Wednesday, January 31, 2007

James Robert Orville

The sign read:
A bearded middle-aged man, with sallow eyes, and beady pupils, knit cap on his head, cracked hands, dirty finger nails, stood at the traffic light. I couldn't look at him much. Only a small container of goldfish cracker crumbs lay on the tray-table in the front of our van. Not worth handing over. I prefer not to give money. No telling where it will end up.

The light was red. He stood just feet away. He is a human being, I thought. I rolled down the window, and asked if he'd eat a burger. He was numb, stumblingly incomprehending. I asked again, and said I'd get him a burger and bring it back. He mumbled something about putting a lot of arsenic on it.

I drove on, to Staples to buy some colored printer paper for flyers for my [longitudinal project] (damn it, I'm going to get subjects one way or another!). I looked for Nutrigrain bars at the store. Perhaps something he could store in his pockets would be better. Nothing but candy and pretzels.

I drove to the Jack in the Box, and bought a breakfast sandwich, drove down the block, parked. I grabbed an audio recorder, and the sandwich bag, then walked to the corner. Hey, buddy, buddy... take a break, I brought you a sandwich. He nearly dashed into traffic before I warned of oncoming cars.

He walked, and sat with me on a bus bench. I asked if I could record him. Let's just say that part of my research entails listening to people talk. Why not do a kindness and get some potential research done at the same time. He wasn't so dumbfounded and wary this time. I suppose it's like unexpectedly hearing a language you speak; though you understand the words, you're not sure you heard aright. He replied to my inquiry: I wrote a poem... back in 1992, in a cemetery in Denver. Want to hear it.

I listened, and recorded. Much road noise. Don't know if the recording will give me much. I sat for 14 minutes, watching him shake while he ate. His breath smelled of stale alcohol. But, he was human. A bit worse for the wear, for sure. Didn't learn much about him, not enough to fill out the story of why he went from earning $980/week driving trucks and working on a farm in Iowa to subsisting on 80 cents a day (and I wasn't pan-handling... I'd find it under soda machines and the like).

He said: thanks for the sandwich.

I shook his hand and replied: Everyone deserves to eat, buddy, everyone deserves to eat.

And I meant it.


Lilian said...

Such a moving story.
Reminds me of the time when I was a child in Brazil. It was close to Christmas and we were walking back home from Christmas shopping one night and there was this boy sleeping in front of a store, under the awning. My mom was so moved that we took him home, gave him food, a bath and a warm place to sleep for the night (not that it was cold, it was summertime). His name was Paulinho. Yeah, maybe I should blog this sometime. Next Christmas perhaps.

Oh, and we never gave money out to the many people who came knocking and begging for food or money at our homes in São Paulo, Brazil. We stocked on cornmeal, and gave that. Some children became regulars even. So sad.

What Now? said...

Your mitzvah for the day. Blessings to you and to him.