I was working one day, waiting for a vintage store to open on Hollywood Blvd. As I waited I saw across the street a man, grey hair and beard, in his sixties.He had crutches, his right leg was amputated at the knee.His clothes, jeans and a white t-shirt were dirty.He had no shoes.
He laid the crutches off to the side and pulled a rag and a bottle of cleaner out of a small bag.He started to drag himself along the block, stopping at each star to clean them.As people passed, tourists and others, they stared or ignored.One man appeared to be talking to him, then started taking photographs.
Watching this my first reaction was that of great sadness.There is no doubt in my mind, living on the street is the harshest of realities.The inhumanity and inequity of such an existence is the sharpest and cruelest knife life can stab with.
I wondered how he lost his leg…was it in Vietnam, was it because of diabetes, gangrene and no medical insurance?Did he have a family?Did they know he was alive?Did they simply give up on him?
All the while, he scuttled himself with a serpentine agility and grace, from one star to the next, tirelessly rubbing and cleaning.Rubbing and cleaning.And smiling, not the crazed smile of a man insane but dare I say, a joyfulness. It was then I began to see something quite unexpected.This man, despite his plight in life, had created for himself a sense of purpose.He was a man on a mission.He was giving his life meaning in a world of chaos.He wasn’t going to idly endure the suffering and hardship of being homeless.He gave himself a job.
There was no cup.No hand reaching out for money.
From that tattered and torn tapestry of what was his reality, he held with great devotion his last shred of dignity.
Hi, Flying Lotus! Nice evocation of a slice of existence hard to imagine. On my block in NYC there are homeless men. Unfortunately, their only present occupation seems to be drinking and getting deposit money for the cans they pick up (a service to be sure). They then take the money and spend it on lotto in a lotto store just around the corner. ON the corner is a liquor store. Oh, and across the street is the can return machine.
A perfect ecosystem actually.
Sounds like the only missing piece of the puzzle is a pay toilet beside the liquor store that accepts cans and bottles as payment.
Hence the ecosystem’s eventual extinction as heralded by soiled trousers spelling Darwinian doom.
However, the new ephemeral nature of the ecosytem’s final days will find its avant garde expression in a new art form called “Symphony of Stink”. The homeless will be saluted as performance artists, and written about in blogs such as this one.
Wha’? You don’t think the guy cleaning the stars is a performance artist of a sort?
I can tell you about a diminutive yet rabid homeless woman with a beautiful dark brown complexion, who would wear a tight white cashmere sweater, voluminous white crinolines and white ski boots with the top buckles undone. Oh, the way she glided and clicked on the sidewalk. The added advantage was, the ski boots made her gravitationally more slow so her drug-addled mind wouldn’t cause her to suddenly lunge. Now, if that ain’t performance art I don’t know WHAT is!
Thanks for the kind words, your vigilance and the link, KQuark.
It took a while to work up the courage but I felt a sense of honor and privilege to have born witness to this man, if only a snapshot.The responsibility of telling what I saw out weighed any fears I had of publishing.
Thanks much to you or whomever posted the picture.
Veterans issues are very personally to me. My older brother is a Vietnam vet and I see the toll it still takes on him and on our family. He still will not got to the VA for anything because of the resentment he holds with the military. Both my parents are Korean War vets and several uncles were WWII vets so those roots go deep. I was literally the first one in my family to be able to got to college for all their sacrifices.
I agree with KQ, really affecting piece.
We invest our passions and sense of purpose in things of our own choosing or the ones our childhoods or lives have steered us towards.
This man’s commitment to the importance of keeping the stars on the sidewalk clean, his satisfaction in accomplishing his self-imposed responsibility, is very insightful because of the banality of the act itself.
We decide for ourselves what matters and we can achieve gratification and even happiness for ourselves by being faithful to what we believe in.
It was startling.This man was the very essence, the living experience of the quote by Joseph Cambell, “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.”
It was equally powerful and humbling.
In a zen like way, your stopping to notice instead of overlooking him made it that moment.
I really appreciate your sharing this, it’s reminded me to reflect on things I’m too often distracted from thinking about.
Very moving story. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Personally I have been keeping a close eye on what the administration is doing for veterans after decades of neglect. I have been very pleased on this front because he and Shinseki are taking the lead and not shying away from the issue. I don’t know if the changes they are making in the VA will get down to this veteran anytime soon but it’s good to see real progress in that area. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is a great non-partisan group to keep up with what the administration is doing and what still needs to be done. http://iava.org/