Department of Keeping a Sense of Humor, “It’s All Material” Class

So, after I take Lucy for what’s recently been her daily her walk in the woods–25 degrees, sleet like needles hitting my face on the way back the the car–I head to Market Basket on Storrs Street for bananas, mozzarella and goat cheese. The forecast is for more nasty stuff in the next few days, and I figure I’ll not want to leave the house. I spy a man begging for change or whatever when I turn onto Storrs from Pleasant, standing at the turn into the parking lot. Damn, I think, and go into my internal rant piqued by seeing such people and all the static around this, from the political to the psychological, and all the other mini stops in between, plus the load of guilt I feel for even having such a rant. Okay, I say, I won’t give him money, but I’ll look for something he can eat. Inside, I get my bananas, baby arugula, mozzarella, goat cheese (First World diet guilt!) and I decide on soup, perhaps a can with a pull-top. Sure enough, Campbell’s has said tops, two for $3. I choose two cans of minestrone. At the check-out I decide I’ll also give him a banana, and I put those items in a separate bag.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, the man is not there when I get to the parking lot exit to Storrs Street. What to do? Now I need to find a homeless person! I can’t leave the banana in the car for another time. Okay, I decide I’ll head over to Fort Eddy and Louden Road, which I’d wanted to avoid in the first place, thus going to the smaller Market Basket, because there are always people standing at that very busy intersection. And sure enough, when I’m crossing the river, I see a figure in the distance. I have to wait to turn left, which places him in what will require a U-turn for me to reach him, and I notice that he seems to be dressed in a dark business suit and not wearing a hat–odd, I think, in this weather. But a mission is a mission, so I enter Fort Eddy to find traffic on the return side backed up way past Hannaford, and more cars in the inside lane waiting to enter the right-turning lane. Oy. What to do? I enter the plaza there, which Lucy is quite exercised about because she sees Petco, and she has visions of delicious smells and a free biscuit. I congratulate myself for figuring this out, because I can go through the parking lot, park the car, and walk up to the intersection rather than try to hand the bag out the window at a moment when traffic will need to flow.

I grab the bag and start walking up the hill toward him, and I have a better view: indeed, he is wearing a business suit, and soon I’m close enough to read the neon-chartreuse sign, printed in dark, thick black marker, “I want YOUR $.” WTF? I think, umbrage at the ready. You mean, I’ve gone through all this trouble–did I mention that the sleet has made the roads so slick that, even with studded snow tires, they spin when I try to move from a stopped position? And that I am well-past my point in needing to eat, and I’ve driven all the way over here to find a fucking homeless person and he just comes right out and says he wants my money, not even bothering to appeal to my middle-class, but cash-poor, conscience with the proper attire and demeanor! Jesus.

I go no further.

Just then I see two twenty-something women bundled up and carrying cardboard signs walking toward me, having come from the west side of the river. Saved! I think. They look the part, and I do give them the bag, for which they thank me. After I tell them what’s on the man’s sign, say that they really are homeless, and what a nerve he has. I figure she means that he’s taking a choice spot and not adhering to the unwritten rules of begging. One tells me that she’s been homeless for three months and it’s the first time she’s ever been on the street. They look it, disheveled, doing what they need to do to survive, with determination.

A generous driver allows me to enter the long line of cars on Ft. Eddy waiting to turn right onto Louden Road, and as luck would have it, I was stopped right near the sign-holder. Perhaps it’s his clean-cut good looks that turns my umbrage to curiosity and wonder, perhaps it’s his smile. I roll down the window and take the whole scene in: early Beatle mop-top (a black wig?), slim tie, pristine white dress shirt, oil-slick reflective aviator glasses, and iPod ear buds. He bends down to be at my eye level. “Are you doing an art project?” I ask. “Sort of,” he says. “Performance art?” I ask. “Sort of,” he says, the two of us holding our smiles.

Of course, I’d have liked the whole story, but the light turns green and I have to move. I give him a thumbs-up and drive away.

Ah, art. In my world view, it’s always for art’s sake.

Who knows what his true motive is? But I know that I’ve gotten much more back than the $3.50 I’d spent. I’ve got material to make art out of. And, isn’t that what counts in the end?

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