The Wardrobe of a Homeless Man (Part Two)

July 7, 2008, 2:00 pm; posted by
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Read Part One here!

George’s third layer is a gray zip-up hoody with pockets right where he can slip his hands in. He wears this in the fall and spring when the weather hasn\’t chosen its extreme yet. He found it in New Mexico at a thrift store. He saw a woman come in with boxes and bags filled with all kinds of coats and gloves, so he asked her where they were from. No one person could have that many clothes, he thought. She told him they were from the school she worked at. “Every winter,” she explained, “the Special Ed department offers a free cup of coffee to students who bring in clothes to donate to the Good Will. This is the first week\’s drop.” He found the jacket and left. He keeps the kindness of strangers close to his heart, but far enough away so that the kindness won\’t burn when it turns sour. It almost always does.

His fourth layer is his big army jacket — the one that keeps him warm on the harsh New York winter days. He carries all his belongings in the pockets: his skipping stone with “prosperity” carved into it, his Canadian dime, a ticket stub from the first and last movie he ever saw — Gone with the Wind — a business card from the pastor down at the soup kitchen, and his gold — the library card.

When it gets too cold, all he needs is that card and he can go to the library and read a book or go on the Internet or do whatever he wants. Sometimes he\’ll just sit and watch the people go by. He knows this makes them quicken their step and clutch a purse or a child\’s hand a little tighter. It doesn\’t matter. He wears all his layers on top; their stereotypes mean nothing to him. His coat used to be dark green like his T-shirt, but after years of falling asleep in it, using it as a pillow or a mattress, there is no color. There is Broadway, 24th and Main, Times Square, Central Park, the obscure alleyways in Queens. The color of his coat is New York. He wears his life on the top layer — who he is, where he goes, what he does. It\’s all there for everyone to see.

Then there are his regulars. His black jeans, now gray with white spots and oil stains, his black boots with scuff marks, scratches and a hole at each pinky toe, and his brown socks that used to be white, the ones he nicked from Payless six years ago. There\’s also his cap with a broken bill and his driving gloves with slick leather grips and holes at each fingertip. These are all the commonalities in his life. These are the sins he\’s committed, the good he\’s done, the things that have scratched him and scuffed him and taken things out of him. These are the things that have stolen his years and over time put dirt under his nails and in the wrinkles of his face, dirt that will never wash out. These are the things people assume are there because they see them in everyone else like him. He wears these assumptions no matter what the weather, right against his skin.

Last, there\’s his blanket. It is brown and frayed at the edges. There are torn places where a strip or two has been shed. He found it a long time ago on a subway, covering another degenerate who had been lucky enough to find a token for a ride, but unlucky enough to choose a car where no one would realize that he had expired. George saw him and informed the conductor, but not before he took a memento of the man to remember him by. Now this blanket is what protects him when the world gets to be too judgmental. He wears a shield as his last layer so he can wear his other layers on top, show them off. He wears his last layer to remind him that this too shall pass, that when he dies, the world will still go on and the subway will not stop running.


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