Mr. Bindlestiff

Photo by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration. Napa Valley, California, circa 1936.

Photo by Dorothea Lange. Napa Valley, California, circa 1936.

“Does the tree let go of the leaf, or does the leaf let go of the tree?”

He’s evading me now. With metaphors. Apparently I’ve struck a nerve.

“The tree lets go of the leaf,” I hazard, “because the leaf is dead.” And what I remember of seventh grade biology you could fit on the back of a business card, but this much seems defensible.

“The leaf is dead,” he confirms. “Exactly.” He does a little leaf dance. I suppose you’d call it that, just a step or two. The effect is morbidly celebratory.

“You’re hitting the road, then, because you’ve died?” I ask.

“I’m hitting the road because I’m dead, brother man. You’re talking to a ghost.”

There’s an element of truth here, I have to admit. A ghost of his former self. What social currency he had in his 30s and started pissing away in his 40s is all but gone today. One by one, he’s starved the personal and professional affiliations he accrued as a younger man so that, one by one, they’ve fallen away from him in the same way he’s threatening to fall away from the familiar.

“It isn’t a bad thing,” he says. Is he consoling me? “It’s just a thing.”

“So what are you waiting for?” I ask. I’m daring him. We’re in middle school again.

“I’m waiting for the wind,” he says. “One good gust should do it.”