The railroad tracks near my home run behind Kroger and several poor neighborhoods. They are often used as a thoroughfare to between these neighborhoods and the grocery store. A trail of sorts. Often, I will see poor people walking the tracks carrying a twelve pack of beer from the grocery store on their way home including me as one of the poor souls this morning sans beer. This morning was no different. I sat on my bench around eight watching trains as one fellow walked down the side of the tracks. I immediately put out my cigarette putting my pack in my pocket as they always ask for one and it is an awkward social moment for me. I am not exactly exuding cigarettes these days. I was wrong today when the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette and lit up as he walked by. Whew! He didn’t ask. Sometimes, you just can’t judge a book by it’s cover.
I studied the man closely as he passed. His face looked pitted and scarred from years of sun. He was sloppily dressed in a tattered button up shirt and dirty pants. He had on a green John Deere cap that clashed with his clothes. On his feet, were some very cheap generic looking tennis shoes. In his hand was a twelve pack of very cheap ice beer. This screamed alcoholic. I was tempted to ask for one in one of my alcoholic moments. He was headed for downtown and I wondered where he was going. The bridge across the Chattahoochee was near so he must’ve been headed for a neighborhood in West Point across the river. He was probably going to settle in for a morning of drinking beer and either listening to music or watching TV. I’ve done it many times in my life in similar circumstances.
I left the tracks after watching several trains and walked the long walk up to Kroger. I wandered the store growing hungry at all the food. I was starving and a glutton for punishment today. Mom would be here around lunch with my groceries. I was making a mental list of things mom could buy for me. I was going to call her when I got home. I was especially interested in the frozen Chinese food. That sounded and seemed so wonderful to me. Ah, orange chicken! I also checked out this weeks Blu-Ray disc offerings. Not much interested me. Movies are terrible these days catering to the lowest common denominator.
It was about 10am when I left Kroger and headed for home. I took a shortcut through the mill village ever aware of my whiteness in a black neighborhood. Elderly people sitting on their porches watched me warily as I walked by through their streets.. Poverty surrounded me. This neighborhood used to be so nice decades ago when the cotton mills were still running. Now, there are no jobs and the poverty is pervasive and systemic. These people are just scraping by and the vagaries of yard care and house upkeep fall to the wayside.
I arrived home to a big greeting by Maggie in the fence. “Where have you been?” she seemed to be saying. “I’ve been lonely without you.” I checked the mail and there was another letter from George. This has gotten to be almost a daily occurrence on the weekdays. I opened the letter and began to read as I stood in the yard when I was accosted by a man walking down the street with a clipboard. He was a extremely nice looking young man – very athletic. He was selling home security systems.
“Do you own your home?” he asked.
“My father does and he is not here right now,” I replied.
The young man thanked me for my time and headed across the street to my neighbor’s house despite the ADT security sign in their front yard. I sighed in relief at the short amount of time it took for that social interaction. I hate being solicited.
“I miss momma’s cooking,” George started his letter with. “My cellmate is a goober. He talks all the time and never shuts up. I just want to come home. I am sick and tired of this place. My only joy is playing basketball in the recreation yard. I could die for a cigar.”
I felt so sorry for George and it made me thankful for my freedom. I should be in jail as well with all the DUIs I got over the years. Dad would always get me off by calling the judge or hiring a good lawyer, though. George didn’t have that luxury.