Usually, when I walk down Church Street, elation fills my heart when a person who hasn’t been around for a while finds me. Jim is one of the guys whose smile always brightens my day.
During an early winter cold spell, I carried a sleeping bag around for days looking for him. Our schedules sometimes don’t coincide, me being an early morning person, while he sometimes roams until late at night and then sleeps in or out, depending on the weather. Jim said he’d been around, just not at the same time as me. I must have missed his decline.
Last time I shot him and his daughter Amanda was Christmas morning. They were on their way to a meal at Junior’s, an annual food event for street people. Both seemed a little beaten down. She’s away right now. People say she was doing OK for a while. I saw him again in mid-January. He was talking with a cop about something. I gave him a dollar, staring without talking, before moving along. Enough drama. Didn’t know if he was engaged in a social or investigative conversation.
But, on St. Patrick’s day, as he waited for the parade of Ireland Cement Mixers, we chatted. He looked awful. Even the days in the past when he had been carousing and not taking care of himself, he had a sense of life. He had helped people who had fallen or who couldn’t take care of themselves, like Paul O’Toole. Out early, he would pick up litter in City Hall Park. He told jokes and stories. Had a high sense of morals and etiquette. Got pissed if you didn’t greet him and upset if he missed you. Today, he answered the question, “how are you,” with “… not too good. Doctors say I don’t have a chance.” He wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, though I asked several times.
He refused my offer to buy him a new coat. “Not going to be needing a new coat where I am going.” Turned down my open offer to do anything which would make him more comfortable or happy. “No need. I have been all the places I needed to go and done all I wanted to do. Just waiting for the end.” Damn. I took a dollar out of my wallet and offered it to him. He refused and then reached into his pocket, took out a silver dollar. “Here Duck. You take this dollar. Its for all the dollars you have given me over the years.” “I don’t need your dollar,” I said. “Then give it to someone who does. When was the last time a homeless person gave you a dollar?’ I took it.