This morning, on my run, I saw Chuck my sometimes homeless Vet friend sitting on a retainer wall near the laundramat smoking a cigarette, his shopping cart tricked out with bags full of cans and bottles sitting nearby.
"Hey!" I said. "I got a bunch more cans for ya."
"Well, I guess I can follow you up the block," he replied, sounding a bit tired.
"No, no. I'm still running. I'll go get 'em and bring 'em back."
So, I did. I was near the end of my routine, anyway, so after I retrieved the "California Gold," as he puts it, I sat with him for awhile.
"You probably won't be seein' me around here after two weeks. I'm goin' up to Oregon."
"Oregon, huh? Escaping the heat?" (The San Fernando Valley has been blast furnace hot for the past few weeks.)
"Naw. Gonna go pan for gold."
"Yeah, an old buddy of mine owns a piece of land out in the wilderness and there's a creek up there. He's gonna give me some money and I'm gonna pan for gold. It's lined with moss, see, and the little flakes of gold get caught in the moss. The dentists and the jewelers, they love that flake gold."
"He's got a still up there, too. Best you ever tasted. Smooth goin' down. Not like that kind that..." and he made sound like a whistling bomb falling, followed by an explosion, pointing at his stomach.
"Gotta watch for bears, though. Black bears. They get mean. I'm gonna have two guns with LOTS of bullets."
"So, you're gonna cure the bear meat?"
"Naw. I know how, though, to salt meat. I'm only gonna shoot 'em if they try to kill me."
"So, you trying to escape the heat?"
"Not really. It gets hot and sticky up there. But I got a book I want to write. It's all in my head, except there's a little extra I might throw in where NASA refurbishes a space shuttle and gives it to me so I can go up there and guide the satellites. You know they got somebody here on earth who does nothing but pull handles to keep the satellites in position."
"Yeah, the book takes place on the planet Cycloptera where all the people have a third eye. And they have dinosaurs with eyes in the back of their heads, but they taste lousy."
I laughed. "The dinosaurs taste lousy?"
"Yeah, and the people wear their hair in bangs over the third eye. I'm gonna sit and write it and then hope some publishing company will want to publish it. I got 354 pages and it's all in my head right now."
"So when you leavin'?"
"Two weeks. Maybe a month. He's gonna get me a dog and a mule. It's four miles up the river. I'm gonna live in a tent -- you know, like..." and he drew and outline of a tent with a roof and sides.
"So, what are you gonna eat?"
"Oh, there's lots of birds and fish. But you gotta be careful about making bacon and eggs in the morning cuz those bears'll smell that 2 miles away and come lookin' for ya."
"What about your court thing?" (He was busted for taking a Coke can off a city-owned trash bin).
"Ah, they'll dismiss that. It's not like I shot somebody."
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