As Found Along Decker’s Creek Trail
Monday, May 19, 2008
I finally got a chance to see Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man. I’m not a big fan of biopics, and I am also not a big fan of U2, so I was prepared to love this less than I should.
This is a really brilliant and lovely movie. It has the haunting, sweet, funny qualities of one of his songs and it isn’t hurt–as I was afraid it would be–by the folk who come after him paying tribute. (Still, why anyone would have Bono cover a Leonard Cohen song is beyond me.)
See this. Really.
My daily walk takes me past the encampment of homeless folk who live under the bridge toward the trail-head on Decker’s Creek. I know their names , or most of them, from my job at the day shelter and am not afraid of them. The people who are a threat to me, the ones who are still angry at my because I called the cops or kicked them out of Friendship Room for selling drugs or starting fights, live in a bigger camp along the river. The creek camp is for the older, gentler, quieter folk. It’s smaller, and has been there longer. The people who live there are more likely to have a bottle than a pipe, and that seems to make all the difference in the world.
This weekend, as I was walking by, I saw the first daffodils of this spring on the embankment across the trail from where they pitch their tents during the night. (During the day, when those of us privelaged with houses – and likely to be bothered by those who aren’t –are out walking the trail to work off our over-abundant diets, the tents are broken down and hidden. I know where, but I won’t tell.)
It was a moment before I noticed the joke of this… the broken piece of drainage pipe laid up against the daffodils like a flowerpot. I think I know who did it. There is a man who lives down here who doesn’t speak, and rarely came to Friendship Room. But when he did come, he often left behind little tableaus of found objects near his seat. A dollar-store bracelette with a broken clasp, the head of a Barbie doll, and used-up lipstick once. Another time, a pile of sticks arranged artfully into a miniature bonfire, two toy soldiers covered in grime, and the most recent body-count headline from the local paper.
I don’t know why he doesn’t speak. He nods, and points to things he wants, but he isn’t mute. I’ve heard him talking to the people who enhabit his own universe, but he will not talk to those of us in this one.
I see his hand in this joke. It’s been cold, and no matter how many blankets and sleeping bags he’s given, he can’t seem to hold on to any of them and he won’t live indoors. I’m happy to see he’s made it to another spring.
Ron will be seventy a week from tomorrow. Seventy. There isn’t much left to him but stories and stubborness. He’s gone so thin it’s hard to remember what he looked like back before age and all those accidents tore him up. He can barely walk, even with a cane. Remember how he used to move; so fluid, so quick? How surprising it was that he had speed even though he was never going anywhere? Now it takes fifteen minutes to get to the bathroom and back on a good day.
I should be planning a birthday party for him, but I’m not. We can’t have him and his at the house while Lucy is here… he has no truck with rules and such, and the woman he lives with has a nineteen year old son who would expect to be allowed to drink beer with everyone else. Even if Lucy weren’t here, I don’t think I’d be able to swallow my middle-aged woman’s common sense long enough to allow that.
I’ve had a song in my head all week, something by Simon and Garfunkle.
Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
And now, one of us is. He can’t hear, but won’t get hearing aids, says he likes it better that way. His hands are palsied, but all he does is talk about how he wants to get the studio back up and running. Soon as there is space, he’s moving into the old folks high rise on Willey Street. Ron. Old. Finally, too old to find a woman to take him in and pay all the bills.
How terribly strange to be seventy…