It’s been a while since I’ve seen that guy.
It used to be that our paths would cross at least once a day; I used to leave for the office at roughly the time he left for the bus stop, and I’d frequently see him stumbling back up the street on my evening commute.
My morning routine has changed so that I don’t often see him, but I was running late this morning and drove past him on his way to the bus stop.
He can barely walk straight — drunk or sober — and he now walks with a cane all the time. He never seems completely with it, he’s got shakes like someone with Parkinson’s. It’s unclear when he bathes or washes his clothes, but it’s obvious that it isn’t often enough.
Yet he and his older friend get out of the door like clockwork to wait for the bus that will take them to the bar or liquor store they frequent.
There is, of course, nothing I can do about this situation. What would I say? What could I do?
We were at the library on Sunday afternoon. My older son was coloring a picture, my younger son was using one of the touch-screen computers.
Shortly after we arrived, a woman and man came with a rather fussy preschooler.
In my younger, pre-parenting days, I would have found much to judge in this scene: a man with a tattooed tear near his eye and a tattooed web on his neck, leaving one long, loud voice mail after another on his cell phone; a woman wearing too much eye makeup, a bunch of tattoos on her arms; a nearly-three-year-old kid with a pacifier and attitude.
These days, I don’t care how much cleavage a fellow parent is showing or whether I approve of the snacks her kids eat. This woman was desperate for a Diego game on the computer. I’ve known that kind of desperation.
A librarian pointed her to the Dora game, which seemed to work for her son. I showed her that the screens worked by touch, so her son didn’t have to negotiate using a mouse.
He was happy on the computer for a few minutes, and then drifted off to the blocks for a while, and kept fussing, and his parents recognized that he was tired (after a long, loud discussion) and suited him up so that he could go home for a nap.
I know the “my-kid-needs-Diego” desperation, but those parents had more concerns on their minds than whether their kid was going to get his Baby Jaguar fix for the day. There was much more swirling in the air around them: finances, family issues, general frustration. These folks were on edge, and their son’s naptime was the least of it.
There are folks out there who are struggling in all sorts of ways. So far, my response to those people has been to drag their drunk butts out of the middle of the road and onto a snowbank, or to show them how to use a touch-screen computer, or to flash them a quick smile and a friendly word.
All of that’s well and good, but I need to do more.
I wish I knew what ‘more’ entails.