It is a bright Sunday morning and I am writing this on paper from a picnic table in a grassy area near a creek with beavers in it. I can hear the creek flow behind me. I am not facing the creek, as most people would be if they were sitting here. I mean, who willingly sits with their back to a creek or river or bay of the ocean?
I am today. I chose this unconventional arrangement so I could sit and write while watching a homeless man and his dog living in a Honda SUV parked on a street under a towering cedar 50 feet away.
He’s been living this way for months. Always the same spot under the cedar. I think the dog is new because I’ve never seen it before and I walk or bicycle past here four or five times a week. I have seen him outside his car several times, talking to an older woman who lives in the big house next to the street where he parks. He parks on the side of her house, not in front. I caught a drift of their conversation one time, and it was something about if he needed water.
I saw the man barbecuing at eight in the morning on the Fourth of July, which is an odd time to be barbecuing, but especially on the Fourth of July. I didn’t celebrate the Fourth of July. This man living in a car did if barbecuing on the Fourth of July constitutes a celebration. I think it does.
What is one to make of that? It occurs to me that to truly make sense of the homeless issue requires the art of a great novelist, not a crusader, cop, preacher, sociologist, politician or quack therapist. Yes, it will take a great novelist with a massive scope of American life. It will take a new Dostoevsky and it can’t possibly be written in the first person. I need the novelist telling this unfathomable story to know everything and reveal to the reader why there are foosball tables in some of the homeless encampments.
Wouldn’t that kind of revelation demand the novelist too conduct extensive research? Did Dostoevsky conduct any research? I doubt it. He was his own research.
It’s a nice car, in fact, spotless on the outside. There isn’t a scrap of garbage around the car. The man, Black, somewhat elderly, has a nice face that clearly isn’t ravaged by drugs, insanity or living outdoors for a long time.
I am watching his face right now as I write this and thinking of something Rilke wrote when he was watching a poor elderly woman place her face into her open hands as she stood on a street corner in Paris, “When poor people are thinking, they shouldn’t be disturbed. Perhaps their idea will still occur to them.”
Does this hold true for homeless people? I have seen such people in the same condition as the woman Rilke described.
I try imagining this man’s life or future. What does he do all day? And what about the dog’s life? What did they do when it hit 115 degrees?
Why do I wait in such anticipation at this picnic table to see how he walks and walks with his dog, which are two different things? What do they sound like together? You can tell a lot about someone by eavesdropping on their conversations with their pets. Perhaps everything about someone.