I told him he could sleep in my apartment until the first of the month but that afterward he'd be on his own.
  • I told him he could sleep in my apartment until the first of the month but that afterward he'd be on his own.
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Some years ago at Christmastime, when I was a teller at a bank downtown, I came to know Wayne Boyer, who was then an apprentice bum. I met him in the Jack-in-the-Box on Broadway, where I had stepped inside for a Coke; he was in the next line over, standing on crutches, his right leg in a cast from ankle to hip. I was twenty-two then and he looked about my age, but different in other ways. He had black hair, pale skin, and narrow, startling blue eyes. His face was like a weasel’s — narrow, I mean — and active, and he usually put a hand up to cover his missing front tooth when he smiled. I knew him for two years off and on. He called me Mickey (my name is Michael O’Hanlon), I think because of a comic strip called “Mickey Rat,” which was his favorite. It was a satire on Mickey Mouse and was about a rat who lived in a rat town where all the people had rat faces. He said, “That’s where it’s at, man. That book cracks me up.”

What drew my attention to Wayne was the way he handled the service he was getting. The counterman pushed a hamburger at him as though he were doing him some kind of favor, then demanded exact change. Wayne threw a handful of coins at him, hit him in the chest and stomach, and dragged his sack off the counter and crutched his way to an empty table.

I liked that. I believe in dealing straight over with people; whatever they give you, hand it back fast. I was in a position to do that since I worked in The Pit, which was the bank’s remote facility in the parking lot, where one teller handled transactions for three lanes of cars at drive-up kiosks. I dealt with people through intercoms and color-coded pneumatic pipes. In the Christmas season I had three or four cars backed up in every lane, and I took pride in working fast and keeping the transactions and the attitudes sorted in their proper categories. The person in Lane One needed cash back on a deposit to her checking account, and spoke to me with elaborate courtesy, which I returned in kind, while Lane Two had a loan payment coupon to turn in, and a short and businesslike manner, which I returned in kind, while Lane Three wanted to make a savings withdrawal on a joint account with only one signature, and was being offensive from the word go, which I returned in kind. The guy in Lane Three took his messenger tube and threw it under his car and ran over it. Amazing, said my operations manager, that a customer could get so angry at one of her best tellers. And if I was one of the best, it was because I value exactitude, and the balancing logic of cause and effect. I am also not bad with figures, a trait I hadn't realized before I took some classes in sociology.

I sat down next to Wayne and asked him how he’d hurt his leg. He said he’d fallen out of a tree. Fair enough, I said, trying a Tom Snyder imitation, which he didn't get. And what had he been doing in the tree? Trimming it, he said, for Mr. Talley, who was a studio musician in Hollywood, and who had been Wayne’s employer for more than a year. The fall from the eucalyptus tree to the cement driveway had broken Wayne’s leg, for which Mr. Talley had been put to the inconvenience of taking Wayne to the emergency room at City of Angels Hospital and having it set and plastered. Then, not wanting to raise some sort of inquiry with a request for workman’s compensation, Mr. Talley had put Wayne on a Greyhound to San Diego with advice on how to throw himself on general relief and treatment at University Hospital, which had a reputation for being more charitable and less crowded than the welfare-sponsored hospitals of L.A. Wayne was on his fourth night at the mission on Fifth Avenue, and was waiting for the check that Mr. Talley had promised to send by Western Union.

“So you're a gardener by profession?” I asked, noticing the nicotine stains on his hands.

“No, I took my trade as a cook. I got it right here. Look.'’

He had taken from his wallet a creased paper card that showed completion of a training course as a “minner/pastry chef.’’

“Minner?” I said.

He looked at the card himself. His head moved as he read it. “That’s supposed to say ‘dinner/pastry chef,” he said. ‘‘But so far I haven’t found work in that area.”

“You’ve been gardening.”

“Yeah, well, more than that,” he said. He crumpled his hamburger wrappings and threw them at the nearest trash bin, missed it, and went on, “I’m more like a servant.”

“A servant. What do you mean?” “I mean a servant. Rich people pay me to stay in their house and look after the yard and do things for them. ” He turned to watch the girl in the Jack-in-the-Box uniform stoop to collect the bag he’d thrown. “D’you have a cigarette?” he said. ‘Til probably pay you back if I see you again.”

I told him I didn’t smoke.

“Maybe you know somebody who needs a servant.”

I laughed — then looked at him. Was he joking? He was sitting with a white plaster leg in the aisle, his crutches beside him, and on the table was a plastic straw that he'd been pulling through his teeth until it curled.

“Maybe I should put out an ad,” he said blankly. “Bum wants position in rich house. Will provide lifelong care in exchange for inheritance in will.”

“That’s good,” I said. “Right to the point.”

“No — say it like they do in New Orleans: ‘Rat to the point.* ”

“Rat to the point,” I repeated. “Yeah, now you got it. Just the way they say it in New Orleans, and just the way they do in ‘Mickey Rat.’”

After we’d talked a while longer, I offered to put him up in my apartment until the money from Mr. Talley arrived. I had no idea he’d stay five weeks. But it took that long to qualify for food stamps and welfare relief, and he persuaded me that any day this Mr. Talley would send the money he’d promised. Wayne called him two or three times collect. Once Mr. Talley even returned a call. I heard Wayne from the kitchen trying to say exactly when the accident had occurred, and I picked up the extension and asked what the deal was, and without another word Talley hung up.

I had a large apartment, anyway. Wayne took the living room and the coat closet, stowing his clothes and bedding every morning, and leaving no trace of himself except the odor of musk oil which he used on his clothes to overcome the odors of cigarettes and pot. The apartment was spread on the upstairs floor of a townhouse near what was formerly the El Cortez Hotel, and had a view from the living room down Ash Street to the bay. Wayne said it reminded him of Seattle, the view, not the weather, and I said I was glad he liked it. For it was, in many ways, a comfortable arrangement. He left when I did in the morning, usually for an appointment at the hospital, and was waiting outside the door when I returned at night. He never asked for a key and I offered none. He stole nothing, smoked none of the dope when I wasn’t there to roll it and share it with him, ate half of everything I cooked, and, curiously, cooked nothing on his own, although he showed me some of the techniques of his trade — how to dice an onion, how to slice mushrooms and trim bread, how to make a roux for clam chowder. He kept the kitchen cleaner than I ever had, washing the dishes and sponging the counters, but he wouldn’t do the pots or the plates that needed soaking. He put them in the oven, out of sight, or back in the cupboard still encrusted with food.

I yelled at him every time for that, and for throwing cigarette butts in the toilet, and for getting out my acrylics and painting the light bulbs in the ceiling lamp cobalt blue. He liked to sit at night under the ceiling lights, which cast something like moonlight in the room, or like the effect in movies called day for night. He drew pictures in the margins of magazines, careful, lifelike sketches of a chair, a spoon, his own hand, whatever was in front of him, no sketch larger than a matchbook. He never washed his clothes, but threw them away when they were dirty and bought a fresh set from the Goodwill. He drank a lot. Miller beer if he could get it, but he didn’t seem to miss alcohol if it wasn't around. The same with pot. The only thing he couldn’t do without was Marlboros, and when he had money, he bought Highland Queen Canadian cigarettes from a tobacconist, and smoked them as fast as any others. The money came eventually from the welfare department, which advanced him fifty dollars for general relief and fifty dollars’ worth of food stamps, in exchange for his labor in service to the county. As soon as he was out of his cast he spent a few days picking up trash by the runways of Lindbergh Field, and came back with the sponge-rubber earplugs he'd been given for protection. Later the county had him pumping gas at one of its garages, but Wayne lasted less than a day. I got the impression that he didn’t mind working but hated being supervised.

We managed fairly well, as I have said. Once we argued about the way he behaved when my friends were around. Leslie, a teller whom I’d been dating about six months, was scared to death of him. I tried to tell her that he didn't want to appear menacing, but who could believe that when he wouldn’t talk to anyone but me? I’d introduce him to friends and he’d nod and go look out a window with his hands in his pockets. Or he’d just sit there and glare.

I said, “No one expects you to be a diplomat, Wayne; just try acting human. ’’

And he said, “Okay, Mickey, but I’m not groovy, you know?” He called my friends “the young groovies.”

I said, “I know you’re not groovy. I mean, you’re not even cool.”

“That’s right, Mickey. That’s me, the uncoola.”

“But I just want you to act around them the same way you act around me. Just talk to them. Just be normal.”

“But I’m not normal.”

“I mean normal for you."

“I keep telling you, Mickey, I’m crazy.”

You are not crazy. ”

He said this because it always got a rise out of me. I couldn’t help it: for him to tell me he was crazy was insulting to us both, for I'd seen too much of him to believe it. He was misfit, but that wasn’t the same, even if it was only a question of degree.

“You’ve conned me into a lot of things, Wayne, but this won't be one of them.”

“Suit yourself, Mickey. I don't care.”

“Then let’s drop it.”

“Plunk.”

“Good.”

I see now that what Wayne really wanted to be was a chauffeur. He seemed to love cars, anyway, mine in particular. It was a 1977 Challenger with a 318 engine that I'd bought with the legacy from an uncle I never liked. Wayne went down nearly every evening with a mass of old T-shirts and a bottle of Turtle Wax and chrome cleaner. That car looked better than when I’d bought it, all silver and Irish green. I remember looking down on him from the kitchen window as he toiled over the hood with long strokes, leaning like a pool player over a table. I would have let him drive it if it hadn't been for his cast. Then other excuses came up; I can’t remember them all.

The point being that here was where the trust ended, over a car, insurance, liability, and so on. I also see now that I was strict with the money he needed from me, for as the weeks went on I kept track of what I meted him for bus fares and cigarettes. It was a habit of my family to give freely whatever objects one might need, but to keep account of the pennies loaned and received. That way the obligations were clear-cut.

One morning Wayne said he needed sixteen bucks to take the train round-trip to L.A. and maybe see Mr. Talley. Before I left for work I said I’d think about it, and was still undecided when he came to the parking lot of the bank, later in the day. I looked up and he was standing by one of the drive-up kiosks.

“Hi Mickey,” he said through the intercom. He waved.

“Wayne, go away. I can’t talk to you here.”

“Just, just a sec. I know you’re really busy and everything, but can you talk to me for a minute, please?”

There were no cars in the lanes; I had been about to pick up a book after sorting some checks. So was he being ironic in saying how busy I was, or humble, or what?

“Is something the matter, Wayne?”

“I see you’re really busy, Mickey, and you probably don’t have time for this, but the train leaves in about an hour and I was going to make you a deal.” He waved again.

“What kind of a deal?”

“Okay — tell you what. You give me the money for the train and I ’ll give you half of my food stamps when they come.” (This took place before his first receipt of stamps.) “That’s twenty-five dollars, Mickey; half of fifty is twenty-five, and you can have it for sixteen dollars.”

“No, Wayne.”

“All of it, then. Fifty bucks in food stamps. And I’ll show you how to use them, I promise.”

“I don’t want your food money, Wayne.”

“How come?”

I was already taking the sixteen dollars from my wallet and reaching for the proper messenger tube, holding off the excuses and doubts that presented themselves when I wasn’t preoccupied with opening the tube, putting the bills inside, and inserting it in the green pipe for the kiosk where Wayne was standing. I was patronizing him. I was treating him as I would any friend. I was helping him. He was using me.

“How about it, Mickey?”

“Look in the trough, Wayne, at the top of the kiosk.”

“Yeah?”

I felt like the Wizard of Oz. “See the tube? Open it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Machine,” said Wayne, pushing the money into his front pocket. “Have a good weekend. Pay you back. Bye.”

“The bus, you know, is cheaper,” I said into the intercom, but he had already turned his back and had walked out of range.

The food stamps arrived on a Tuesday, not my normal night for shopping, but we went anyway. Before receiving the stamps, I had had to write a letter to the welfare eligibility worker, a Mrs. Spaniel, verifying that Wayne had no income of his own, and asserting that, although he shared a living space with me, he and I shopped separately and stored our food in separate cupboards. At least one of these last two assertions was true: we did shop separately. I took my sixteen dollars’ worth of stamps and went my way in the Hillcrest Mayfair and Wayne took the rest and went his. At the check-stand we compared each other’s collection of food. I had bought two three-pound bags of rice, two sacks of grapefruit on special, a loaf of wheat bread with a black marker on it, also on special, two whole chickens, a stewing hen and a broiler, two cuts of bottom round steak, a pound of bacon, a gallon of whole milk, and ten cans of Campbell’s Split Pea with Ham soup, which, I happened to know, is ounce for ounce the most nutritious in the Campbell’s line.

Wayne had Trix, Cap’n Crunch, Nestle’s Quick, Van de Kamp’s chocolate-covered angel’s food cake. Pop Tarts, donuts, a gallon of Carnation Neapolitan, two whole barbecued chickens and a package of barbecued ribs, eight steaks (four T-bone and four porterhouse), a canned Virginia ham, canned peaches, and a Chung King sweet-and-sour pork dinner. Between us there were eighteen dollars in food stamps left for the rest of the month.

“Have you had Trix lately?” I asked my girlfriend, Leslie, a few weeks after the shopping spree. “I’d forgotten how good they taste. I remember I used to let them get soggy, but now that I’m hooked again I eat them fast while they’re still crunchy and high in the bowl. I guess that’s an example of adult taste. What do you think?”

“I don’t want to talk about Wayne any more,” she said.

“Who’s talking about Wayne?”

“You’ve been going on for the last ten minutes. I’m sick of it.”

We were in her car, after work, on our way to the cleaners to pick up her laundry. The radio was playing the year’s big hit by the Doobie Brothers.

“The thing about this, Michael, is that even if you are sincere about helping him...”

“I’m not helping him.”

“Well whatever you’re doing, it comes down to a kind of — I don’t know. ”

“You don’t know what?

“You remind me of a little boy tearing the wings off a fly.”

“No I don’t,” I said, giving in. I turned off the radio.

“Michael, he scares me.”

“Did I tell you that welfare came through with more money and he’s living in a hotel downtown?”

“Yes.”

“And that he’s going to City College?”

“What?”

“He’s taking a course in Western Civilization — this is true — because he says he wants to take a vacation next year in Europe.”

She said sadly, “Oh, Michael.”

“I know it sounds like a strange idea, but you should see what it’s done to him. He’s motivated.”

“I don’t want to hear this.”

“And all he needs is a job, and I’ve made an appointment on Monday at a special employment agency.”

I would have that Monday off since it was Washington’s birthday. Wayne and I were to see a woman named Arlene at Project H.I.R.E., whose offices were at Sixth Avenue and E Street. I’d called ahead to make sure they’d be open on that day. It had been Wayne’s idea to find work in a restaurant, and mine to try an agency that served the partially disabled, since the healing of Wayne’s leg had left him with a hitch in his walk. He was staying at the Hotel Barry at Eighth and Market, only four blocks from the agency. Walking from the hotel, we arrived at the building fifteen minutes before our appointment at four forty-five.

“What’s the matter, Wayne?” I said, hitting the elevator button. “Nothing.”

“You scared?”

“No.”

“Nervous.”

No answer.

I said, “I thought you wanted to do this." And then the elevator opened. As we ascended in silence I had a skirmish of guilt for leading him into this, but then I called to mind that I was only there to give him confidence, just to stand there, and that he himself one night (after a joint) had said it was time he’d put his training to work and set himself a goal to work toward.

We found our way down the polished linoleum corridor to the office, where a middle-aged woman looked up from her Selectric.

"Arlene?" I said.

The woman glanced around. "Arlene is gone for the day, I believe. Did you have an appointment to see her?"

"I thought we did."

"Well, she might have been feeling ill. Just let me check a minute," she said as she walked into the next room. I turned to catch Wayne’s eye but he had left to get a drink at the cooler.

"Let’s just see what we can do for you, then," she said, re-entering and going to an open card file at her desk. She turned the white cards in the delicate way of a librarian, no thumbs, working cleanly with clean hands.

"Mr. Relo should be in," she said, still flipping through the cards. "Mr. Relo should be in the office two doors down the hall, but let me go out and see." She stood one card on end to hold its place in the file and led us back down the corridor, clicking in black shoes. "There," she said, extending her arm full straight at a door not five feet away. "There is Mr. Relo. I mean there should be Mr. Relo," she said, and walked back to her office and closed the door.

The door was ajar and yielded when I knocked. We heard a "Yes?"

Wayne said, "This sounds like it, Mickey."

We found a man about our age seated at a desk, hands folded in front of him, smiling and squinting through green-tinted glasses. The office was bare except for his desk and a chair in front of it. I stated why we’d come, and that my only interest was to help my friend through the paperwork. Mr. Relo motioned for one of us to have a seat, but nobody moved because the chair was occupied by a stack of papers. Mr. Relo saw that and laughed. "Figures," he said and took the papers from Wayne, who'd picked them up and then sat down. Mr. Relo resumed his place and picked up a pencil which he wiggled from its tip. He spoke merrily and never stopped smiling.

"Now, first of all are you handicapped?" he said.

"No," said Wayne.

“No?”

“You see, I’m going to school at the moment, here at City College, studying Western Civilization and tryin’ to learn all about our culture, and Mike here, he’s my dad and he’s trying to get me some work.”

“You say he’s your father?” said Mr. Relo, looking at Wayne, not me.

“Yeah, he’s my dad. Looks pretty good, doesn’t he?

I said, “Wayne. Come on.”

“And anyway,” he said, “to answer your question, I do have this leg that’s been givin’ me some trouble since I busted it. I mean, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Well,” said Mr. Relo, “this, you know — or I don’t know if you’re aware — this is Project H.I.R.E., which stands for Handicapped Interest Rehabilitation Employment, and we do help people who are more or less handicapped or disabled.”

“Well I got this leg,” said Wayne, turning in his seat to show it.

“Hey, that’s fine— don’t worry about it, we’ll work that out later. I guess the thing we want to know is what kind of work you can do. Have you been employed in the past year?”

“Yeah, as a gardener, but I’m trained as a cook.”

“So, restaurant work.”

“Sure.”

“Any particular area?”

“Kitchen, I guess.”

“No — I mean any part of town?” “I don’t care.”

“Do you have a car?”

“No.”

“Ride the bus?”

“Sometimes. You see, I mostly go to school down here at City College. Meet chicks and stuff. You know.”

“Sounds great. Tell you what. We’ll have you fill out an application here and you can bring it back tomorrow for evaluation. The application is kind of long and it’s really to help us get to know you better, so do us a favor and fill it out completely and get it back to us as soon as you possibly can, okay? Okay.” Throughout this speech he’d been pulling out the drawers of his desk and looking under stacks of papers. “So just sit tight there and we’ll come up with something. Or tell you what — you might as well come along while I go get the application down the hall, if that’s all right. It’s easier. We’ll get you squared away, no problem. We’re going down to Arlene's office,” he told us as he passed through the door, “and we ’ll see what she’s got down there.”

His voice trailed off as he jogged down the hall. We waited in silence. A moment later he came back smiling and rubbing his hands together.

“Guess this place is a zoo today. I don’t know what else to tell you. All the applications are in Arlene's office, unless I still have some in my desk.’’

“Hey, big Steve,” called somebody from down the hall.

Mr. Relo, now behind his desk again, tilted his head back and shouted, “You takin' off?”

“Yeah. What are you up to?”

“Nothing much. Poet’s day.”

“Right on.”

Mr. Relo had no application in his desk, and told Wayne it would be just as easy to stop back another day and fill one out on the spot.

“And then you can get me a job?” said Wayne.

“Well,” he smiled, “it’s what I'm supposed to do and I've been doing it for seven years, I guess. Okay? All set? Thanks for stopping in, you guys. We’ll see you later, if I’m not here just ask for Arlene.”

I don’t think Wayne ever went back. I never asked. Beginning with that experience, I backed out of the friendship, stopped lending him money, sounded less enthusiastic when he called. He came by one day in June to say that soon he’d head for South Lake Tahoe where a new hotel was hiring kitchen help. He brought me his term paper and his final examination booklet from the City College course. The term paper was on the importance of the cathedral in medieval Europe, and consisted of one-half of a handwritten page. It said, in neat script, “The purpose of the Cathedral is for the Church to have a place for the seat of the diocese, since cathedral means throne. Bishops had their Cathedrals constructed so that people would come and be ready to fight if there was any fighting to do. The Cathedral, in summary, was partly a fort and partly a place to go to church.” His final examination was the question, How did Western Civilization carry on the classical traditions of the Greeks and Romans? To which Wayne wrote an answer of one sentence, “By the skin of our teeth.” This, with the term paper, earned him a D in the course, and bolstered by this passing grade, he shook my hand and thanked me for helping him out, and gave me a card in which he'd written, “To my good friend Mike,” and waved good-bye and left.

A year and a half went by. Leslie was promoted from teller to proof operator to loan trainee, and I quit the bank and took a job waitering in Pacific Beach. Both of us were making more money, and we were still together after two years, so it seemed time to try living together. Also, I got evicted from my downtown apartment to make room for a realtor’s office, and needed a place to live. The notice was delivered on December first; by the twenty-fourth I'd moved all of my things but the heavy furniture, which some friends were going to help me with after Christmas.

That afternoon I was mopping the floor of the nearly vacant apartment when the door buzzer sounded. It couldn’t be Leslie, I thought; she was at her parents’ in El Cajon. It was, of course, Wayne, in a fresh set of Goodwill clothes, and carrying a plastic shopping bag that said “Roma” on the side.

“Wayne, you did it.“

He smiled and held his shopping bag aloft. A moment later I was standing in the kitchen with my back against the sink, arms folded, ankles crossed, with Wayne close by showing me postcards, fifty of them at least. “Okay,” he said, holding them high to catch the best light from the window and jabbing a finger at each one in succession, “so starting in London — no, starting at the airport outside of London, which is right here. I got to customs and the guy asked me my reason for entering, and I said, ‘See the sights,’ and he said, ‘Let’s see how much money you've got,' and I laid it out on the table there: six hundred and eleven dollars, spread on the table.” “Cash?”

“Yeah, big bills.”

“Why didn’t you buy traveler’s checks?”

He paused an instant before deciding to ignore that kind of question.

“Buckingham Palace,” he read from the second card on the stack. “I was right there by the gate. See right there? When that flag is flying it means the queen is inside.”

“Was the flag flying when you were there?”

He went through all the cards in twenty minutes, then went through them again. Slowly, as the afternoon dwindled into a foggy evening, his stories coalesced in a plausible narrative. From Tahoe he had hitchhiked to Atlantic City, where he'd found work in the kitchen of the Sheraton and had stayed long enough to save some money. From there he'd gone to New York and had bought a Sky train ticket to London, and from there he'd gone to France, Switzerland, and Italy. His stories and postcards ended at the Vatican, where he claimed to have had an audience with the Pope.

I invited him for dinner and bought two quarts of Miller, some frozen dinners, and a bottle of catsup. We ate on the living room floor by the heater, Wayne first drinking his beer and then reaching automatically for the catsup and saying, “All right. My favorite. Quiche.”

I told him he could sleep in my apartment until the first of the month but that afterward he'd be on his own. There could be no question of his staying with me and Leslie. And I told him there would be no loans, no handouts, nothing that he didn’t need anymore. “Look at what you did,” I said, finishing my own quart of beer. “You are really incredible. I didn't think you could do it, but you did. And all on your lonesome.”

Or perhaps he hadn’t done it on his own. Who knows? He was in every respect the same as when he’d left. He stayed in my apartment as long as he could, and when I’d moved to Leslie’s apartment, which wasn’t far away in Hillcrest, he followed and slept in my car. Not only had he slept there but had vomited in the back and then had tried to deny it. This was the cause of a terrible, shout-down argument. I had changed, I told him. I was past the point where I would take anybody as my friend; nobody could. But for Wayne, of course, that wasn't the question. All he cared about was where he'd be sleeping that night, and his final word was, “I'm not going to sleep at the mission ever again.” I said, “Work it out however you like.”

A few days later a nurse from University Hospital called the bank with a message for me which Leslie brought home. Wayne asked if I could bring him some cigarettes; I would find him on the eighth floor, east wing.

“Psychiatry,” the receptionist said when I asked for Wayne Boyer in the lobby.

“He’s around here someplace,” a nurse on the eighth floor said. “Check in Room 3A.”

“I saw him just a minute ago,” said a woman in a gown and a plastic nametag. “Are you a friend of his?”

He was sitting on the edge of a bed in a long room lined with similar beds. A guitar and a book of music lay beside him.

“Wayne,” I said. “Hello.”

“Hi, Mickey. How'd you know I was here?”

“Somebody called. Asked me to bring some Marlboros for you. Here you go, and some matches, too.”

“Sorry we don’t have no chair or anything.”

“I’ll stand — that's fine.”

“Some people here are teaching me how to play the guitar.”

“Wayne, is this for real, or did you just need some place to stay?”

“They’re teaching me ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore,’ which is a shitty song, but the chords are . . . let's see. ” He picked up the guitar and started to apply his fingers to the frets. A man who could have been forty years old, with long hair and a beard, walked up and asked for a cigarette. Wayne handed him the unopened pack and said, “Did they clean you out in there since .you were busted?”

“Yeah. They want our blood, they want our piss. Hey, I was wanting to buy some cigarettes from this guy” — he gestured toward a sleeping form on the other side of the room — ‘ ‘and I got the money and everything. So when he wakes up, let me know. I got some Pall Malls of my own but I’m tired of smoking shit.”

Wayne laughed.

I left a few minutes later and sent him a carton of Marlboros the next day and two packs of Highland Queens. I never saw him again. The hospital staff wouldn’t tell me about his case since I wasn’t a relative. They gave me the name of his father, though, and I made some phone calls. His dad owned a house-painting business in San Jose. Wayne had graduated from high school the same year as I, in the middle of his class, an emphasis in motor mechanics. He'd done a year in the Army and had been given a general discharge for an unspecified medical problem. He had been arrested twice in his hometown, once for manslaughter, but the charge had been dropped. The name on his birth certificate was John Dearborn Boyer. No one in his family — he had four brothers — had the name of Wayne.

As I say, I never saw him again, but he called my house this last Thanksgiving. I was at the store and Leslie, my wife, answered the phone and accepted the collect call. When I got home, the note by the telephone read, “At the S.F. airport, wishing you a good Thanksgiving, am headed for the Caribbean for vacation.”

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