Recently, I changed the route I walk to work from the bus stop. Instead of optimizing for time, hopping off the bus at the closest stop to work, I exit the bus a stop before and walk through a park on my way to work. The stroll in the morning among the trees and grass and fountain is one of the small changes I've done in my effort to optimize for delight in my life, instead of optimizing for time or efficiency or duty. I have yet to stop in the park and sit on the bench for any length of time, but that delight will likely happen soon.
With my route change, I now walk in front of a homeless guy who sits just outside a staircase near the park. He sits in a disabled person's chair, a hat full of some change on the ground in front of him. He says hello or nods to most people who walk by. Most people don't acknowledge he exists.
My style of walking down streets involves looking at people, often not looking away. This includes noticing homeless people. It also includes having a difficult time not addressing said homeless people as people. I definitely flinch away from some. This guy, sitting at the park entrance, fascinates me in some way.
The guy is old and thin. He smokes. He has squinty eyes, kinda like a thin Popeye. His eyes are blue. He's never clean shaven but doesn't have a beard. Last week after I handed him a fiver, he commented about trying to grow out his hair, to which I responded, I keep cutting mine off!
This morning, I decided to ask him where his dog had gone. I had noticed the guy missing from his usual spot last week, only to pass him as he put on a sweatshirt behind a bush near the park entrance. He had a dog with him when he was changing his shirt, but I hadn't seen the dog since. He seemed confused at first, then explained that it wasn't his dog, he was just watching it for a friend. He started mumbling a bit, and I didn't follow the story as it wove around the dog's decreasing weight and current location. The guy became animated, lucid, and loud when he started talking about his dog, and how he'd never keep his dog around this area, too many blacks.
I liked the guy until that point.
He is an old man who talked a lot when someone would listen. He is like a lot of elderly people in that way: they talk a lot. They do it because no one will listen, so when they find someone who will, they talk and talk a lot. It's a innate need for human contact. Not the shallow, superficial connections we make online in social networks like twitter and facebook, where we know only what people present online, and the relationships are rarely as we imagine them to be. More the human contact of the touch of a long-time friend who comforts you in your darkest hour, the hugs hello and hugs good-bye, the calming touch on the back of the neck from a loved-one. We want this contact, we crave it.
Maybe this guy receives the human contact or conversations he needs. I didn't get that impression.
And maybe I'm projecting.
I miss the camaraderie of an ultimate team. I miss bridge night. I miss being four doors down from some of my favorite people in the world. I miss the crazy hikes, the Trail of Tears stories, the Fort Funtown adventures with beagles. I miss communal dinner. I miss the "KiiiiIIIIiiiIIIiiiItt!" calling from little people who have fallen asleep on my chest. I miss seeing them grow up.
Yeah, likely projecting, but, man, that need for human contact is raging in me right now.