Have you ever met a legend? Would you know if you had? I have, and making his acquaintance was as necessary for my survival as the air I breathe.
The first time he and I locked eyes we were on a similar mission. I’d seen him before. He seemed to have an intimate knowledge of the places Simon and Garfunkel sang about: “Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters, where the ragged people go, looking for the places only they would know”.*
As I paused beside the dumpster with my bike, I nodded at him. He stared at me, then dropped his gaze. Shouldering a black trash bag, he edged past me and down the alleyway.
I pedaled past him to the next dumpster. He glared at me as he passed by.
“Hey,” I called after him, “Can’t we work together?”
He stiffened his back and turned to face me.
“I work alone,” he growled, letting his burden rest on the gravel at his feet.
Squinting, he scrutinized me from head to foot. Then he fished in his front shirt pocket.
“Ya smoke?” he rasped, holding out the remains of two cigarettes. I shook my head no.
Dangling one of the cigarettes from his lips, he slid the other back in his pocket.
“Good! Don’t start,” he muttered, cupping a lit match to the stub. “So who are you?”
“My name’s Sam M...” I began.
“Never give your real name,” he scolded, “What dya go by?”
He sucked in a deep breath of smoke and savored it.
“Okay, I’ll call ya ‘Pedals’,” he said, the smoke curling from his lips as he spoke. “Mall security calls me ‘Junkyard Dog’, but I prefer ‘Suits’. Sounds kinda high class, dontcha think?”
He smiled. “You got anyplace to go?”
Again I shook my head.
“‘Spose you know ‘bout the Gospel Mission, huh?”
I shrugged again.
“It’s not bad for gettin’ outta the weather, but my camp’s at Pointa Rocks. C’mon.”
Over the next month, Suits showed me the best dumpsters to dive. We covered each other’s backs making our rounds. With the aluminum, tin, and glass we recycled and the almost new appliances we were able to hock, I bought myself a small flashlight, ‘working clothes’, and heavy leather gloves. We were doing well. We were Princes of Prosperity.
Suits was good, really good, like the legend he was. He knew exactly when the grocery store dumped the less than a day old doughnuts they made each morning. Once, we got a trash bag full of cream-filled pastries. We ate well that evening.
Then something began to change. During the day, Suits became contemplative; at night, he had nightmares. The legend was slipping.
One frosty evening, Suits and I visited the Gospel Mission for ‘a hot square’ and a bed for the night. With our bellies full and the promise of a soft mattress, we leaned back in our chairs and listened to the Mission director talk about Jesus.
“My Savior can change your life! If you come forward, we’ll pray with you, and God will hear!” the director pleaded. Someone belched behind us; another chuckled.
Suits stood, his eyes focused on the platform.
“Suits!” I whispered. “What’re you doing?”
He looked at me with eyes that seemed scared and uncertain.
“Don’t know, Pedals. Been feelin’ like somethin’s gonna happen to me soon and I gotta be ready.”
After getting prayed over that night, he took greater precautions when we went diving together. Even then, neither of us were prepared for the end.
Late one evening, I pedaled through the deserted mall parking lot. No one seemed to be around the electronics store dumpster, so I dismounted and gave the ‘All’s clear’. As Suits came toward me, the mall security truck accelerated around the corner, high beams on, blinding us.
“No!” I screamed as it hit Suits, then crushed my bike. He slid up and over the hood and struck the ground hard. The truck careened out of sight.
I sucked in ragged breaths as I knelt beside him. He was already dead. Just that quick. I gently propped him in a sitting position in the closest doorway, so’s someone could find him.
“Why, God?” I shouted to the impassive sky. No answer. I pummeled the building’s brick wall in my rage.
Fists bloodied and tears blurring my vision, I staggered through town to the Mission and collapsed in the doorway.
*Lyrics from ‘The Boxer’ by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel
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