Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Christmas morning dawned crisp and sunny with the promise of beautiful weather ahead. After a leisurely breakfast, I decide to walk my dog the third mile from one city park to the next. Descending Main Street, the scene gets predictably seedier as we leave behind the touristy hotels for dive bars and office buildings, all shuttered for the holidays. 

The homeless sleep in doorways. At the entrance to an optometrist’s shop, a man pulls his pants to his knees and urinates in a cup. Devoid of even traffic, the street is quiet and still, but there is no holiday from life on the streets. Oddly, not a single person asks me for money. I try to make eye contact but am met with mostly blank stares. 

On this most holy of days, the streets are a tapestry of sadness, a symphony of silence, a testament to the ragged edges of human frailty. 

Pizza Run

I’m not sure what made me notice his feet, but once I saw them I couldn’t get them out of my mind. 

Cruising through Victory Park at the end of an exhilarating long run, I catch a glance of a man sitting on a ledge outside of the stadium parking garage, right next to the luxury Lexus on permanent display. Running at a good clip, the scene doesn’t register in my brain until well after I pass him, but then I realize that his feet were red, blistered and painful looking. He had taken off a pair of uncomfortable looking black boots and set them on the ledge beside him. 

I remember that someone once told me socks and clean underwear can be a godsend to the homeless. Impulsively, I circle back to CVS, where I scour the shelves for a simple pair of non-diabetic men’s socks, all the while feeling foolish about this harebrained plan. What if he’s not there by the time I return? What if he’s not homeless and is insulted by my presumption? What if he’s angry, crazy or violent. All plausible possibilities, but I won’t forgive myself if don’t go back. 

Socks in hand, I run back to where I saw him and find him still there, eating pizza out of a Styrofoam shell. Tentatively, I hold out the socks.  Without saying a word, he stands up and embraces me, tears welling in his eyes. He thanks me and offers me some of his pizza, willing to share with me what might be his only meal that day. I think it is perhaps the most selfless gift anyone has ever offered me. I think that I have been blessed beyond measure for the price of a pair of five-dollar socks.

Homeless Holly Golightly

It’s Sunday morning, that time when the downtown streets are quiet, recovering from the madness of the night before … sleeping in, sleeping it off, waking up to the sticky heat of a summer morning. 

I’m walking with my dog to my favorite breakfast café. We pass the flagship downtown Neiman Marcus. He stands there gazing into the picture window at all that unattainable luxury, high heels and high-end cosmetics, polished floors and gleaming surfaces. He stands in rags, long, matted hair hiding his face. He’s one of the homeless “regulars” downtown; I’ve seen him in almost every area in the center city. I always notice him because he looks like one of my favorite singers … if he were to live on the streets.

I wonder what he’s thinking as he stands there staring. I think of Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly seeking escape from the “mean reds” in the windows of Tiffany’s where “nothing very bad could happen to you.” I’ll never know. This particular man never speaks, rarely makes eye contact. I dare not break his silence, and so I leave him to his reverie and continue down the Sunday street alone.

Bruce Wayne

He calls himself Bruce Wayne. He was once my guardian angel.

It was my first year in the city, and I was a bundle of raw emotion. Coming out had been a rollercoaster of exhilarating highs and devastating lows. Weekends often found me on “The Strip” celebrating my newfound liberation—sometimes too much. On this night, everything had been fun until it wasn’t. Dancing at the only lesbian club in town, I suddenly found myself very drunk and in need of home, my bed and safety. I made a hasty exit and jumped on the next bus, only to find my vision blurred, my walk unsteady—not exactly the condition you want to be in late at night on a city bus. It was well past midnight when I exited the bus. 

“Steady now. Tuck your wallet in,” came the voice behind me, making me realize my wallet was quite exposed in the front pocket of my jeans. An older man walked behind me, keeping enough distance not to cause me alarm. Quietly, he followed me home through the dark streets, three blocks to my house and then vanished into thin air. 

For a long time, I actually wondered if he was an angel.

Many months later, as I was walking into a convenience store to pick up a package, a man cordially asked if I could buy him a meal. I immediately recognized his voice and face and was glad to comply. We walked in, and I bought him a hot dog and drink while he told me about life on the streets. I asked him his name and he said, “Bruce Wayne.” The way he said it suggested more of an inside joke than actual delusion.

More months pass. I move to a new apartment a few blocks up the street, leaving the sadness of the old place behind. My life has found an even keel, a steady equilibrium, a balance between work and play. The city is the same—frenetic, at times pathetic. A melting pot of those with much and those with nothing. The crazy and the sane. The sick and those who just think they are healthy.

Rushing to pick up a prescription, I see a familiar face. He’s sitting on the ground in front of the drugstore. I smile and ask him how he’s doing. “Just trying to get a meal,” he says, and I agree to buy him a Gatorade and turkey sandwich.

When I come back out, I apologize for having forgotten his name.

“Bruce Wayne,” he says. “We’ve met?”

I remind him that we met at the 7-11.

“I can’t go there anymore. I got shot,” he says, nodding toward his left arm wrapped in a sling.

“How did it happen?”

“You know, things happen … even to Batman,” he says with a smile. “Maybe I needed a stronger cape.”

He asks me my name. I tell him again and he shakes my hand in both of his. 

“I like you, Jennifer. You’re always so nice to me.”

I don’t think he remembers the time he helped me home, but I do. Meeting Bruce Wayne reminds me that kindness cuts both ways, and heroes are always in disguise.