“Hello homeless man.” I smiled at his grizzly beard and leathery skin. He returned with a grimace of gums. In all actuality his name is Dan/Dave/Charlie/Maurice. In general, he changes his name with the seasons. I think Maurice is for the winter. It sounds warm, like a glass of hot chocolate or a hug from Denzel Washington.
Dan/Dave/Charlie/Maurice likes to hang out in the park outside my house. And by “house” I mean my half of a double and by “park” I mean a patch of flowers that some lady with daisy print Crocs tends to early on weekday mornings while listening to Glen Campbell. Dan/Dave/Charlie/Maurice hangs out there, not to beg or serve as a symbol for the economic downfall/mass exodus of the educated citizens from Dayton (see depressing article) but instead, he hangs around in the way you and I (alternately you OR I, depending if we’re friends) might hang out at a bar. He relaxes, drinks liquor from a brown paper bag, and eats pennies. Yes pennies. My theory is that he is hiding them in the corners of his mouth until he can afford a house and uses the beard to cover up his chipmunk cheeks so no one tries to jump him for his riches.
“Good morning!” I chirped. (This is what I really said instead of “Hello homeless man.” That was just to set the scene and give you a clear mental picture right from the start. It could use some work.)
“Good morning!”Dan/Dave/Charlie/Maurice growled back.
“Beautiful day!” I sang, sounding a bit too much like a British extra in a Disney montage.
“Don’t look down!” he replied.
I paused. Don’t look down? Does he know I’m feeling sad? That I can’t get a stable job or a decent summer tan? Is this his way of trying to tell me to keep my chin up? He frequently mumbles to himself and I’ve often wondered if he used to be really impressive like Bill Gates or John Travolta. Maybe he’s full of wisdom and spends his days whispering all of his secrets to the daffodils and morning glories in the “park” outside my “house”. And then today I came outside and looked just worthy enough to receive a bit of his holy water. (NOTE: He carries a jar of what looks like pee, so in all actuality please don’t accept any “holy water” from him. Even if it turns out he used to be BFF with the Dalai Lama or Kevin Bacon or something.)
“Don’t look down” I repeated to myself. I was suddenly lifted, cheered, warmed from within. “This must be enlightenment!” I thought, as what I can only imagine was the smell of incense drifted past my nose (though in hindsight it might possibly have been the pennies soaked in saliva oxidizing in Dan/Dave/Charlie/Maurice’s mouth). “Don’t look down.” I mouthed to myself in slow motion floating happily like I was gliding on a new pair of roller skates. I had fount my mantra. “Don’t look down. Don’t look down.” My lips parted into a grateful hug of a smile as I stepped towards Dan/Dave/Charlie/Maurice, right into the rotting carcass of a half-eaten, dead squirrel.
“Don’t look down.” Dan/Dave/Charlie/Maurice repeated.