I got a phone call from a friend on Monday, just shortly before I had to take my children to school. It seems he had let a stranger spend the night with him and needed someone else to be with this stranger before he could be taken back home to North Dakota. I hesitated thinking about how inconvenient this would be, how I couldn't do all that I wanted to do that day because I was adult-sitting some stranger. And there was a bit of fear. "Look, he's a Vietnam vet, he was tortured by the VC, he's got no teeth. He's an old man; if he overpowers you, you're some kind of pussy." I should mention my friend is a recovering addict and AA had contacted my friend because this out-of-state stranger was in need. My friend has a much more open heart than I do, and didn't hesitate to take this guy in.
So, I agreed. If my friend could vouch for him then things would be fine--inconvenient, but fine.
I picked "Harry" up from a Tim Horton's and was going to take him back to my place, chat with him for a while and then entertain him with the electronic cyclops i.e., TV, and then get some of my own work done. He was smaller than I had envisioned. He wasn't tiny, just not a big soldierly body. Shortly after driving and talking with him, he indicated he had severe back pain and had to go to the hospital. Wonderful! Now I'm going to spend several hours waiting and waiting in a hospital. The guy was in pain, he was old, a vet, I said OK.
"Do you know of any good hospitals," he said in his deep south slur--he had no teeth--none! I named a couple that were very close to our location. "Naw, they told me to stay away from them. You know any others?" I wasn't sure who "They" was, but I was working on sacrificing my time.
"We can go to Providence. I was born there. It's pretty good," I assured him. As we drove, he told me some of his story, how he was a trucker, couldn't find any lodging in Ann Arbor Saturday night because of the U of M/Notre Dame game (Michigan won, Go Blue!) and wound up in Livonia and then connected with my friend Sunday. He related his fear of Detroit, hailing from Black Hawk, North Dakota, a town of 300 where he had to drive twenty minutes to church and an hour for a grocery store. Somewhere in the back of all of this was the thought that my friend had said something about his wife and daughter recently dying.
After a short wait in the admitting "lounge" we sat in a sterile room waiting for medical care. He told the nurse, the resident, and the doctor the same story. He was a vet, had been a POW in Hanoi, his left big toe had been amputated--he pulled his sock off every chance he could get to show us--and the VC had removed all his teeth. His lower back was sunken in from some obvious surgery and he describe his throbbing pain to them.
During the inevitable waiting he told me about attending an Assembly of God church, his Master's degree in teaching and psychology, how a boy from North Dakota picked up a Southern accent while schooling in Louisiana. I asked him about his wife and child. He said they had been killed in an auto wreck Saturday night in Minnesota and that his mother-in-law blamed him for their deaths by his absence from home. He was strangely unemotional about this horrific fact. I chalked it up to being stranded in a different state and suffering from an eight in pain "on a scale of one to ten--ten being the worst pain you've ever had."
Two nurses, a resident, and a doctor later he had his prescription. We had it filled and then I took him to lunch. He continually complained about the fact that many people turned him away when he asked for help. I told him not to judge them too harshly as one doesn't know what other people are struggling with. I dropped him off at an Alano club, where I supposed he was going to be picked up by his trucking partner. How many truckers drive with a partner? I don't know. It seemed strange.
Later that evening my friend called to see how things went. We started comparing notes. Harry Williams was Harry Malone to my friend. Harry had complained of back pain and my friend took him to two hospitals for pain relief. My friend had contacted Harry earlier in the evening and wondered what he was still doing at a hotel in Michigan. "That's the trucking business," Harry replied.
I had to laugh in spite of the time and money spent on this shyster. "People they ain't no good," sings Nick Cave. He's right, except he's not. For every Harry, there are ten like my friend who opened his home and his wardrobe to someone he thought needed some help. Sure, we got taken, but that won't stop us from reaching out in the future. We just might be better served by paying attention to our "Spidey-sense tingling" telling us that something just isn't right.