Soup and Hamburgers

Robert is walking on the other side of the street, peering at me through his good eye. (Through his good eye, rather than with his good eye, because when he looks at me from that far away I get the sense of being looked at from behind a telescope. It’s as if he felt that if he were to blink or lose focus, he might not be able to find me again.) I wave to acknowledge that I see him and he slows down, then stops.

He turns his head, keeping me in sight, as I cross the street. When I reach him, I ask, “How are you.”

He says the usual, “I’m hanging in there.”

“Do you have a place to stay these days?”

“No. I was staying at Angela’s, Linda’s sister. But she’s out of town for a late Christmas thing. She’s taking care of her mom who has diabetes – just like my mom.”

“That’s too bad.”

“I guess I should watch out. It’s supposed to run in the family.”

“Uh huh.”

“Say, I wonder if you could loan me five dollars. I’d like to go over to the coffee shop for a cup of coffee and some donuts. That’s what I want. I’d really like some donuts.”

“You know, you should eat better. You should get some soup or something like that.” I stop to think of something that he’d be more likely to eat, “Or if not soup, I don’t know . . . hamburgers. You’ll be less likely to get diabetes if you eat better.” I half made that up. I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

“I didn’t realize that. I’ll have to think about that. Ok. Soup and hamburgers.

He’s trying to repeat my words so that I’ll understand that he’ll consider my advice. But he’s not really worried about his health or about piecing together money for a week’s rent at the dumpy hotel. He’s busy thinking about filling his stomach and passing a couple of hours’ time. How could there be a this week or a this year when it’s always this afternoon.

Look the Other Way

There were two men up ahead on the sidewalk chatting. I was walking up the hill toward them. One of them was a homeless man who I’ve seen around a lot – a drinker. I didn’t recognize the second man until he turned toward me a bit. It was Ernie, an old coworker who I’d last seen a few months ago. His face looked permanently fallen and serious. Ernie didn’t look straight at me, but he saw me even though I was still a good distance away. When I got closer he abandoned his companion in mid-sentence and walked up the hill away from both of us. He stopped several steps ahead and pretended to look out over the freeway. I passed the homeless man as he turned to shuffle his way up toward Ernie and started to muster a hello, carefully measuring out a level of greeting that he’d be least uncomfortable with. But he was pretending to look out over the freeway now, watching me from the corner of his bloodshot eyes. He was trying to make himself as small as possible. We were on an overpass, so there was nowhere for him to retreat to, no way to avoid me. I withheld my wave, pocketed my hand, and walked on.

“When spelled with an ‘e'”

I couldn’t resist posting another Nicholson Baker quote, since it ties into a couple of recurring Bean-themes, tea and the spelling of the word gray. This is from A Box of Matches:

“The dawn sky is now visible: the snow is a very light blue rather than a grey. Yes, grey with an e – that’s one of those English spellings that I accept (aeroplane isn’t bad either), and not just because I learned to read it on the boxes of Earl Grey tea that my mother had. When spelled with an e, grey half hides the wide, crude sound of the a behind the obscuring mists of the e. It’s rare for a one-syllable word to have so much going on.”

A Box of Matches

“You notice something, some particular quality of the slush at the side of the road . . . or something, . . . anything. You notice it a few times down in the lizard brain area. And then it’s only the third or forth time that you notice it, that it feels as if you’re noticing it. Seeing something again and again is essential to noticing something for the first time in a strange way.”
Nicholson Baker, profiled on All Things Considered

The same page also includes two one-minute clips of Baker reading from his new book, A Box of Matches and there’s another excerpt on Random House’s page.

Less Than a Penny

The heads side of the penny has been wiped clean by white and green patterns of oxidation. “Liberty”, Lincoln, and the year are completely obscured. Actually, if it’s held up to the light, you can barely make out a few shapes – Lincoln’s collar and the shape of his forehead and nose. The the outer edge of the tails side is even more heavily corroded, you can still clearly read the larger words off the tails side. (“United States of America”, “One Cent”.) There’s an area in the middle that’s clean and shiny – the pillars and steps of the Lincoln Memorial emerging from a green and brown fog.

The Right Threads

He’s turning heads. Matching leopard-spot shirt and pants, leather jacket painted metallic gold, gray cap, new green Chuck Taylor’s, dancing dancin’ the last few steps across the street. He can’t be more than seven years old. He passes by. Written across the back of his jacket it says, “Elvis Lives!”

Rain Shadow

It’s raining lightly at the corner where I’m waiting to cross the street. You would hardly even call it rain actually. It’s barely a sprinkle. The interesting thing is that the sidewalk is dry, the rain is only hitting the street. (I look up at the office towers around me to verify that it’s not actually just water falling several stories from window washers’ buckets.) The light changes and I walk over the crosswalk, through the sprinkling rain. I reach the sidewalk on the other side where, it turns out, the rain isn’t falling either.

I head into the store and select a couple of t-shirts. While waiting in line to pay, I watch a shadow that’s being cast against the translucent window from outside. It’s the profile of a woman. All of her features are obscured, all I can tell is that she has a short ponytail. She stands in the same place the entire time I’m in line, at one point pulling the shadow of a cellphone out from somewhere and talking into it for a minute.

When I get outside again, the weather conditions are identical to the way they were when I went inside. The street is being hit by something less than a drizzle – the sidewalks are dry. This little micro-weather system hasn’t moved an inch. (I check for window washers again.)

I wait at the corner for the light to change. I’m walking back in the direction I came from. Across the street, where I waited for the light earlier, I see a man who I’ve seen around before. Usually he stands silently outside the Bon Marche, hiding behind dark glasses, holding up copies of The Watchtower and Awake. It looks like he just came off-duty, he’s carrying the little leather portfolio that he stashes his magazines in and he seems more relaxed than usual. He’s laughing with a couple of people. They’re strangers – when the light changes they all walk into the crosswalk at different paces taking diverging paths. I walk into the crosswalk, through the light rain, and out onto the other side.

None of My Business

There were seals flopping around in Elliot Bay while I was down their today. They were splashing around and making so much noise that for a moment, before I had a good look, I thought they might be orcas. They were swimming back and forth, floating on their backs and waving their flippers in the air, jumping up out of the water, turning somersaults, and just generally making a ruckus. Very unusual – in the past all of the seals I’ve seen in Elliot Bay have been pretty sedate, only surfacing long enough to catch a quick breath before heading back underwater to catch some fish.

At one point the seals were only about ten yards away from the pier and I was walking alongside them trying to get a good photo. They stopped short and one of them looked up at me – his face was bigger and fuller than I’d expected. I’m anthropomorphizing here, but the expression on his face seemed to be saying something along the lines of, “What the hell do you think you’re looking at?”

I was mulling this over a few minutes ago, when I was posting today’s Horizon photo, and it dawned on me. I did a quick Google-search that, had I landed on someone’s weblog, would have been borderline-eligible for Disturbing Search Requests. My suspicion was confirmed. It’s mating season. Oops. Sorry, guys. I’ll leave you alone next time.

The Turf

The Turf, a remarkable seedy little dive down by Pike Place Market, is being pushed out of its space by its landlords. (A number of low income housing units in the same building will most likely also be cleared out soon as well.) There’s something about that place, I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s unnerving.

The fragments I’ve been piecing together don’t really do the place justice. To really fill out the picture, read the hard-boiled portrait of an evening at the Turf that the Stranger published a couple of years ago along with this more balanced obituary of the Turf’s former owner from Real Change.

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