I spent Saturday morning busting my hump around the house for my wife: mowing, digging, lifting, nailing. By early afternoon I knew if I didn't escape her my day was shot.
While her back was turned I stuffed a cooler with snacks and mumbling a plausible excuse got in my truck and made a bee line for the lake.
You can't beat a Mississippi pond in mid June for privacy. Too darn hot. Nobody except I was fool enough to get out at 1:30.
I baited my hook with a hotdog. I flung the cork out, stabbed the cane into the stinking mud, and settled under a tree to read.
There was a rustling in the woods to my left. Something big. I remembered an article about a bear loose in Desoto County. I unzipped my satchel and took hold of the pistol I'd brought for water moccasins and rats.
A man stepped from the trees 75 yards away. A white male with a big belly and long, filthy hair. He was coughing and wiping his hand across the chest of his t-shirt, stretching and yawning, dried leaves clinging to him.
"Hey hey, now!" he brayed, waddling toward me. I didn't speak until he was very close, keeping my hand on the pistol in the satchel.
He looked about 50. He wasn't starving but neither was he exactly flourishing. He was clearly homeless.
"Can I sit?" he asked, scratching his beard. I nodded. He flopped down, sending dust and his bovine stench into the stifling air.
"They bitin'?" he asked. I said no, my hand still on the gun. "Too dern hot fer'em," he said. Insects were moving in his hair.
"Wha'chou fish'in with?" he asked. I told him. "Maybe they'll hit that," he said, dubiously.
"Say, I'd hit a hotdawg my own self!" he said, immediately seized by another coughing fit. If he was concealing a weapon, I thought, it would take him a while to get to it. I figured I could handle him so I took my hand off the pistol and folded back the lid of the cooler. "Coke?" I asked him.
Yeah, man. Now you talk'in!"
He was "Hobo L" - "Lee's my real name," he said - from Paducah, Kentucky. He used to work on a riverboat, he claimed, but after an injury and a streak of bad luck he took to riding the rails and "hoboing."
I didn't know people still did that, I said.
"They's at least one still does," he said, raising his hand.
As I knew he would, Hobo L came around to asking for money. "Don't have any," I told him, lying. "Just plastic." But, I said, I was going to the store for bologna and ice. "Fishing necessities," I said, eager to leave. Did he want a sandwich?
"Yeah," he said. I told him I'd be back and would he watch my pole and cooler? "Yeah man!"
I slung my satchel with the pistol and books over my shoulder and said I wouldn't be long.
That was the last I planned to see of my six-dollar cooler, full of hotdogs, soda, and boiled eggs, and my ten-dollar cane pole. I had no intention of reporting him so if Hobo L was going to stay lakeside long he could use them.
I told my wife about Hobo L and she said I should have bolted the moment he stepped from the trees and why on earth hadn't I called the cops? He hadn't really done anything, I said, unenthusiastically. Plus, it was public land.
As night fell I thought about old L and felt guilty for leaving him without even decent conversation. He hadn't struck me as a very good man; not the fabled angel in disguise one hears about. I was sure that if I'd gone back for my things they wouldn't have been there. Still, it didn't matter. Rules of the road state when fellow travelers run up on one another, they're supposed to share.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley