen ink has frozen. I am not kidding. This would be the one time I didn’t bring a spare. The woman sees my plight, and digs into her child’s Spider-Man backpack to emerge with a light blue magic marker. This is quite a treasure, and I can’t accept it, but right then the bus comes and she pushes it into my hand and corrals her child onto the bus. I risk opening the cap for a quick smell before burying it in my deepest pocket to keep it warm. Mmm. It smells like blue raspberry Slurpee. The gods be praised.

I’m feeling pretty cheerful with my good deed, the snow, and the magic marker, and I’m out on the main road now, so I decide to head down to McDonald’s. I have $3.21 that I have carefully hoarded, enough to buy three items on the Dollar Menu, with tax. God Bless the Dollar menu. As I walk to McDonalds I remember going as a kid. I told my dad once I couldn’t imagine ever wanting anything else at McDonald’s other than a Hamburger Happy Meal (I had yet to discover cheese and its cousin, cheese-products). It seems so strange to me that at one time my biggest worry was what to get in my Happy Meal, and if I would get a toy I already had.

The sky is dark and swirling, but to the east there is just a bit of blue, and it’s so pretty how the blue is buffered there, surrounded by night but stalwart, nonetheless. Hmm. I think my brain is freezing, and I need to hurry up.

By the time I get to McDonalds I’m pretty chilled, and stepping indoors is a relief. Everyone there seems pretty happy for the warmth, but I can’t help but notice most of them still have their heavy coats on. My dad taught me when you’re indoors to take your coat off, because your body acclimates and going back outside will actually be colder if you’ve had your coat on the whole time. This makes sense to me, and has been empirically demonstrated again and again, but for some reason I can’t convince my science-genius friend Bear of this. Oh well.

I order a sausage biscuit, a chicken biscuit, two hash browns and a water, which comes to $3.21. Life is good. I get to my table, and I’m a disappointed to see they gave me two sausage biscuits, but I’m dissuaded from going back up to the counter because A) they’re busy, B) I am in a good mood and don’t want to cause problems, and C) I feel less guilty about putting some orange drink in my cup. This reminds me of the time Bryan Yutzie and I were in charge of filling those giant yellow containers McDonald’s used to lend out to baseball teams and church groups. Then again, now that I think of it, maybe I shouldn’t tell that story. Yes, best to move on.

I sit down to eat my meal and write this story out. The magic marker has a fat tip and will probably take my whole pad to complete, but I’m so happy I don’t care. I’ve been writing for about ten minutes when the oddest-looking fellow comes in. He’s huge, about 6’2”, 300 pounds, at least, and he’s wearing a bone-white hospital gown that fits him none-too-well; set off by very dark skin. I’m struck by this, because I cannot think of a hospital even remotely close to here. I shudder to think how far he must have walked in that gown and those little slippers, but there is no way that happened. He’d have frozen to death. He must have been in a vehicle.

He scans the room for a minute, and everyone sort of looks away. Finally he sees me and makes eye contact, and heads over. Oh, great. Maybe we had a Big-Man Moment, but I was all happy here writing my column and eating my food. He stops in front of me and looks at me for a minute, very solemnly. Like some idiot, I keep writing. (I’m at the point where I’m writing about the bus stop when he’s standing in front of me,)

Finally, he says, “By the Ancient Law of the McMuffin, I ask to share your repast.”

It’s hard not to gape. I barely know what repast means (meal), and I never would have guessed he did. And what in the name of Katie’s Corset is the Ancient Law of the McMuffin? I don’t even have a McMuffin in front of me. I think to myself, maybe it comes from the McMagna Carta.

Feeling a little more on kilter, I decide it can’t hurt, and he asked so politely, so I motion for the guy to sit down across from me, and I slide over one of my biscuits. The chair groans under his weight, and I recalculate my 300-pound theory. He eats with gusto, like a man who hasn’t seen good food in weeks, but then again, depending on what hospital he was at, this is probably true. After a minute, he starts talking about stuff, all sorts of stuff. I pride myself on being able to hold a conversation with just about anyone, but I have almost no idea what he’s talking about. He keeps mentioning Matrixes (yeah, I know the plural is Matrices, but that’s his word), and at first I think he’s talking about the movie sequels coming out this year, but soon it becomes apparent that he’s talking about some bigger conspiracy. I start to wonder just what sort of a hospital this guy was at. But, he’s pleasant enough, and if people are staring, so what; people often stare at me, and it’s not the end of the world.

Then the local news on the TV behind him starts talking about Jesse Jackson, and my guy launches into a tirade on him. This I’m more familiar with, and I feel like joining in, but he doesn’t seem to need my input other than occasional smiling and nodding. After about 11 minutes of almost non-stop talking, I notice three official looking guys enter the restaurant, with uniforms and walkie-talkies and restraints and what appears to be some sort of dart gun (like what they shot Ross’s monkey with that time on Friends). My companion notices my eyes, but cool-as-a-cucumber, doesn’t turn around. He looks at the window behind me; he must see the men in the reflection.

Calmly, he keeps eating, finishing his last couple bites (of my other sausage biscuit, by the way), and I can see him timing himself for when they walk over. The guards get about five feet away, and the guy says (a bit too loudly for conversation, but obviously wanting to be heard) “So the Pope says to me, ‘Why do you think I wear the robe, buddy? Why do you think I wear the robe?’”

I burst out laughing, because I have always wanted to do that, and of course now I’m dying to hear the actual joke! But, it is not to be. One of the guards says “Glenda, now be good and come with us nicely.” Glenda! If this is a woman, the planet is doomed. I look at him again. No. Flippin’. Way. This guy is not a woman. I’m not even sure he’s a man!

But whoever he is, he gets up docilely, and nods at me ceremonially. He intones “By your leave.” And calmly walks out the door with the three guards. The entire restaurant, which had been hushed to begin with when the guy first walked in, is now silent; all eyes watching him walk out. I see him nod to people silently, like he was a King and they were his subjects! I love this guy! For about five seconds after they all file out there is still utter silence, and then conversation just explodes everywhere, as if trying to fill up the vacuum. Everyone is talking about it and a couple of people even come over to me to ask if I knew him—which I tell them I didn’t—and what did he say, where was he from, etc. A crowd starts to form. For a minute I answer the questions willingly, happy to be the center of attention, but then I get this feeling that I’m dishonoring his memory. After all, he did treat me with a great deal of respect. I stand up and put on my coat, and tell the people standing there I have to go.

Back outside the sun has finally come up, and though it’s still colder than a mean self-important English teacher (who for legal reasons is not named Ms. Federovitch, wink wink), with the sun up, it feels warmer. The walk home is almost jaunty. This lasts for about ten minutes, at which point I curse the sun for its laziness and sloth. Perhaps it’s the lack of food, or just the anti-climactic feel because nothing exciting happens on the way home, but after the euphoria of the first few minutes pass, it is freezing out here!

My eyes start to water and my nose starts to run, but luckily it’s so cold the snot freezes instantly against my beard. And, that’s probably more than you needed to know, so I’ll move on. I finally trudge home, absolutely positive they are going to have to amputate my legs, and fumble with the keys, almost falling inside when the door opens. It’s only 60°F in here, but it feels like a furnace. Oh, blessed couch and quilt! I have never been so happy to see you! I take off the frozen clothes and put on a sweater, a fleece pullover my aunt got me for Christmas, and my big purple shirt. I crawl under the quilt and wait for body heat to rescue me.

Eventually it does, and I reflect on what a morning I had. I try to put a theme on it, for the title to this chronicle if for no other reason, but nothing really comes to mind. I guess sharing had a lot to do with it. I shared my time and energy helping the woman get to the bus with her child, and she shared a needed writing tool with me; and a raspberry marker to boot! I shared my two biscuits with the guy at McDonald’s, and he gave me a great story to write about. I still can’t think what I shared with God to earn weather so cold; it was colder than a Clinton marriage bed—with both Clintons in it! —But then again, God did give me those few minutes of snow, falling sweetly and silently out of the dark sky. I can’t ask for more than that. Invigorated, I now plan to spend the whole day writing.

Um, right after this nap.

January 23, 2003

© 2003 Hyperion Chronicles

1 comment:

Sea Hag said...

Things like this only happen to you.

I can't help but think of the other dude as your long lost twin brother. Um, or sister. The universe owes you some biscuits. Or Mrs. Not Federovich does.