Author: R. J. Erbacher

Joe Shit (that’s what everyone called him, inevitable when you have an unfortunate last name) was a ragman. Not ragman in a good sense either. Not a Scottish legate who compiled records in the 1200’s and he was unlike the catch phrase for early twentieth century jazz musicians, such as Jelly Roll Morton, though he could have been either. And unequivocally not the superhero, although some would say that he had a certain…but never mind. Even the true definition, which is a person who bought and sold old items, a junkman or pawn broker, didn’t fit. Joe Shit the ragman dealt in rags. Plain and simple.

Joe Shit the ragman was old, too. No one could truly say how old. He had an Easter Island carved granite face that did not seem to age, as if he had been old when he was born and would never change. And he went about dressed as you would expect a ragman to dress in muted multi-layer clothing, loose fitting, nondescript and threadbare. You would never pick him out in a crowd.

To be honest the rags that Joe Shit the ragman sold were not especially good quality rags, not the type you would use and say, ‘wow, this is a great rag.’ His rags were old faded T-shirts, tattered towels, stained bed sheets torn into strips, baby clothes that the babies had grown out of. Material that had, at one time, been an integral part of somebody’s life and still carried a little bit of that person with them. They had a mystical enduring value to them that your average absorbent cellulose microfiber rags did not.

Joe Shit the ragman recalls the first rag he sold because it left an impression. It was to a young woman who used it to wipe the bloody face of a poor tortured man. One he gave to an Italian nurse during WWI was used to mend the arm of a wounded Red Cross worker who later went on to write about his experiences. He remembers every rag he handed out. Joe Shit the ragman’s rags have been used to make dolls for underprivileged girls, protection for woman with their monthly struggles or as head wraps for struggling slaves as they labored in the fields of the sweltering south. Actually, a rag he once sold was used by a boy nicknamed Dutch to help his mama tidy their tiny home and his rags-to-riches story eventually lead him to the White House. Joe Shit the ragman’s rags were a part of history. And yet no one ever remembered the rags that he distributed because after all- they were just rags.

A couple of weeks ago Joe Shit the ragman offered a rag to help a woman clean up a mess. A child in a fast food restaurant accidentally knocked over his drink and it enraged the father. He berated the boy, slapped the boy. The mother tried to intervene, and she was slapped and punched as well. New bruises bloomed atop of old bruises. Joe Shit the ragman was at a nearby table and had a rag in his jacket pocket. He always had a special rag on his person. He handed her the rag, staring into her tired wounded eyes, and she thanked him with a nod. The rag did a great job cleaning up the spill. The father looked on in disbelief but did nothing. Soon after, that man suffered an unfortunate accident at work and the woman came into a substantial settlement.

Joe Shit the ragman sold rags that had a certain…but never mind.