Thursday, December 14, 2006

I been laughed at, I been outcasted, and I still don't give a damn

I'm a rambler...

America loves a survivor.

Unless he's camping in the park behind America's house.

Now, don't get me wrong... I ran off a lot of derelicts in my old neighborhood. They tended to be asleep behind my garage, in a very narrow inset from the alley... a driveway of sorts. One day I almost drove over (okay, the car never went into gear, but the engine was on) what at first looked like just an abandoned carpet (I was about 30 yards from one of "those" apartment houses. It seemed to swing back and forth between being inhabited primarily by petty dealers and being a rehab. Sometimes it appeared to be both. More than once. Tenant after tenant dumped couches, carpets, I can't count how many refrigerators)... where was I? Ah yes... the abandoned carpet.

Something told me to take a second look. I jumped out of the car and walked out of the garage into the noon sunlight. Looked like a carpet.

Then I saw the hand.

I gingerly kicked a little at the carpet. Nothing.

But the hand looked pretty live, good color under the grime. I gave another, less gentle kick at what appeared to be the guy's lower leg (padded, for sure, inside a couple layers of carpet, lest anyone think I really was kicking a guy who was down).

This time the hand made some clutching motions, I heard a grunt and then... nothing.

"Sir, you have to wake up and move," I said in my most authoritative voice.


"Sir, you're blocking a garage. I almost drove over you."

A little movement. Another grunt... it sounded like, "Yeah" -- well more like, "Yunh."

"Sir, are you all right? Should I call paramedics or the police?"

That got a response. But he was sort of rolled in the rug and couldn't get out at first. It would have been moderately funny if I hadn't been thinking about how easy it would have been to drive over him. (It probably would have just been a foot or two but, you know, call me soft-hearted...)

"Sir? Are you injured? Should I call the police?"

He finally said, "No, no, dude, I was just taking a nap." His grimy face was uncovered now. He was a white guy of somewhat indeterminate age, maybe 30-40, long grimy hair. His bluish gray eyes were watery and wildly unfocused.

He struggled to his knees. Seeing that he was whole and not visibly wounded, I cranked up my righteous pique a little.

"Man, do you know you're in front of a garage and I almost drove over you? I couldn't even see you when I walked up just now at first. I mean, for crying out loud!"

Or words to that effect. I'm conversant in the language of the street.


So... don't get me wrong. The whole time I was chewing this guy out and hoping I never saw him again, I was also wondering at the presumed utter crumminess of a life where the narrow space in back of my garage and right off an alley that still gives me the creeps when I think about how it was once my alley -- how that space was the best place he could find to be.

So I said a little prayer for him that night and tried to put him out of my mind.

Guess it didn't entirely work.

So... this song's for him.

Hope you're sleeping dry and warm tonight, buddy.

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December 21, 2005 version
February 17, 2006 version

Left my home and my woman
about forty* years ago
mostly don't know when to quit
but then I packed up my losses
and stumbled out on the road

Well I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler
I'm just a shambles of a man
I'm stumbling; my lifes crumblin
I'm just another loser on the lam

If the stakes are low then the time is right
I'm a fool for a penny-ante game
May be gambling with my life
but it's just small change all the same

Well I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler...

I've been beaten, I've been cheated
I've been shot at from Arkansas to Vietnam
I been shafted, I been laughed at
I been out-casted but I still don give a damn

Well I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler
I'm just a shambles of a man
I'm stumbling; my lifes crumblin
I'm just another loser on the lam

(C) 1973 TK Major

*When I wrote this song, 33 years ago, the line was "Left my home and my woman / about four years ago." Ah, youth. Back then, four years seemed like a long time. I mean... a long time. This time around, I was feeling the guy a little closer to my own twighlit age. Hope you don't mind the liberty.

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