Mike was an engaging man. Few people approach a stranger in a park. He smoked the last puff of his spliff as we stood on opposite sides of the platform, each separately warming our skin in the sun. Neither of us dared to cast a shadow on the other, as stealing the smallest bit of warmth on this 30 degree day would be a sin.
“The ducks like you,” he said, before setting off into a diatribe about how king fishers burrow into muddy banks but usually fly south by now. I appreciate small talk that isn’t about movies, or weather, or Donald Trump.
As we chatted I learned more about the gentleman. He lived in a converted warehouse in Oakland California, nestled between two highways, but filled each morning with the sunrise. $2000 a month, he mentioned proudly, shared between him and his ex girlfriend. His home allowed him to slip into the anonymity of his industrial neighborhood. Better than his last place, where, one day, an IRS debt collector strolled unannounced through his front door, gun in holster, demanding a debt that he owed from the equity he had in some tech start up. Though, of course, they never paid him a dime.
Prioritizing free time and free mind, Mike walked me through his last few decades of light inspired art. Window boxes and rope light sculptures. Odd jobs, paid mostly under the table cash, sustained him.
He nursed his recently healed wrist. He broke it a month ago, slipped on his bike in Boston. A rare wood thrush had darted past him, “What are you doing in Boston?” he thought just before he crashed.
A year earlier, he broke his clavicle. Flipped over his handle bars in San Francisco. Pot Hole, clipped in bike shoes. Three months in he hospital and 6 months of recovery.
As I walked away he biked past me yelling farewell. He lifted a hand for a rolling fist bump. I returned it with the lightest touch of knuckles, trying to avoid adding any chaos to the system, my mind playing through the scenario where he and his bike slip into the pond below us. His tires weaved, but settled as he replaced his hand, and biked away.
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