It’s all right, man.
I’m only bleeding, man.
Stay hungry, stay free,
And do the best you can.
— the prophet brian fallon
I’m sitting on the curb by the bar next to the newspaper, listening to a band while I wait for Mo to pick me up after work. It’s a little after midnight.
“Hey! You can’t sit there. There’s a city ordinance against sitting next to a fire hydrant.”
I’m tired. I don’t want to play. I reluctantly look up from my steady stare at the street. He’s a scruffy guy, jeans and plaid flannel shirt, battered sneakers. 40-ounce malt liquor and a baseball cap.
“You got me,” I offer. “Maybe let me off with a warning?”
“OK, Chief, but next time I’m taking you in.”
We laugh. He throws himself down on the curb next to me.
He’s been in town for 3 1/2 weeks, landing in Corpus Christi because it’s warm, even though he’s a Lubbock boy and has no idea what he’s doing here.
He’s living on the streets downtown, the neighborhood of choice for the discriminating homeless guy. He says he has been arrested three times since arriving. He isn’t specific about exactly what for, although one of them involved a sissy boy and a crosswalk. I nod knowingly even as I’m totally baffled.
He just got out of prison after seven years. He’s here because he is 54 and doesn’t think he has long to live, so this seems as good a place to finish it off as any. I nod.
He tells me he got beaten up by three punks a couple of days ago, and they took his money and his ID. He doesn’t care much about the money, but it’s impossible to replace the ID. If he were in Lubbock, he’d know where to go. This building for some card, that one for another. Here? No idea.
Three women walk past. He asks if I think they’re professionals. I think to myself they’re hardly wearing business suits, or much of anything else, and then realize. Oh. I don’t know, I say meekly. His eyes turn sad. “I wouldn’t even know how to act around a lady that pretty,” he says. It suddenly feels cold on the curb.
He says he’s staying at a Dumpster at the end of the street. He asks me where I’m staying. Huh? Uh, I have an apartment, I reply.
“You’re not a hobo?” he asks skeptically. I ask him why he thought that. “Well, you were just sitting on a curb here, and then I saw your shoes.” He’s looking at the old Piranhas I wear at work. “Those are the kind of shoes they give out at the shelter.” He scrutinizes my beaten-down racing flats for a few seconds, then looks up again. “You’re sure you’re not a hobo?”
I think of the Cheryl Strayed incident in “Wild” where she argues with a reporter for the Hobo Times over whether she is a hobo or a hiker and what exactly the distinction is between the two. Here I am, sitting on a curb with Bob. We both are wearing old baseball caps, battered jeans and flannel shirts. We both have frazzled sneakers and unkempt hair. We’re about the same age. Our lives just took different turns at some fork in the road. And still, our lives both led here.
I tell him I’m pretty sure I’m not a hobo, but at times it seems like it wouldn’t be a bad way to live. He nods approvingly. I guess it’s just a matter of respect. I have always had a soft spot for stray cats. They’re survivors.
I ask him if he’s tried the clump of trees along Shoreline Drive that seems to be a good spot for homeless guys to sleep. His eyes turn dark. That’s where he got beat up. He says he went to the hospital yesterday to get his elbows worked on. He should have taken his antibitics an hour ago but suspects they will be no match for a bloodstream full of Steel Reserve. “You don’t believe I’m hurt? Look!” He shows me his elbows. Yikes. I believe.
We talk about Lubbock and how different it is here. He can’t get used to it. I tell him I’m from San Angelo and I feel the same way. His eyes light up again. He asks if I know a guy named Garcia. He used to drive a truck for him back when he had a job a long time ago and thinks he may live there. I tell him maybe. He seems satisfied. But I admit I lived in Arizona for a long time. He says he has never left Texas. Never needed to. And now I’m here, he says, his voice trailing off.
My $500 phone rings. Mo is parked two spaces down and fears she is watching me die in slow motion. I stand up and tell him I have to go. He asks if I could spare a quarter. I give him 55 cents, all I have on me. He asks what the hell he’s going to do with 55 cents. I think about asking for the additional 30 cents back. He shrugs and laughs and tosses his empty Steel Reserve can into a nearby bush.
We pat each other on the back, a reluctant hobo handshake of sorts, and I ask him to be careful out there. He laughs again. Like that’s possible.
Mo and I drive away toward our home.
He walks away toward his.
Just a couple of guys in hobo shoes …