Tom approached me in the parking lot and
asked if I could spare some change.
“Honestly,” he said, “I just want to get
out of the heat for awhile and sit in some air conditioning.”
Anyone caught in the Phoenix summer could
relate. By midday, the heat can easily work its way up into “the teens” with
temperatures outside exceeding 110 degrees. When Tom said air conditioning was
his priority, I knew he meant it.
I had seen from a distance that he was
dripping with sweat, starting at the top of his tanned head and working down over
his cheeks, which were covered in patchy white and gray stubble. His new yellow
shirt had already darkened with sweat and was sticking to his body. I knew he
had been walking for some time by the amount of perspiration covering him, and
the crimson scabs on his forehead, mouth, and arm made it clear that he had
taken a spill a week before.
I told Tom I didn’t have any change, which
was the truth. But I told him I’d buy him food and something to drink in the
McDonald’s just across the parking lot. We agreed to head towards the food while
the black asphalt cooked below us.
Tom and I waited for the last four minutes
of the breakfast menu to transpire so we could order some cheeseburgers. I
bought two big blue Powerades for us to drink in the meantime. The air
conditioning felt nice, but out of nowhere, the words “fucking” and
“capitalism” erupted inside of me and bounce around in my head.
“It’s best thing for me, I guess,” Tom
said, signaling to the Powerade as he filled his cup with ice, “and I can
I found myself at ease and happy to be
standing beside Tom—whose presence eased my anger. Happily, I asked where he
wanted to sit, and he pointed to a television on the wall with a table square
“Not there; they only show ads on that
TV,” he said.
So we sat at a table on the other side of
the room, and I asked Tom if he was from the Southwest.
“From outside of Chicago, originally—in
Illinois,” he replied.
I asked what brought him to Phoenix, and
he said that he had moved from Illinois decades ago in order to work
construction. He was a carpenter by trade. I mentioned that my grandfather had
been a carpenter, and that he had been stationed in Illinois during the Korean
War. Then, Tom shared what he missed about Illinois most: the seasons, hunting
and fishing, and playing ice hockey.
We continued to connect over many things
while we waited for our burgers, but what we discussed most were jobs, the sorry
upcoming elections, and, especially, Tom’s fateful diagnosis with MS.
Tom had lost his job not long ago because
of his failing sense of balance. And thanks to his former employers’ concerns
about him working on a ladder or scaffolding, Tom’s access to work dried up. It
would eventually cost him his apartment.
MS was responsible for the scabs on Tom’s
body, too. He was getting off the city light rail when he toppled over and fell
onto the hot cement.
“I’ve never been this way in my whole
life—always worked. But nobody is going to let me up on a ladder with MS,” Tom
said, laughing somewhat incredulously.
“I could get a job doing telemarketing and
sit all day,” Tom told me, “But I can’t do that; I can’t lie to people like
that and take their money.”
Tom looked me dead in the eye while he
spoke, and I noticed his eyes were close to the color of the sky.
“It’s just so hot you can’t sleep,” he
said. “I’ve got to get cleaned up and talk to somebody because I need answers.
It’s like I’m stuck, you know?”
We talked about the economy while we ate.
We discussed the bailout of the banksters and the several trillion dollars (accounting
for quantitative easing) required to float Wall Street. We agreed on how
incredible it was for the public to save the banks but for students not to have
their debts forgiven for a fraction of the bankster bailouts.
“The thing I can’t get over,” Tom said, a
bit baffled, “is that this country throws away so much food, and we’ve got all
these people going hungry.”
Tom lamented the Bush Younger presidency,
the wars his administration started, and a subsequent failure to create more
opportunity for jobs. When he weighed in on the upcoming elections, which was a
sore subject to be sure, he said, “Trump scares me,” and he shook his head from
side to side, drawing out each of his words in a solemn tone.
Tom reminded me that in times past, even
when things were tough, there seemed to be hope. He noted that women had become
welders and expanded the role they played in American labor during the Second
World War. And, perhaps in contrast to a more hopeful time, he questioned how
things today could be so hard for people.
I had been thinking something similar
about Tom himself.
Mateo Pimentel is an Axis of Logic columnist, living on the US-Mexico border. Read the Biography and additional articles by Axis Columnist Mateo Pimentel.
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