I was a bit surprised when I heard the knock at the front door. Usually when anybody even walks down the sidewalk in front of the house, the eight legged security force makes such a racket I can’t hear the knocker, but this time they just went to the door and stood there quietly. Out of habit, I opened the door carefully, but more to keep them in than keep the visitor out. I don’t worry all that much about visitors, not with the deterrent of 150 pounds of dog at my back.
We get a fair number of panhandlers on our street, but this fellow was a bit different. He didn’t start off with a long tale of needing money for diapers, or to put gas in his cousin’s car so he could go get his own car “just a way down the highway”. He just said he was hungry and asked if I could help him out. I appreciated the simple story. I made sure to grab both collars before I invited him in and brought him out to the sunporch. I thought about crating the dogs, but they seemed fine with him, and I was also cautious enough to want to keep them in reserve.
The best I could do on such short notice was a tuna fish sandwich, but he seemed happy with that. After a while, I asked him where he was headed. That seemed like a polite way to find out more about him. He told me he was just traveling around, seeing what he could see with no particular destination in mind.
“Are you visiting family along the way?” I asked.
“No, not really. My family situation is, well, kind of complicated.”
Having had a few family “complications” of my own in the past, I didn’t press him.
He went on, “I do have a lot of folks who say they’re my friends, though. I’ve been trying to look some of them up.”
As we talked, I began to get a strange feeling that he seemed to be somehow familiar to me.
Finally I said, “You know, I guess this sounds strange, but I’m getting the feeling that I used to know you.”
“You did,” he replied, “but then you got annoyed with some of my other friends and we kind of grew apart.”
That was a bit more intense than I thought my vague feelings warranted, but I was the one who had brought it up, so I couldn’t really complain.
“And to tell you the truth, I really don’t blame you. I’ve learned a lot on this trip. Some of the folks who claim to be my best friends don’t seem all that happy to see me. I guess they don’t recognize me at first since I don’t travel with an entourage and don’t dress all that well. The sandals seem to raise a lot of suspicions for some reason. And if I get past the dress code and they begin to figure out who I am, each group of friends seems most interested in my opinion of other friends, wanting me to declare the other groups to be wrong about stuff. Some folks get pretty hostile about it.”
“And the thing is all these arguments are trivial! Last time I was here I tried to keep things simple. Everything really important I ever said would fit on a standard 3 x 5 index card, a 5 x 8 if you write sloppy.”
“You don’t need a 5 story library to tell people to be nice to each other and take care of folks who need help! Some of my ‘friends’ seem to spend all their time trying to find exceptions, to set aside people they don’t have to respect or look after. I guess some things never change.”
He sat back in his chair and tried to calm down. “And it’s mostly the noisy ones that act like that. The people who do what they should are pretty much invisible. But I can see them.”We stayed quiet for a while. I was having trouble dealing with the idea that he might actually be who I suspected he was. It’s not something you deal with every day. But he was still bothered.
“If you’re looking to bring people in, does it make any sense to put up a lot of no trespassing signs and threats to tow their cars? Do we care more about real estate than people?”
After a few more minutes of silence he stood up. “Thank you very much for the meal. I’ve never seen fish in a foil pouch like that. It looks very convenient. But I’ve got to be moving on.”
I really didn’t want him to leave, and I told him we could easily put him up for the night. He said, “No, thanks. I’ve heard there are a lot of folks camped out under the Talmadge Bridge, and I think that’s where I belong. But I’ve enjoyed talking to you.”
I offered to give him a ride, if he really wanted to go to the camps, but he thought walking would be more appropriate. He shook my hand and headed for the door. He petted the dogs on the way out, and they didn’t bark as he went down the sidewalk. He turned and waved halfway down the block.