He was bent over. He looked okay, though. She didn’t.
I’d popped into Coco’s in Barstow after hiking in Owl Canyon north of town. It was a full moon. Hadn’t shaved in almost a week.
They always treat me good at the Coco’s in Barstow, usually after I’ve been wandering around the desert, rooting around in my Jeep, hiking, taking photos, trying to capture that eternal silence you only find in the desert. I’d found some, where you keep listening, waiting for something to disturb it like a pebble rippling a pool but it stays silent, pure.
I could feel them moving towards the counter where I was sitting. Moving, barely, so slow. They came closer, the woman holding the arm of the man. I turned and looked and saw a man bent over holding a cane and a woman with a sickly grin and no teeth, holding his arm and he looked at me with clear blue eyes, hunched over, and asked if there was room for two next to me.
Of course, I said. He smiled. She smiled. She had very few teeth yet kept her mouth open. He turned and leaned his cane against the counter and gripped the edge with his hand and I asked if he wanted me to hold the cane. He said yes, and I took the cane. It was warm from his grip and he leaned in to the seat and I pulled the cane back out of the way, my fingers curled around the black vinyl handle, holding something that had been in his hand for how many days? How many hours?
It was his back, he said, mumbling that he didn’t know if was the bed that was causing the pain, looking at me with the blue eyes framed with bushy black eyebrows. The woman stroked her chin and opened and closed her mouth, a row of incomplete teeth.
My back bothers me too, I said, working out, at the computer, writing. Locked up pretty good a few weeks ago, I said, putting the cane back in his hand. I needed more lemonade and held the glass up to the waitress who disappeared and came back with another one.
I study law now, the man said. I guessed his age between seventy five and eighty.
Like to become a lawyer? I asked.
He reached in the pocket of his white shirt, a blue turquoise bolo tie hanging around his neck. The woman stroked her chin, moving her jaw up and down, working it.
He handed me a business card.
Life & The Future as an ethical theory and a Philosophy of Law
It’s a philosophy that supports the future of life, he said.
They come to me, I thought. Let them speak.
Are you studying this? I asked. Developing this idea?
You tell one person, who lives it, the idea that all actions should support the future of life, and it influences another person, he explained. It could change the world.
My sausage and pepper fettuccine arrived.
I’m on board, I said, between mouthfuls of spicy Italian sausage and a salty marinara. It might need a little explaining, some developing, I said, to get the point across.
What needs explaining? He said. He gave the waitress his order. One order. Two plates. She scurried away.
Canals, he said. Build canals.
For what? I asked.
Develop desert property, grow crops.
We have canals, I said. The Colorado River is siphoned off to Vegas, Southern California.
He said China had canals.
He asked me if I would consider China successful, under this new ethical concept that supported the future of life, compared to the United States.
They’ve got a lot of people, I said. They’ve been at it a while. Three or four thousand years, I said. They had philosophers writing down theories of life in the fifth century, B.C. Earlier, even. Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Confuscius.
Well, they had canals, he said.
I’ll eat a bit, I thought, let the conversation breathe. I gulped lemonade, heavy on the sugar. Nice and cold. The waitress cruised by a couple of times, looking my way, asking if I was OK. Fine, I’d say. I probably looked exactly like what I was, a desert rat crawling out from a dusty trail, chowing down next to a local and his companion.
No difference between a child and an eighty year old man, he said.
Experience, maybe, I said. Judgement. A child is open but he lacks experience to find his way in the world. He needs guidance. An eighty year old has wisdom. Children have no wisdom.
I started a family worship when I was five years old, he said.
Did you grow up here?
Oregon, he said. What do you think of my idea?
Nice. Good stuff. Can’t go wrong with that, I said.
The woman hadn’t said a word. I’d seen women like that standing at freeway exits with shopping carts and black plastic bags and a cardboard sign scrawled with a plea for help and I’d probably driven by a hundred of them. She sat, patient, some relationship with this man who wanted to change the world.
Then I noticed the man’s hands. He had hair on his hands. Long hair, growing out of his fingers, at least an inch. Lots of hair, on the fingers, the spaces between his knuckles, on the back of his hands and on the wrist coming out of the cuff of his white shirt.
The waitress took my plate and asked if I wanted to have some desert and I waved it off, saying no, that was plenty. She left the check.
So what do you think of my idea, the man said again.
Good, I said. Good luck with it.
You think you can do anything to help me with it?
I gathered the check and the Daily Press: Victor Valley and the High Desert.
I’d like to, I said. I don’t live around here. I enjoyed talking with you. I shook his hand.
He smiled, his bushy black eyebrows giving way to wrinkled creases and he nodded his head. The woman smiled.
Maybe I’ll see you around, I said.
The cane leaned up against the counter between them. She hadn’t said a word since she’d sat down, that I’d heard. I wonder if she ever did. Wonder if she had much to say to the man. Maybe he did all the talking.
The cane was brushed aluminum with a black vinyl handle.
The big full moon was over the horizon, light dimming in the west. A young woman in nice jeans and a rust colored shirt walked across the parking area to a pay phone and put in some coins . She looked good in the nice jeans. Strawberry blonde hair almost matching the shirt, tied back in a pony tail. Neon signs were coming on at the restaurants and gas stations and motels on Main Street, Barstow. People, moving in and out of shadows and pink sunsets and the big harvest moons that shine over the desert, eating at café’s and putting coins in the pay phones. A man walked up and stood at the phone kiosk on the other side of the woman in the rust colored shirt.