Saturday, April 28, 2012

Claiming Space

I see him each day right in the middle of the bike path on Columbia Street, next to a fence covered in tarp, near the shipyards lining the waterfront.   He sits in a dilapidated lawn chair, poking at the air with an umbrella as a cane.  He is blanketed in all black, head and shoulders draped with candy colored serapes, shrouded in a cloud of bobbing pigeons.  Stray cats leak from his feet, circle him like the horses of a slow carousel.

He is a fixture, the subject of local articles, a prophet of sorts, sharing the thoughts of the alley cats he claims to know.  At night, I am told, or so the articles say, he leaves for Manhattan, rides his bike or walks over the legend of a bridge.

When I pass, when I pedal or run the path, he is not kind.  The whites of his eyes grow large and he often stands, makes a show of it, sticks the flaking, dry skin of his middle finger right in my face.  I make a point to thank him.  Out loud.  I say the words because I know no other way to acknowledge his anger than to be unapologetically grateful that I am the recipient.

He thinks the space, the slice of concrete, is his to keep.  He thinks I do not belong there with him even if I am just passing through.  What have you really claimed? I want to ask.  What's here but you?


  1. Wow, I tip my hat to you for standing up to him, to not being afraid to bike or run by him, for responding with positivity to his negativeness.

  2. Ooo, not kind man? You should ask him why he's so grumpy next time :)

  3. Wow, very interesting story, Melissa. You really know how to bring everyday happenings to life. :)

  4. Cool story! Although its sad at the same time.

    I was in Historic Jamestown with my students the other day, and we were walking around the living museum, and part of that is to walk through a recreation of a Powhatan village, and then to walk through a reconstruction of Jamestown Fort. I asked my kids to keep an eye out for one big obvious difference. They didn't see it until I pointed it out to them at the very end.

    In the Powhatan village, nothing was fenced in, or out.

    In Jamestown, everything was.

  5. Wow...beautifully written.

    WTG on being strong enough to not ride a different way. I'm not sure if I would be as brave.