Thursday, March 28, 2019

What is it about that corner?

It's been months since I saw Napoleon and his people, Caleb and Randi. Someone else has taken their place on the corner of Michigan and Lake. A young man, under 30 I guess, with watery, sad eyes and a paper cup. I was stopped at the light one lunchtime, jiggling my coins and my keys in my pocket as I waited, and gave him 27¢ -- really for auld lang syne, because it was Caleb's corner.

"Thanks," he said, making serious eye contact. "This is the first money I've received today."

"I hope it brings you luck," I said, not really knowing what to say. But I wanted to say something. I learned from Caleb and Randi that these are not just homeless people, they are people, too, and it's important to engage them as equals.

He makes eye contact with me now. Singles me out wordlessly, but with those sad, watery eyes. Sometimes I comply, sometimes I don't have change, but his face haunts me. One night there were about eight of us on the corner, and, as the light changed, he said, "Please. I just want to buy some food." I was happy to catch the light and scooted home. But why? I had no pressing appointment that couldn't wait a minute or two.

This evening I gave him 35¢. I said, "Good luck, sir," and he said, "Thanks." And I feel better.

He doesn't read on the corner, like Caleb did. He doesn't dote on a cat, like Caleb and Randi. So I don't have that books-and-cats connection with him. I don't give him as much money as I did Caleb and Randi because I was reasonably certain they weren't using the cash for drugs -- after all, for them, Napoleon always came first. But I wonder why his eyes are always so watery. It could be sinuses or allergies, or it could be something illegal.

Still, I feel like our souls have touched somehow. I see him, and I can't pretend I don't. At the rate I'm going, I won't give him $50 this year, so I don't pretend that I'm making a meaningful impact on his life. But I want him to know he's not completely alone. I see him. I look for him. I care about him.