Post Day One:
Nineteen Hundred Seventy Seven was the beginning of a new and better life for me. I began a recovery program for alcohol abuse; I made friends that year that would be with me for half a lifetime. Some of them I have written about on these pages.
I formed business alliances with Hollywood directors, US Senators, and business people around the globe and I slowly began to see life in a different light. But of all these “happening” earthshaking, bigger than life humans who were coming into my world, perhaps the most important of these at that time was a man named Dave.
Five years before my first and only meeting with Dave, he weighed 175 pounds and stood exactly 72 inches tall. The day I met him he was 27 inches shorter. Diabetes had redesigned his body. He was now 45 inches tall and slightly overweight. He told me he weighed 155 pounds.
Business was slow that morning, which was unusual for this very popular do it yourself picture frame shop. It was April, the weather was wonderful and people were out and about. Someone would be in soon with an armload of pictures to frame. I was at my desk looking out at Scottsdale Road when suddenly coming into view was this very short man with practically no legs at all walking along slowly but deliberately, his body rocking from left to right and back again, moving at a predictable gait with a predictable rhythm. And then he stopped. He removed the two plastic, one gallon milk bottles that were hanging from each side of his neck via a bungee like strap (we hadn’t yet learned to con people into buying bottled water, nor did we have bungee cords as such) and placed them on the ground before him. His body did not require him to bend. The ground was as close to him as a dining room table would be to me. He removed his wide-brimmed straw hat, then slowly and methodically removed the lid from one of the bottles and raised it to his lips. When sated he placed his thumb over the lid and sprinkled some of the precious fluid on his head and face.
Post Day two:
This lone traveler seemed oblivious to the fact that he was surrounded by civilization. He was standing next to the driveway leading into a new shopping center. Only a year or two earlier this center at the northeast corner of Scottsdale Rd. and Shea Blvd. had been a desert with cactus and a lone, leafless, black and white Palo Verde tree which might as well have still been status quo as far as this traveler was concerned.
As local traffic crossed his path to enter and shop, he tended to the task of replacing the lid on his water jug, slung the two bottles back around his neck, covered his head with well-worn straw and checked for something in the pocket of his no longer quite white and much wrinkled dress shirt. Not until these small personal chores had received his thorough attention did he return his focus to the busy, modern world around him. After checking to make sure that the driveway was clear he embarked upon the slow journey meant to accomplish the required efforts to get him safely to the other side. I flinched as a pickup truck lurched to a stop, its bed bouncing up and down in response to the suddenness of foot-on-the-brake-pedal. Other cars piled up behind. The third car in line honked. The man in the pickup left the cab of his truck to hold his hand up to fellow drivers, allowing the traveler the time necessary to reach the other side of the driveway.
When the traffic snarl returned to normal the driver of the Chevy pickup drove to the other end of the shopping center and parked, apparently in anticipation of a repeat performance at the other entrance. A customer entered my store. I busied myself with samples and chatted with the daughter of the owner of The Pink Pony and my workday began. Though I had not yet met him, this customer’s husband would someday become a close friend.
The event that I described took place around 9:30 am. At noon my curiosity took over; I just had to break away and track this guy down. It didn’t take long; I already had an idea of how far he must have traveled. I had doodled around with a calculator, beginning with the first figure in my head, my daily jogging speed. I worked down from there, eventually deciding that this man with the six-inch legs and no feet, this man who the workers and customers were now calling Shorty, was walking at a rate of three hours per mile. Finding him at just under a mile away, I paused for a moment, did a u-turn and drove back to my workplace. I thought of him from time to time during the day. As I moved around in the workroom I pictured Shorty first as a customer, then as the owner of this business. I tried to imagine him finding a way to climb up on the bar stool to sit at my pub-table-height desk. I pictured him visiting with customers, ignoring his limitations and having fun with the rest of us. And I experienced twinges of guilt for taking my life for granted, an easy life which was growing easier by the day and which less than a year before had been miserable indeed.
At 6:00 pm, I closed the shop to customers and continued to work. We were more than a DYS store; I often took in custom framing orders and tonight I would work late. By eight-o-clock all I could think about was Shorty. I closed the shop, went to a nearby gathering of friends and then left to look for him. After five miles I gave up and returned to my loft at McCormick Ranch, ate the hamburger I had bought at Jack in the Box on the way home, watched a couple of TV shows, laughed at Carson, showered and retired for the evening.
I awoke in the middle of the night, wondering about this fellow for whom I felt a growing kinship and returned to the television. At around three am I called a friend of mine on duty at the Scottsdale Police Department and described my new almost-a-friend and inquired about his safety. No information. I had friends with the volunteer Sherriff’s posse and got a promise from one of them to keep an eye out for him.
The day was a busy one. Working in a do-it-yourself frame shop was an unbelievably fun way of earning a living. Just saying so stirs up a number of great memories involving high interest activities with high interest people. By mid-afternoon I was getting hungry. The shop being ahum with activity stirred me on two occasions that day to call for pizza. One lady, unthinkingly and unnoticed by myself or my employees, managed to carve up a tabletop which was not a work table but for display only. She seemed to think that a sheet of Kraft paper would protect the table from her box knife. I escorted her back to the workroom and covered up the damage.
This time instead of working late, I decide at closing time to go looking for Shorty while the sun was still aloft. By seven PM I had found Shorty-now-Dave moving along at the same predictable gait, singing and having a good time with his short self. I parked up ahead and walked back to introduce myself. He asked what I intended to do with the pillows that I was holding in my hand. I answered by offering one to Dave and placed the other on the ground and sat myself upon it. Dave did the same and we talked. I was uncomfortable in the heat. Noticing the perspiration on my face Dave asked if there was a restaurant nearby. I said yes. He said he would buy dinner and asked if I would bring him back to this very spot when we were through visiting. I thanked him for his offer and said sure, that sounded like a great idea. We went to the Horny Toad I think it was, in Carefree; or was it Cave Creek? He had beer and burgers I had the Pepsi version.
When we arrived at the restaurant I discovered that Dave wasn’t overweight at all. muscular, yes. His shirt was several sizes too large. When he removed it before climbing with his massive forearms into the booth, I saw that he had yet another garment with many pockets and beneath that was a foam rubber pad wrapped around his torso. This was his bed. Beneath that was a smelly tee-shirt. We talked for hours.
Dave and I were almost exactly the same age. He had not only survived the ravages of arrested necrosis but had lived through an automobile accident which took the lives of his wife and children. He was practicing what he referred to as short hikes. He wanted to see the world and he wanted to do it by using what was left of himself to propel his body hither and yon. He and I had been in Germany at the same time; he had re-enlisted and served in Viet Nam. He was interested in art but did not consider himself an artist. He loved to sing songs and had developed songwriting skills as he moved about. You are describing yourself as an artist, I said. he frowned a small frown and sang a song he had written that very day.
I did not get overly personal with my questions but spoke instead of my problems with alcohol and about fear. In time, my friend started talking about his own fears, eventually getting around to the subject of Love. He had lost many friends in Asia. He had lost his legs to diabetes. Though he adjusted quite well said Dave, to the ravages of war and disease, he had to be hospitalized for nearly a year when he lost his family. He spoke of service to the community at large and seemed very interested when I bridged that same subject. He asked lots of questions when I spoke of alcoholism. i was puzzled about how he got as far as he had; my calculations for the second day weren’t even close. He slid down on the floor and using his fists against the floor demonstrated that he had four limbs with which to move about. He could move faster than I. I understood now about his leather gloves. “But when I checked your progress yesterday at noon you had gone less than a mile in nearly three hours.”
“I went to lunch” he said, “with one of your neighbors.”
I returned him to the location where I had found him and drove home but not until he had answered the question of why he had made the life choice described to me by him as we had munched over desert an hour earlier at the Horny Toad.
“I get to see a part of the world most people don’t even know exists”, said Dave. When I look down at the desert floor I see a whole different world of bugs and small critters. Rabbits aren’t afraid of me, Mice scamper about as though I’m not even there. And people like yourself stop to talk.”
“But what about goals?” I asked. “Don’t you set any kind of goals for yourself?”
“Everyone has a vision of where they are going “ said Dave. “have you ever known anyone claim to get there? Focusing on the goal can keep me from enjoying the life I am living. I just want to keep moving.“
I was disappointed but only for a moment. I realized that with all the spiritual experiences coming my way in the short time that I’d been sober that somehow I felt as though this guy was some kind of angel dropped down out of the sky. In fact he was just an ordinary man, who lived a few blocks from my workplace. He had no great message, nothing I could race around town and share with the world. And then thirty-five years later as I sat at my computer wondering what to write about, I remembered Dave.
Somewhere today there may still be an old man with six-inch legs walking along the side of a road. If you see him, stop and ask if his name is Dave. Tell him that Lee said “Hi”. Invite him to dinner and send me the bill.
By Lee Broom.