Judge a Book By Its Cover
Rosa Parks Park was deserted at 6:00am. There were the remnants of last night’s festivities; the empty bottles strewn around, the open and discarded wrappers of whatever food the local vendor’s had been peddling, and of course newspapers. I look again at the newspapers.
Pondering, how do so many newspapers get left behind in a park? I don’t even subscribe to the newspaper anymore. I just don’t have time to read it like I used to. I roll into longing for the “good old days” of the newspaper. I would languish on the couch with a cup of hot coffee and pour over every article on each page. The Op-Ed would get my blood boiling and the Obit would calm me down. I would work as much of the puzzle as I could, sometimes that wasn’t very much at all. Of course I would scan through the horoscopes of everyone I knew. I needed to know what was going to happen to my family and friends. It would take me as much as a an hour to read the paper, grubby fingerprints left on my coffee cup was proof of the duration.
The frost makes the grass crunch as I walk through the park. I enjoy the solitude of the brisk morning. The non-migratory birds chattering. Squirrels giving me the stink eye if I stray too close to their latest cache, running to the nearest barren tree to avoid my feint lunges at them. The distant horn of the train makes me smile, there was a few years when the economy was so poor, the train simply did not run.
Suddenly, a pile of newspapers rustle. Skunk comes immediately to mind. I stop short in my tracks. Oh man, I have been sprayed before. It was years ago, but I still recall that stench on my skin. Beginning to sweat in my statuesque pose, fearful of movement, planning my escape route, I turn my tennis shoed foot towards my planned escape. The animal that emerges from under the newspapers startles me into a small yelp emitting from my mouth.
A young man emerged from under the newspaper. Disheveled and dirty, he looked at me with bleary eyes and said, “I’m cold, can you help me?”
I seldom have any cash on me when I walk. Today was the exception. I had grabbed a few dollars, my drivers license and my credit card, just for good measure, when I stepped out of the house this morning. Knowing I was going to feed him, and knowing my husband would probably hit the roof when he found out I had fed him, I determined to follow my gut feelings anyhow.
“Common, let’s get something to eat. I’m hungry. Care to join me for a cup of coffee and maybe a bagel? There is a restaurant just across the street. They have the best coffee around here.” I strode over and offered my hand to help him get up.
As we walked to the restaurant, I noticed he had a limp. I also noted he did not have any warm clothing on. He did wear a sweater, but not heavy enough to be outside all night.
We took a booth close to the door and next to a window. Both of us watched the traffic begin to quicken as time slips by. After he had eaten a large platter of pancakes with eggs and hash browns and that bagel I had originally invited him for, I asked him what had happened that he had slept in the park.
“You think I just got drunk and passed out there, don’t you?” He looked at me sideways from the window. “Well, I didn't. I don’t even drink. I did have money, but was robbed.” His face hardened with thought.
Smugly, I knew that would be the focus of my telling this tale to my husband. “My husband is probably getting concerned about me. Can I give you a lift anywhere? I can give you some money, although I don’t have much. Do you need a coat?” I searched his face while asking the questions. I wanted to know the truth about this young man. Was he just some con artist bum hitting me up for food and money?
Briskly, for me anyhow, we walked to the Goodwill store just down the street. He picked out a warm winter coat and I suggested a sweatshirt as well. Then, bundled up, we headed for my car. He had asked if I would drive him to his parents house. After leaving a voice message for my husband, I started the car and pulled out of the parking lot.
He told me his parents lived outside of the city. He didn't tell me just how far away they lived! At least, not until we were well under way. Then his story poured out of him. His parents were renting a home on the lake for a few weeks. He had flown out from California to visit them for the weekend. Yes, they were probably worried sick about him, but in this day and age of technology he didn't remember their phone number to call them on their cell phones. I was keeping my apprehension about this trip to myself. I still wasn't certain I totally believed his story, it was rather far fetched.
As we approached the rented lake house, my eyes widened and my jaw dropped. It wasn't just a small hut of a cottage I was driving to, it was an isolated mansion on Lake Michigan. I pulled up to the front door expecting guards or at least guard dogs to rush at my tired little car.
Instead, we were greeted by two younger clones of the boy I was driving. The two young men were shrugging coats onto their shoulders as they ran down the steps. Both yelling and hollering to someone behind them, “He’s here, he’s ok, he’s here.” Down the front steps they ran nearly tripping over one another.
Shortly, an older couple emerged from the house donning their coats as well. As the young man and I stepped out of my car he introduced us, “Mom, Dad, this lady may very well have saved my life. She found me beaten and robbed and still fed me, bought me this coat and took the time to drive me here.” The parents looked from the son to my shabby car to me.
Tears began to run down his mother’s face, his father’s contorted as he croaked out, “Thank you. Thank you. You are truly and angel. How can we ever repay you?”
I stepped back as family reunited hugged one another. Then in unison, they turned to me and ushered me along with them back into the house.
That was a few years ago. Since then my husband and I have been to visit them at their beach house in Malibu and gone skiing with them at Aspen. Lives changed that day. The day I decided not to judge that book by its cover, and take a chance.