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Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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On the Edge, But Which Side?

May 1st, 2020 by dk

I don’t worry much about Jack (not his real name). A Vietnam War veteran, he’s been to hell and made it back. I worry more about Jill (not her real name). She’s in her late 20s, with as many dreams as she can fit into her very used Volvo.

Jack has been without a home for more than a decade. He has a cell phone, but only for the clock. It might make calls if he paid for more minutes on the prepaid package, but who would he call? Anyone he wants to talk to, he just drops by.

Jack gets a small check from the VA each month, but it goes fast. He picks blackberries and barters them for something he needs more — socks, butane, cooking oil. He borrows a bicycle or talks his way onto a bus if he needs to get someplace. Or he walks.

He’s not uncomfortable asking for help. He’s also good at giving it. He checks in on a few people every day, trading conversation for coffee to get the day started. When he gets hungry, he fishes his secret spot. When he catches more than he can eat, he shares his bounty.

If he needs money, he’ll dig a hole for one person, fill a hole for another. There’s always work to be done and he’s willing to do it. He’ll sometimes score a heated space for a few winter months. Jack gets by. He’s definitely among the 40 percent of Americans who would not be able to pay for an unexpected $400 expense.

The pandemic hasn’t changed much for Jack, except some people don’t chat as easily and it’s easier than ever to get a free bus trip. His foraging and fishing seasons haven’t changed. A dollar goes just about as far. Holes still need digging and filling.

Jill sees holes she never saw before. She wasn’t in that group who doesn’t have $400 to spare, but now she is. Her restaurant job went away more than a month ago. She sheltered in her boyfriend’s tiny apartment, because being alone didn’t seem smart at the time.

I met Jill when she stayed nearby for a weekend away from her circumstances. She wondered out loud when the coronavirus craziness would end. She had plans. If becoming a tattoo artist didn’t work out, she could go back to school. She’d worked hard to repair her credit score, and wishes her boyfriend would do the same.

But now she’s smoking again, cigarettes and pot, depending on the time of day. She knows it’s not good for her, but it’s a familiar comfort that’s within reach. I saw her picking at weeds along my sidewalk. She must have wanted a clearer path than what she was seeing.

Her car was gone one day sooner than she told me she was planning. Maybe she was lonely and returned to her boyfriend early. Or maybe she kept driving, hoping she could outrun the panic she felt on the edges, like weeds creeping over a pathway. I don’t know where she went, but I worried.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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