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FINDING WALDO



”There is a good movie playing downtown. How about let's take in a movie tonight?" asked my wife.

"I guess so," I said.

I really did not like going to the theater. It was located right on the edge of a very seedy part of town. We arrived, parked the car and started the block or so walk to the Florida Theater.

"Can you spare a dollar?" or "Can you spare some change," asked almost every person we passed.

Most people coming to this part of town had already learned it was best not to speak, to keep walking. As we rounded the last corner, I saw a man sitting on the sidewalk with his back to the building. Next to him was a large duffle bag. He was very unclean and unshaven. Around his eyes were very dark circles. It appeared as though he had not washed his face for quite a long time. His clothes were old and worn, and there was very little doubt they were in need of a good washing.

As we passed him by, he said not a word. My wife proceeded up to the ticket booth to purchase the tickets.

"Going to see the movie?" asked the man.

"Yeah, my wife wants to see it," I replied.

"It's a very good movie," he said.

"Have you seen it?"

"No. Just heard that it was… uh, that it was very good," he replied.

"Well, I had better go in."

"Could you spare a dollar?"

"Sorry, but the wife's got all the money," I said as I turned and walked away.

We entered the theater and my wife purchased a large bucket of popcorn and two drinks. After seating ourselves, I slowly started eating the popcorn. All at once, I looked over at my wife.

"Can I have $20?" I asked.

"Twenty dollars, for what?"

"I just need $20, hon," I replied.

"You’re not buying a bunch of juicy fruits and candy junk. I told you that before we came," she said.

She reached into her wallet and took out $20. I took the money and walked back to the entrance of the theater where the man was still sitting. I had decided I was not going to give the man any money, but would invite him to see the movie and feed him while he watched the show. He looked up at me as I approached him.

"I'll pay for it, if you want to come in and see the movie?" I said.

"I can't leave my stuff. Somebody will steal it. Besides, I'm not dressed for the movies," said the man looking down at his clothing.

"I'll tell you what. I'll put your bag in the trunk of my car, until after the movie."

The man quickly reached over, grabbed his bag and held on as if I were going to take it from him.

"It'll be safe," I said.

Slowly, he got up from the ground and picked up his bag. We walked about a block and a half to where my car was parked. I placed the large bag in the trunk and locked it. We then walked back to the theater and I purchased his ticket.

"Roger," I said to the man holding out my hand.

"Willy," he said wiping his hand on his pants before shaking my hand.

I purchased a bucket of popcorn and a large drink, which I handed to Willy.

I do not recall the name of the movie we saw that day. I do remember it being one of those women type movies. You know the kind that makes women cry. Every now and then, I would see a tear rolling down Willy's cheek. Each time a tear appeared, he would cough with his hand over his mouth, and then turn his head to the side and wipe the tears away with his fingers.

After the movie was over, the three of us left the theater and headed back toward our car. All Willy could talk about the entire time was that darn movie. My wife and he were talking about the movie as if they were old friends.

"How about some Baskin Robbin’s ice cream?" I asked.

"You don't need any ice cream."

"Just one scoop on a cone, PLEASEeeeee," I begged.

The three of us walked into the ice cream parlor.

"What type of ice cream do you like, Willy?” I asked.

"Do they have the kind that has the marshmallows and the nuts in it?" he asked.

"That's called Rocky Road," said Judy.

"Ain't had none of that since before Vietnam," said Willy.

"Three Rocky Roads, double scoops!" I yelled.

"One scoop for you," said Judy.

Willy laughed and turned his head to the side as if he were embarrassed. The clerk reached across the counter handing Willy his double scoop of Rocky Road. Slowly, he licked the ice cream and then closed his eyes and just stood there. All at once, the top scoop fell off his cone and splattered on the floor. I could not help but laugh and then Judy started laughing. Willy's eyes got very big and his face was that of a young boy who felt he was going to get in trouble. Then he started laughing. The three of us just stood there laughing as hard as we could.

After we ate our cones, we walked to the car and I took Willy's bag out of the trunk.

"Where do you live Willy?" I asked.

"I got a place over at the mission on Market Street," he answered.

"You take it easy, Dude," I told Willy as I shook his hand.

Judy and I got in the car and headed home. Judy said absolutely nothing about Willy, whatsoever. It was as if she had never even met him.

All weekend, I thought about why Willy might have taken to the streets. I wondered if his experiences in Vietnam had something to do with him not caring about himself anymore.

Monday morning, I drove back downtown to see if I might find him. I did not see him anywhere on the streets. I drove to the mission on Market Street to see if anyone could help.

"Willy? Don't have any Willy here," said the man at the counter.

"Sort of a short man with dirt rings around his eyes. Sort of looks like a raccoon's eyes. Carries an old, green army duffle bag," I explained.

"Oh! You mean Waldo Williams. He left out of here on Saturday morning, headed to Kentucky on the Greyhound bus," said the man.

"Kentucky?"

"Yeah, Old Waldo came in here Friday night acting as though he'd been on a date or something. He took a hot shower for the first time in months. He shaved his face down to the bone. Then he asked Billy to cut his hair. He told old Bill that he was going back home to his family. He said something about having forgotten that life was supposed to be a fun time."



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