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Rip Van Winkle

Author: Kevin B. Staff

Neighborhood: College Area

Age: 54

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.

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Author: Kevin B. Staff

Neighborhood: College Area

Age: 54

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.

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Comments
6

GOD does live in old men...and ppl who choose their friends not by their circumstances but for heart reasons...u qualify

Oct. 31, 2009

I can totally relate, kstaff. There is a lady who "lives," or sleeps, rather, across the street from my building, on the cold bricks of a side door of an old historic Victorian. She is in a wheelchair and has multiple health issues, so when I go out late at night for a smoke, I check on her. I'm always astonished to see her bundled up and snoring away, despite the intensity of the cold, which drives me back indoors after ten minutes--unless she's awake, and we sit and chat awhile.

Today, we sat on the sidewalk and had a discussion about books--mostly Stephen King. Like Rip Van Winkle, it's been years since she's had a steady media diet, and while she can remember back to Kubrick's The Shining, or the filmic version of Carrie, she doesn't know any films that have come out post the year 2000. It is like she stepped into a fuzzy portal, and everything from "before" has receded, while new memories resist manufacture. True, the drinking doesn't help...

Nov. 1, 2009

Congratulations on your win, kstaff, great writing!!

Nov. 3, 2009

Well done. Now write some more--we could use more material in the blogspace. So much bandwidth, so little time!

Nov. 4, 2009

Congrats, kstaff. Lovely story. Keep us posted on your friend.

Nov. 4, 2009

Oh well, what do you expect from a free publication? The first three paragraphs, buried in the LETTERS section on Page 70 of this week's hardcopy. Wasn't aware I'd sent them any letter.

Why ask for bio info and a digital photo? Went to some trouble to get the latter.

Was gonna give my dad--and my friend--a copy, since neither use a computer. Dad always says this is such a nothing publication anyway.

Thanks for the money, SD Reader.

Nov. 19, 2009

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