A story about a homeless man through anothers eyes.
|A Parka in Summer Weather
By Alexander J. Veligor
They called him high-steppin Bob. Or stumbling Bob. Or trippin’ bob. Sometimes it was “That drunken idiot”. You could see the horrible things that they called him in their heads when he was going bye. It was always the young families on vacations that said the worst things, and they always said them out loud instead of in their head. They where almost always in their late twenties, early thirties, and usually had the same cookie cutter kids with them. The parents were always wearing stupid little memorabilia shirts that said “I got Lobstered in Portland Maine”, as well as a baseball cap with giant fuzzy red claws sticking out the front. The children always consisted of this equation: one almost teenage boy in the latest hood-rat gear and: one princess daughter in a flower print dress and no more than six years old.
Bob would come down the street as he always did. His left leg would lift to an insane angle before being thrust down onto the pavement only an inch or two in front of his other foot. The right leg would come up and perform the same bone jarring stomp, and this was how Bob traveled the streets. He always had a look of insane concentration on his face as he placed his feet with heavy reverberations onto the concrete. Someone would almost think that he was crushing a truly disgusting form of insect if it weren’t for the sidle. Every time a foot came up, it would shake and quiver a little to the left or right so that it always appeared as if he were about to fall over. For every foot forward that Bob went, he would travel successively another foot either to the right or the left.
The glimmer of protective paternity would appear in the father sight-seer first. He would shuffle aside so that his wife would see what was coming down the all of a sudden far too narrow walkway. The wife would reach out and protectively to pull her children to the side as Bob made his way by. Then she would release her cloistered charges from her care and as sure as the sun will rise or rocks fall, the father would lean in and whisper something into his wife’s ear that made her giggle. I think it was the giggle that got to me the most. I hated that giggle because it screamed the words “I am unaware of how this man came to be, and therefore I mock him for it.”
Once, as I was watching, the cookie cutter little girl reached out and touched Bob’s hand. I was close enough to see and hear what happened. He stopped stomping for a second and just smiled. It’ hard to see that he has a smile behind the mask of grubby facial hair, but when your as close as that little girl was it would still be hard to miss. Bob stomped on, and thankfully he did not see or hear what the mother did.
She snatched her daughters hand and slapped it once. “Don’t do that, he might be sick with something.”
“He might be sick with something.” Those are interesting words to describe Bob with. When he smiles he drools. His hands shake from alcoholism, and he walks spastically at the best of times. He can not drink or eat without making a mess and he smells faintly of body odor. He always has some form of dirty red shirt or jacket or sweater. He is sick, but it’s not catching.
6 Months Earlier
I remember the first time I met Bob. I was sitting on my front stoop. All concrete and red brick, with a pillar for decoration to hold the peaked roof up. I had my lunch on my lap since the job-site was close to my house and I liked double-decker sandwiches of my own design better than any sub shop. Bob came walking up the sidewalk. Sometimes he was on the path, and sometimes he was in the street. Never straight, and I have in all these days since, still not seen him walk a straight line. I didn’t even bite my sandwich. I had the good grace to close my mouth, but my graces did not extend to what my eyes did, which was stare. I remember thinking, “Homeless lush. Likes the wine. Wino. Maybe Beer-o. Beeeeer-ooo.” I also remember thinking that I’d have to tell my roommate that joke later, since it was pretty funny.
Fast Forward Two Weeks
I was sitting on my front stoop again, talking with Mary. That’s a capitol “M” in her name. Blonde, blue eyes, big breasts, long legs, and a bubbly and intelligent personality. I was talking her up. We had acknowledged each other off and on as she walked past to her apartment building one door up. But today she stopped and asked to bum a cigarette, and the conversation flowed like water from there. She was speaking.
“I don’t do much at the office really, I think the manager was just keen to fill the position with a warm body for tax stuff. His buisiness is right on that line that gets you government subsidies for having a certain number of employees… Oh God its him.”
“Who, what?” I hadn’t been paying to much attention but my head turned with her finger point. Bob. I didn’t know his name at the time, but your mind usually assigns names to people without ever talking to them. Dan for slick people, Jenny for tomboy girls, Esther for curly haired Jew girls, and Mary for good catholic ones. Mike for Irish looking fellows, and Dave for those that weren’t, but my mind seemed to have pigeon-holed Bob as “Bob”.
“He’s so gross.” She said. Her contenance had that slight sneer that nice people get when they encounter something gross.
“Yeah, he’s pretty nasty. Did you see the way he drools?” We both shut up as he walked by. Bob had that way of making a street go silent, only in his immediate vicinity, but there was not a sound within ten feet of him wherever he walked. Bob passed by us and Mary spoke again as soon as there was the required ten feet.
“You won’t believe what I saw him doing once.”
“I came out to the parking lot to go to work at like seven in the morning, and there he is laying down, on the ground, next to my car.”
“At first I thought he was having a seizure or something the way he was rocking, but I got closer.”
“What was he doing?”
“He was masturbating!”
“That is probably the nastiest thing I’ve ever heard.” We both laughed and talked for a few more minutes.
Fast Forward A Month
I was walking to the only sandwich shop I actually enjoyed in town. The street is long and wide, big enough for two cars, but the sidewalk is long and wide, big enough for four people to walk side by side. It was sunny and summer, tourists were everywhere and even the quaking duck-boat was going by with a load of gawkers. Pigeon’s were everywhere and people where walking in tank-tops and shorts with the new most fashionable slits in their clothes for that “broken in look”. I always scoff at that look since my jeans and shirts have a scuffed in look that I like to think of as earned. Roofing tar and wood splinters will always make your clothes look just as “broken in”, and you get paid for it instead of shelling out a hundred bucks at Abercrombie.
The street was almost pure energy with the feeling of the season, but there was Bob. His jeans weren’t washed and he was wearing a red parka over a brown shirt. A parka in summer weather. Hot. He must be cooking. He was pan-handling.
His back was hunched as usual, and his hand was out with the fingers together in that universal symbol of begging. I approached but tried to swerve to the outside radius of his silence zone. Hopefully he wouldn’t…
It wasn’t mumbled, I was sure of that. It wasn’t a half-hearted attempt either. It was loud enough for me to realize that he was looking at me as I walked by. He was asking me.
“God don’t be looking at me, I don’t want to look at you, pleeaazzzeee… I’ll glance over and realize that your talking to the fat guy, I won’t catch your eye… DAMN!”
I stopped. I fumbled in my pockets, excuses launched through my mind. But the change I carry around everywhere jingled like damning evidence. Fumbled some more, and I remember that he had very patient eyes. It was as if his eyes were saying to me “I will wait as long as it takes, I have nowhere to go.” Rage hit me like a hammer as I dropped some quarters into his hand and walked off.
“Goddamn homeless fuck, why can’t he get a friggin job! Damn SLOB!” It ruined my day.
Fast Forward A Month
The corner store has always been a staple of the American urban community, at least in my opinion. You out of milk? Need a pack of smokes? Need a six pack for those unexpected guests? Hit the corner store. Sure its fifty cents more than the super market, but there are other benefits that aren’t quite as tangible. The owner is one of those benefits. He knows you, and you know him. He’s always up for the game of “toss the thinly veiled insult joke”. He’s friendly. If he lived in the country he would be called a townie. Although I have never bothered to ask his name, my pre-emptive brain has named him Bruno… or maybe even Bub. That kind of big bear like amiability that makes you think of the word “Pal”.
I was at the counter behind Bob. He put a forty of Heineken on the counter and slowly counted out his change. He paid for the whole thing in small coins so I could only assume that it was beggar money. Bob collected his drink and walked out. Bruno called out to him as he left.
“Take it easy Bobby!”
“Aayy eeevvee!” He said as he stumbled into the door frame before exiting into the night. It was another confusing mess of syllables that almost made sense but I couldn’t quite understand. I stepped up to the counter. I gave what I thought was a knowing grin to Bruno, but for some reason he didn’t seem to get what I was trying to get across. That shared humor of someone else’s deformity. It should have been obvious to me that Bruno would never get that kind of joke. Nevertheless I tried to continue on.
“He’s pretty messed up.” I said it with what I thought was half-laugh but it really fell half-flat.
“Yeah he got messed up pretty bad.”
“Huh?” I found it hard to imagine Bob as anything but a product of himself. I knew it was coming though. What else would come from a man like Bruno but a shift in my whole world perspective.
“Shame how the ambulance nailed him.”
“Maine Med ambulance nailed him while he was crossing the street. Used to have a job, a home, everything. He woke out of a coma about five months after and lost the lawsuit mostly cause the hospital had a good lawyer and he couldn’t get sympathy from the jury with the speech and balance problems.”
“But… I thought it was because of the drinking?”
“Oh yeah he drinks all right. He can’t afford painkillers for the back pain so he drinks. He didn’t win the case and now he’s homeless, so I think that’s the main reason for the drinking. The pain is pretty even with that though.”
“Damn man, that’s like a tragedy out of plays.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Fast Forward A Week
“Yeah Bobby, I got a buck.” His hands were gnarled and calloused. I placed the change in his hands. I noticed that although they shook, they still had a muscular strength to them that spoke of hammers and saws and roofing shingles.
“Take it easy Bobby.”