The Sheltering Sky and Book Chat Man

Mark the Book Chat Man was stationed at his usual literary review spot—the sidewalk near the convenience store.

But today he wasn’t reading or drinking or smoking or going to stop reading, drinking or smoking to discuss books with me. He had a woman with him sitting on the sidewalk! They were holding hands! She was younger, vaguely Asian, a little squirrelly. She appeared drunk or high.

I crossed the street to say hello to Mark. He saw me and waved me over. I asked what he was reading and he dipped into his backpack and pulled out a book.

“It’s called The Sheltering Sky,” he said.

I told him I’d read it, probably 30 years ago. It was written by Paul Bowles and the novel is a modern classic and cult book.

His girlfriend said something unintelligible. He didn’t introduce me but mentioned to her that I was the Author. I told him when he’d finished reading the novel that I’d loved to discuss it with him. He said it might take him a while, but he’d up for it.

I knew I was. Mark was probably the only homeless man in America reading The Sheltering Sky on a sidewalk or in a tent or RV or plywood shanty or official shelter, and I also knew that his reading this particular novel was a partially cosmic intersection with my writing and thinking about the homeless issue. How did I know that? I just did.

As I walked, I raked through my mind to recall the novel. I did remember Debra Winger was in the movie. Or was she?

It takes place in Morocco or somewhere else in North Africa, post WW I or II and a married American couple goes on some kind trip, a caravan, and they get kidnapped or something, the man gets castrated and left behind and joins a circus of some kind, and the woman becomes a piece of property to a nomadic tribal chieftain. Or was that one of Bowles’ short stories, which I also read and marveled at because of their shattering bleakness and bizarre settings?

I could be totally wrong on the summary of the novel. I could Google it but I wanted to reread the novel before Googling it. I know it somehow will connect to this new American Diaspora I have been writing about. I don’t know how, but I sense it does.

We said our goodbyes and I walked away to go purchase the book from the local bookstore.

Shattering bleakness and bizarre settings. That sounded a lot like the homeless encampments, although both occurred in America, not far from my front door, not North Africa or Central America.