I'll refer to my day today as "visitation day". Paid plenty of visits; an old friend, my youngest daughter, the mother of a dear friend. And among that, gave a ride downtown to an elderly Japanese lady to catch her tour bus as she was going strawberry picking with a group of... elderly Japanese folks.
She was due to arrive at the Japanese center sometime between 4 and 4:30 and I was way early, so I drove up Jackson to 23rd where I know there is a Starbucks with overstuffed chairs and I have a good book that needs reading.
I'd just settled into said chair with a double short when an older African-American man in a wheelchair rolled over to me and asked what I was reading. I handed over the book and he made a note of it in a little black notebook with the comment, "I love me a good book, but I also love me a good film. Ever heard of Fellini or Kurosawa?"
We soon got to talking (how does that happen anyways?) and pretty soon I had scooted my chair to a large table where about 5 other older African-American men were gathered. My new friend, Louis, introduced me to everyone as fellow book and film lovers.
Among the men were 2 retired SPD officers, 1 retired bailiff and a couple of retired dockworkers. Louis wasn't retired, he proclaimed. He's always been an artist and "you can never retire from that". They all had a good laugh and I noticed Louis was missing most of his teeth. The whites of his eyes were yellowed. I couldn't resist.
"Why you in a wheelchair, Louis?" I asked.
The table quieted down and all we could hear was Al Green pleading for himself and Mrs. Jones.
Louis gave us the quick version.
Pancreatic cancer. Inoperable. He's also on dialysis and is HIV positive.
One of retired cops, a big tough looking guy, said, "Damn, Louis. You should be dead already."
Louis laughed. "Yep, yep. I probably should."
We talked more. We exchanged favorite foreign film synopsis, trashed Spielberg and Lucas for ripping off Kurosawa in their Star Wars trilogy and lamented the poor distribution of African and Middle Eastern films.
I want to remember Louis - a 60 year old man who looked 90. A man who's body has given in but with a mind that refuses to quit, interested in reading yet another new title, enjoying the latest Cannes nominees. A man who, I discovered, has been taken in by one of the men in the group and given a place to live out his last weeks or months because Louis has no family and his friend could not bear to see him ending up in a shelter. The man who offered up his home had met Louis only 2 years ago when he went with a church group to serve at a local shelter.
Before I realized it, my phone rang. The elderly Japanese lady was ready to get picked up. I'd been visiting with my new friends for over an hour and a half.
I gave everyone goodbye handshakes - until I got to Louis. I hugged him.
He blushed. "See you in heaven, angel."
See you around, Louis...