Friday, June 09, 2006

stranger encounters: Henry

I’m gonna start telling my stranger encounter stories. I don’t know what has been goin on but I seem to have been runnin into the most interesting strangers recently. Perhaps, it’s because it’s spring. Maybe it’s because I’ve finally pulled my head out of my books long enough to actually see the world I walk in. Or perhaps it is as the law enforcement people at the community meeting said last night, there is just a lot of loitering going on in the East Side this summer, linked to increased housing foreclosures, rising unemployment etc.'s to a summer of waking up and looking into the eyes of the stranger beside you.

A homeless man introduced himself to me and offered me a cigarette last Sunday morning. I had walked to the park for some fresh air and solitude. It was early. I couldn’t sleep due to the adrenaline high from the previous day. I was sitting in the grass next to the manmade babbling brook as the sun levitated off the horizon.

He had been standing next to his bicycle weighed down with an awkwardly large garbage bag of essentials, I suppose. He came over to where I was sitting under a tree and asked if my name was Brenda. He asked if I knew of an Amy, Greta, Rachel or Rebecca. I told him, “no.” He asked me if I was native American. I said, “no.” He was drinking water out of a reused orange juice bottle filled with dill pickle spears. He wore a construction helmet and gloves with the fingers cut off. He was courteous but had an instructive tone in his voice as he told me about my neighborhood, the name of which he got off the t-shirt I was wearing. He told me about the Ford Plant… “Now let me tell you something about their product: wasteless, wireless, smokeless, paperless, engineless, fruitless, potless, workless…” By then a middle aged blue collar had taken it upon himself to walk by and interrupt. “You are a no good piece of (expletive), he said, addressing the homeless guy. “I know what you are up to,” he insisted. The two men start to argue loudly, each attempting to out talk the other. The early morning risers start to stare our direction. I tell the blue collar, “Thank you and I’m fine, however, I would rather enjoy the morning without arguing and I was holding my own.” The blue collar seemed satisfied and moved on.

I ask the homeless man what he will be doing today. He told me he’ll be hanging out a bit longer until the churches open up. I thanked him for the good conversation and walked back home. He was pleasant. He was generous: he offered me a cigarette. He asked me what I wanted for breakfast, although all we could pursue was an imaginative wish feast. I asked him his name. His name was Henry.


Blorge said...

I have seen people say horrible things to homeless people. I remember the time when you and me (and a whole bunch of Misso Dei peeps) went downtown to see V is for Vendetta and as we awaited the lightrail some guy came up to us and we all (except for you) gave him some spare change and he thanked us for treating him nicely. Just earlier I had seen two college students cuss him out when he came up to them. People come up to me all the time asking for money and if I have change, I give it to them. I usually just think of it as getting rid of it, rather than making some grandiose humanitarian deed.

espíritu paz said...

Thanks for the continued spiritual abuse. I suppose I'll let you give them money. I'll give them conversation. I've been seriously rethinking what to give the homeless. Paul and Silas didn't give silver and gold--they didn't have it. They gave something else instead.

Not that people shouldn't give money--but rather I've wondered, symbolically, what message is given when I hand over a handful of change and pocket lint. I'm thinking maybe saying, Hey, I've got this tuna salad that I made fresh this morning with cachews and a bit of cilantro and here's some fresh rosemary bread to put it on. Everybody loves my salad but I don't care, I wanted you to have it--there will be more than enough food at the party.