Do You Have A Hand Phone

My desk faces the sidewalk on Grand Avenue in Arroyo Grande. Outside my office is a park bench, a planter, and a garbage can. I cannot help but to watch the life on the street as it reveals itself to me.

When I lifted the blinds this morning, I noticed a pizza box on the park bench. . I resigned myself to walk out and put the box in the garbage at my earliest convenience. Throughout the morning, I watched as a number of people would walk by and lift the cover of the box. One man walked by with a dog that also used his nose to inspect the contents. But as I watched passers by interact with the box, I delayed my commitment to go put it in the garbage.

After about four hours, someone moved the box about five feet to the garbage can.  I missed out on seeing who it was. The box was placed on top of the can. Although helpful, the person did not go as far as to break the box in half so it would fit into the can.

The trashcan is a daily source of visits. I am beginning to take note of the people that stop by. Today I decided to give them names. Some visitors have baskets, others just reach in and look around.

One of the reach-around people is a man about 50 to 55 years of age. He looks pretty clean with decent sneakers, sweat pants, and wears a jean jacket with a hoodie underneath. He has had a haircut and his beard is well maintained. His first dip into the can produced a Styrofoam cup with a lid and a straw. He opened the cup and tipped it upside down, noting that the contents were all gone. On his second attempt he pulled out another Styrofoam cup. This time he was more satisfied with his discovery. He removed the lid and straw and sat down cross legged on the bench. He smelled the contents of the cup before taking a drink.

I often see people talking to themselves when they pass by my window. But this fellow was very different. As he sipped from the Styrofoam cup, he placed his hand to his ear and began having a cell phone conversation with his hand. Anyone driving by would not take another look, as his mannerisms were perfect. He looked like any ordinary man sitting on a bench drinking coffee and talking on his cell phone.

When he finished his drink and concluded his hand call, he put the cup back in the garbage can and even made an effort to fold up the pizza box and fit it through the hole in the lid. Then he continued on with his day. He crossed the street and reached into another garbage can. This time, it revealed nothing. Away he walked.

I guess the reason why I wrote this down was that I was stricken by the plight of the homeless in a very intimate, yet unconnected way. After all, my window separated us. I sit in my office in the mornings drinking coffee and talking on my cell phone just as he did on the bench. It made me wonder if I was observing him or if he was observing me? There is a tint to my window, but you can make out some of what is happening when you are on the outside looking in. He did not do anything to acknowledge me – no wave, no smile, no eye contact of any time.


I observed a homeless man fighting hunger and possibly delusion. I thought about our national healthcare system. I thought about the ban on styrofoam cups in our county and the impact they would have on people. I wonder what he observed, if anything at all.

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