Author: Kevin B. Staff
Neighborhood: College Area
Occupation: Community college instructor (Cuyamaca and Palomar College)
A few Saturdays ago I helped with the community council’s monthly book sale. It kind of shoots the weekend in the ass, but it’s one of my few connections with people in the neighborhood because of my odd work schedule.
After we finished, I got a new coat rack for my Honda Element at the Pep Boys on El Cajon Boulevard. Then I stopped by a little neighborhood park nobody ever uses to move everything around and install it.
The only water source in the park is a single drinking fountain toward the back of the place. The day’s work done, I went over to get some water to wash off my hands and feet, not sure whether I’d go home or head out to the beach to catch the sunset and maybe spend the night in my freshly organized ride.
Lying there by the fountain, looking like Rip Van Winkle, was an old fellow with a gray goatee and a bald head. He was wearing headphones and lying on his back, sound asleep. I wondered at first if he was dead but saw his chest going up and down lazily.
After a few seconds, I recognized him. He was once one of my best friends and still is, really — a kid I’d known since grade school. He’s been homeless and hanging around the neighborhood for the past 15 years or so. I see him once in a while, but not that often.
It was the oddest thing. I just stood there and watched him sleeping peacefully for a minute or so. It gave me the funny feeling that, for all that’s wrong in the world, it can’t be completely bad if someone I’ve known for over 40 years could be lying there in the shade snoozing away as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
Well, I arranged everything back in the car and took a last look his way before shutting the doors and taking off. He sat up, scratched his head, and seemed to recognize me. I came over, he stood up, and we talked about things for 20 minutes or so. He’d had a seizure a few weeks back while walking along the avenue and woke up in the hospital without a clue to how he’d gotten there. Years of substance abuse have made him prone to episodes similar to epileptic seizures. He sleeps in the dugout of a Little League field near my place. He’s part of the neighborhood; I love him like a family member I don’t seek out or see much of, and he loves me. I’m happy when I see him. Our conversation is punctuated with made-up words and expressions and sound effects that maybe two or three other people in the world — people once close to us — would understand.
I’m doing quite okay, living in a whole other world apart from his, and thankful for what I’ve got. I take nothing for granted. A homeless person with substance-abuse issues isn’t the normal profile for people I hang with. But he’s my friend, and I enjoyed spending some time with him on a sunny afternoon in the early fall. And for some reason, the sight of him snoozing there under a tree in the shade is an image that will stay with me for the rest of my life.