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.
I'm writing this from the restroom facility at Big Hill Pond State Park in southern McNairy County. On Monday, I commandeered the building, which contains the men's and women's restrooms, some racks of pamphlets, and two vending machines. There's no one here right now, but I plan to stay as long as necessary to protest the fact that the state of Tennessee is run by oppressive know-nothings who wouldn't know small government — or freedom, for that matter — if it bit them on their considerable backsides ...
(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
and everybody never breathed
quite so many kinds of yes) — e. e. cummings
I just finished a book called Bettyville. It's by George Hodgman, who grew up in Paris, Missouri, near my hometown, then went to the University of Missouri school of journalism in the 1970s. After graduation, he went off to New York City and became an editor at various magazines ...