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By: Wayne Brown
Thomas Arnold Garvis or “Tag”, as he was called by those who knew him, peered out of the hedge just south of his parent’s house and watched as his mom drove away for her day at work. Now the house would be empty and he could return there if his day became boring. This was Tag’s three day to blow off school and just hang out. At sixteen years of age, school had no allure for him. Tag had more important things in mind and time was a wastin’.
Tag headed toward the bus stop three blocks down. That’s where the downtown bus route ran closest to his house. He was thinking that it might be time for him to get serious about finding a job. Now that he had made up his mind to drop out of school, he was ready for the next step. That step included getting a job and making some money so that he could have the things that he really wanted out of life while he was still old enough to enjoy them. Many of his friends already enjoyed those things like great stereo systems, big screen televisions, fast cars, and motorcycles. Tag knew his parents made a decent living but they were not willing to buy him the things that he wanted. Other kids had really great parents who gave them all the things that Tag day dreamed about.
As Tag approached the bus stop, he noticed the downtown route was just pulling away. Guess he’d have to wait a half-hour or so for the next one to come by. That was all right since he needed to sit and think about the type of job that he wanted to land. Walking up to the stop, he noticed an old man sitting on the bench under the rain shelter. Tag took a seat on the bench down from the old guy and sat in silence. The old man had on a jacket that looked like it might have belong to the army at some point in time. His pants were stained and a bit tattered. He wore a tan fedora hat on his head with the edges of the brim curling in various and sundry directions. On his hands he had brown cotton gloves with the fingers cut off. His shoes were old black high top lace-ups. Tag couldn’t tell if he was growing a beard or if he just had not shaved for a few days. His face was covered in a salt and pepper gray stubble of beard. Tag tried not to look too much but found that he kept looking back at the old man.
“What’s your name, sonny? The old man asked without so much as a glance in Tag’s direction. “My name’s Thomas Arnold Garvis but folks call me “Tag”, Tag replied. “My name’s Gus, sonny, you live around here do ya? Old Gus shot back. “Yeah, I live back up the road a ways,” Tag said pointing back in the direction of his house. “So what brings ya here today, my friend? Gus queried. “Oh, I’m just like you, Tag answered, “Just waitin’ for that downtown bus. Are you goin’ downtown too? “Nawh, I don’t reckon there’s any need for me to go downtown. I just like to come out here from time to time and sit on this bench and think a bit” Gus replied. Tag thought it strange that a man would choose a bus stop to do his thinking.
Gus turned and looked closely at Tag for the first time. “You look to be about school age there, Tag,” He said, “Ain’t there any school today?” Tag squirmed a bit on the bench and replied, “Well, yeah, they’re having school but I’m not going. I decided to give it up. You see, I was sixteen on my last birthday two months ago. I’m old enough to start getting some of the things that I want. To do that, I need money, therefore I need a job,” Tag said. He smiled a bit at Gus and added, “That’s why I’m headed downtown. I gonna look for work.” Gus just sat there a bit looking back at Tag and nodding his head like he understood.
“You know, a while ago, I was a lot like you Tag. In fact, you talking about the things you want and needing a job reminded me how much you and I got in common. You see, when I was your age, I got tired of all that schooling myself. On top of that, my old man made me work in the fields harvesting corn and other crops. He didn’t pay me much of anything either. So one night I just decided it was time for me to go some where that folks appreciated me. I climbed out a back window with a few things in a gunny sack and never looked back. I headed out to follow my dream,” Gus said staring off across the road at nothing.
“Wow!” Tag said turning to face Gus. “You did that man? You left, just took off? Tell me all about it. I been thinking that would be what I would do after I tell my folks about quitting school. I thought that if I got a job that they might take it pretty good and I could stay. But my backup plan is to just leave if they try to make me go back to school,” Tag added.
“Did you find a job, Gus? Where’d you go? How’d you start? Tell me about it, Gus, maybe I can learn some things that will help me out.” Tag pleaded. Gus looked back at Tag with a bit of frown and said, “Well it ain’t too exciting, Tag, you sure you got time to listen? Ya’ just might miss that downtown bus you’re a-waitin’ on.” “Oh, yeah, Gus, I want hear all about it. I got time! Tag shot back all wide-eyed and excited. “Okay,” Gus said, “You asked for it.”
“I left town hitch-hiking cause I barely had a red-cent to my name,” Gus started. “Now, I’ll just tell ya’ right here that was pretty stupid on my part but you see the good thing about it all was I was too dumb to know. There was no fear cause I was too dumb to be afraid at the time. I hitch-hiked rides and ended up out around Abilene, Texas that first week. I was lucky. I ran into some good folks along the way who saw right through my story and ended up either giving me money or buying me a meal. I got out thar’ round Abilene and picked up a job working on drilling rigs in the oil patch. It was hot, nasty, back-breaking work and if you were new at it, they seem to pile it on just a little deeper. I worked that job a few months but I was always working and when I wasn’t, I was too tired to do anything. I ended up spending my money on beer, women, and mostly stupid things. In the end, I had nothing to show for those months of work except that I was still alive. I left there like I came….with empty pockets and dreamin’ bout what I was gonna do when I got a good job.
“Did you get a good job then, Gus?” Tag asked. “Well, I left there ridin’ my thumb just like the way I show’d up. From there I went on to Armarillo where I worked on a garbage truck until I got tired of getting up before the crack of dawn to pickup trash. I went on out west and worked on a couple of horse ranches, cleaning stables, doin’ whatever they needed. Cowboyin’ was romantic but there ain’t no money in it, mostly just board and keep. Eventually I moved on looking for that job that I just knew was over the next hill. Ya see, Tag, sometimes things was bad and sometimes they was good but always remember this, nothing too good or too bad ever last for too long. Good work was work that I just couldn’t seem to find but I thought it was out there and I kept lookin’. The years went by. When I look back on it, they went by mighty fast. My old mama and daddy died and I never knew it. Nobody knew where I was to tell me. They’s dead and gone now and the only memory I have of home is crawlin’ out that window on the night that I left.”
Tag sat there on the bench and just stared at Gus. Finally, he said, “You mean you never ever saw your mama and daddy again, Gus? “That’s right, Tag. It was a choice I made that I night that I left. It wasn’t my intent at the time, mind you, but that is how it worked out. If I was gonna have things on my terms, I couldn’t go back and endure dealing with their controls. You see, at the time, at sixteen years of age, I never really had ever thought about my mama and daddy leaving this world. I thought they was like me and we’d all live forever. It ain’t that way, Tag. Life is short, way too short and sometimes there’s no time to say that you’re sorry.”
Gus sat in silence for a few minutes. Tag sat there with him contemplating Gus’ story. Finally, Gus spoke, “Life’s been about the same for me since the first day I left home over forty years ago. I left home to fulfill my dreams, to take the bridle off and make my own way. Today I sit here on this bench in much the same place I was in when I crawled out the window that fateful night. Oh, I’ve had me a lot of experiences, been to a lot of places, had a lot of different jobs but none of them ever brought me anywhere close to my dreams and desires.” “Do you know why, Tag?” Gus asked and looked toward Tag for an answer. “No sir, Gus, I reckon I don’t” replied Tag. “Well, I tell you why,” Gus offered, “I’ll tell you what happen to my dreams.”
Tag shift around on the bench and put his feet upon the seat placing his knees under his chin. He then locked his arms around his folded legs and listened to Gus. “The one thing that changed my life and put me where I am today, Tag, is the choice I made to go out that window back when I was sixteen. At that point, I took the easy road, or the seemingly easy one as it appeared to me. I threw away everything my ma and pa wanted for me. I crushed their dreams. The sad part Tag, is that I was much too young to make such a decision. They knew that but I didn’t. Years later I would realize it. I would realize how much I had thrown away for what little I got back. In the end, Tag, I came to realize that it was not about my dreams but about my own selfishness. I went out that window without a plan for my life and I spent the rest of my life realizing no one else had any plans for it either. Now, I know that but too many years have gone by, too many folks are gone, and there is no going back. I took my life in my own hands at sixteen without a plan for my future and here I sit forty plus years later with the results of no plan. I have nothing to show for it except the satisfaction of satisfying my own selfish needs.
Tag sat with his chin on his knee caps gazing straight at Gus. He did not speak a word. He just sat and looked. Gus glanced down at the ground and kicked the dirt a bit with his high-top lace-ups. “Look,” says Gus, “I can see this is really important to you and that you are committed to carrying it out. No one is going to talk you out of it, but before you do, let me make you this offer. I have been at this a while, I have made the mistakes, I know the ropes. So, I tell’s ya’ what, you throw in with me and I will show you how to get around, find work, and get by without making all the mistakes that I made. You don’t have to say yes or no now. I want you to think it over. I will be back here on this bench tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM. If you are going, I want you here. I will wait until 10:30 AM and then I will be gone. It’s up to you, Tag.” With that, Gus rose from the bench and headed off down the road as if he had some place to be. Tag watched him for a bit and then picked himself up off the bench for the walk back home.
The black diesel smoke boiled out of the transit bus exhaust as it pulled away from the bus stop. As the bus cleared the stop, Gus sat alone on the bench. He had his pocket knife out whittling on a small piece of wood. He sat just whittling for a long while until the next bus pulled to the curb. As the doors opened, Gus looked up and asked the driver about his route. “This is the 10:30 headed downtown, my friend. Wanna go with us? The driver asked holding the door open. “No, I don’t think so” said Gus. “I just wanted to be here if a friend came to ride. I guess he found something else to do. With that, Gus got up and walked off heading somewhere else.
In the local high school 10:00 AM Algebra class, Tag sat with all eyes on the teacher. He was here today with a purpose. You see, what Gus had to say weighed heavy on Tag especially the part about having a plan. Today Tag had a purpose in that it was the first day and the first steps in working toward his dreams and he had his friend Gus to thank for helping him find his way.