Charlie and Me This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 9, 2010
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Charlie wasn’t the brightest fellow you’ve ever met, if you ever met him that is. Nor was he considered by most to be what you’d call normal. Whatever normal is or means he surely wasn’t. No, no, Charlie was of that peculiar type. That type that sat on the far side of a park bench, alone, but didn’t use the armrest and you could just tell, just by looking at the guy, that he was being tempted by the gum stuck up under it. Some have said at least he had the decency not to pluck it off and start munching. Others say he stole the gum just when nobody was looking. Regardless, Charlie wasn’t the ‘quickest deer in the forest’. So he seems like a weird fellow, sure, sure, but nobody really knew much about ‘em. He was like that old soccer ball that’s always been in your garage but you never did know where it came from and you never used it cause it just didn’t roll right or even pump up nicely. So you left it there; left it to get dusty over in the corner or under a shelf. Charlie was just the same. Nobody knew where he came from and nobody bothered to talk to him, he was just there.

She told me not to bother him. She told me not worry about it. She said nobody ever messed with him. She pulled and tugged and whined and threatened. But I took little notice. She stood a little back behind me, with I’m sure an awkward and scared look on her face. She probably had that glowing fire underneath, in her eyes, because I wasn’t listening to her. I stuck out my hand. Asked him how he was doing, jokingly tossing on a slight southern drawl. He sniffed. Spit. Shook my hand. Unfortunately, he, for who knows what reason, spit on his hand. A little saliva rubbing between the hands, to break the ice you could say. But that sure did it. Me and Charlie, from that point on, had started a little camaraderie. A minor friendship you could say. I never could tell in those early days whether he was happy to be my friend or not, and by golly I sure couldn’t tell if I was happy to be his friend. Looking back I can at least say that friendship took me places. But this is where it all began. A little spit to loosen the handshake and the bemusing adventures of Charlie n’ Me took off.

A week or so after I had first talked to Charlie and it was about late May, the local schools had already let out. On this particular morning I was taking an easy jog down the street towards the park. “You want some gum?” Huh? Oh, there was Charlie. Riding a bicycle. With training wheels. A Barbie bicycle. “Man, what are you doing on that bike?” I laughed. “I SAID…do you want some gum?” “Yeeeeaaahhhh, no thanks Charlie.” I remembered what people had once said about Charlie on park benches so I wasn’t quite sure where he’d gotten his gum from. “No thanks, but really where did you get that bike?” “I dunno…I found it.” He found it. “Charlie, come on, did you steal that bike?” This might not be so good. Golly, I hardly knew the guy though. “Huh? Did I…whaddya say?” Yeah, like I said, not the brightest. “Charlie, did you take that bike without asking?” Before he could answer there was a loud honk. Let’s just say the owner of the bike had decided to get in his car and chase Charlie down. He just looked at the beefy guy as the man threatened to knock his lights out for “stealing his little girls’ bike right out from under her.” Who knows, it was Charlie. Charlie offered him some gum.

Later that day I was ordering at McDonalds, pretty hungry and looking forward to that Big Mac, and debating inside my head whether to get an ice cream or not. “Get it in chocolate.” How does this guy just appear beside me? I must have ADD and just can’t keep aware of my surrounding. Or he’s a beastly creeper. Who knows, it was Charlie. “Get what in chocolate?” I looked at him. “That ice cream I know you be wantin’.” I still don’t know if he could read my mind or f I was just talking out loud and never knew it. He probably could read my mind. I mean come on, it was Charlie. We sat down to eat, me with my Big Mac, large fry, sweet tea, and chocolate dipped ice cream. Charlie, he had a napkin and a packet of ketchup. Okay, yeah, by the end of the meal he had busted the ketchup and giggled like a little girl. And he ate my fries. The first time anybody had ever seen Charlie eat you’d think he couldn’t quite be from planet earth. An entire large fry and I’ll go to my grave swearing he never chewed once. He just took the whole thing and chugged the fries down like they were liquid. I lost my appetite. “Let’s go to Dumpers.” He said after getting up off the floor from laughing so hard about the ketchup packet. “No, I’ve got things to do today Charlie. I don’t even know what that is.” He sat quiet for a while and chuckled a little bit every time he looked over at the ketchup covered window. Turns out he splatters a ketchup every time he goes to McDonalds and laughs just has hard. I didn’t know then. Now I do, so we don’t go to McDonalds anymore.

Later that week I found out what ‘Dumpers’ was. In classic Charlie form, he had appeared beside me on a scooter while I was out to get the mail. “Charlie, is that your scooter?” “Sure, sure it is.” Luckily for Charlie, the probable owner of that scooter didn’t catch sight of him borrowing it. It’s not even that Charlie was a bad guy or even that he was too stupid to understand, he just didn’t get it like the rest of us. He saw things differently. Maybe he figured if you left it lying around then you didn’t want it anymore. So, I’m still not sure about that “stealing right out from under her” comment during the Barbie bike incident. Anyways, Charlie once again mentioned something about going to the Dumpers with him, and I figured I had nothing else to do that afternoon.

Charlie was a clean, regular looking guy. I would’ve never guessed he spent his pastime dumpster diving, or rather, “at them dumpers” as he called it. One cool thing about Charlie was that he actually found some amazing stuff in the dumpsters behind the local strip mall. He would then take it and sell it to this little old shop downtown that sold secondhand merchandise. I’ve never figured out how much he’d make on everything he sold, but every six or seven months he’d have a brand new pair of shoes and he sure never showed any signs of looking hungry. We spent that afternoon and evening in those dumpsters and I didn’t find a thing. Charlie on the other hand seemed to find everything that I deemed to have any value whatsoever. Amazing what people throw away. I guess Charlie was happy they threw it away.

The few short years I spent hanging out with Charlie were some of the most interesting times of my life. I didn’t know what I was doing that whole time, maybe Charlie knew what he was doing and just never felt like showing it or letting anybody know. Either way, I figured out a lot of thing about myself and other people from just hanging out with Charlie. A spit filled handshake was all it took. I guess I’ll just keep writing about what Charlie and I did. I wouldn’t know if anybody cares, and I sure know Charlie wouldn’t be bothered if others gave a flip or not. I just think it’s odd. Odd enough to share maybe; strange enough to remember. But we’ll see. It’s all in a matter of time, but little by little the stories will unfold and what happened will go down on paper for you and I and even Charlie, if he cared to read, to see.





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