One time about a month ago, I was having a bad anxiety day. I'd been cooped up in my house too much or something, I suppose. I tried all of my tricks for coping. I had a shot of Scotch before heading out to lead a lunchtime Bible study. I played violent video games. I went to the gym. I went to the grocery store and got some King's Hawaiian Sweet Bread and some terrible Knorr noodles. I really needed a shower, but, driving home, I saw my neighbors Wendell and Sharon sitting with John on his stoop, so I stopped and talked with them.
I first met Sharon as I was walking home one day at the end of the summer. Sharon has an ice shaver, so on hot days, she sells snow cones to neighbors at the corner; some people grab a lawn chair and sit in a circle with their feet in buckets of cold water.
I have no idea how this started, but Sharon started telling me about her cousin Rachel. According to Sharon, Rachel wore mens' size 38 pants at age four. Rachel had "a fat head." Rachel's grandmother would pre-chew her food for her until she was six years old. Rachel's teenage brothers would each drink a gallon of milk a day; it was a tough guy thing for them. Rachel drank two gallons a day. Sharon brought a bag of popcorn over one day, and Grandma tried to take it from her, swearing she'd choke. Rachel's grandmother didn't let her go to school, afraid Rachel would come home to find her dead.
One time, there was a home remedies book being passed around and Rachel's grandmother accused the owner of the book of witchcraft.
Wendell has white wisps of hair and black eyebrows and a knobby nose. He told me about some handy home remedies. If you have a boil, you can put a moist tea bag on it and that will soothe it. Mint tea aids digestion. Sassafras tea is an anti-coagulant and also aids digestion. Castor oil, everyone knows, is good for clearing out the colon.
Through all this, John didn't say much. John has a lot of tattoos and two tiny fuzzy dogs.
Wendell says that Barack Obama got elected because it's clear that OPEC chose him as president by driving up gas prices before the election to make people want a big political shift. I forget if Wendell likes Obama or not.
This was about a week after the election, and the state of Maryland had just passed legislation calling for five slot machine establishments to be opened. I asked Wendell what he thought of this. He recalled when the Bay Bridge was opened; it was supposed to be the case that the tolls would be in effect only until the construction was paid off, and then, Maryland citizens wouldn't have to pay a toll, but we still have to pay the toll now. "Where's the money going?" he asked. We talked about the lottery, and how the lottery was supposed to raise money for the schools, but it really just made rich the company that runs it. Wendell doesn't think that the legalization of slots will help all that much.
We talked about the future. Wendell wants to know why we don't have flying cars. There were amphibious cars made decades ago, but those aren't mainstream yet. He's not sure what to think of iPods.
Wendell is disappointed with cloning. Cloning is supposed to give an exact copy, so my clone should be another 23-year old, not merely an embryo that is genetically identical to me.
Wendell has a sixth-grade education, but he's not ashamed of that, because he feels like life gave him the education that he really needed. "I've got common sense," he said. "That's what you really need."