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Free Range: Altered realities

By Felicia Morgan

Standing on a street corner waiting for the light to change, a spry, 78-year-old man suddenly appears and introduces himself as Garbage Mike. I make the assumption that he is homeless. About that same time a biker pulls up to the red light and revs his engine. The loud brap-brap echoes through the street and my new acquaintance covers his ears in recoil. As the bike rolls away the man relaxes, and asks, “Aren’t you glad you don’t have a motorcycle?” I chuckle before I counter. “But I do. I have that very same motorcycle, as a matter of fact.” Garbage Mike covers his mouth as his eyes bulge and he tells me I don’t look like one of those types before he asks if I’m a local. I explain that I’m rolling though, just stopped to buy a pair of flip-flops because my last pair went flying off the back of the bike when a Bungee cord broke. He asks if he can help with my shopping quest since he is intimate with the area. He admires that I get to ride around and says he can no longer travel like he used to after contracting Lyme disease from a tick he got while lying in the grass at the local senior center three years ago. He shares the list of symptoms and says none of the local doctors know anything about the illness so he’s had to drive to San Francisco to find someone in the Haight that is Lyme savvy. He offers to show me the wound in his groin area. I pass.

Garbage is wearing a button on his shirt that reads, “At my age, nudity is the best form of birth control.” His nickname was given in his youth during his days as a garbage collector while living in communes. He asks if I’d like lunch because he wants to show me the Whole Foods store, which he seems very excited about. It is there my education begins.

Mike enters the store with his head lowered, as if he’s trying to avoid eye contact. “Here,” he motions to the refrigerated section. “They have free samples. You can get your juice here. And over here they sometimes have assorted samples that are actually handed out. Over there is your produce section, this direction is the bathrooms and they are relatively clean.” We continue through the store with him pointing out all the pertinent accents when it dawns on me. My host is giving me a crash course in survival on the streets. I learn that water is free, the greens are the best choice while making your lunch at the salad bar but the meats are expensive because they charge by the pound. Dressings are free and if you chose the right ones, they’re actually very good for you. He considers the balsamic vinegar medicinal and sips some as we make our way to the table near the window. He is fussy about the way our garbage is disposed of and he carefully considers each piece of rubbish to be certain of its ability to biodegrade. The signs say the cups are compost material, but he assures me that the wax coating is certainly not. After lunch we stroll the little area shops and he points out that I can get a free evening meal when the art gallery has openings, and the bookstore has free coffee and will let you sit in the store all day and read as long as you are polite. They also have the cleanest restroom, but you must ask for the key. He knows the owner by name and she will give him the key, but not everyone is as privileged.

He says when he used to travel he made a trek to Death Valley twice a year to hang out with friends with whom he lived in the communes. They rent a huge park there and get back to nature. I suspect from the innuendos that he’s a nudist, but I am not curious enough to ask. He’s never been married, but says he had a great time as a young man working as a surveyor. He did not trust the draft when he was of age so he took it upon himself to enlist. He feels lucky to have been able to travel to Korea after the war, and to Japan as well. “I was very fortunate to have gone in after the war so I never had to actually fire a weapon and kill anyone in the name of a nasty old war.” He says while hunching up and wringing his hands in disgust. “And you know what? When I become the benevolent dictator, all prisons will be abolished because punishment is premeditated and counterproductive.” With that, he thanks me for my company and disappears.

One comment

  1. Wow! Just for the hell of it, and for reasons I am not entirely sure of, I googled Garbage Mike and found your page. I knew Mike 40 years ago in Cotati, California. He was rather peculiar and stand-offish even at that time, but a very nice man. He was giving almost to a fault. He had terrible allergies and always had a skin rash. I remember I stayed in the house he shared with others in that town. I peed on his cat one night by mistake, which rather irritated him. Especially since he bent down to pet it and came up with a wet hand. Good ol’ Mike!

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