Saturday, August 20, 2005

I wanted to take a moment to readdress the hobo presence in McCarren Park. I've been thinking about it a lot--what makes someone a hobo as opposed to a regular homeless person (or a no-bo, as I have taken to calling them) and I think the answer is that hobos have FRIENDS. Relationships. When you look at the circle of hobos sitting in the grass, sharing sandwiches and bottles of grain alcohol, it's almost cozy, like those kids high school who hung out in the park for house, sitting a in a circle, the delicate social interplay flitting between them like a live flame as joints were passed, guitars strummed, sacks were hacked. Now imagine that those sweet, spaced-out kids didn't go inside for forty years. Ever. Imagine the passing of time as skins grow rough and leathery, as toenails calcify, as the residue of sloppily performed bodily fuctions hardens into an impermeable crust; still, they remain, a circle, a clique. A family. It's a lot less lonely than wandering the subways by yourself, asking strangers to buy you crack.

I'm a little afraid of homeless people, as everyone is. In my case, it's not the proximity to poverty that bothers me, or the tangible evidence of the dark underbelly of capitalist society, its a recurring nightmare I've had since 1988 based on an actual experience. I was in a small city square--I don't remember where--but it must have been a pretty safe place because I was left to play on my own while my dad ran inside an office building to drop something off. The square was pretty, neatly planted with grass and hedges, and off to one side was a large spreading tree with branches that touched to ground, promising a cool hideaway to make believe in. I ducked beneath a branch, eager to sit at the trunk and enjoy the lush canopy of leaves above, when I heard a low, indeterminately-sexed croak--"Get out of my fucking house, you little cunt." Suddenly, the smell was overpowering.

My father returned to find a deeply shaken child trembling on a bench. I never told him what happened, mostly because I doubted my own experience. Now I revisit that terrifying moment regularly in my sleep, particularly if I have eaten Indian food.

I want to give a shout-out to Krista, who provided me with two hobo-rific quotes she has overheard walking home on Bedford from the subway--"Shut your mouth with that mouth" and "I am going to be honest with you. If I don't get a drink before 2pm I am going to have a seizure." If anyone else has any hobo quotes, I'll be happy to post them. Hurry, before the flock departs for the winter, although I don't think they move that fast, particularly not the one in the wheelchair who once told me he loved me.

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