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September 17, 2004

Outside the Hyatt

He was there again yesterday. I hadnt seen him for a while.

In January, his gentle response to my ignoring him shamed me. Id made it a point to stop and talk to him since, hand him a dollar or two in change, ask him how things were or talk about the parrots in the adjacent park. There was something about his unobtrusiveness, that as clean as you can get on the streets look, his soft answers to callous people like myself, that softened my heart to him. I was glad to see him again.

Hey, where you been? I havent seen you for a while. He turned slowly, unsteadily, in response. His eyes were dulled. He looked as though the air had been let out of him. He didnt recognize me for thirty seconds.

And then he did. Oh, hi. Yeah, I was on the wagon for a while back there, but I fell off again. He hadnt shaved in a few days. He had a whitish patch at the corner of his mouth where something had dried and begun to flake away. None of the brightness of spirit of which Id grown fond showed through. His slight frame bent under an intangible weight. He was beaten.

Do you have a place where you can get help when you decide to?

Yeah, Im signed up for a program. Ive been trying to get them on the phone today, but I cant get through.

I pointed to his Starbucks cup, the universal symbol of San Francisco mendicancy. As Id reached him, Id reflexively put all the change I had in there today, about four dollars in quarters. Well, youve got some change for the phone there now. He looked dully at the coins.

My hand on his shoulder. I really hope you can get it together, man. Youre a good guy. His eyes were moist as he looked up. The bottom fell out of me. I hugged him, he hugged back hard. I teared up too, and we said goodbye looking at our feet as the tourists and attorneys coming out of the Hyatt gave us sidelong glances.

Posted by Chris Clarke at September 17, 2004 01:41 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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No wonder you were feeling grateful for that girl in the next post.

A woman was begging outside a deaprtment store here, downtown, on Friday night. Her eyes met mine; she was my age, and looked sort of the same, actually. I had all my money in my knapsack, and my bicycle helmet in my other hand, but when I had gotten around the corner, I stopped and told J. I had to go back. "Oh!" she said, when she saw me and my outstretched hand. "You came back! Thank you, sweetheart, thank you so much!" I looked at her directly and wished her good luck; it was one of those meetings like yours where both people know there's been a bigger exchange than money. Her eyes followed me as I turned and went back; at the corner I looked back at her, and she called again, "thank you so much!" I took a long minute getting my bicycle gear back on, because I had to wait for the tears to clear up. I hope your guy gets it together too. Let us know, OK?

Posted by: beth at September 18, 2004 10:50 AM
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we are all human beings trying to do the best we can. i wonder how often these people are touched in such a human manner.

Posted by: Anne at September 21, 2004 09:37 AM
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