Monday, January 04, 2021

The Old Man Who Lives In The Park

The old man who lives in the park now has a dilemma
That's causing you and your neighbors further heartache
Not, paradoxically, that he sleeps under the benches,
For he's blessed, he always says to confound any pity
"I'm blessed to live in this here world"
"The Good Lord watches over all his creations. He is indeed my witness"
No, it's that Parks and Rec, just weeks ago, removed the porta potty
That has been serving as his bathroom and privy
For what seems like the past couple of years
And now, with no stand pipe or running water,
We can only expect a trail of tears

The park was ostensibly closed at the outset of the pandemic
But this new development ups the ante of discomfort
The practical questions mount: where will he relieve himself?
You're all facing the pressing matter of public health
You wonder if the flying toilets of Labadi Beach
Will make their appearance on these Austin Texas streets
Well, at least the garbage is still being regularly cleared
Appearances must be kept up, even as lockdowns take their toll
The prospect, though, is of walking through discarded toilet roll

He's always kept himself clean, tidy and well dressed
Dignified, with a sense of possession and no trace of stress
One has always wondered: where does he take his showers?
Still it's a consolation that the park benches
That he sleeps under at night are still there
For what it's worth, they provide some protective cover
He moves out early in the morning from this place he shares
To allow the yoga and exercise crowd to take them over

He had a good run this summer by every measure
The birthday party crew were stymied by the park closures
Thus he could sleep in, even on the weekend mornings
No anxious parents trying to stake out the benches
And mark their territory with prefab themed balloons
And other plastic decorations with which they festooned
No disposable tablecloths that they would tie down
No cups, coolers and fluffy pom poms
No banners and photo booths nor burgeoning cheer
For the show they later planned to put on
No bouncy castles, at least for the first few months
No barbecues, the smell of which draw out a great longing
Indeed for those months there were no gatherings
Of friends and family and their spawn

He must do odd jobs during the day for the folks at the restaurant
Perhaps they repay him in kind with their choice soul food
The sign says that they even serve meat from alligators
Or perhaps it's just his company that they enjoy that makes him a fixture
The owner raises a weary eye and his expression grows stark
Whenever you happen to mention the old man who lives in the park
There's a pause, then a sigh, born of longstanding concern,
A shake of the head, it's really a long story
Believe me, we're long since involved social services
At this point, it's not even a matter of charity
Interventions galore, there's no doubt a fraught history

zinnias flower garden

When he disappeared for a month,
You wondered if he was lost to the pandemic
That was back in July, when that new urban soundtrack
The near constant sound of ambulances, almost made you panic
The Governor, despite the positivity rate,
Was hell bent on the grand reopening
You could only hang your head in dismay
At the fecklessness, will they ever learn?
So it was the most misbegotten kind of relief
When the old man who lives in the park made his return

We'd circled each other uneasily ever since we moved in across the park
The real estate agent couldn't have known he'd be our neighbor
The head nods proffered were only occasionally returned
There was indeed recognition, but always a pregnant silence
I later learnt that he was half blind
Which perhaps explained the diffidence
And his uneasy and languid way with locomotion.
Albeit he has a white cane that he twirls merrily,
But he seems to only use it as decoration
Thus he crosses the street willy-nilly
Invariably causing near crashes and commotion.

Came to find out that he was a veteran
There's a hardness under what you observe
You wonder which was the American
Foreign misadventure he was drafted in to serve
The word on the street is that his sister takes all his benefit checks
Such is the mystery of the arrangement, for he seems quite happy
And even compelled to spend his nights sleeping under the bench
So perhaps it's not about money but rather about penance
For sins past. Who knows the backstory of this kind of repentance

We first talked one August evening
As I watered my flowers and plants in the front yard.
Limping, he'd crossed the street from the park
As usual, ignoring the passing cars
He approved of my low tech approach
But suggested installing a sprinkler system
I didn't have the heart to show him the one right there under his nose
Given that I preferred getting out and about with my garden hose
Back to basics, Nyame had suggested, choose manual over automatic.
Such were the nuts and bolts guiding me through this pandemic
So while we live in this digital world, I prefer analog connections
The necessity of touch and meaningful conversation

Nevertheless he approved that I was taking care of the earth
And digging up and weeding on my hands and knees
"If all goes well, young man, with the passage of time
There'll be plenty of monarch butterflies and bees"

There's a musical quality to the cadences of his speech
As if, in another life, he could be moved to preach

"I'm blessed, Sir. I have two young ones, I couldn't be prouder.
The Good Lord is in control, don't mind that weather forecaster
You know, he had it wrong, claiming rain and thunderstorms
But what could he know about His ways and directions?"

"It surprises them when you call them Sir, but it doesn't cost you none.
Keep doing what you're doing, above all, be true, young man"...

"I see you have a couple of children, I can tell they bring you joy.
I'll be off now. Pleased to meet you, Sir, my own name is Delroy."

And so I turned off the water and coiled up the garden hose
And took off the homemade face mask that covered my nose
I made to turn on the light in front of my home
And walked back up to my study thinking of a poem
I gazed across the street at the incipient dark
Thinking, as I do at night, about the old man who lives in the park.

front yard

The Old Man Who Lives In The Park, a Playlist


A soundtrack for this note

See also: Frank and Frances (or 500 Steps)

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time.


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