August 19th, 2020
Bullshit. Who sent you here, boy? Did that chickenshit asshole Rafael send you, boy?
Chance the Gardener:
No. Mr. Thomas Franklin told me I must leave the old man’s house. He’s dead, you know.
Dead, my ass. You tell that asshole, if he got somethin’ to tell me, to get his ass down here himself! You got that, boy?
If I see Rafael, I will relay your message.
Dialogue from Being There, a 1979 comedy starring Peter Sellers. Sellers played the part of Chance; a simple, illiterate gardener who suddenly becomes involved in DC power politics. Sellers said that he based his performance on the films of Stan Laurel.
The doorbell rang on Monday afternoon. Our doorbell never rings. Well, I exaggerate. It doesn’t ring very often. It doesn’t ring unless somebody forgot their house key, or the overworked UPS guy drop kicked a fragile box on to the doorstep, or maybe the cops showed up for some odd reason. The cops have come to visit us repeatedly in the past. The police are usually good about ringing the doorbell, rather than just kicking the door in. I have to give them credit for that.
In any case, I was hanging around the house, all alone. I went to the door quickly. Our two dogs are cowards, but they do love to bark. They will make a racket until I greet the potential intruder. Once I arrive at the door, the dogs run and hide.
I opened the front door. Standing there in the hot afternoon sun, was a strapping lad, at least a head taller than me, well built, at the very cusp of adulthood. I asked him,
“Uh yeah, so what do you want?”
The teenager gave me a his pre-rehearsed spiel about raising money for the Oak Creek High School football team. There was a lot of blah, blah, blah. Eventually he finished and took a well-deserved breath.
I was curious, so I asked him the obvious question: “You play football?”
He smiled slightly and said, “Linebacker. I’m one of those guys that gets hit a lot.”
“What year are you?”
He replied, “I’m a senior.”
I dug out my wallet. Oddly enough, I had $20 hiding in there. I handed it to him.
He thanked me, and he tried to hand me a game schedule.
I told him, “Don’t bother, man. I’m not going to any of that shit.”
The young man stiffened noticeably.
I asked him, “Do you have time to talk?”
He gave me an eye roll, and said, “Well, yeah, a little bit.”
Then I asked him, “So, what’s your name?”
He replied, “Chance.”
“You mean like the word ‘chance’?”
“You mean like C-H-A-N-C-E?”
“Yeah.” Another eye roll.
For some reason my mind suddenly went a lot of different places at once. The synapses in my brain misfired like the spark plugs in an old Civic with a bad timing belt. I thought about Chance the Gardener from the movie Being There. I also remembered the film from the 1990’s, The Music of Chance. I watched that with my late brother, Marc, many years ago. Even now, I find that movie to be profoundly disturbing. But I digress.
I asked him, “Do you like football?”
He nodded, “Yeah.”
“What do you want to do after high school?”
“I plan on joining the Marines.”
It was then that I looked up and saw his cap with the Marine emblem on the front. I had at first thought that he was wearing a MAGA hat. I can deal with a Marine cap a lot better than something from MAGA. I respect Marines.
Against my better judgment, I asked the young man, “Why do you want to join the Marines?”
He smiled, “I want to do something for my country, and I will get money for college when I am done.”
I stared at him. “You know, I was in the Army for a long time.”
Chance got interested. “Really.”
“Yeah. I was an officer. I went to West Point.”
“Wow. Really? I heard that’s a good school!”
I sighed and slouched. “It was. It was also a mind fuck.”
Chance looked at me with concern. “Oh.”
I went on, “Hey, my oldest son, he joined the Army too. He fought in Iraq. That did him no good.”
Chance got serious. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
I told him, “Well, there are costs involved in signing up for the military.”
“My son, Hans, killed people. As in plural. As in up close and personal.”
I asked Chance, “Look around. Do you see a lot of American flags hanging in this neighborhood?”
He got worried. “I didn’t really look.”
“So, do you see a lot of flags up and down the street?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you see one hanging at my house?”
There was the slightest beginning of an eye roll, but then Chance said, “I don’t know.”
I told him, “I don’t have a flag here because I’ve already been a patriot. I did my bit. My son did more than I did. I don’t need to prove anything.”
“Chance, do what you need to do. I am just asking you to think before you sign up. Can you do that?”
“I’ll think about it.”
I sighed and I paused. I said to him, “Hey, I’ve wasted enough of your time. I’m glad that you took the time to listen to me. You were patient with an old man. With the COVID, I don’t know if we should shake hands or not.”
He replied quickly, “I’ll shake your hand.”
Then he said, “Thanks for your service, Sir.”
I flinched. The word ‘sir’ stung somehow. I told him,
“I haven’t been a ‘sir’ for a long time.”
I went back into the house.