Yesterday I drank beer with homeless people.
It’s not what I intended to do when I stepped out into the neighborhood streets that temperate and sunny Labor Day afternoon. I was headed to the capital square for some peaceful people watching to enjoy the lazy day, so my detour wasn’t a total misfit.
How I happened to while away 2 hours on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue was one of those precious offshoots of my tendency to engage anyone in conversation when given the opening. Two older fellows were settled about the sidewalk when I strolled by with my characteristic goofy grin (which a walk in warm weather often causes), and one of them was interested enough to ask me how it was going. I answered in earnest, returned the question in kind, and before long I said “Well heck, you guys mind if I just take a seat and hang with you a while?”
And that’s how I met Bruce, a self-described “slightly-used-up hippie”, and Gary, a fellow in a wheelchair who had less to say than Bruce. For my choice to accept the graciously offered 24-ounce can of Natural Ice from the brown paper bag (still kinda cold!), I was rewarded with a slice of life far removed from my ordinary and a dose of new perspective.
I think enough Natty Ice on a sidewalk will make a philosopher out of anyone, and sure enough rich conversation ensued. Depending on your state of mind and willingness/ability to assign useful meaning, the platitudes spoken forth by my new, slightly-used-up hippie friend were either pointless drivel or priceless nuggets of wisdom. I took to panning for gold while he spoke of the freedom of sleeping by the river while not owing or being owed anything to or by anyone, never believing people in this world who will try to tell you that some things are less important than others, and the marvel and celebration of how I’m willing to get up everyday and do things that no one else is willing to do (I’m still not sure whether or not those statements were referring to any activity in particular).
Whatever was said, I took to listening constantly for the gold coming from one who had lived a life very different from my own, because why not? I figured worst case I’d shrug it off after enjoying a beer and company on a nice afternoon. So we waxed philosophical and I did my best to grasp the words of my sometimes seemingly contradictory host. Along the way there was even a jam session, featuring a fellow named Luis Small who stopped by with a steel drum, Bruce rockin’ the harmonica, and generous offers of a swig of brandy and a hit off a spliff.
This was way more fun than I was gonna have at the capital square, even if I did pass on the brandy and spliff.
It was my bladder that eventually had me be on my way. “Hey Bruce, I totally gotta pee. Thanks for the beer, do you mind walking with me to the liquor store on Colfax so that I may return the favor?” After assuring him I knew I didn’t owe him anything (he wanted me to be super clear about that), it was my pleasure to take a 2 block stroll, wander in, and wonder out with a replacement king can Natural Ice plus 2 more. I like to think of it as repaying my karmic beer debt, with interest. With a hearty handshake and a hug I was off.
So Bruce was my Yoda for a day: the mere act of trying to figure out what he was saying gave me useful perspective on my life. This morning during abs in the 6:30 Yoga Sculpt class I envisioned him in the cliched, starry background in the corner of my mind’s eye, telling me in prophetic tones how I get up in the morning and do things that know one else is willing to do.
It made me push just a little bit harder.