Elvis and Me
I walk out of a downtown cafe and the usual sights present themselves: a group of tattooed teenagers with wild hair alternating attention between their smart phones and one another; a few black-clad Hutterites in town for the day to shop; a couple of businessmen rushing importantly off to their next meeting; a few university students out on the patio, enjoying the last few days before classes start. It’s a beautiful day, and there’s life all around.
I pass a few shops and notice a man approaching. It’s just me and him on this stretch of the sidewalk. He starts to veer toward me. His face betrays no emotion as he raises his arm and wordlessly points to his bare wrist. “It’s five minutes to three,” I say. His face erupts into a huge smile. “Thanks, man!” “Hey, come here, come on over here for a sec, I gotta tell you something…” I move to the edge of the sidewalk with him. He looks intently at me until I begin to feel awkward. The smell of alcohol on his breath is strong, and I’m having a tough time not taking a few steps back. He smiles again, and says, “You know how they say that white people and natives can’t get along? Well we just proved that’s bull*@#t.”
“We sure did,” I say with a grin. “What’s your name?” he asks me. “Ryan,” I say, “what about you?” “I’m Elvis,” he says loudly and proudly. “Well, Elvis, it’s nice to meet you,” I reply, and start heading for my car.
“Wait, wait, wait,” he says. He lowers his gaze a bit, and starts to mumble… “You wouldn’t, er, I just need a few dollars to get to the west side… Can you help me out?” I root through my wallet, but I know there’s no cash there. “I’m sorry,” I begin to say, but am interrupted by another voice from behind Elvis. “Don’t worry about giving him money,” says the newcomer, “He doesn’t need any—and I’m loaded!” Again, if the smells permeating the conversation are any indication, I have little doubt that this is true. “How the hell are you?!” says Elvis to his friend. He puts his arm around him, and they teeter off in the opposite direction without so much as a “see you later” in my direction.
So much for our inspirational exhibition of inter-racial harmony and mutual understanding.
I wasn’t sure what to think as I made my way back to my car. On the one hand, it was all too predictable. A confirmation of stereotypes. Just another drunk, looking for a handout…. Just warming me up to hit me up for cash… Same old story… nothing ever changes.
I look around the parking lot at the human scene around me:
- A distracted mother loudly berates her young children for not paying attention, and nearly stumbling into my car as I inch out of my stall.
- A man who is quite obviously annoyed and in a hurry deposits his frail and unsteady mother/aunt/relative in the back seat of a run down station wagon filled with garbage, without so much as a word.
- A couple of kids argue heatedly about something or other.
- A woman sits forlornly on a park bench, loneliness and confusion etched all over her face.
I look at this scene, and recall others from my recent memory, and I think that in a world where goodness and peace often prove so elusive, we would do well to give and accept a kind word, whenever it is given, and however mixed the motives behind its offering.
Wherever Elvis and his friend ended up today, and whatever his “real” reasons for stopping me, I’m glad for our brief sidewalk exchange. I think that wherever and however kindness makes an appearance in our noisy and conflicted world, the least we could do is receive it gratefully, and with open hands.