Biff America: High, low and in-between
“Damn that guy looks like Kenny Call.”
My buddy Keith was referring to a sunburned, soiled and raggedy guy sneaking out of a trash enclosure in Cardiff, California. We had just finished a few games of handball and were basking in the last rays of the west coast sun.
Keith and I were running mates. During our 20’s and early 30’s we would work in Colorado in the winter and Cape Cod or southern Cal during the summer. We were single and open for suggestions.
At that place in time, Breckenridge, our Colorado home, had dirt streets, wooden sidewalks, unlimited parking and six single women (two of whom had Adam’s apples). Our beach resort summers were a polar opposite — warmer weather, higher wages and an easy, yet pricey, lifestyle.
All our friends in California had indoor plumbing. In contrast, in Colorado many of our friends lived off the grid in cabins and made barely enough to live. We spent many hours in a cowboy, hippie saloon filled with boots, beards and hard-drinking patrons. To afford those 50-cent draft beers we both worked at one of the few high-end (low morals) restaurants in town called the ‘Miners Camps,’ which was a lot like Sodom and Gomorrah with a salad bar.
After a cold Colorado winter summers would find us in the upscale world of So-Cal where Keith served drinks in a beach tavern and I waited tables at a French restaurant. As far as the legendary attractive So-Cal women went — it was shocking how many were able to resist our charms.
No matter, we both had steady work with lots of time to spend at the beach, yuppie bars and a local gym. Also, about a block from our house was a cool little ocean-side park where we played handball.
The sun having set, we packed up and walked towards home. We heard the guy in the dumpster before we saw him. Eventually a head popped out followed by a body. He held what looked to be discarded bag of fast-food fries. He saw us and began walking away quickly. The guy did resemble an old friend of ours from Colorado named Kenny Call.
In most places in America Kenny Call would be either pitied or shunned. In Breckenridge, he was just another character. He drank more than was good for him, but he held down a job and seemed content. He both couch-surfed and slept in his van, but he had friends, employment and a place in the community.
Seeing that homeless guy in So-Cal hurry away from us as if in shame reminded me of the contrast of my two adopted homes. Though few resorted to dumpster diving in the Rockies, living from hand-to-mouth was not shameful and even afforded a modicum of counter-culture respect.
That’s when Keith said, “Damn that guy looks like Kenny Call.”
That guy hurrying away did have that familiar mincing gait as our old buddy. But of course we knew it couldn’t be. Kenny had left Colorado years earlier to go back to his home town in the Midwest.
Even though I knew it wasn’t our old pal, just to be funny (and a jerk) I yelled, “Hey, Kenny Call, are you going to share those French fries?”
The guy took off like he stole something and I felt bad for scaring him. Feeling ashamed, I wanted to tell him I was just kidding around so I chased him down. (I have to say he was easy to catch.)
“Hey man,” I said, “We didn’t mean to scare you. I was just kidding around because you look a little like a friend of ours named Kenny Call.”
“I am Kenny Call,” he said. Looking closer I realized it was.
Neither Keith nor I pressed him how he got to that place.
Between Keith and I, we had about 20 dollars on us. We gave what we had to Kenny and Keith invited him back to our house to make him a sandwich. He looked embarrassed and refused.
I honestly haven’t given Kenny Call any thought in decades. But, for whatever reason, as I opened my eyes this morning, Kenny came to mind. Life can be a cocktail of luck, circumstance and genetics. How Kenny, Keith and I ended up in that same place in such different conditions I believe is a product of that. So to Kenny Call and all those on the fringes both economically and mentally, I hope you are warm, safe and fed.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or http://shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul
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