Walking across a parking lot on a gloriously cool, pleasant night in Port Aransas,
Texas, I was feeling most content. We had completed a wonderful celebratory dinner of
fresh oysters, shrimp and red fish. Jan and I were in Port Aransas for the weekend
celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary (Ruby Anniversary I think I heard it called)
with our three grown children and their significant others. No grandkids this time. We
wanted to make that deep connection to our life, our relationship and the principal
products of our marriage.
The dinner was great. The seafood was fresh. We celebrated with lots of wine
and even had a big delicious dessert, something we rarely do. Each of the children
toasted us with very special words and then they presented us with an anniversary gift– a
cruise of our choice to anywhere in the Caribbean. Jan and I have never been on a cruise
so we were excited indeed.
We left the restaurant and were now looking for an after dinner drink and some
live music. We stumbled into “Shorty’s,” the oldest bar on the island. Indeed, it looked
to be the oldest bar on the island complete with the oldest, drunkest band on the island.
“Shorty’s” had hundreds of caps suspended from the low ceiling. I am sure the original
owner was named Shorty and named his bar accordingly. At six feet, my head almost
touched the caps. The caps looked like they had been hanging there longer than we have
The place was packed with a collection of tourists and locals. It seemed
everybody wanted to meet everybody. Every time you turned, you were talking to some
new, dear, old friend you had never met before. Loud, laughing, hard to hear—these
were not deep personal conversations, just inebriated folks looking for belonging and
having a difficult time dealing with lonesome on a Saturday night.
Mae, the barmaid, attendant, confidant, and friend to all these people in her
packed bar, was quite adept at handling the crowd. She was the only bar person to serve
these people and serve she did. With her attendant, helper, Juan Carlos bringing ice and
picking up beer cans, there were no complaints from the faithful. Mae was the complete
bartender, mixing drinks, giving advice, keeping order and always smiling. Her body
was about fifty percent covered in tattoos and she was missing four or five teeth. She had
possibly been an attractive woman in her younger years but time had not been kind. She
would need a lot of help now to return to her former glory. One thing though, Mae didn’t
miss a single call for “Gimme another Bud.” Yes, she was the complete bartender—good
at her job and always smiling as she served her family of miscreants and bar flies.
Well, back to the band. You know how a good bar story is, you’re always
jumpin’ around talkin’ about everybody. The band members were all, what I referred to
back in my college days as “smashed.” I don’t think they ever practiced much, either.
This might have been the first night they ever met and played together. The singer, old,
wrinkled with more facial hair than Santa Claus, in need of a bath with lots of soap, sang
some funny songs when he could remember the words. These musicians of the night were
supposed to be the opening act for the star that had yet to show up. Anyway, they fit the
While sitting on a barstool, I struck up a conversation with a fellow who also fit
right in. Charleybuck Miller was his name. Lots of hair, dirty shirt, cigarette in his hand
and a twinkle in his eye—what’s not to like? Jan walked up and joined our conversation,
as did the fellow on the other side of Charleybuck. His name was Lonesome Joe Miles.
After pleasantries were exchanged and beers ordered, Lonesome received a call. His
uncle Hannibal called him from the family farm near Tyler, Texas and informed him that
his father had just passed away. After he hung up, we all commenced to console him.
We shed a tear together and drank another beer in honor of Lonesome’s old man.
Lonesome Joe couldn’t go to his father until the next day so it looked like a long night of
drinking. I realized that Lonesome’s dad wouldn’t be the only one to hit the dirt
tomorrow if I were to keep up this drinking.
Jesse, my son, and his girlfriend came around to each of us to tell us that it was
about to be time to go. I walked out on the front porch and sat down on a low rock wall,
waiting for the others. Two of our group was standing out in the parking lot also waiting
while we listened to the music.
Suddenly, one of our daughters and her husband walked out of the bar with a
young man who looked to be in his twenties. He appeared to have been drinking and he
“I’-I-I’ll get that s-s-s-son of a b-b-b-itch. I’ll g-g-g-go to his house and yank his
ass out of bed. I kn-kn-know where he l-l-l-lives. I’ll g-g-get him d-d-d-own her to
It was Stuttering Tommy, a local fixture in Port Aransas. My daughter wanted
me to meet Stuttering Tommy, as he called himself. Courtney had met Tommy earlier in
the evening. He was loud, boisterous, the center of attention, yet he was stuttering up a
blue streak. Courtney was taken with Tommy and bought him a beer. As they talked,
laughed and became friends, she told him about my battles with stuttering and how I had
overcome the problem. Tommy plopped himself down next to me on the rock wall. I
still had the remainder of my Bud Light and he had a Lone Star. We clinked bottles; he
lit a cigarette and began his story.
Tommy was inebriated which enabled him to be more fluent than normal even
though he was slurring his speech. Tommy told me, “I n-n-never st-st-stuttered until I
was th-th-th-thirteen or f-f-fourteen years old. I had all th-th-this stuff in my h-h-head
and I couldn’t g-g-g-get it out. My-my-my mind worked f-f-faster than my m-m-mouth.
I j-j-just c-c-couldn’t talk f-f-fast enough.
Tommy had a way of taking in gobs of air, holding his breath while trying to form
words, stuttering (repetition of a single sound), trying to get the words out and then
finally releasing the breath which enabled an explosion of words to come out until, out of
breath, he took a new breath of air, tensed up and the process happened all over again.
I said, “Tommy, you are having an anxiety response and I can help you if you are
willing to do the work.” I gave him a business card and encouraged him to call me. We
were still visiting when I got the nudge, “Dad, it’s time to go.” Tommy and I hugged and
he promised he would call.
As I walked down the street with my family, heading toward our rented condo, I
mused over the events of the evening: the celebration, the closeness I felt with my family,
the chance encounters, Charleybuck, Lonesome Joe, Stuttering Tommy…I particularly
pondered the fate of Tommy and how he must feel. I was a little sad as I filed him away
in my memory bank. Little did I know that these feelings and more would return within a
week when I encountered Timmy.
The story of Timmy goes back a year or so. I do part time contract work for a
company called, Learning Inc. As part of their mission, they score state standardized
evaluation tests. People with college degrees who are currently not teaching in the public
sector score the written parts of these tests. I am one of the people who score.
On a Thursday morning in April 2009 it became noisy in the big room filled with
computer monitors where this work takes place. A new group of scorers were filing into
the room, locating workstations and setting up. One such new worker caught my eye.
He was a short man, maybe five feet, six inches and probably weighed 260 pounds. He
wore casual hiking pants, unwashed and wrinkled. The pants rested on the lower part of
his hips about eight inches below his waist. He wore a wrinkled casual long sleeved
fishing shirt rolled up halfway and held there by epaulets. I know it was a fishing shirt
because I have one myself. His shirttail was about 80 per cent hanging out and 20 per
cent tucked in. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I guessed he had over slept and had
just made it to work. He carried two backpacks, one regular size and one small one. He
wore two key rings attached to his pants; one held keys and the other held a baseball cap.
I noticed him throughout the day as he kept standing up and walking around.
Now, there were pretty strict rules about staying at your workstation. We were only to
get up for restroom visits, breaks, water, coffee, or to ask a question of our supervisor.
This rule evidently did not apply to this man as he got up about every ten minutes,
walked around, asked questions of fellow workers, or just stood in place looking around
at the 250 or so people working at their stations.
The two ladies who sat next to me began to notice him. We all talked about him
and the way he was dressed. We were surprised that Learning Inc. would allow such a
person to even work there. It was hard to imagine him as a college graduate. Each day
this man would came in wearing the exact same clothes, obviously without washing
them. Some days he appeared to be sweating profusely. I felt fortunate that I didn’t sit
next to him as he more than likely carried an odor with him.
I kept trying to find him on break or at lunch because he had so piqued my
curiosity. Unfortunately, I never found him. The project ended, we were all released and
I had never talked to or even see Timmy. I thought about him ever so often over the
course of the year. Did those backpacks hold all of his worldly possessions? Did he live
under a bridge? How could any intelligent being allow himself to look like this guy?
Was he intelligent? I figured I would never know. He would just be one of those
characters that reside in the shadowy edge of my mind.
Fast forward to May of 2010. I had just returned from a weekend trip celebrating
my fortieth wedding anniversary and I am again doing the scoring for Learning Inc. A
group of us is sitting in the conference room waiting to begin training on this year’s
material. Who do you suppose walks in and joins our group? Yes, my person of interest
from last year. He is wearing the exact same clothes and they fit the exact same way.
Not to be denied, I managed to sit very close to Timmy, in fact, right behind him
where I could hopefully talk to him some. We were moved again to another training
area; this time I managed to sit right next to Timmy. I quickly learned that Timmy also
stuttered. His words and speech patterns were much like a boiling pot of gumbo left
unattended. The defenses, the gestures, the stuttering repetitions and the words bubbled
up from everywhere, spilling out on all sides of the pot just like the sausage, shrimp and
okra would. He kept his eyes closed as he spoke. I am a little hard of hearing and it was
difficult for me to understand all that was coming from his exuberant vocal cords.
As he began to trust me and we developed somewhat of a relationship, I was
amazed by him. Timmy was another (like Tommy) who had so much to say and such a
desire to say it. He reminded me of the Confederate Civil War General, Jubal T. Early
leading his army of half crazed rebels up the hill in an all out attack. Timmy kept
attacking the words ferociously, trying to release his thoughts and let the world know the
brilliance that was his mind.
Timmy, I learned, graduated from Texas A&M in Wildlife Biology. He had been
a contemporary and classmate of Texas Governor Rick Perry. It had been difficult for
Timmy to hold a job due to his speech impediment. He worked at convenience stores for
some years until he secured his scoring job. He was so good at his new job that he
became a senior scorer, which gave him more work. Between the scoring and
unemployment checks, Timmy gets by financially living next door to his brother in a
mobile home park.
In his free time Timmy volunteers at wildlife and nature preserves. He spends
about thirty hours a month at Government Canyon outside of San Antonio, but also
volunteers at more than fifteen National Parks across the country, one as far away as
northern Montana. Each year he goes to a different Park to give of his time and
As our week of working side by side comes to an end, I think of all the topics
Timmy has chosen to share his knowledge with me. From how school children form
ideas and express them to what we must do to save the planet, Timmy has touched on a
lot of subjects. I think of the sheer knowledge that is his. I think about how he
volunteers and how he is so passionate about our wildlife and national resources. I know
I am fortunate to have made his acquaintance and I am pleased to call him friend.
SEVEN DAYS LATER. Timmy is still on my mind. I sit here this evening with
a book that no longer quite interests me, with a newspaper that has no real news, a day
that has no real meaning. I wonder…I question myself. Where did I earn the right to be
critical of others? To judge? Where did I learn to be better than? What does the story of
Timmy teach me?
I call the shots? I think not. I think, maybe Timmy does it better. Maybe the
lesson for me is still on the table, not yet learned. Maybe I will be fortunate enough to
meet another Timmy along the “good red road.”