Letter from the Editor 

There's a guy I see three or four times a week. We don't speak. We don't have a relationship. I just see him — usually as I'm driving to work along Vance, somewhere between the MIFA building and Lauderdale Street. He's been walking the same beat for years.

He's very tall, 6' 5" at least. He's thin and dark and quite obviously a lost ball in the high weeds of life. He wears odd, mismatched clothes — sometimes a green hospital shirt, sometimes a sportscoat and shorts. His pants almost always end above his socks.

He always carries something — often a battered black briefcase, sometimes an empty plastic milk crate. His gait is slow. He drags his feet, his eyes staring blankly at the sidewalk. Sometimes he sets the plastic milk crate on the sidewalk and shoots a deflated gray basketball at it. The ball lands with a splat and doesn't move. He slowly walks to the ball, picks it up, and shoots again. It's a cruel parody of Hoop Dreams.

I've asked people here at work about him. I thought maybe he was a former Tiger basketball player who had hit hard times. But no one knows anything about him.

Last week, he was sitting on the curb at a stoplight on Vance as I pulled up to the corner. He looked at me. I looked at him. I lowered my window and said, "Do you need some help?" He stared, expressionless, then slowly shook his head no. It was the tiredest, saddest no I've ever seen.

There's been a lot of consternation about panhandlers downtown lately. And they are a problem. But there's a big difference between a guy with a line of B.S. hitting you up for "enough money to catch a bus to Millington" and a guy who's just lost and sick and alone.

And maybe this man really doesn't need help. Maybe he has a family that takes care of him, feeds him, loves him. But I doubt it. More likely, he's mentally ill, but not enough to be institutionalized. So he shuffles along Vance with nothing to do and nowhere to go — just an unquenchable urge to keep walking in Memphis.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

Speaking of Panhandler

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • Stay in the Woods

    • This Land ...

    • Me and Beer

Blogs

News Blog

Pence Cancels Memphis Visit

Fly On The Wall Blog

MAF Has a New Meaning: Memphis Ass Farm

News Blog

Alexander to TVA: Don't Buy Wind Power

Intermission Impossible

Hattiloo Announces Season 12: August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Soul Train...

News Blog

Memphis Theological Seminary Stands with Refugees

News Blog

Fight Over Forrest Statue Isn't Over

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Bruce VanWyngarden

Readers also liked…

  • Lightning Strikes

    It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...

    • Nov 19, 2015
  • Why The Fuss?

    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Have Yourselves an Angry Little Christmas

    In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...

    • Dec 10, 2015
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation