King of the road

Paul DeLeeuw

March 4, 2022

Harry “half-brain”. “loboto”, “cerebrum” Ishkovitz was slowly walking down his familiar stretch of’ highway, occasionally picking up an aluminum can and stuffing it into the monstrous cloth baq hanging over his right shoulder. Aluminum cans and financial magazines were his specialties and he carefully stuffed them all in his bag, to be dumped into one of the rooms in the little cottage his father had bought for him to live in, completely free. with all utilities paid mONINI. His father had also opened up a savings account with a bankbook in which he transferred $Boo every month. It was silently understood between father and son that Harry would not embarrass the family by his presence.

When Harry was still a very small child, his mother, dead now, had noticed that while the boy was developing
normally physically, there was something wrong with his reasoning ability. He talked at a very early age. had an enormous vocabulary, could retain anything he read, or somebody showed him, an avid reader at age five, who could spout by heart baseball statistics or financial quotations, but had trouble shutting off faucets or turning off lights. In early school days, his teachers considered him a wizard, because he had immediate answers, without the use of pencil

and paper, for complicated problems in arithmetic,
but could not seem to see the logic in even the most elementary children’s stories. If called on to recite, he was superb, never missing a word, but if the teacher asked him to explain even the simplest story, Harry was lost. After having been seen by many psychiatrists and neurologists, it was

decided after numerous CT scans that the child’s brain was entirely within normal range, but that there was something wrong in the transmission of information from one brain cell to the other.

The sun was going down, lighting up the golden steeple of the church across the street and Harry knew it was time to go home. He had long given up trying to struggle with the entry lock keys of the front door and just left the back

door open, with a broom leaning against the screen door. Inside everything was familiar, even the pungent odor, one-room piled high with financial magazines, another with aluminum cans. Dimly, Harry knew that these cans could be sold for money, but he had no idea how to go about it. The phone rang; Harry knew it was his father. Every day, just before leaving his office, his father would call him and ask him how he was. Reassured that everything was alright he would hang up until the next day. Saturdays his father would call after sundown, but Sundays he would spend with

Harry’s sister Eva and her children. Before the children arrived. Harry had visited his sister occasionally
for the holidays, but in recent years Eva had discouraged any visits, because: “My husband is afraid that Harry gives a bad example to the children” So gradually the rift between

 

himself and the family had widened; Harry felt no anger, he was incapable of producing any and went his own way tramping up and down his stretch of highway every day, collecting more papers and cans, neither happy nor unhappy:

Occasionally a hooker would stop him, but their streetwise instincts told them that “this guy is not dealing from a full deck”, or “his eyes are funny” or even a more elaborate conclusion: “his eyes look intelligent, but he talks nonsense”. One day, an inexperienced black girl, high on drugs and low on funds, persisted: “Where do you live” Harry waved his arm northward, “can I come with you?” Harry looked at her uncomfortably, then nodded: “Sure, it’s about

time I go home” “you got any money on you?” Harry dug deep in his trousers, held up by a leather dog leash and showed her a ten-dollar bill. “That’s all you got?” “I have more at home, somewhere”. Every Monday morning Harry would go to his savings bank and withdraw thirty dollars; today was Tuesday, so he knew that he had more hidden away underneath the aluminum cans. They went inside the cottage: “It stinks in here” she said, then “aren’t you afraid that somebody will just walk in here when you are away?”. Harry remembered his father: “this place has electronic surveillance: she was

  • clearly impressed. When he dug out another ten dollars from under the cans, a couple of dozen rolling down from the top during the process, she knew she was home. “Where do you sleep?” He took her to the next room where his bed was. She plopped down in an ungainly manner, kicking off her shoes in the same motion. She pulled him down beside her with her left hand, her right unbuttoning her blouse. He was blushing now and physically excited. “First give me the twenty dollars and I’ll show you a good time” Harry, who turned every dollar over ten times before buying food at McDonald’s, quickly gave her the money. “now just lie down on your back and be a good boy” He followed her instructions obediently and she didn’t even have to unzip his pants.

From this chance, meeting a friendship slowly grew. Tanya learned to trust Harry; he saw her as a mother figure and took her to fast food places for an occasional treat and let her sleep in his bed for days at a time when nobody else would let her in. She reciprocated in the only manner she could, not making any demands, other than insisting on Harry taking a shower before coming to bed. Sometimes she might stay away for weeks, especially during the winter tourist season, when business was good and she could afford a motel. The blue, blond Canadian men particularly liked her shiny chocolate skin and easy laugh.

It was a somber dark rainy Sunday morning when Harry’s father unexpectedly called. Tanya and Harry were watching TV from their bed and the insistent ringing gave a foreboding of doom. Harry put his pajama pants on and answered the phone: “Hello”, “is that you Harry?” His father’s voice sounded emotionless and flat. “yes”. “I’ve got to talk to you, Harry”

 

And then, after asking each other how they were, the story came out. Harry’s father had gone bankrupt, lost everything except his house, his girlfriend had left him, his proud Eldorado had been repossessed and all that would be left to him would be his monthly Social Security check. His daughter Eva was not home when he had come for his Sunday visit and his son-in-law told him bluntly that Eva was upset with all that notoriety in the newspapers about his bankruptcy and they were afraid that their children might be denied entrance to a fancy private school if this continued. Then he started to cry on the phone and told Harry that he could no longer afford to put the $800 in his bank account every month, at least until he got back in business and hung up abruptly.

When Tanya heard him put the phone down, she returned from the bathroom and asked what this unusual call was all about. Harry told her everything in the exact words his father had used. Tanya’s reaction was swift and to the point. “The only thing you ever take out of your account is $30 a week. Right?” Harry nodded. “Well then from now on I’ll give you that money every Monday morning; I’ll stay here all the time and I won’t blow any more money on motels and you can give your father all the money in your savings account, except maybe a few hundred dollars, for just in case. How much is there in the account?” It turned out there were over thirty thousand dollars. “Call your father back and tell him. Right now. And let’s call a junkman and sell all the papers and the aluminum cans; maybe there will be enough money there to buy some paint and paintbrushes and we can clean up this joint and live like human beings”.

‘And so it came to pass that Harry’s father used the money to set himself up again in business and prospered and he eventually was invited again to his daughter’s house on Sundays.