A view of big city homeless
The Hunt For Lunch
A gentle summer rain is descending on the city. Third Avenue, the main artery running through the business district, is filled with the harsh strident clamor of honking horns, squealing brakes, and the noxious fumes of taxis, buses, cars and double parked cargo vans emblazoned with advertisements of their wares. Curls of steam rise from the street, and the air is so thick with the smell of cooling asphalt that I can taste it. People cue up at street corners dutifully waiting for the red hand to turn white, then like obedient robots, scurry across the wide avenue. The splash of assorted colors and shapes of umbrellas reminds me of a water color of wild flowers by some French artist.
It's noon and and the sidewalks are filled with busy office workers and shoppers on their lunch break. The heady aromas of the many coffee shops, bakeries, and delis are seductive. It’s been many years since I’ve been to the big city, and the sights, sounds, and smells still fascinate me. A hot dog wagon topped with a large yellow beach umbrella looked good to me, so I approached. I washed down the sausage dog with sweet ice tea, and threw the empty cup and wrapper into a large wire basket.
As I walked away, I happened to look back and saw a white-bearded rail-thin fellow rummaging through the waste basket I had just used. He wore a white button-down-collar shirt, buttoned to the top, and tucked into jeans that were faded and frayed. His clothes appeared to be clean, and I noticed his jeans, though well-worn, had sharp creases.
Curious, I stopped and discretely watched as he fished out a large white Styrofoam cup with a red straw sticking out of the lid. He held it up to his ear, shook and swirled it around. Satisfied, he discarded the straw and continued his search. I spotted a pair of needle-nose pliers sticking out of his back pocket and it puzzled me. Later, it occured to me how they could be an effective defensive weapon on the streets. He selected a red-and-white checkered cardboard boat partially filled with French fries. He daintily brushed them off and culled out the unsuitables. Continuing his hunt, he found a half-eaten hamburger wrapped in a paper napkin. He poked around the discarded food, napkins, and cups until he found an unused packet of catsup and a clean napkin. Carrying his findings to a bench, he sat down, spread the napkin on his lap and commenced to eat his lunch.
The image of bulging shelves in any grocery store in this country flashed through my mind. I figure this guy has access to that abundance if only he would take the trouble to apply for the dole. Or maybe he's too proud to ask for handouts. Who knows, he could even be some rich guy who lives out a fantasy every now and again.
Regardless, I walked back and handed him a five dollar bill. He looked at the bill, then up at me, his calm, cornflower blue eyes didn't waver. I felt he was evaluating my intentions. He snatched the fiver out of my hand and went back to eating. He didn't look back up.
I turned and continued my walk to the bus station where I waited for the 2 o’clock back to Centerville.