You walk past lives on your way to important things. Maybe you miss people like the man with the dust-caked cardboard sign with a hilarious number of teeth (he shares the joke, he’s always smiling). He knows more than you will ever know, in deeper and stranger ways. When he was fourteen he saw a dead person in an alleyway. The poor sod was wearing a beige coat and had three teardrops tattooed under his left eye. He had a big hole in his head.
Not very fashionable, he might admit. Maybe two holes in your head were in vogue at the time. One was too passé. Maybe he told himself and all his friends he’d never end up that way; if he died (a deep and distant possibility) it would be in prostration of a personal honour, a personal god. He probably took a hit off a joint and smiled at the smoke,
Times change; he has justified living- you will too, eventually. What life at all, he might not be able to tell you, but he did not end up like the man with a hole in his head. He finished some part of school and he met the President once. He hasn’t seen a dead body since he was fourteen, but he’s seen enough people with secure lives and decent homes without a care or purpose in the world to know that he’s seen hundreds of bodies as good as dead since.
He wasn’t born homeless but he was born untethered and wildly loose. He knows exactly what it takes to be the man he should be, he knows exactly what he’s done to become the man he is, and he doesn’t care much either way. He doesn’t live day to day, he lives conversation to conversation; inhale to exhale; shoe to foot.
You live day to day.
You don’t speak to him because bad luck is contagious, and you won’t seriously risk your prospects by talking to a bum who would kill you for three dollars and a pack of Dunhills. God, there are more important and meaningful reasons to be killed. That’s why you’ve forgetten about the friends you had who haven’t made it. That’s why you hug your father and ignore his advice about being ‘spiritually balanced’ and not ‘focussing entirely on your work’. Intelligent people can be unlucky too and you’ll be damned if you do anything to bring that string of cold cards upon yourself. Better to walk past the bum, head straight to the office.
Hell, avoid the cracks on the sidewalk, too.
Of course you’d never admit to putting stock in such superstition yourself, you cheeky goose. Symbols like Luck and God are silly, and you leave symbols for the symbol-minded, but it’s all there; your mother probably taught you everything you know that’s actually worth knowing.
Back to the cardboard man.
For some reason, you know that he’d speak to you if you spoke to him; grant you one hundred percent of his attention and consciousness with a smile and a laugh, a rough hand and a tipped hat (or something to that effect- you imagine all homeless people to be characters from Pulp Fiction, but you don’t actually know what any of them look or sound like for sure, you haven’t spoken to one. Hell, you haven’t even actually seen Pulp Fiction). You know he wants money from you, but that shouldn’t cost his dignity, surely.
He knows as well as you do that if you were a child, chuffed to bits with youth, you would be looking up to him with his greasy gloves and long hair. You’d ask him what he did today, or if he ever killed a man. You’d try to speak like him while you were with him (“Yeah it’s the government kid, they don’t care about me”), but still, you somehow know he’d talk to you with veneered respect.
Maybe he thinks good luck is contagious, too. No harm in being nice, who the hell knows what Tuesday will bring?
He saw a dead guy once. He had a hole in his head and three teardrops on his neck. Maybe it was his forehead… it doesn’t matter, “trust me man, he had teardrops on him at all times ha ha ha”. He killed a man once, when he was fourteen, to score some grass and laugh about it with his friends.
“Will talk about all kinds of stuff for food!”
What did you learn in university? How to beat the game? How to get away with murder? How to live a happy life, get the 401K, the optimum conditions to start a family in a globalized bla bla bla he killed a man once. He was fourteen. He had a hole in his head.
You do too. Everyone does.