Sitting at the child's classroom desk I use at home, allowing my eyes to find focus where raindrops bash themselves against the screen to dissolve dirt into rivulets and make archipelagos of gritty islands against the inner glass, I think, plummet. "The rain plummets from the sky onto University Heights upon the living and the dead, the sheltered and the homeless alike." No, not alike. And the first half of the sentence is James Joyce. From "The Dead," to be precise, only it was snow in Joyce's piece. At least I know where to steal. Still, I play the backspace key over the line and send my disingenuous, hey-look-ma-I'm-writing genius into data heaven. What does it have to do with Halloween anyway? The idea is a Halloween column.
But it is the homeless that are on my mind tonight and the oft-avoided knowledge that I, not that long ago, was among them. Looking across Adams Avenue, the macadam riveted by raindrops like nails, over the railing on the Texas Street bridge, and into the blackness beyond, I wonder if there are not a few of them down that embankment, scurrying out of rat holes and shrubbery, roadside jetsam slipping in mud, trash bags -- cauls of petroleum by-products: the people of the abyss.
Earlier that Friday afternoon I had stopped by Bargain Surplus on North Park Way, full of camo gear and boots and M.R.E. packs. I had priced rain slickers. Ponchos. I bought two for $3.97 each. I selected baby blue rather than school-bus yellow because the higher visibility of the safety color would be undesirable as illegal lodgers scrambled from hiding places before the loud hailers and flashing lights, the forklifts that sometimes appear at three in the morning (on the day of a Padres game, for example) to clear shopping carts full of those random accruements of the mentally ill and generally disenfranchised. The image of those great unwashed fleeing from the centurions to the static and metallic barking of, "Disperse! You have five minutes to clear the area." And a cry I heard was gleefully shouted from one squad car, "There will be no more homeless in San Diego!" As fine an idea as that is, why is it I associate it with foreboding, as if it echoed up the centuries from the fall of Rome?
I stare at the ponchos in their cellophane and wonder what on earth I will do with only two of them.
Forcing my thoughts back to things Halloween, I wonder if I'll see any trick- or-treaters this year. I haven't seen many kids in the neighborhood so far, except college kids. Maybe I'll see some incorrigible scamps up to some prank action. Maybe I should lay in some Snickers, S'mores bars, something. And then I think of David Ross, a 71-year-old guy who hands out water, socks, blankets, and S'mores to homeless friends of his in skid row. How much candy might I need Halloween night? Say, three or four bags at most. At roughly two bucks a bag at, say, Sav-On or whatever, that's about six or eight bucks. About what I spent on the ponchos.
Another ten minutes or so noodling at the keyboard, flicking the mouse around and I've got the ghost of Halloween past showing up at my door on All Hallow's Eve. The ghost is this Barney Fife--type cop from Oak Park, Illinois, we used to torment. On Halloween we'd set fire to leaf piles in the suburb, and Barney would chase us through backyards. We'd say, "Hey, let's ditch Barney again this year!" Great fun. In my paragraph Barney shows up at my door in University Heights or Normal Village or wherever I am in 2006, and he's all blackened like Wile E. Coyote, and he's got this warrant for me for arson. I save that little scene to Desktop and go back to thinking about any neighborhood kids. I imagine telling them, "Look, I'm saving your little teeth this year, maybe saving you from freaking diabetes, and I'm giving S'mores to Dave Ross instead, who will in turn give them to homeless guys out there who really do have diabetes -- probably from Halloween candy as kids -- and you're saving their life. Okay? Go home and sleep the sleep of the just."
"You sour old bastard. You asked for it."
And as they whip out their carton of raw eggs I'll tell them I spent eight bucks I might have spent on more candy to buy a couple of ponchos. "So you might be keeping some mom and her baby a little drier one night, okay?"
And as they pelt my door with a few omelets, I'll deliver the line I was born to croak, wishing for a rocking chair and a blanket over my lap -- the territorial call of the grizzled old sod everywhere, "Get offa my property!"