Nathan: How’d you like to hear a story that’s been in the Dead Family for more than forty years?
Kevin: Um, I wouldn’t.

Hey,” said the old hippie who hangs outside one of St. Petersburg’s more low rent convenience stores, “I see you’re wearing a Grateful Dead shirt, brother.”

I looked down at my shirt and sure as shit, he was right.

“How’d you like to hear a story that’s been in the Dead Family for more than forty years, man?”

“Sure,” I said. After all, it was 4:30 AM on a Sunday morning. What the hell else did I have to do?

I sat down next to the hairy, grime-covered old guy, waved away the offer to share his 32 ounce Budweiser, and awaited this story. In case you don’t know, homeless people have some of the best stories.

“Okay, man, our story starts in Chicago, the summer of 1970—” He looked at me as if I had just interrupted him or was about to, but I wasn’t and I hadn’t. He continued. “It was pouring down rain man. So hard that there was nothing anyone could do for shelter. The shakedown street—that’s like where everyone hangs out—was flooded. No one could go anywhere. So, a lot of people went home, but most people just hung out underneath the awning by the front of the gate. You know, so they could avoid the rain.”

I nodded, indicating that it made sense for people to seek shelter, and that he could continue with his story. He did.

“One guy, though—this poor sap, man—he was waiting patiently in the rain at Gate 3. His life was sucking man. Rain was soaking him to the bone. His car had just broke down. He didn’t have a dime to his name, and to make matters worse, his girlfriend had just got a miracle—that’s a free ticket, man—for kissing some dude and she was watching the show with the dude she kissed. So there he was, all of his possessions were in three duffel bags at his feet, he didn’t have a plan, he didn’t have a dime, and he didn’t have a girl. She had told him to meet her there at Gate 3. But he knew better man. He was done. Empty tank, you dig?”

I nodded, as if to let him know that I had dug.

“So then, to add insult to injury, a DEA van pulls up right in front of him and he sees all the agents in there, warm and dry and sucking on coffee, and he just wanted to cry. But just then, man, just then, the coolest thing happened.” He paused, either for dramatic effect or to inspect the moths circling the light over his head. Really, it could have been either one.

“Man, the people under the awning started fighting to get inside the concert. And when they did, all these cops went and rushed them, including the DEA agents. So while the pigs were tending to the herd, this poor guy took a look inside the back of the van the cops left open. And man, inside there was like a treasure chest. Pounds of marijuana, sheets of acid, all kinds of pills and cash and pipes and like, everything a head could need man. And so this dude, seeing as how he had nothing to lose, emptied out all three duffel bags and went inside the empty van and stocked up. Man, when he left that van running at full speed, he had a small fortune in drugs on him.

“And as he ran through the rain, deep into the parking lot, he stopped to catch his breath and make sure no one was chasing him. And when he did, he looked over to his left and saw a hand holding an orange out from under a tarp.

“’You okay, brother?’” he asked.

“Then, a little scrawny dude pulled the tarp from over his head and said, ‘Man, I ain’t got nothing left. I ain’t got a ride, a dime to my name or even a change of clothes. All I have in this world is this orange, and I’ll trade it for whatever you’re willing to give.’

“‘Well hell,’ thought the dude, ‘I’ll help this scrawny guy out. After all, I was just in this predicament not five minutes ago.’ So he says, “‘Okay, man. I could really use an orange. You can have this bag.’ And he took the orange and walked off into the night. The rain was finally letting up, and all looked like it would be well in the world.”

“That’s a great story, man,” I said, getting up from the pavement and preparing to dust the weirdness off me. But the homeless man wasn’t finished.

He grabbed my shirt as I rose and said to me, “That would be a great story. But it gets better. Sit down, brother.”

I sat down.

“A year later, in the same city, those two guys ended up parking their fat microbuses right next to each other. They both had beautiful girlfriends, fat rolls of cash, well-fed dogs, and smiles on their clean faces. They instantly recognized each other and then they embraced.

“They told each other how great it was how their lives had worked out. And then, in mid-sentence, they both started crying like mad.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because they had nothing left to give each other. That’s the beauty of living man: having something to give each other.”

“That’s a great story man. Thanks for telling it to me.”

I then gave him a dollar, which he took without acknowledgment.

“I just wish I could write it down,” he said. “That one deserves to be read.”

“Don’t worry, brother,” I said. “It will be.”


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