Column: Peripatetic Postcards

Squeegee Man with Stump (Somebody's Baby)

There on the corner. Across from the car wash; at the intersection just before the freeway on-ramp. He's ever there, come rain or come shine. Unfailingly, clutching the meter-long squeegee under his darkened stump. A man of color; mid-fifties, could even be in his sixties. A trace of grey stubble flecked across his chin. Sometimes a smoke extending from between his pink lips. Usually a baseball cap pushed back on his crown.

Every day I pass him. Or, if the light happens to turn red, my car rolls up alongside his yellow water bucket. He turns his bad arm -- the one that is only a tenth of a limb -- my way. Giving me the full technicolor horror. Forcing my mind to linger over the details; imagine the possible scenarios. After my head is good and churned, he turns his eyes full bore through the windshield.

"Got it? Jack! My situation! My life, as it is. Today. Tomorrow. Every day hereafter forevermore. No money. No prosthesis. Barely enough for these here smokes."

Sometimes I hold his gaze; other times I look away.

It is then that that Pat Benatar song starts up. Haunting. If not chiding. Challenging. Cajoling.

He used to be somebody's baby

Someone used to hold him close, and rock him gently

He used to be the light in someone's eyes

He used to matter, he used to matter

Someone cared if he lived or died

Someone held him in their arms -- when he cried

And when he hurt, someone kept the world away

Someone loved him, someone loved him

Now that somebody's baby is the rail thin man in the white Fruit-of-the-Loom cotton T. A flimsy windbreaker when the elements turn, with the sleeve rolled up against the stump so all passersby will better appreciate his predicament. The guy now peering through my glass, again today.

"Care fer a wash?" Water down yer windshield, my man. No? Well . . . then, you have yo'sef . . . a day. You heah?"

Embarrassed, I gaze straight ahead. Or else flick my eyes away. Discomfort ascending. Counting off the seconds until the lights flash to green. So I might zoom away.

I am unclear if the discomfort is directed at myself, or the society that has produced the circumstances that have rendered him him, and me me. How can I despise myself? What did I do to produce this turn? Nothing. Which I guess is the correct answer. I guess because I haven't done anything to stop this country from producing these people on the corner. And also because I never do as I occasionally see: call the guy over, roll down my window, and cram a crumpled note into his outstretched palm.

When others do, I hear a voice inside say "good for them". Although I also hear another voice that suggests they might be doing it all with a condescending nod; a wink to their own superiority.

I hope not. But I do worry, as Pat's words crush like a train through my brain:

That was then, that was so long ago

Long before they came and took his soul

Long before he became invisible

That was when, he wasn't human garbage then

I hear the words each time I pass, but I am not spurred to act. Well, how could I? If I was, I would basically be taking the guy in. Given that I pass him every day. Sometimes, two, three times.

And besides, it isn't only him to take care of. There are four, five, six -- I can barely count them all -- folks standing at strategic places throughout this city. And not just this city, but thousands upon hundred of thousands of cities throughout this land. All holding up makeshift cardboard signs:

"Viet Nam Vet. Homeless. Govt. won't help. A little kindness, please"

"Cancer. Out of Work. No Health Care. Spare a dollar?"

"Will work for food. Am desperate!!! Please."

"Down on my luck. Help if U can. God Bless!!

More than any one of us -- any random collection of us -- can possibly aid.

So, where is the safety net? Why has it come down to squeegee and buckets of muddy water sloshed across our passing glass for a fiver or less? Can't this government hear the words, too. Can't Bush's cadre open their eyes, and sing along:

He used to be somebody's baby

Someone used to hold him close, and rock him gently

He used to be the light in someone's eyes

He used to matter, he used to matter

He used to matter

He used to be somebody's baby

-- By: Neil Giraldo & Pat Giraldo

Pop Ten
Collapse Expand Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.