Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves

Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves

The cliché goes, it doesn’t matter where you came from, but where you’re headed. Easy words for hard times.

I was born in the wagon of a travelin’ show
My mama used to dance for the money they’d throw
Papa would do whatever he could
Preach a little gospel, sell a couple bottles of Doctor Good

I was lucky. My mom would do whatever it took to keep me fed and clothed. Hell, just a week or two before I was born, she was down on her hands and knees sandpapering someone’s wooden floor for money. Almost nine moths pregnant, and she’s sanding floors by hand.

Dads are different. They’re supposed to be symbols of stability, at least for my generation. That seems lost now. My dad changed jobs a lot when I was growing up. He was always looking for the edge, looking for that next step. Whatever he could to advance the family, that was his focus. And he made it work.

Gypsies, tramps, and thieves
We’d hear it from the people of the town
They’d call us gypsies, tramps, and thieves

I was never in the “in crowd”. The people I hung with, we made our own crowd. I hung with band geeks, stoners, and the faceless lost in the middle. The D&D nerds, the comic book crowd. I moved with ease between all these groups, but I was always on the border or just over the line. Seemingly always outside. None of us were ever far from taunts or jeers. We knew it, we accepted it, but it still hurt.

But most of us knew these were temporary times. High school lasts forever but ten years out it seems only a blink. Most of us made it. And of those who made it, most went to the funerals of those who didn’t. Some of us disappeared completely, but most kept churning out the days. Which is what it takes to live through it. One day at a time. Headed for some unseen promised land. Unconsciously losing the past as we head into the light of tomorrow.

But every night all the men would come around
And lay their money down

One of my best friends was gay. And every week he’d get phone calls from football players and other athletes, the same people who gave him grief day after day, wanting him to come over and blow them. He’d almost always go. The stories he could tell. The stories I wish he’d tell. But no. That’s just me being petty. Those stories, told today, would hurt too many people, people who weren’t even alive, completely innocent. My ego isn’t that big. And they’re not my stories.

Picked up a boy just south of Mobile
Gave him a ride, filled him with a hot meal
I was sixteen, he was twenty-one
Rode with us to Memphis
And Papa woulda shot him if he knew what he’d done

So many nights cuddling under a blanket in the backseat while her family drove us home from an out-of-town game, winter rolling past as the car barreled through the darkness. So many risks we took. Risks that today seem completely out of bounds, without reason or sense. But that’s the essence of youth. There’s no tomorrow, there’s only the heat and sweat and stickiness of now. Skin on skin wrapped in the softness of the blanket, discovering and reveling in the hot lust that dies a little each day once you hit thirty. Wisdom is for the old. Regrets are for tomorrow. Today is for the young and youthful. And we went for it with a gusto that shocked logic.

And yeah, her dad would’ve killed me. But I’d do it all over again.

I never had schoolin’ but he taught me well
With his smooth southern style
Three months later I’m a gal in trouble
And I haven’t seen him for a while
Uh-huh I haven’t seen him for a while
Uh-huh

Good judgment comes from wisdom, wisdom comes from experience, experience comes from poor judgment. This is an inescapable rule of life, unless you’re smart enough to learn from another person’s poor judgment. Sometimes poor judgment results in life changing experiences, like a child. I don’t have kids, but all my friends do. It changed every aspect of their life. Their existence before the birth disappeared. They’re different people now. That experience has given them a wisdom I can only glimpse.

To my knowledge, none of my male friends walked away from a pregnancy. They owned it. They were ridiculed, outcast, shunned during their early years, but they stood steady in the face of responsibility. They stood by whatever their lady decided to do. And I’ve always been proud of them for that.

I knew early on that I’d be a poor parent. Not from any shortcomings on the part of my parents, but completely my own. A close friend and his girlfriend got pregnant. He dropped out of college, got a job, worked for years. Then she got a job and supported him through college. More kids came. It was an avalanche. Inescapable. His life change totally and completely. He possessed some attribute that I did not. And I refused to expose a child to my inabilities. Call it fear, foresight, selfishness, whatever. I recognized it and I owned it. I knew that was not for me.

I knew, and I was right. I don’t regret the decision, but I often wonder what if. And then I go drink while my friends are changing diapers or saving for college. I’m happy with my choice, and they’re ecstatic with theirs. That’s a win all around.

I’m a guy. A woman writing about these same experiences would be a completely different point of view. I can’t even imagine the absence of the male advantage.

She was born in the wagon of a travelin’ show
Her mama had to dance for the money they’d throw
Grandpa’d do whatever he could
Preach a little gospel, sell a couple bottles of Doctor Good

And in the end it all comes down to family. My friends all have family. I married into family. My own family is small, just my mom and dad and grandmother. Dinner is a family reunion. And I don’t have a working relationship with my grandmother. I’m the end of my line. But I still have family and I cherish their support and love. Because at the end of everything, family is all that matters. And let’s not limit family to blood. I have friends who might as well be brothers or sisters. And I’d take a bullet for any of them.

But whatever you’ve been through, at the end of it all, it’s your family, friends or otherwise, that makes life livable. When the world turns against you, when the odds are no longer in your favor, when you find yourself labeled a gypsy, tramp, or thief, it’s family who’ll still come around. It’s family who’ll still be there.

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