Tuesday, January 24, 2012
I was awoken by a one legged man knocking on my back door wanting to sell me a shower caddie. I was living in my favorite apartment at the time. It was an old brick apartment building that had just been renovated. There was a park across the street, and I lived on the other side of the park, where I admired what would become my apartment while it was being renovated. We had a porch in the front, and one in the back. The inside was nice, too. My roommate, Mike, even decorated the living room in a style he titled, “Oooh, say what, say what. Which apparently meant that it was suitable for wooing the ladies. I had never lived in a nice apartment before, so it was always a treat to look around when it was clean.
The two bedrooms were in the back of the apartment, that’s why the one legged man on the other side of the wall was knocking on both my back door, and my bedroom door. I was startled when he knocked, regardless of how many legs I perceived the knocker to have. No one had ever knocked on that door before. I figured that it was someone that I knew, why else would someone be knocking at that door? I discreetly peered out the window and decided that I needed to answer. I opened the door.
The man: Yeah, hi, do you want to buy a shower caddie?
A shower caddie is like a fixture made out of metal wire that holds shampoo and soap and probably luffas. Immediately, I couldn’t care less about the shower caddie. I wanted to know this guy’s story. Here he was standing on my back porch, resting heavily on his crutches. He had shaggy black hair, a mustache, one full leg, and one that didn’t make it to where his knee should be. Where did he live? Why is he missing a leg? How did he get an extra shower caddie? Why is he knocking on my back door?
So, we stood and talked for awhile. It turns out that his name is Rick, and he lived across the street in a place called South Tower. South Tower housed a lot of people that needed help in various ways. They all had meager apartments, many were disabled, and most on some sort of government assistance. Rick was a good guy. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember scrounging up $5 and paying him for a shower caddie. I had no desire to have a shower caddie, but I had a desire to give Rick $5 as collateral so I could hang out with him again.
I went back into my room excited to tell my roommate about my crazy random experience, and expectant, waiting for my next opportunity to talk to Rick. My neighborhood had an eclectic mix of people. It was downtown and it was across from South Tower. South Tower is one of those buildings you don’t notice, until you see it one time and wonder how you had missed it all these years. The building had people outside of it a lot. I think it was filled mostly people who, for one reason or another, couldn’t work. There was the guy who didn’t have any teeth, had a worn out high voice, and who I wasn’t actually sure if he was a man. There was another man who wore robes and used to put three dogs into some sort of cart, wheel them into a grassy part of the park, spread out a sheet on the ground, pull the dogs out of the cart, and sit with them. Also, there was Rick.
After Rick sold me the shower caddie I saw him outside occasionally and would always wave and say hi. Sometimes, I would even call Rick up on the phone just to catch up. After reminding him on the phone who I was (This is Jeff, who bought the shower caddie from you), we’d chat. Eventually, Rick got a wheelchair, which must have been such a relief. Crutches are okay for awhile, or for some of the time, but for all the time is just about impossible.
Then, near Christmas time, I brought X-Men on VHS over to his apartment to watch it, something we had talked about doing for a long time. Rick met me on the ground floor, and escorted me up the elevator. On the third floor we got out and walked into this place. I guess you would describe it as a studio apartment with a bed in the living room, joining the entertainment center and two chairs. In kind of a separate room was the kitchen. The cinder block walls made the place feel a lot like a dorm. A month earlier, I had gone on a trip to Spain, with my friend, John. While we were there I had taken some cool pictures and added some poetry to the pictures in Photoshop. It was when I was first discovering that I could kind of do both. I had decided to give them as Christmas presents that year, so I had one framed for Rick.
We sat and talked for awhile, Rick had family about forty five minutes away, a sister, who he occasionally sees. I got the feeling that outside of an occasional visit from his sister, that I may have been the only visitor in his place. Here was this handicapped man that I met because he was going door to door trying to sell a shower caddie, who if not lonely, was often alone, that was now hosting me in his modest apartment. None of that sentimentality got to me really. It didn’t really even get to me when he put my framed picture up on the entertainment center in a place of prominence. No.
What got me was the Christmas decorations.
It has stuck with me to this day.
Rick was a guy who couldn’t work. He was a guy relegated to hobbling across the street to sell a shower caddie to a stranger in order to supplement his meager stipend from the government. He was a guy who had a sister forty five minutes away, and that’s it as far as family goes. He was a guy without goals and dreams to pursue. He was a guy who just had an apartment and a small simple life, and, what got me, was this guy decorated for Christmas.
There was a chance that no one else would see those decorations.
But, he did it anyway. Rick was void of the things that make me take pride in things. I take pride in things because people might see what I do. I take pride in things as a vehicle to something better down the road. I take pride in things because people around me tell me I should. Rick didn’t have any of that.
Yet, he still put his crutches on the bed and awkwardly bent to the floor, reached under his bed to the place he kept important things. He grabbed the small Christmas tree and the lights and put them just so around his small apartment.
Something has just always struck me with that thought.
Six years later, I don’t really know what it is that strikes me so. There is something about pride when no one is watching, there is something about sadness in decorating for yourself, and there is something about the importance in things, even when people can’t see it, or can’t see the person at all. But, I don’t know the formula of the poignancy of that moment and the fact that it stayed with me, I just know it has.
I called Rick a few times periodically after that, but we’ve since fallen out of touch.
I imagine Rick still takes pride in things. I like that he is still probably decorating his apartment because it feels important.