Monday, November 17, 2014

Meeting with Don, the Parolee

Two schooners, one built of wood (foreground), the other of steel, duel for position in the channel off Key West.

I want to tell you the best part of my volunteer job. It’s interacting with the visitors. This morning was a perfect example. I met Don, a 64-year-old guy who is on parole. We didn’t get into his crime or misdemeanor. But I got just about every other aspect of his life.

Don was waiting at the park for his bank to open at 9 a.m. He comes to the park each day, he told me, because it’s a great place to hang out. He meets with Dot, his parole office once a week and she is a peach, he said. He’s known her for 34 years. I don’t know if that’s because Don is a pain in the ass felon who keeps getting into trouble. Or maybe he knew Dot in another life, somehow. Anyway, Dot basically wants to know what he’s up to, what he’s been doing, and what his plans are for the coming week.

Now, let’s go back to the bank. He said he went to the ATM machine last night to get $20 cash and the machine rejected his request. It said he had insufficient funds in his account. But that can’t be, Don said. He had $220 in there the day before. I said it sounds like the bank auto-paid a bill that came due.

And that started a new train of thought. Don told me he is on Social Security disability and gets $664 a month from the government. His room in Key West costs his $600 a month. I said that doesn’t leave much for food and he told me the state comes through with $134.23 for Food Stamps. Still sounded kind of thin to me.

But I noticed he had one earpiece plugged into his ear and the other end of it was plugged into an iPhone. “That ain’t cheap,” I told him…and he agreed. That costs him another $82.25 a month.  I don’t see how it all adds up, I told him.

Anyway, he couldn’t explain the gap between income and outgo, so I decided to drop the subject. 

But Don was still my most interesting character of the morning. And he was a lot more interesting to talk to than my usual conversation with mourning doves and palm sparrows who greet me on the picnic tables and who absolutely refuse to move while I reach around them to pick up cigarette butts with my Pik-A-Stik.

I’m in awe, by the way, at the endless supply of cigarette butts that accumulate each day in the park. Siri tells me that 23 per cent of Americans still smoke. Back in 1950, she tells me, 50 per cent of the population smoked. If I’d been picking up butts back then, I’d be hip deep in them!