Thursday, June 2, 2011
Conversations With the Homeless
by Brendan Cavanagh
A few days ago, my friend and I were restless sitting at home so we decided to take a walk on the Old State Capitol Square downtown. We walked for a bit, then sat down on a bench and talked. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a homeless man meandering sloppily across the way, and feared he would most likely approach us. My suspicions were realized when he did, in fact, walk up to us. He looked like a thinner Zach Galifianakis with a baseball cap on, and his face and hands were so tanned and caked in dirt that he appeared at first glance and from a distance to be of ethnic descent. In his left hand he pinched between his thumb and forefinger the butt of a fast-extinguishing cigarette. Immediately I began conceiving a number of believable excuses I would soon employ in order to get us out of there quickly, as he started to speak:
Homeless man: I love walking around this place 'cause it's so historical, man, you know? Like, it's so interesting, man.
Brendan: Yes, it is rich with history. I love walking around here too.
Homeless man: Yeah! You get it, man. Oh hey, I'm Paulie.
He first shook my friend's hand, then turned to me expectantly with the same hand outstretched, yet I kept my hands to myself for fear of catching a virus.
Brendan: Sorry, I have a cold, but I'm Brendan.
Paulie (pinching his nose and speaking nasally): Oh yeah, alright. I'm Brendan! Hahaha.
Brendan (pulling out a used tissue from my pocket): I have a cold, man...
Paulie: Ah, don't worry about it. I'm sort of a comedian, man, like...
He proceeded to tell an incomprehensible joke, then ran about ten feet away and back, laughing proudly at his alleged talent. At this point, I became too mysteriously intrigued by the conversation to walk away, and kept listening.
Paulie: No, but I'm forty-two years old. I had a wife and two kids, but I fucked around on my wife and lost her and my kids, my house...my job.
David: That's tough.
Brendan: Hey that's alright, I can't even get the girls that I want!
Paulie (realizing he couldn't use an emotional appeal to influence us to contribute money): Yeah, well...I'm sort of a jack-of-all-trades, too. Hey you got to be careful down here, man. You can't really trust all the homeless people that hang out here, you know. But there are some people I've sort of become friends with. Like, there's this one woman who sits on that bench over there. She's kind of...(twirling his finger around his ear)-
Brendan: Uh, schizophrenic.
Paulie: -and she just sits all day and talks to herself, man, you know, like...but she doesn't even talk, really. She just hums all day to herself, like. And I'll go over and sit down and talk to her, but she just hums, like HUMMMM, you know. But she'll talk to me man, like we'll sort of talk sometimes. I should probably take her back to my house for a meal and someplace to sleep. but I can't do that, you know. I mean, I could. But what if she's like fuckin'...!
And he stepped back and violently thrust his arm back and forth as if stabbing someone, coming very close to punching my friend in the face.
Brendan: Yeah, you've got to be careful.
Paulie: Yeah, man.
He looked sideways at the tree he stood beside, which was covered on one side with neon-green moss.
Paulie: Hey, wouldn't it suck to have that on your pecker?
Paulie: Man, they're coming out with new STDs every day, man, it's like...man, it's scary, there are so many STDs. I remember, like, in school, they were, like, coming out with a new one every day...
Brendan: Yeah man, we got them all at once at school. They showed us a Powerpoint slideshow with pictures of all of them, it was awful.
Paulie: Ohh yeah, those were so gross.
Brendan: Yeah, it was disgusting. But nowadays, schools are more concerned about the rising prevalence of sexting in grade schools, man.
Brendan: Yeah, sexting's become a prominent concern with grade-school kids.
Paulie: Wait, what? What's sexting?
Brendan: They're writing these inappropriate texts to each other during classes.
Paulie: Is that like someone saying, "Hey, do you want to meet me after school and suck my cock?"
Brendan: Uh, yeah, sort of. And like, sending pictures of themselves naked to each other.
Paulie: Oh man, wow.
At this point, there was a pause in the conversation as David and I looked at each other and non-verbally decided it was time to bid Paulie farewell. David stood up and I said to Paulie that we had to get going. I had planned on asking David if he was ready for dinner, but I feared Paulie might try to invite himself over, so I left out our reasons for leaving.
Paulie: Well hey, it was nice meeting you guys. I'm around here most days, you know, just walking around.
Brendan: Yeah, we'll definitely look out for you.
Paulie: Hey, do either of you guys have forty-six cents so I can buy a smoke?
David: I don't have any change.
Brendan: Uh yeah, I think I may have a dime. Here you go.
Paulie: Oh thank, man. Now I need thirty-six cents and then I can get a cigarette!
Brendan: Well it was nice meeting you Paulie, but we should probably get going.
Paulie: Oh hey!
He extended both arms in order to simultaneously fist bump both David and I, and we each reluctantly grazed our knuckles over his, noticing their delightful rainbow of grime and disease.
Paulie: See ya!
In a state of shock, the two of us walked away, making a right turn and taking a roundabout route back to the car, hoping Paulie wouldn't follow us. We both stated that that was the most bizarre encounter either of us had been involved in, but we agreed that the conversation was, strangely, rather enriching. We felt like we sort of had an intellectually stimulating conversation, even if it was with a homeless man. As we walked quickly down the block, we touched upon our favorite points of the conversation, laughing our heads off at the fact that I had just explained sexting to a homeless man. Before we reached the streetlight, another apparent homeless man walked passed us. He was a lanky six foot five, and his grizzled and emaciated figure sported a heavy trench coat. Afraid of being accosted by this man, who did not seem like the type to joke around and talk with, we sped up. As we crossed the street, me watching this man out of the corner of my eye in anxiety, he stopped in his tracks and yelled out to no one in particular, "Two and a half blocks that way!"
The rest of the journey back to the car was the most frightening two minutes of my life. Even scarier than when I saw the movie Darkness Falls for the first time. I expected a homeless person to jump out of every alleyway or from behind the corner of every edifice. We finally made it back to the car, subsequently speeding away with a strange mixture of terror and good humor, making sure to wash our hands immediately upon returning home.
Needless to say, I will probably say hello to Paulie next time I'm on the Old State Capitol Square, so long as it is in passing. But then again, another conversation with him could be infinitely enlightening and entertaining.