Reb Drunkard’s Wisdom

THE MAN WITH THE UNWASHED face was dressed in baggy street-person clothes which seemed to cushion the cold concrete beneath him.

He was laying in front of the Carl’s Jr. restaurant in San Francisco’s Justin Hermann Plaza one cool night in 1986, perhaps one of a series of nights and days spent drifting through passersby from liquor store to curb.

He wasn’t moving, at first. Then he lifted his head and looked around in bemusement, his eyes sliding over the passing faces like a mariner seeking harbor.

Finally, he roused himself, put his hands and elbows on the sidewalk, but treacherous liquor! the thief of agility robbed him of his rising and he slowly toppled to his left side.

One arm outflung, the effort began again. He rolled to a sitting position, tried to use the momentum to rise, but alas, the meat was unsuited to the motion and the seeker lay anew upon his right.

But human heart is not so easily cowed. Once again the brow furrows with effort. Neither Sisyphus rolling his boulder nor Montana his yardage were possessed of more goal-seeking will. And yet, that fate which watches babes and drunkards was not impressed enough to grant the pilgrim’s boon; and so he sank a third time to the all-embracing concrete, stupefaction and wonder writ in his face’s every line.

It was my wont in those days to wander downtown, dictating random poems into a pocket tape recorder. From my perch by the BART stairs I wondered if I should help. One passerby thought the same thing and stopped, hands on knees, to offer what he could.

But the man was fumbling in his jacket pocket, and he waved on his would-be savior with a laugh that carried across the plaza. A moment later he rolled on his right side, lit a cigarette, and prepared to wait it out.

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