I took a walk on a hot afternoon. Book Chat Man Mark was sitting on the shaded sidewalk near the convenience store—his usual spot to read, drink malt liquor and hold court with his friends. It is also the place where I routinely engage him about the book he is currently reading, including, recently, one of mine, The Great Birthright. He said he loved it.
There Mark was drinking his customary malt liquor and talking to three other homeless men. One sat near Mark. The other two stood. The sitting man was drinking a fifth of Old Crow. Presumably, he was sharing the bottle with the two standing men because it was half gone. Or maybe he was drinking the whole damn thing himself.
Mark greeted me warmly. I asked him if he’d spent the $20 gift certificate to the local bookstore I’d given him in appreciation for his reading my novel.
He had not. He was saving it and going to give his female friend first crack at it. She had her eye on a special Bible at the store.
Mark introduced me to his friends as The Author and they reacted like I was famous. He obviously had told them about me and finding my book in a street library and then me seeing him reading it while he waited to redeem cans and bottles.
The five of us then embarked on a very spirited conversation about the merits of finding random books in street libraries. Mark said he just knew that in the very near future he was going to find one that was going to change his life. I told him I feel like that all the time.
At some point, I was tempted to ask Mark and the men about their journeys to this sidewalk, but the timing didn’t seem right. Perhaps another time. Perhaps never. I still feel strange broaching this subject in the context of being a writer interested in their journeys. Mark seems like a born storyteller so I may need to get over it. Maybe pay or barter for his time.
I had to go. The men said goodbye and called me brother.
Oh really? Then why wasn’t I offered a belt off the Old Crow? We’re all literary men, right?