Tuesday, June 07, 2016


Once again, I want to mention here that writing is work. Often, it's very hard work. Most of us get into the gig of creating fiction because it's fun and we'd do it no matter what. But that's not always the case--the pure fun part--and that's when it becomes work that's not a lot different from other jobs. The only good thing about it being that it's a job that you want to have and that you enjoy doing, no matter the toil of it.

Years ago, about the third year I was into the job of delivering the mail for USPS, I used to deliver to an old guy who would be sitting out on the cluttered porch of his bungalow scribbling away in notebooks. I'd say hi, and he'd say hi, then I'd wander off and he'd keep scribbling in one or another of his notebooks.

One day as I was delivering the mail I heard a faint call for help as I got to the door. The voice was so faint that I thought for a second that I had imagined it. So I knocked on the old guy's door and I heard the voice a little louder. "Help."

I was getting ready to smash the door in when I heard the lock disengage. I opened the door to find him sitting on the floor, looking like a bag of bones in clothes that looked to have been made for a man three sizes larger. "Water," he croaked. The city had apparently cut off his water for lack of payment and he was quite actually dying of thirst.

This was in the days before I owned a cell phone so I was left to run from house to house knocking on doors to ask for someone to call the cops or an ambulance. This being a working class neighborhood, everyone was at work. I passed a Duke Power truck with a lineman in it and I asked him to radio for help, which he did.

Finally, I found him some water and brought him a glass a woman in a house half a block away gave to me. He took that, and soon the cops arrived, then an ambulance. For most of the rest of the week I was kind of an emotional wreck.

A few weeks passed. The tiny little bungalow where he lived remained empty. He never did return. But distantly related family arrived to empty it out and put it up for sale, since the property values were soaring and the real estate there was moving fast. I still went up on the cluttered porch to deliver mail that someone picked up for him. One day I noticed trash bags up where the old fellow used to sit, his ink pen in action. Three or four big black plastic bags. I could see that they were full of the notebooks I would always see the old dude working on.

To Hell with it, I figured. What would it hurt to look at one, since they were all bound for the trash. So I opened the first one at hand.

Tight, scrawled lines written in ink. Letters so tiny it was extremely difficult to read them.

It was a novel.

They were all novels. Four garbage bags full of handwritten novels scribbled over what I assume were years and years as a single man grew into an old drunk abandoned by one and all, quietly hunkered down in that tiny bungalow with those notebooks and cans of beer while he scribbled away, living on social security checks, in the house his parents had left for him.

And, no, I did not rescue the bags of novels. It just wasn't in the cards for me to do that. If his family didn't care enough to salvage the material, I certainly didn't have the time or space to do it.

A few days later the bags and all the contents of the tiny little house were gone and the place was scrubbed clean. Later on it was painted, some minor landscaping was done. The house went on the market and sold very, very quickly.

I doubt much of anyone remembers the old guy sitting there alone on that cluttered porch, spending his evenings guzzling beer and his days writing novels that, as far as I know, no one else ever read.

Who knows?


dogboy443 said...

That is amazing. Well written and heart felt.

James Robert Smith said...

Thanks, Mark! I saw a lot of sad things when I was a letter carrier.