A homeless man regains his balance along the sidelines
Recently a man in my town took up residence on the town football field, in a tent in the northwestern corner. He had been a terrific football player in high school, and then in college, and then in the nether reaches of the pros, and then he had entered into business ventures, but these had not gone well, and he had married and had children, but that had not gone so well either, and finally he returned to the football field, because that was where things had gone well, and he needed to get balanced again, so, with all due respect to people who thought he was a nut, he thought he would stay there a while. He had already spoken with the cops, and it was a mark of the general decency of our town that he was told he could stay a while as long as he didn’t interfere with use of the field, which of course he would never think of doing.
He had been nicknamed the Hawk when he was a player, for his habit of lurking around on defense and then making a stunning strike, and he still speaks the way he played, quietly but then amazingly, and when we talked recently he said some quietly amazing things, which I think you should hear.
“A reporter came by the other day, and she wanted to write about the failure of the American dream, and the collapse of the social contract, and I know she was just trying to do her job, but I kept telling her things that didn’t fit her story, like that people come by and leave me sandwiches, and the kids who play lacrosse at night set up a screen so my tent wouldn’t get peppered by stray shots, and the cops drift by at night to make sure no one’s giving me grief. Everyone understands someone getting nailed and trying to get back up again. I just lost my balance. People are good to me. I keep the field clean. Lost cell phones I hang in a plastic bag by the gate. I walk the perimeter a lot. I saw coyote pups the other day. I don’t have anything smart to say. Things just are what they are. Someone leaves coffee for me every morning by the gate. The other day a lady came by with twin infants and she let me hold one while we talked about football. That baby weighed about half of nothing. You couldn’t believe a human being could be so tiny, and there were two of him. That reporter kept asking me what I had learned, what would I say to her readers if there was one thing to say, and I told her what could possibly be better than standing on a football field holding a brand-new human being the size of a coffee cup, you know what I mean? Everything else is sort of a footnote.”
Excerpted from The Sun (Feb. 2011), which for more than 30 years has used personal essays, short stories, interviews, poetry, and photographs “to invoke the splendor and heartache of being human.” www.thesunmagazine.org
This article first appeared in the May-June 2011 issue of Utne Reader.