On the sidewalk outside New Seasons grocery store sat a man with leather-like skin, his cheeks and mouth a maze of wrinkles, leaning against his backpack. His crude cardboard sign said “Anything helps” on one side “Do something kind” on the other. The sign was fairly small; it too leaned against his backpack (at a kind of side angle so both sides could be visible … if you looked).
The man did not actively seek eye contact; he let his sign and appearance speak for him.
I gave him a dollar. I was a little arrested by the light of spirit in his eyes.
I remembered that I also had some loose change I wanted to get rid of – pennies and such – so I gave him that too, maybe 60 cents. He thanked me and we had a short conversation during which he alluded to putting away enough spare change to get himself some mac and cheese. I told him I’d bring him mac and cheese from inside the store, which I did. (Cost me $3.51.) When I gave it to him, I told him I’d come back for the plate when I was done shopping, but when I got back out again, the plate was gone. He had brought it back inside himself.
I had a modest dessert for him – a bite of cheesecake in a tiny paper cup. (They were giving out free samples in the store).
We shook hands and exchanged first names and said goodbye, but it took me a minute or two to load my bike baskets, during which he continued to talk to me a little. He thought I had dropped a key. (I had not; the key in question belonged to someone else.) As I was folding my jacket to stuff on top of my groceries, he made a comment about summer being here now and I replied, without much thought, “Yeah, but this crazy Portland weather … I left from my house on my bike at about 4:30 (it was now slightly after 6) and I had on THREE LAYERS then … and now I’m down to this t-shirt.”
He offered a pained grin. “Yeah, I’m down to my basics,” he replied casually.
I said, well, it was nice meeting him, hopped on my bike and pedaled away.
As I rode, it occurred to me that I had not wanted to ask the obvious question, which was “What exactly are your basics?” I hadn’t even noticed that that question had hung in the air.
I wonder how many other obvious questions I do not ask, because my mind blocks them from my sight, for various reasons.