For a mid-November day, the storm was all rain and no snow. In addition, it was very cold, so I took shelter in a Mall. I settled into a bench near the ‘Santa Claus / North Pole / Toy Workshop’ display, because that is where the benches had been moved. I have the guess, they were moved so they could be filled by kids and parents when Saint Nick made his appearance.
Two other fellows were already there. After the younger man (whilst looking at his phone) made a brief comment about the weather, the other man, older, grizzled and full-bearded, spoke.
This conversation is edited, not verbatim.
“Makes me wonder how young folk today get by.”
I look confused – which I am.
“That’s the only jobs there are for them.” He points to the fast food court.
I indicate agreement.
“Hard to get jobs.”
“Yes, it is.”
“We’re stuck here until eight.”
I again look at him quizzically.
“Me and him. The shelter closes eight in the morning, opens again eight at night.”
“Three more hours.”
“I like the little animals.”
“Along the entrance.” He points to the Santa display. “They’ve got little animals in the snow.”
“They’re real looking.”
“Yes.” He laughs. “From the old days. I lived in the woods.”
“You did?”
“Cabin with eight brothers and sisters. Had a wood stove.”
“I had a wood stove a number of years.”
“Got real hot.”
“I used Alders once.”
“In the stove?”
“Yeh – bad idea. They burn like hell. Hot as hell.”
“They can be.”
“I thought the cabin would catch fire.”
“Can be dangerous,” I agreed
“That’s where i started smoking.”
“In the cabin. Been smoking since I was ten.”
“That’s young.”
“My pappy was a bootlegger.”
“Lots of men came by to get beer.”
“I suppose.”
“They’d smoke and toss their butts. I collected them.”
“To smoke?”
“Thought I was a big man with the other kids. Smoking in front of them.”
“That’s what being young is.”
“Cigarettes got tentacles. I still can’t get rid of them.”
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