Christmas Eve in Austin
By Tim Lutenski, SKYCTC Success Coach


Posted on December 22, 2017 7:06 PM



Late afternoon had finally arrived and now the light was gradually fading, the winter sun near the horizon, in its final descent. The day had progressed rather slowly, but now - reflecting upon how I had actually spent the time - it certainly seemed to not have been a wasted one.

The morning hours were spent reading and finishing a biography on the great French novelist and playwright, Honoré de Balzac. A prolific writer and interesting man, whose work habits, lifestyle, and appetites would have driven most other men of that time to an early grave. A writer’s writer who could churn it out, often working 10, 12, 15 hours a day, very prolific. But when I finished the book I asked myself a question that I was unable to answer and plagued me for some time; “Was he first and foremost a writer or a person?” 

In the afternoon I had walked down to the nearby park with the intension of doing some wood carving. It was a bright, cool, still Christmas Eve day, with a cloudless sky, the winter light sharp and intense. Needless to say there was no one else around. But nature was alive and buzzing, the creatures abundant, animated, and energetic; birds flying and settling in amidst the tree branches, each singing their singular songs, small animals rustling about and scurrying on the forest floor in the heavy patches of woods, even some small fish jumping out of the water and making an audible splash in a nearby creek.

Sitting down at a concrete picnic table, I hadn’t yet even had time to take out my carving tools when I heard the noise of a motor running and knew a vehicle was coming closer to my direction. I turned around and soon a man accompanied by a dog in the passenger seat parked a golf cart just a few feet away. They were both familiar; I had seen them on numerous occasions when I had come to this park, always together, these two companions, virtually inseparable it seemed.

Dan was the park overseer and maintenance man and resided in an old house on the park property. His companion Zeke was a large German Shepard who he had some time ago found lying down in the woods as a puppy; shivering, hairless, with lacerations, bruises, virtually devoid of fur, and smelling of rancid smoke, nearly dead. It was Dan’s guess that some person had intentionally set fire to Zeke and dumped him in the park; so Dan took him home and nurtured him, restored his health, brought him back to life, adopted him forever, and ever since they were extremely close.

So, in essence, we were already acquainted with one another, mostly due to the many previous visits, I had made to the park when Dan would pull up in the golf cart and we would converse. Still, despite our many conversations, it was one of those odd relationships where we actually knew quite a bit about each other, but somehow managed to keep a certain emotional and psychological distance, always engaging in common ground man talk, but remaining strangers of a sort, with some kind of unspoken and mutually understood slight separation between us.

In fact, despite the many times we had talked, Dan never asked my name, and seemingly had no inclination to do so, simply referring to me as “Bud.” Likewise his partner Zeke was a dog that was difficult to get close to; he was ever alert, watchful, cautious, kept his distance, didn’t care to be approached or petted, and largely disregarded people. Dan had once explained that Zeke, despite his size, wasn’t mean and would rather run away than bite a person, but was generally mistrustful of humans, that somehow the early trauma had scarred him forever was deeply embedded within him. It was a big part of the inner dog that he was and probably why he was wary of strangers.

Since the time Zeke had been rescued, raised, carefully trained, and disciplined by Dan, they had built a deep trust and strong emotional bond, and he seemed to be a good dog, just one that kept his distance. As usual, Zeke sat upright in the passenger seat of the golf cart, hearing the small animal noises in the woods, watching and looking and sometimes quickly turning his head, with ears upright.

“Whatca doin, Bud? How come you’re here? It’s almost Christmas Eve now, the day is movin on ya know, ain’t there someplace else you’d rather be? Thought you’d be up home and tight with yer girlfriend, keepin warm with her, eatin a big dinner ya know, comfortable like, relaxin. So come on, of all places whatca doin here in this here park Bud? It’s right chilly and there ain’t no one else around.”

I explained my circumstances, indicating my girlfriend wasn’t home, that she was visiting some friends and I wouldn’t see her until probably a day or so after Christmas. That, regardless of it being Christmas Eve it was really nothing special to me; I was by myself, alone here in the park.

“Well, I reckon it is what it is, Bud, can’t change things and ain’t no use tryin. From what ya told me before though ya must care for her a whole bunch. And, it really ain’t my place to say this, not my business, shouldn’t say nothin to ya, specially bein a Christian man on just bout Christmas Eve, but you been down here in Austin all alone, no family and such, so seems to me she couldn’t be much of a girlfiend to ya. I mean, damn now, leavin you all alone on Christmas Eve, Christmas day, too, you said. Leavin you all by yisself, high and dry as they say.

“Me, well…if I woman done me like that I think I’d say ‘Time to part ways ya damn bitch, I doesn’t need ya, you ain’t doin me no good, we’s better off apart.’ Anyway, let’s forget that, no sense makin things any worse. Please accept my apology, I didn’t meant to talk out of place. Bu hey, I tell ya what, Bud, unlessin ya be in a hurry hop right up here in the cart, in the back there, sit just behind Zeke. Let’s go on up to the house over there yonder just a little bit.” 

So, I did hop in, and we went up a hill, into a valley, crossed an old and rather uniquely designed and beautifully weathered wooden bridge over the creek, then up a hill again, following a path through a thick stand of live oak, mesquite, and cedars, arriving where Dan’s house stood. It was an old white house with several small patches of peeling paint near the roofline, under the eaves, with some moss on the cedar shingled roof. Otherwise things looked in relatively good shape and the house appeared fairly well maintained. We pulled up and parked near the long, narrow wooden front porch.

“Well, here we are, partner, home sweet home. Whactha think, Bud? She was built in about 1920 I a’reckon, at least that’s what I been told by the parks folks. Kinda old but everything’s real solid on this ole place, kind of like misself. It ain’t too well insulated though. But I made some nice improvements and would do more, but ya see I always gotta get permission from the parks board and sometimes it ain’t worth the trouble, know what I mean? Like goin through an act of Congress. I got lots of other worries, sure as hell don’t need another one addin to em.

So, lookee here, I’m a gonna take Zeke inside and let him get settled, so while I do that, have a seat out on the front porch and take it easy, I’ll be out in just a bit.” Out on the porch I sat down on an old but surprisingly comfortable couch and after a short while Dan brought out a weather beaten wooden coffee table, then went inside again, returning with two cups of black coffee and a large sugar cookie for each of us. For about 30 minutes or so he reminisced, talking of people, places, events, and holidays which had all passed. And I tried to be attentive and listened and responded as well as I was able to, but somehow his recollections were all sad to me and I took them to heart; I began to listen less and reminisce more, the things Dan said reminded me of times, places, events, circumstances, and people in my very own past. But now the afternoon was turning into evening, it was time to go, so I said goodbye, wished Dan and Zeke both a Merry Christmas, and walked home.

And now here I was, looking out the window of the small apartment as the winter evening darkness descended. I was hungry and decided to eat before determining what to do in the evening, frying a cheap cut of steak and drinking a glass of water for supper, follow by two shots of whiskey for dessert. Finishing this solitary repast, I was uncertain of where to go and what to do, finally deciding to walk to the University of Texas campus, about five miles away. There was no question that it would be a cold clear night, so I took a hot shower, and dressed, really bundling up. Then I scrounged around and gathered all the money I could find, loose change, 78 cents, which was a rather magical Christmas Eve happenstance; if any type of store might be open along the way I knew this would be enough to purchase a quart of cheap beer.

At that time, in this particular area of town near the airport, it was still county like and somewhat rural in nature; there were no sidewalks and very few street lights, until getting closer to campus. Here it was best to walk against traffic, mostly across the edges of lawns and fields, a few feet off the road and at a safe distance from oncoming vehicles. This was a rather poor section of the city and there was very little human activity; the occasional vehicles which passed briefly illuminated old wood framed houses, some with weathered sheds and outbuildings, and occasionally there were silhouettes moving about, the dim shapes of people tending their outdoor smokers and barbeque cookers.

As I was going toward campus, it became progressively colder; I could see my breath in the night air, and some frost was beginning to form in the taller grassy areas of the fields. Things were quiet and still, so I tried to be unobtrusive and not attract any sort of undue attention, and was walking at a good pace, making good time. Then, such a strange, unexpected thing; suddenly I felt a gentle pressure on the back of my legs, in the rear thighs. The feeling like maybe a young child was pushing against me, with a certain pointed sharpness at the pressure points, like fingernails trying to penetrate the pants and imbed themselves into my flesh.

When I turned around the pressure stopped, and looking down there was a goat; all white, with a black face, and penetrating but sensitive and trusting eyes. Suddenly, out of the darkness came a voice, “Hello, my friend. Hey, he’s a liken you, that be a good sign. Come on over uppa here my friend, it’s Christmas Eve, I ain't gonna do ya no harm.”

I couldn’t see anything, but the voice was deep, soft, and friendly, with an inviting and kind tone. From the edge of the road there was a lawn with a small incline and as I made my way up and approached, my eyes adjusting and finally seeing the outline of a large man sitting in an aluminum framed lawn chair with cream colored woven stitching. The goat was alongside me and in moving closer I saw that he was a black man, smoking a cigarette, but largely unrecognizable in the darkness; he had a distinctive grayish-white full beard, otherwise his face and features blended in with the night.

“Hey my friend, it’s a cold night, you really bundled up though, that’s good. Tell me now, where you be going all by yisself?” I briefly explained my situation and politely indicated I was ready to move on. “Hey, there ain’t no hurry son. Take a rest, take a break, relax a few moments, have a seat, come on up on and rest a while. I’ll get an extra chair, you sit in this a here one in the meantime, won’t take me long to fetch an extra chair. It’s Christmas Eve ya know, kind of a special time, for all of God’s children.”

And indeed it didn’t take long before he came back with an identical lawn chair. He extended his hand in the darkness and we shook hands. “Name’s Mose, real birth name is Moses, but everyone knows me as Mose.”

And I’m Tim. It’s good to meet you, Mose.”

“Well, Tim, I see’s you met my goat, William. Yeah you know, lots of people they says to me ‘Oh I see, I get it, William, you sorta named him like after a Billy goat’ but that ain’t right, that ain’t it. True, I sure nough wanted an easy name to remember, but I wanted somthin that was more refined, a little more elegant, a name that really honored him. So, I decided on William.

“You look down through history and you be able to see it’s sure nough a dignified name, an honorable name, means somthin special. Lots of kings and lots of other important people named William. And ya see, lemme tell ya, ole William fits the bill; he is special, he’s very smart, really one of a kind. I been exposed to lots of goats in my time but he’s something else now. For example, notice when you first saw him he wasn’t tied up; ever since he was small he never needed no tether, he disciplined himself really, I didn’t do too much, I never needed to make too much of an effort to train him. He don’t run into the road or bother no one, he really likes people but he can sense them too, real quick like he gets to know their character, can tell who they is, what type of person they be. So, he’s generally quiet and reserved, but once William sizes things up he gets friendly with the good folks. Believe me, I always trust his judgment, he don’t miss nothing in identifyin personalities. Ain’t nothing I ever taught him, just has a real natural gift and it’s gotten stronger as time goes on. And he likes you. That’s his way of tellin ya your special, ya kinda received William’s blessing in a way, right here on Christmas Eve. Something just a little magical about that ain’t there now? Anyways, tell me again, where is ya goin on Christmas Eve?”

I gave a brief explanation, said I appreciated meeting him, had some distance to go yet, and would be on my way. “No, no, no rushin off. This is fate at work, we was meant to meet and be together a little bit. Anyway, five more minutes ain’t gonna kill ya, no how. The campus will still be there, believe me, it ain’t a gonna run away on ya. Now William, you go on over yonder and lie by the chair, right next to Tim. You both be still and I’ll be right back.”

And I was still, but not William. After obediently lying down, William got up as soon as Mose was out of sight. He nuzzled the pocket of my jacket and began to chew on the cloth a little, then I gently guided his head away and he began licking my fingers. When Mose returned he was carrying an old canvas duffle bag, placed it on the ground next to him, and sat down.

“Well…hey now, lookee there. Ole William, he really likes you. That’s a sure sign, he be lickin yer fingers. He don’t do that to just anyone. Here, Tim, relax just a bit, have ya a smoke, let’s celebrate just a little. And this is a great smoke, lemme tell ya.” He extended the pack with and with a delicate, practiced touch produced one cigarette that extended out of the pack for me to take.  

“What kind?”

“The best. Unfiltered Pal Mall. Ya can taste the real tobacca on these here.”

I only rarely smoked, but this was not the time or place to refuse the invitation. This was a pure, strong smoke, and inhaling, the nicotine-induced buzz immediately went to my brain. There was no conversation as we smoked, we simply stared at the night sky. The night was quiet, still, cold, and beautiful. When we were done smoking Mose opened the duffle bag and went to work; bringing out a bottle and two paper cups, then instructing me to hold the cups out while he filled them each halfway with whiskey. Then he brought out a small bowl and poured in some more whisky.

“The bowl’s for William, he’d get right upset if he wasn’t included in our little party. So, here you go, buddy, straight up now, with no chaser. Not the best maybe but it sure be my favorite, Jim Beam. I could say I bring it out only for special occasions but I’d be lyin, I like drinkin it a few times a week, but I always know when to put on the brakes. Smooth, a good drink, man it feels just right goin down the throat. It’s a real man’s drink, no secrets to it. Let’s toast.”

Mose and I sipped our drinks in silence while William lapped up the liquid from his bowl. When we finished, I told Mose it was time to go; I had to move on and keep going.

“Well, a very Merry Christmas to ya, Tim. It’s been my pleasure. Good luck gettin to campus. Tonight should be ok goin through the neighborhood, but ya never really know now a days. So, I want ya to understand this: if anybody approaches you or tries to bother you, just tell them you’re a friend of Mose. Tell them you’re my friend, ain’t no one gonna mess with ya. Remember, any problems ya know Mose and he be your friend, ok?” We shook hands, I thanked Mose, wished him a Merry Christmas, then bent down and rubbed the top of Williams’ head and continued on towards campus.

I walked a couple more miles, and finally, being about three blocks from campus, experienced somewhat of a Christmas Eve miracle; there was a small convenience store open with signs in the windows advertising beer. I went in and found the least expensive quart of beer, which including tax would cost 84 cents, leaving me short six cents.  Iexplained my situationto the young, attractive Middle Eastern couple behind the check-out counter; they were understanding and forgiving, not only telling me they would pay the difference, but replacing the quart of Old Milwaukee with a 48 ounce bottle of Pearl for the same price.

Now, I wasn’t quite sure where to go. As I proceeded toward campus everything was quiet, all was still; it was like an eerie Twilight Zone episode, where there was no one else around who might disturb the silence or even knew I existed. Around this part of campus the lights had all been dimmed, but The Texas Tower was beautifully lit and glowed, so I decided to sit on a bench at its base, rest a while, and drink the beer. It was a brief respite, perhaps ten minutes or so. As I looked out into the night the stillness and quiet was relaxing, peaceful, serene. It felt like sitting on an island, by myself, separate, isolated, and undisturbed, being distanced and divorced from the rest of the world.

But soon enough the world intruded and the silence was broken. I could faintly hear steps, then at a distance saw a figure approaching, walking silently now towards me across the wide expanse of lawn, a grassy mall like area. Coming closer I saw that it was a security officer, exuding frost from his breath, a halo of light around his hat, carrying a nightstick. And on his hip he carried a handgun in a holster. In a short while he was in front of me, breathing frost with a nose and cheeks that were flushed, both almost a burgundy red.

“How are you doing this evening, young man?”

“Fine, sir. I’m just sitting here after a long walk. Is everything ok?

“Yes, things are fine, it’s been a quiet night. Been sittin here long?”

“Not too long…I’m guessing 10 or 15 minutes. Just sitting here, that’s all. Not trying to cause any problems.”

“Well ok. But may I ask what you have in the paper bag? Could you bring it out slowly and show me please?”

I brought out the beer bottle, about half empty at this point.

“I’m afraid you can’t drink alcohol out in the open, being on university property. It’s a violation. Ordinarily I’d have you pour it out, then write you up a ticket. But I tell ya what, I’m gonna go over here just a few steps away from you – I’ll turn my back and if you finish the bottle I’ve never seen anything, ok? But don’t go anywhere now, when you’re done just stand where you are, ya here? I don’t want no kinda trouble tonight and I’m hopin you don’t neither. OK?”

So he stepped away and I drained the bottle, put the empty in the paper bag and placed it into a nearby trash container.

“Thank you and I’m done now, sir.”

“O.K. Have a seat, relax, sit down. Be sure to keep your hands flat on the bench so I can see em. Man, it’s sure a quiet Christmas Eve, isn’t it? Everything is so still now, I can’t even hear the sound of any traffic.”

“Yes it is a real quiet night. Very peaceful.”

“So, how far did you walk to get here?”

“I’m guessing about five or six miles. I live out by the airport.”

“That’s a long way to walk on such a cold night. Especially to end up sitting on a bench by yourself. So tell me, is there any special reason you’re sitting here?  Are you waiting for someone in particular? Meeting someone or something?”

“No, I really just started walking, because I didn’t have anything else to do tonight.  I finally saw the store across the way. I was tired, bought the bottle of beer, and just came here to sit awhile and drink before I head back home.”

“OK, I got it. So, what’s your name?”

“Tim.”

“Let me ask you something then, Tim; are you doing ok? Is everything good? Are you have any problems? Are you feeling alright?”

“Well, to be honest my legs and feet are a little sore, otherwise I’m doing alright, no other problems.”

“No, no, that’s not exactly what I meant. What I’m asking is, more like, are you depressed or feeling sad?”

“No, I’m really doing fine. No problems. Sure, I’m by myself, but mentally and emotionally I think I’m alright. I very much appreciate your concern though. Thanks for asking.”

“Please understand. I’m not trying to pry or be nosy at all…just doing a status check. You’re young and all alone and I’m guessin a little bit lonely and a long way from home. And I’m tellin ya, you sure as hell don’t have any kind of Texas accent. Where you from originally?”

“Michigan.”

“Ah, so I am right, you’re a long way from home. Guess I’m kinda close by though, being from Ohio myself, born and raised there. In a way we are kind of neighbors, ain’t we? Anyway, I worry about some of you young folks. Let me tell ya, an evening or so after the University went on Christmas break I found a young lady sitting all alone in the lobby of a dorm. There was no one else around, no radio or tv on, things was real quiet. I approached her and tried to be soft and gentle and kind, just asking her a few questions. She would hardly speak with me and was unresponsive, kind of catatonic. All I could get out of her was that she was sad and alone.

“So, I notified my supervisor who made arrangements for the State Hospital folks to come over and pick her up. When they came and got her she completely freaked out – almost foaming at the mouth and screaming, yelling, biting, kicking, hitting anyone near her. They finally subdued her, restrained her, and managed to get astraitjacket on her. I didn’t know it at the time but apparently they were able to somehow get some kind of medication into her, more or less a strong sedative I think.”

The security guard continued, “So anyway a few days later my supervisor let me know she had been released and went back home to her family, I think in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Sure sounds like she’s in a better place. I’m convinced, loneliness and isolation kills a hellava lot of people, I think many more than we’ll ever really know. It’s a terrible thing. So, the point is, I’m checking on you to see how you’re doing and you’re telling me honestly and truly that everything’s ok, right?”

“Yes, that’s right. Things are ok. Maybe deep down I wish I had some company tonight, but otherwise I have no complaints.”

“Good, good. So now we can both move on. Man it’s getting cold, the chill is really settling in now, going into the muscles. Say, before we part ways, where abouts do ya live and how you gettin home tonight Tim?”

“I live out by the airport and I’ll get back the same way I got here, walking.”

“Well, ok. But, you said you were tired and I’ll tell ya what, if you can wait about 30 minutes I’ll be off my shift and I can give you a ride home. Do you have any money?”

“No, no money, not a cent on me. I’m afraid I spent it all on the beer.”

Now he looked at me very carefully, taking his time, sizing me up, seemingly trying to gauge my character. There was a little bit of an awkward silence. Then reached into his back pocket, unfolded his wallet, and took out two dollar bills. “Now, here’s what I wantcha to do, with no deviation, do exactly what I’m tellin ya. Cut straight across the lawn over yonder and go south away from the campus a couple blocks. You’ll see a little restaurant on the corner – just about the only thing open. They’ll shut the doors in just about 45 minutes. You should be able to get somethin cheap there, maybe a cup of coffee or a doughnut. I’ve been there a whole buncha times; two bucks won’t get you a full course meal but it’ll get you something.

“But for God’s sake, don’t look suspicions, that place has been robbed in the past, although it’s been a while. Just go in, enter slowly, keep your head up so they can plainly see you, and don’t be gawking around. You’ll have to sit on a stool at the counter, the rest of the restaurant will be dark and closed. So just go straight to a stool. Anyway, you’ll see the menu posted on the wall and nothin costs much.”

I followed the directions given and ordered an egg salad sandwich and glass of water. Sitting at the counter I was the only customer; after a few minutes a car pulled up alongside the curb and I saw the security officer waving me over, then reaching to the passenger’s side and opening the door slightly.

It was perhaps a 20-minute ride home. And during this time I played the role of passive listener and he fit a lot in; telling me how and why he had come to Texas, his recent divorce, the small child he now had that he loved, the folks he missed back in Ohio, that he was at a crossroads in life and somewhat unsure of what to do next. He was contemplating a number of options; returning to school, going back to Ohio, switching jobs, dating another women, finding a new place to live.

At last we pulled over at the agreed upon spot, on the street where I lived, near the airport. “I’m a gonna drop ya off here, Tim. You said this was close by your place and I’ve gotta move on and get home – got a double shift to work the day after Christmas. Well hell’s bells, it’s Christmas already now ain’t it – about 12:45 a.m. according to my watch. Well, I sure nough done talked yer ear off, didn’t mean to bore you none.”

“No problem, that’s ok. I really appreciate everything - not writing me a ticket, the ride home, the money for the sandwich. I can’t pay you back right now but I can be sure to stop by next week and re-pay you. You have my solemn promise. I really appreciate everything.”

“There ain’t no need to pay me back. Ya kinda had a hole in your belly that needed fillin – I’ve been there, I’ve had similar situations, and yes, folks has sure helped me along the way now and then. Most times when I really needed it. Thank the good lord for other peoples’ kindness. I’ve been at the receiving end misself ya see and try to reach out and help others when I can. Anyway, got to go, Tim. And if you come by campus after 10 p.m. anytime you’ll probably see me. Name is John and a very Merry Christmas to you. A Happy New Year on top of that – next Christmas I hope you’re in a better place and not just walkin the streets and finding a bench to sit on.

“Best of luck with everything.”

We shook hands, said goodbye, and I wished him the same – Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a good year ahead, that whatever direction he decided to turn with respect to the various decisions he needed to make would work out. And finally, telling him I would make it a point to visit him on the campus sometime under better circumstances, then expressing my appreciation again.

Time moved on and - in passing by in a car but never actually stopping - I didn’t see Mose or William again. And I didn’t make it to back to campus for some while, to see John again, at least not after 10 p.m. But a few days before Halloween I had splurged, buying $5.00 worth of bags of candy in anticipation of receiving Trick-or-Treaters. I decided to go to the University of Texas security office, to catch up with John, offer him some candy to eat during his work shift, and finally pay him back with interest the money he had given me. Stopping in I inquired about John, but was told there was no John, he was gone now.

A uniformed security officer sitting behind a heavy wooden desk said he knew that over the past few months John had lived frugally and saved up as much money as he could, then just two weeks ago had left his position, returning to his roots, Ohio, and didn’t provide any details, but was making a new life for himself.




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