Bench Man (Part 1)

I walked the neighbor’s dog in the morning. We took our usual route through a big park with athletic fields, trees, a creek, homeless encampment and a man-made mini lake that long ago used to host the Rose Festival milk carton races, an event and a Portland that today seem like from prehistoric times.

As usual, a man was practicing his fly fishing casts from the lake. He’s there every day. Ducks floated here and there and paid him no attention.

I approached a bench that rested at the edge of the lake. Behind, it flowed the creek. All and all, a superb bench in a superb spot.

It was the same bench where I have seen an elderly black homeless man sleeping in the mornings. He was not asleep this morning. He was reading a book and drinking a tall coffee.

The dog and I stopped near him. I asked what he was reading. He smiled and showed me the cover and said it was a book about doctors. I noticed he had a pen in hand and was obviously annotating the book.

It is quite a sight to see a homeless man reading and annotating a book about doctors while sitting on a bench in such a bucolic setting. It was yet another one of those jarring juxtapositions that I seem to encounter on a daily basis and can make absolutely no sense of.

He was a fine looking, man, short hair, trimmed gray beard. He wore clean clothes His red sleeping bag was rolled up. His red rolling luggage kit rested upright near him. That was it for his possessions.

I asked him if had somewhere to cool off later. He asked me how hot it was supposed to get today. I told him 100 plus degrees. He said he’d find shade in the trees and pointed toward a grove of Douglass firs.

I remarked he traveled light. He said that was the way to live. I agreed. I had no money or book or water to give him. I was woefully unprepared to assist a homeless person when opportunity struck and I guarantee that won’t happen again and so should everyone reading this.

As we conversed, I was struck by his highly articulated speech and deliberate manner of talking. It occurred to me that he might have been some sort of professional in a former life. Or maybe not, but he radiated intelligence and there was certainly nothing deranged or addled in his face.

I told him to take care. He told me the streets would take care of him. I wasn’t sure about that, but I didn’t say anything. He did have the park and the lake and trees and ducks, though.

Later that day, or tomorrow morning, I would go looking for him and check on his status.

And yes, he would be getting one of my books. He was a reader after all!