Two Indigent Sketches

1. HITCHHIKING THROUGH RENO IN 1985, I wandered by the green banks of the Truckee River, where a number of better-days men lived in the park, in what apparently remained of their business suits.

“Hey buddy, you got a second?” An older man, anyway older than I was — maybe 35. Dirty face, dirtier clothes.

“I don’t have any money, man, if that’s what you mean.”

“No, I wonder if you have a can opener.” He produced a can of Beanee-Weanees. “I haven’t eaten in two days.”

Compassion, when it comes, can be like a bolt of thunder. This time it felt more like a rising warm tide.

“Oh. Sure. Here, let me open that for you.”

I took out my Swiss Army knife and set to work. And noticed three other men, each bearing a can of food, patiently waiting their turn.

2. “Hey man, can you help us out?” Three comfortably-drunk looking men on a bench in San Francisco’s United Nations Plaza in 1987, each half-again my size, lazing in the cold afternoon sun.

“I’m broke, dudes.”

“No, that’s okay.” As evidence, they displayed a pair of bagwrapped 40-ounce beercans. Also, a newspaper. “Can you read? We’ve got the funny papers here but can’t read them.”

Sometimes, compassion is the sound of four guys laughing at Garfield.

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