I see him in the mornings as I'm walking. He wears a sandwich board that carries the quote from Revelations: Fallen, fallen is Babylon.
The man in the sandwich board and the middle-aged people doing their morning tai chi in the park. A second group uses fans, the sound as they whip them open like a flock of monstrous birds clapping their wings in unison.
Two young women cling to each other in their walk-of-shame party dresses, tiny skirts and teetering, golden heels. Across the street two Mormon missionaries - about the same age as the girls - the boys' cheeks fresh, they seem happy to be here, walking past the sex club, the homeless men lying on the sidewalk, shirts slid up to warm their bellies in the sun, one with his hand tenderly down the front of his pants.
God damn it, you’ve got to be kind, my man Vonnegut whispers, and I try to climb inside the people I pass, to find the human center.
The man making broken, crazed cat's cradles asks for change, can't I give him something, anything? He looks healthy, lucid, young, capable of caring for himself, so why does he insist, why push for something from me?
I don't know. I don't know if he might be as unmapped as the strings in his hands, beaten and hungry in ways I can't see. Can I forgive him, the girls in their shoes worth more than my monthly rent, the hipsters laying out a picnic in the middle of the busy sidewalk, the pushy tourists with their Dolce & Gabbana shopping bags?
Does it matter?
I'm in my neighborhood now. The man walking in front of me steps on his right leg and the knee buckles out to the side. An old break that was badly set. My grandfather had the same limp, the same awful buckle that made me cover my eyes and peek between my fingers.
I shake my head at the man selling Street Sheets, but he calls after me as I pass, Thank you for the smile, he says. Thank you.