A Forgotten Man

God's love is our ultimate safety net

I’ve lived in my lower class neighborhood since 1973 when I bought a four-bedroom house and rented rooms to other youths hoping to start a commune. California’s Prop 13 keeps my property tax low, whereas new buyers nowadays pay eight times as much. Sometimes it pays to be old.

But the periphery of this little ghetto got ragged with broken private fencing along our Twin Oaks Valley Road, daily traveled by uppity folks from the country club homes just north of here. So, I’m guessing the City heard an earful of complaints and had to build a 10-foot-high wrought iron fence with clinging star jasmine to camouflage the eyesores.

In the spring, when flowers are in bloom, my daily exercise of walking two city blocks takes me past those jasmine and I breathe deeply their delightful scent. Honey bees are busy doing their part in nature’s seasonal business of reproduction, with a mesmerizing hum, perhaps a rendition of aum, the Hindu version of amen. The City did a great job hiding the neighborhood shame.

Now and then I see a man’s figure 500 feet ahead, motionless, facing the jasmine vines, smoking his pipe and staring into the vines. To a stranger in these parts, it would be an odd scene. But I know the man and stop to chat with him once in a while. He is a former linotype operator for Princeton University Press. He tells me with pipe in hand ― for the umpteenth time ― linotype isn’t used anymore because digital printing is now the in-thing. I suppose he trims dead leaves from the vines as a throwback to his habit of removing faulty letters from his linotype settings. Let’s call it retroactive memory.

“You new to these parts?” he’ll ask again, though we’ve gone over the same personal details many times before.

He’s 95 years old, long retired, and lives by himself in a house that his daughter now owns. She visits him weekly. His face has raised black squamous cell carcinoma blotches that would alarm a dermatologist. Richard walks every day for miles, mostly the same route I take. Exercise hasn’t prevented him from getting a bit senile, but he can still hold a conversation. Lately, though, I avoid him because he hasn’t said anything I haven’t heard before. Like outdated linotype, he’ll soon die, remembered by his offspring for a couple of generations.

“I have a car in the garage but I don’t have a driver’s license any more,” he says. “The state took it from me.”

That got me worrying over my driver’s license. Am I, at 77 years, approaching the cutoff age?

When I got home, I rubbed my magic Google lamp and discovered the state wouldn’t do that without cause. It’s not automatic on reaching a certain age. It was likely his daughter who realized he couldn’t drive anymore without being a road hazard, so she alerted the DMV. But he still thinks it was the state. Just as well I say nothing about that. I’m sure she loves him, and it was hard for her to make that phone call. It’s what’s known as “tough love.”

But I don’t have a son or daughter living locally who’d notice trouble with my driving. Nor will it be easy being objective about my driving ability. I may have a hard time exercising tough love to give up my license. So if we meet someday after our car accident, and I’m sounding like a broken record, please notify the DMV. After, I’ll die an obsolete electrical engineer devoid of any fame by invention and, for lack of children, a man utterly forgotten, except if God remember me.


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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