He rose early on the frosty Monday. Part of the job: people want to read today’s news today. He went out warm up his van, ran back into the house to throw on his coat and hat, pour himself a coffee for the road, and off he went. Another uneventful day, or so he thought. Turn on the radio and listen to the “Morning Team,” always seem to be having fun they did! The Jock always seemed to have such control over the situation there. He sipped his coffee and wondered, “Why couldn’t I have been him, instead of me? He’s got it all, right?” Then consoling himself he thought, “What the hell, I’ve got her and the kids!” Always glad for that he was! A cynical yet happy man, family was always important. Nothing like their faces on Christmas Day he would think! Outside of his family, there didn’t seem to be much meaning to his life he sometimes thought.
Arriving at the corner where he picked up his bundles, he got out of his van, and while putting them in the side, a young fellow came up behind him and said, “Give it up!” He turned to see a young man, slightly built and not more than 18, leveling a pistol at him.
“Got nothing to give up,” he said and continued to load the bundles into the van. “What do you mean, nothing to give up?” “Well,” he went on “I carry no money on me, thieves are out here you know!”
The youngster was taken aback by the older man’s flippant answer and probably even more so by what on the surface seemed to be his lack of fear. He foolishly retorted, “Are calling me a thief?” “What, I should call you, doctor?” the older man asked. He continued on with the young man, “Hey, why aren’t you home sleeping, don’t you have school this morning?”
Dropped out, he answered. “And this is your goal in life, drop out of school to rob people? Brilliant decision, son!” The young man angrily said, “First you call me thief, then you call me son, don’t you realize I’m holding a gun?” He said, “That’s not lost on me at all, be happy I didn’t call you ‘boy’!” “No,” the young man retorted, “YOU be happy you didn’t call me boy!”
“Whatever,” the man said as he continued loading the bundles into his van. Then he turned and faced his would-be robber, still leveling the gun at him and said, “Let me ask you, do you call what your doing ‘acting like a man’? I mean, you get up early, pull a gun on someone like me as you first official act of the day! Come on, you must have bigger dreams than this!”
“Need money,” the young man answered, “Pops said this’ll work.” “Is Pops your father?” No was the answer, “Dad died last year from cancer, Pops is a guy always hanging out down the street from where I live.”
This info put a new spin on things. Dad leaves suddenly and this kid picks up with a neighborhood Yo-Yo who could truly care less. “Listen, do you think your dad would approve of what you’re doing?” “No,” he answered, “Dad was a good man!” He said this with PRIDE in his voice at the same time bringing his gun down to his side. “Look, I’ve got to get going, I’m already running a few minutes behind. Hold that thought about your dad, meet me here tomorrow morning, we’ll talk some more and for God’s sake and your own, put that gun away before something foolish happens.” The young man agreed and went on his way. Let’s see what happens, the man thought. Probably won’t show. He thought about the young fellow for a while then his mind settled toward the business at hand.
The next day started much in the same way as the day before. He didn’t much think the young man would show, wasn’t real concerned about it until he heard a voice; “Hey, man!” It was the young man. “You showed!” the older man said. “Said I would.”
The man looked him over with approval and said, “Says something for you, your word is worth something! Here’s a few dollars, go across the street and grab us some coffee and bagels.” “Could I have a hot chocolate?” “Sure,” the older counterpart said. He returned a few minutes later with the goods and said, “Creamer and sugar’s in the bag with your bagel.” “Thanks, and my change?”
The young fellow smirked and turned it over. “This all you do?” The young man asked. “No,” came the reply, “when I’m done here I work in the service department at an auto dealership as a service advisor.” “A what?” he asked. “Service advisor. I tell people what’s wrong with their cars and what they need to have done. I get my info from the mechanic.” “Is it hard?” the younger man asked. The older man said “Nah. Just a pain. Most of our customers think more of their cars than they do their own kids. In some cases it probably makes sense, I guess.”
The young fellow laughed and said, “For real, huh?” “Yea, for real. Say, what did you father do?” “Lots of things,” was the answer. “Mostly construction when the work was there, a carpenter and a brick layer. He also drove a cab during his lay-offs from construction. That used to scare my mom. Afraid he might get hurt or something.”
The man looked at the young man thoughtfully then said, “Sounds like dad was quite a man, and a good man to boot!” “Yes, he was. Mom always said so. She still cries at night. She misses him so much. My two younger sisters and I sometimes cry with her.”
The man seized this opportunity to maybe steer the young man away from a wrong path. “Your mother misses your dad, but how do you think she’d feel if something happened to you? She’s already lost one man. Do you think she wants to make it two? Especially her own son! You keep listening to guys like ‘Pops’ and she’ll be crying for you too! I’m loaded up as you can see, come by again tomorrow if you’re not too busy. You know where to find me.” Again, The young man promised he would.
He woke the next day to see it’s raining. He won’t show, he thought. He was wrong. There the young man was, waiting! “I watched the papers for you,” he said. “I chased two homeless-looking guys from messing with them.”
“Here’s a few bucks. You know what to do.” The young fella returned a few minutes later with the goods. “Hey, I thought you didn’t carry any money.” The older man said, “Normally, I don’t. I brown bag my lunch and pour myself some coffee before I leave the house. Saves me a lot in the course of a month.”
“Are you married?” The young man asked. “19 years, 2 girls, 1 boy,” came the answer. “Wow,” the youngster said, “sounds like my house! My folks were also married 19 years before dad died.” “You have a girlfriend?” The older man asked. The answer was yes, but instead of talking about her the young man asked, “What were you like as a kid?” “Come by tomorrow and I’ll tell you, as you can see, I’m loaded up. You have a good day and stay out of trouble!” The young man laughed and went on his way but not before he said he would return again!
The next day was dry, but cool, but that didn’t stop either one from showing up. During the now usual coffee/hot chocolate, bagel/donut, the youngster asked again, “What were you like as a kid?” The man thought it over and finally said, “Quiet, shy, unsure of myself. Did well playing sports.”
“What sports did you play?” The youngster asked. “Whatever was in season,” came the reply, “Plus, a lot of stick-ball and hand-ball.” “What is stick-ball and hand-ball?” The youngster asked, seemingly puzzled. “Stick-ball is like baseball only with a broomstick and a small rubber ball of any variety. Hand-ball had different variations too, one like baseball, many others where you would hit it against the wall. Rules varied, depending on the players’ whims and neighborhood rules.”
“Huh, never heard about it,” the young man said. “What else did you did you do, did you drink alcohol and smoke pot?”
“Why do you ask that?” the man asked. “Just curious,” the young man replied. “Well,” the older man said, “I don’t want to glorify it, but yes, I did for a short while, but it really wasn’t to my liking.”
“What’s ‘glorify’ mean?” The youngster wanted to know. “In short, to make something seem great. Some things are worth ‘glorifying.’ Using any king of drug and drinking underage really isn’t one of them, though I know a great many young people do it, if only to fit in with the crowd. Hey, time to go. Tomorrow?” “Tomorrow’s good, see ya then!”
The young man showed the next day, looking unusually tired. “You look rough, long night?” asked the older man. “Yeah, got in late, then I sat up with mom for a bit. She wants me to go back to school, get something going in my life.”
“Well,” the man said, “You can’t shoot her for that one. She obviously wants good things for her son.” The young man said, “Yeah, she’s right. I need to ask you though, why do you even care about me, I mean, what’s in it for you?” “Does there have to be, like, money or something?” The older man asked in return. “I just get the idea that it works like that, that’s what Pops says.”
Pops again, the older man thought to himself, then he went on to say, “Forget about Pops, and listen to your mother and hopefully some teachers in school. With a little luck you’ll meet some that have more on the ball than Pops. Pops’ advice almost got us killed!”
“What do you mean, us?” the youngster asked. The older man grew really serious and said, “Well, you could have shot me, I could’ve died, and if you were caught, you may have gotten the death penalty. Even if you went to prison, there’s a high risk of being killed. Or maybe you wouldn’t have made it that far, some cop could spot you with that gun in your hand and decide your fate right there!”
The young man reflected on this. He then confessed, “The gun wasn’t real, though!” “I didn’t know that,” the older man said, “And if I didn’t know it, the cops won’t either! They’re not going to ask, you know. They’ll tell you to drop it and if you don’t do it fast enough, ‘BOOM-BOOM,’ now mom’s crying for you also! Pops left all of that out, I’m sure. Now, to answer your question, maybe because I have kids, maybe it’s God telling me to, maybe I don’t know WHY I care, but just be glad I do! Gotta go!! See you tomorrow?” Yeah, the youngster nodded.
“Got a perfect score so far,” the older man said. “What do mean?” asked the young man. “Well, you’ve shown up every day that you said you would. I hope you are getting what you need here,” said the older man.
The young man thought this over and said, “I think so, I’m not sure what it is, but something has been happening inside of me. Mom noticed it too. I’m going back to school as of Monday. I’m also enrolled in a trade program. I go to various classes until I decide what is best, like, what I would really like to do.”
“Do you know what you would like?” The grown man asked. “I like carpentry, but I think auto mechanics might be a better idea,” the young fella said. “Maybe you could learn both,” the man said. “You have a pretty good head on your shoulders, use it to think for yourself. You know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad.”
“Hey man,” the younger man said, “Thanks for everything, and I’m really sorry I tried to stick you up!” the older man laughed and said, “Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. You’ll understand more about that as you get older. Good luck, and try to get back to me about how you’re doing, huh?” The young man said he would and left.
Several weeks went by, and he thought of the young man often, hoping he was well. No news is good news, he figured. The purpose he felt over and above the usual was refreshing and served to recharge his emotional battery. Sometimes one needs to do something outside of the normal course of living, he thought. Life needs a certain amount of accomplishment to make it worthwhile.
Several more days went by and again, while loading bundles of newspapers into his van, He heard a voice: “Give it up!” He turned, thinking it was his young friend joking with him. It wasn’t, but another young man, with a pistol, wanting money. He thought, “Here we go again…”
A Hamilton resident, Cataldi delivers newspapers and magazines for several publishers, including U.S. 1. He also appears as “The Night Driver” on a radio show called “The Overnight Ride,” broadcast from midnight to 5:30 a.m. on WBCB radio, 1490 AM, in Levittown, PA.