Sidewalk Conference


26 October 2017

Lost in thought, listening to music on my ipod, I heard, “Dennis! Mate!” It wasn’t anybody I work with since they were coming from the wrong direction. Without my glasses I could barely make out the figures of a big man walking beside a small man. As they approached I recognized Bearded Bruce and Little Jake. I hadn’t seen either of them for about a month.

I reached out to shake Bruce’s hand, but he said, “I don’t want to shake your hand, come here give me a hug, brother. Don’t hug Jake, he’s contagious. Jake and I were just saying, ‘We haven’t seen Dennis for a while. We should go visit him. Have you got a minute to sit and talk?

“Sure, I said, “I’d like to catch up on news from the street.”

Bruce continued, “I’ve got cardboard for you to sit on so you don’t get your pants dirty.” We sat and Bruce put his empty paper coffee cup out for donations.

“How have you been? I asked.

Jake spoke first, “Not so good. I have a blood infection. I’m taking medication for it.

“The last time I saw you was on the bus, wasn’t it?”

“No, I was waiting for the bus and you came up to me. You weren’t feeling too well. You said, ‘I’m walking around in a fog. I don’t know where I’m going.’ ”

“Yeah, I remember that.”

I asked, “Have you seen anybody around that I would know. Does the gang still meet at the park?”

Bruce answered, “No, since Wolf died, Jacques doesn’t come around. Everybody else is dead. That sounds harsh but it’s true. Wolf mentioned to me he missed the conversations that he had with you. He didn’t like most people. I see Little Chester near the mall. He’s still annoying. It drives me crazy to be around him. The two gay guys have Wolf’s dog Shaggy. You remember them. They used to bring Wolf a half dozen eggs and a loaf of bread. They showed me a picture of Shaggy. She looks like she’s doing well.”

I asked Jake, “Do you have your furniture yet?”

“Yeah, it took two years, but I’m set now. Have you been to your cabin lately? Duck season is opening soon. Do you hunt?”

“No, I don’t hunt, but I get scared during duck season. I saw a couple of guys armed with shotguns in a boat. It looked like they were shooting at me.”

“Do you hunt?”

“No, my brother does. Since my mom died he’s living in her house. He bought my share. I don’t go there any more.”

Bruce said, “Jake and I were heading to my spot near the restaurants and bars. Here doesn’t seem to be working for us. Maybe you’re too well dressed.”

I replied, “Ted says I’m good luck for him. He always gets a few drops when I’m sitting with him.”

Bruce said, “Luck is luck. I’m superstitions. I always have my lucky penny, and bear token in my cup.”

Several colleagues from work walked past. One smiled, one frowned and the others ignored me. Bruce yelled at them, “He’s just visiting. It’s just me and Jake that are panning.”

It’s been seven years that I’ve known Bruce and Jake. I always look forward to seeing and talking with them. When I first met them they were both living in a cardboard box near the dumpsters in back of Starbuck. Now they are both housed and their alcoholism seems to be under control. Bruce limits his drinking to two beers a day. He got up and reached out his hand to help me to my feet.

I said, “I’ve got something for you.” I reached into my wallet and saw that I had two twenties. I handed one to Jake and the other to Bruce.

Bruce said, “Are you sure you can afford this? I always ask that of people. We saw Jenny last night. She had been drinking and was laughing. She reached into her pocket and pulled out some bills. She handed me a fifty. I don’t want you to think that I’d take advantage of somebody who was under the influence. I asked her, ‘Are you sure you can afford this?’ She replied, ‘Yes.’ I saw that she also had a twenty and a ten in her hand. I asked, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to give me the ten?’ ‘No, I’m sure.’ she said. So, I’m asking you again,  Are you sure you can afford this?”

It’s been quite a while since I’ve given money to any street people. They simply haven’t been around. I thought about what other things I would use that money for. Nothing of any consequence came to mind, however with it Bruce and Jake would be able to go to Bruce’s place for supper. They would have made their price for the night.  Their alternative would have been to sit on the cold sidewalk for six hours until the bars closed and the streets emptied. It gave me great pleasure to be able to have a positive effect on their lives. I consider them my closest friends and looking at Jake I didn’t know if I would see him again. I said to both of them, “I’m sure I can afford this.” We hugged and went our separate ways.


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Gotta Find a Home; Conversations with Street People

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