Harold and Jeff

Posted by on August 21, 2013

A Monday Morning Memo from The Wizard of Ads

Harold moved across the street from us when Pennie and I were 22 years old. He was a gentle soul, about 10 years older than me, and he wore his hair in a style that was strangely out of date. I considered Harold to be the last of the Woodstock hippies; A breed largely extinct by 1980. Sometimes in the evening I would walk across the street to help Harold work on his car.

One Sunday afternoon, a stranger knocked on my door to tell me that Harold was in jail and wanted to know if I could come downtown with a hundred and fifty dollars in cash to post his bail. It seems Harold had run a red light and wasn’t carrying a driver’s license. By miraculous coincidence, I actually had a hundred and fifty dollars, so I headed to the police station with it.

While driving Harold home, he told me that his real name was Jeff and that he was an escaped convict. He said he was lucky that government agencies aren’t open on Sundays, or a computer match of his fingerprints would have already revealed his true identity. He said that each time he had been recaptured during the past twelve years, it was because he had been pulled over without a driver’s license. He said, “Last time it took them less than two hours before an officer came to my cell and called me by name. My real name.”

The silence grew uncomfortable. Then I finally got up the nerve to ask, “Why were you originally sent to jail?” Jeff smiled a bittersweet smile. “I ran away from a bad situation at home in 1968, when I was eighteen years old. After walking down the highway for several hours with my thumb in the air, I spotted a large barn near a farmhouse. I came out of that barn carrying a five gallon can of gas which I planned to offer to whoever who would give me a ride. About ten minutes later, the county sheriff arrested me. It turns out the farmer had seen me and he really hated guys with long hair. Especially ones that had just stolen his favorite 5 gallon can.” After another uncomfortable silence, Jeff continued, “I escaped from county jail in a cart full of dirty laundry. When I was recaptured, my sentence was lengthened because of the escape and they sent me off to prison. One day I went over the wall. Every time I’ve been recaptured since then, I’ve always gone over the wall.”

With eyes like silver dollars and my mouth hanging open like a dolt, I whispered, “How do you get over the wall?” “It’s easy,” said Jeff, “Getting over the wall isn’t really that hard when you’ve lost your fear of death. It’s never really the wall that holds you, Roy. It’s the fear of dying.”

It was just then that we pulled into my driveway. Jeff got out of the car without a word, walked across the street to his house and emerged moments later carrying a duffel bag. He then repaid me the hundred and fifty dollars and asked if I would drive him to the bus station. “When the police come looking for me on Monday morning, go ahead and tell them that you took me to the bus station. I don’t want you to have to lie.” We said good-bye and I never saw Jeff again.

I learned from Jeff that running away from trouble is never really a good idea. I think that Harold would agree.

Roy H. Williams

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