I was coming out of Home Depot with a brand-spanking new reel of 59-mil trimmer string in my paws when he spotted me. Red, the cracker suspended-forever, I guess-in my fondue pot of creamy brie.
I didn't notice him until he hollered, "COPE! THEY DONE RECONSTRUCTURED ME RAT OUT O' MA' JAWB!" He was as loud as a marooned sailor, but since it was a Saturday morning, I reckon only three or four hundred other home improvers even heard him. Then he comes loping across the parking lot like a pissed-off llama.
What was I to do? Sure, I could have headed back into the store and hid out in one of those nice pre-fab shower stalls, but I like Red enough to not make it obvious I don't always like being around him. So I plopped down on a clearance-priced collapsible sawhorse and waited.
"Good to see you, Red. What have you been doing with yourself? Keeping track of Bush's abysmal failures, are you? That's gotta keep a fella busy."
"This ain't got nuttin t'do with George W. Bush's Abyssinian flailures, Cope. Didn'tcha e'en hear what I said?"
"I heard you lost your job."
"Lost it, hell! I knows 'zactly where it's at. They done put it on a boat an' sent it t' some burg in Indja. Mumbai ... ever heard o' such a place?""I have indeed, my friend. Used to be Bombay. Situated on the west coast of the sub-continent, if you care to know, and it's largely considered to be the economic and cultural hub of ... "
"Dang, Cope, if'n I wanted a social studies lekshure, I'd go back an' finish high school."
"Uh, sorry, Red. I can't seem to get those PBS shows off my mind. So, as I see the problem, you've been restructured and out-sourced.""Ya'll got that rat. I done got it from both ends. An' on top o' it all, I think they done downsized me, too!""Wouldn't be a bit surprised, pal. These business trends seem to run in packs. But hey, last I knew, you were self-employed."
"Wull I was ... up 'til I got a job. The wormin' bidness ain't what it used t' be, ya' see. T'was a time when I could fill up cottage cheese containers with night crawlers all day Monday, sell 'em on Tuesday, and not have t' lift a finger for the rest o' the week. But these days, fisherers'd rather use them itty-bitty colored marshy mallows than good ol' I-dee-ho worms. An' besides, when mah wife come down with them awful shingles, we done decided we needed some healt' assurance, an' that ain't sumpin' a feller can afford on no wormer's sal'ry. So's I signed on at'n one o' them big outfits what does sumpin' what has sumpin' t' do wit' c'puters."
"Micron? Hewett-Packard? Dell? Macintosh? IBM?"
"I cain't 'zactly 'member, but I'm purdy sure it had a shorter name than that. Anyhows, juzz when I was gettin' the hang o' the job, they come up wit' this down-structure-sourcin' re-out-sizin' horse puckey, so's here I am ... out o' work f'r the first time in mah life. An' the worse thin' is, I'd already made a down payment on some shingles pills f'r mah wife. Don' know hows I'm gonna pay off'n the balance."
"I'm sorry to hear about all of this, bud. If there's anything I can do to help, you let me know, okay?"
"Wull, Cope, as a matter o' fact ... wull, see, I was awond'rin' if'n yew'd ... uh ..."
I stood up and reached for my money. It's not that I'm so generous. Truth is, I was hoping if I slipped him a few bucks before he managed to say what he really wanted, I'd get off a lot cheaper in the long run. "Red, would a 10-spot help out? I mean, it won't get you much health insurance, but ..."
"Put yer dang wallet away, Cope. Hell, I'd rather live un'er a bridge than owe any gull durned Dem'crat money. All I wanted was f'r yew t' maybe write me up one o' them there car'cter rev'rences. Won't be as much fun as writin' all that lib'ral poop ya'll come up wit' ever' week where yer runnin' down George W. Bush an' ever'thing else clean an' holy. But I'm thinkin' it'll git read by a lot more people."
Certainly, I could have replied with something snotty-i.e. "Yeah... probably. But at least I'm not the one who got his cracker ass down-sized, huh, Red?"-but I decided to let it slide. "A character reference? Sure, I can do that. Be happy to. But what do you need a character reference for? Good gravy, everyone already knows you're some kind of character. Ha ha."
It seems Red was equally willing to let things slide, seeing as how he didn't acknowledge my comment in any way whatsoever. "The thin' is, I'm applying f'r a job down at the Wal-Marts outfit. I figures I c'n stack carts wit' the best of 'em. An' with a little trainin' an' a lot o' hustle, I might e'en work mah way up t' greeter."
"Doesn't your wife work there?"
"She sure do. She been there since the grand op'nin'. An' juzz last week, they made her Assosh'ate Vice-Prez'dent o' sumpin' 'r' other. All I know is, she's the one what lines up all them illegal imm'grunts what mops the floor at night, so's now she gets t' spend a lot more hours a week honin' her craft. An' they ain't chargin' her a dime extra f'r the experience. Purdy dang good, don'tcha think? In fact, she's almost making enough money t' afford the gas t' get her t' work 'n' back. I figured out that if'n we're both workin' there, we can buy gas'leen and have enough left over t' do some groc'ry shoppin' there on our day off. I got m' eye on a boneless ham in their butcher window what's purdy enough t' be a paintin'."
"Watch out, buddy. You don't want to end up owing your soul to the company store. And you know, don't you, that Wal-Mart doesn't provide health insurance?"
"I knows that. But theys been real good 'bout tellin' their help where they can go t' sign up f'r it. An' at Wal-Marts, there ain't never no chance somebody'll come roun' wantin' ya' to join up wit' no gull danged union! Dang decent o' them rich Walton folks, if'n ya' ask me. T' look out f'r their little people like that."
"Red, I'm just curious. Do you suppose there will ever come a point where you sit back, take a good look at the way things are going, and ask yourself what the hell these Republicans have ever done for you?"
"Whatchew talkin' 'bout, Cope? There ain't a dang day goes by when I don' t'ank God f'r puttin' George W. Bush up where he c'n save 'Merica from people lak yew."
"Ah, keep the faith, eh, buddy? No matter what?"
"Ain't dat the troot. What else a feller like me got t' keep?"
Turns out Red needed the $10 after all. He didn't have enough gas to get home.