I’m going to apologize to my mother straight off for using the word “hobo.” I feel as though it is probably offensive in some way, even though synonyms like “bum,” “beggar,” and “tramp” seem even worse, while “homeless person,” “vagabond,” and “panhandler” are just a mouthful. So even though I know we’re all God’s creatures and there but for the grace of God go I, I’m going to stick with “hobo.” Mostly because it makes me giggle.
There’s a fella—let’s call him Hobo Joe—who sits on my block every day. He’s tall, not poorly dressed, not smelly, and not overly thin. He is just like you and I in every way. Except that instead of going to work, he seems content to sit on random stoops with a coffee cup of change in his hand. I had always been curious about Hobo Joe, and then one day I saw a neighbor chatting with him. So I decided to make him my not-too-close friend.
From that day on, I started to say hello to Hobo Joe whenever I passed. At first, he seemed wary of me, assuming I was one of the many who were giving him a smile instead of change (which I was), but now he nods and gives me a lovely grin (with all teeth intact) whenever I say hello on my way back from morning yoga. I like to think of him as my urban doorman. In my incredibly expensive-slash-annoyingly rundown walkup building, the only thing standing between my apartment and the street is a broken lock, a second semi-broken lock, and 97 steps. So I like to think that if there were any problems, good ol’ Hobo Joe would be there to rescue me, much like you’d expect your toy poodle to stop a burglar single-handedly.
I have all these fantasies that Hobo Joe isn’t actually a hobo at all. Instead he’s one of those Long Island millionaires who brings home thousands of dollars a day in his tattered coffee cup. And he may be just that. But sadly, Hobo Joe let me down. One night, I saw him sitting on a random stoop, as usual, and I stared at him, waiting to catch his eye. Then I realized something was wrong. Joe seemed distracted. When he turned to face me, I realized that he wasn’t looking at me, but through me, with bloodshot eyes. He was definitely on something. What, I don’t know, since the world of drugs is as confusing to me as the world of politics. But something. From then on, I realized that Morning Hobo Joe and I were friends, but Evening Hobo Joe would never be my urban doorman. Or my not-too-close friend.
The realization is really deflating, sort of like when you learn the real story behind the tooth fairy. You know the truth, but you’d rather believe the fairy tale.