(10-13 March 1994) after Walter Scott

Vernon walked with a limp, one leg shorter by a couple inches, a serious, worried man with grimy clothes stinking of alleys and alcohol. Each time he came he extended his hard-luck story another mile and promised more he wouldn’t keep with his thoughful, articulate manner. If Tom and Gretchen could give him work, he needed a little for food; he hadn’t eaten all day; he’d been living under the bridge; he never thought he’d get that low; his mother was visiting her sister in Sacramento so he had no place to stay; his sister was a doctor back east and she’d like to thank them herself when she got in town next week; he’d get money from his father and would pay them back; it was nearly midnight, but he needed 14 dollars more for the bus to San Diego, where his father would help him back on his feet. He raked some leaves. Did he wash the windows? He would take the money and arrange to do the work the next day when they were gone at work. He left in the middle when he knew they wouldn’t be back for a while; he let the paint dry on the brushes; he didn’t dig the post hole; he didn’t show up for a few weeks. He was hungry; he had to meet a friend who would loan him tools, but his friend wasn’t home; he called the doctor who would do the operation on his hip, but the doctor couldn’t do it yet. He would get money from the state in a couple weeks, so now he couldn’t work. The social worker promised him. He had to appeal, which was common in cases like his; the appeal took longer than he had promised them. He’d be rich and send his parents on a cruise; he wanted to pay them back; how much total did he owe them? Thomas sat him down in the kitchen and told him it wasn’t the money, it was whether he was lying, whether it would do any good. He grimly nodded; he was in no position to disagree; but what was a broken promise to a victim of so much suffering, a desperate man?