Just past Kansas Avenue if you’re going north on Summit, the road completes the other end of an S-curve. Just out of that curve, there’s a Casey’s and then there’s the coin-operated ice vending machine. It’s pretty handy; if you’ve got cash you can get a sixteen-pound bag of ice for two bucks. Or, if you’ve got cash and an ice chest, you can get twenty pounds of ice for two bucks. Or, you can go to Casey’s and get a ten-pound bag for two bucks.
With the sky pretty well clouded up and the temperature still riding above ninety degrees at six-thirty yesterday, I pulled in for a sixteen-pound bag.
There was a small sports utility vehicle parked across three parking spaces right in front of the vending machine. Inside, some guy was talking on his cell phone. I pulled around behind him and parked. As I got out of my car and started to walk around to the machine, he quickly got out of his vehicle and stepped over in front of me toward the dispenser.
It was too hot to waste energy getting peeved over something like that so I just laughed to myself on the inside. On the outside, I smiled at the slightly stocky, slightly pudgy older guy, and said hello.
Apparently thinking some sort of explanation was in order, he said, “Yeah, I was talking with my son. His mom has cancer and she has to start chemo and he called to tell me to get her H-38.”
He poked a dollar bill into the slot, watched it disappear and then fed in another and then stepped over to the dispensing chute. “He said this H-38 is made natural and the pharmaceutical companies have been fighting to get it off the market because it’s more affordable than the other medicines and it’s also the most effective for fighting cancer.”
He stood there in his khakis and sports shirt, waiting for the bag to slide out. “You ever heard of that H-38?” I poked my dollar bills into the slot and stood there in my white linen suit, waiting to push the button for my sixteen-pound bag. “No, I guess I haven’t.”
“Well, it’s made natural and it’s the most affordable cancer medicine they have. The pharmaceutical companies have been trying to get it taken off the market but they can’t.”
His ice came sliding down the chute and he stood the bag up on end and tore along the perforated lines to separate the two tabs at the top, then tied the tabs together to close the bag. “This sure is cheap ice, isn’t it?”
I grinned and nodded and agreed. He lifted his bag off and turned toward his fifteen-year-old SUV. I pushed the button and heard the whirring sounds of internal mechanism preparing my bag of ice. He set his bag onto the floor in front of the back seat and closed the door.
He turned back toward me, his face puffy and gentle, “I’m seventy-three and I don’t take any medicine except for headaches. I guess maybe it’s because I’m part Indian.”
“Well,” I smiled, “I guess that part’s working pretty well for you.”
He grinned back. “If you know anyone that has cancer, be sure and tell them about that H-38. It’s made natural and it’s the best thing there is for cancer.”
There are some things that eat deeper than cancer. Things that leave us lonely and longing for something stronger than that ancient aching inside of us. Something that leads us to share with strangers what we barely dare to speak of with family. We isolate ourselves in dark rooms at night and walk out into the light using cell phones and iPads to insulate ourselves from those near at hand yet never understanding why we don’t feel connected.
Maybe what we need are more conversations in parking lots and waiting lines at Casey’s. And choosing not to resent small inconveniences.