8.05.2005

philosophical homeless guys

When I was in high school I was obsessed with homeless people. A disproportionate amount of my fiction included one or more homeless characters. More specifically, it included articulate, philosophical homeless guys. It was my archetype. Other fiction had the "noble savage" or the "prostitute with a heart of gold;" I had the "philosophical homeless guy." The ones I spent the most time with were Virgil, Harry, and Eli. Harry was sort of a gay Patch Adams; Eli was a sensitive guitar player. They would not have fit in with the crowd in the parking lot of the Rainbow Foods on University.

The only real homeless person I've gotten to know was a guy named Paul who spent most of his time in the bookstore where I used to work. Paul had a ratty knit cap that he wore twelve months out of the year. He pulled a rolling suitcase behind him, and he kept a small notebook in the pocket of his old Army jacket. He was trying to teach himself to read by picking random words and asking the bookstore employees to spell them for him.

One day he wanted me to spell "tuxedo" for him. I took the notebook and wrote tuxedo. He squinted at it. "No," he said. "Tuxedo."

"That's what that says," I told him. "Tuxedo."

Paul shook his head, jabbing his finger at the word. "Tuck. Seedo."

"Oh," I said. I got it. "No, it's one word. Tuxedo. See?" I showed him where in the word each syllable went.

He squinted at it some more, took his notebook, and shuffled off, mumbling "Tuck, seedo, tuck. Seedo." A little later I saw him with one of my coworkers, presumably looking for someone to make it into two words for him.

Anyway, I had forgotten my philosophical homeless guy by then, and even if I hadn't, my mind probably would have been changed by the drunk I found inside my apartment building one evening, passed out against my front door so that I couldn't open the door without him falling into my kitchen-- if not him, the cluster of people sitting on the curb behind the bus stop rocking back and forth and muttering, or the old lady that tried to hit me with her shopping cart as I walked past, or the fellow I saw pissing on the Coke machine outside the check-cashing store.

But look what I just found - an actual philosophical homeless guy! Apparently this guy got some media attention a few years ago when it was discovered that there was an articulate homeless person keeping a blog from the computers at the local library. He's been blogging for about three years, and he makes his living by KNITTING.

So to all the people that told me my philosophical homeless guys weren't believable characters:

4 Comments:

Blogger Sascha said...

that's just an awesome image.

8/05/2005 3:20 PM  
Blogger annie said...

what, the smiley? or the homeless guy knitting? the smiley is from websmileys.

8/05/2005 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Dan I. said...

You must see the movie "Barfly" - a classic rendition of your homeless hero.

8/06/2005 8:44 PM  
Blogger annie said...

Nate pointed out that long before I found the knitting guy's blog, he had told me about a book called Travels With Lisbeth, which was a memoir by a philosophical homeless guy about, well, being a philosophical homeless guy. Lisbeth was the dog, much like Charley of the Steinbeck book. So Nate gets credit too.

8/09/2005 3:49 PM  

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