As we all know March 5th is remember your hobo day.
You remember your hobo, right?
Everyone has known at least one. They’re called Tramps in England.
A bunch of other stuff has different names in America.
We’ve all had that discussion right?
It’s a boot. It’s a tap. It’s a fanny.
Lets skip it this time.
Life gives us an illusion of itself, I find. We have it and expect more of it.
Along the many paths we can take, there are shocks to remind us.
Our parents go. Friends our own age start dying. A heart attack here, cancer there, an accident.
But we’re still healthy right?
Even when I was diagnosed with cancer, it didn’t affect me. I would fight it. I got on with life.
There were small changes I tried to dismiss. Then one that stayed with me, when I felt there was no going back.
I got my colostomy bag fitted.
That was the start of my definite ending. In my heart, it was nearly my time.
You always lose when you live with no sense of direction. I used to hang around in bars a lot in my twenties. There you find people who are losing but somehow seem very happy with their lot.
One of my friends was Sammy the lad, quite entertaining, quite an aggressive drunk. He always had a story to tell of how he got into trouble. It was never one too many with Sammy. It was always 3,4,5 too many.
I wish I questioned my friendships sooner, I was young for my age and easily led.
I lost touch with Sammy and only recently he found me to apologise. He was sober now, going through his steps. Going through all the people he had hurt. Things had got very bad for him at some point.
We talked of the old times and he paused as if he had something important to say.
I knew it was about Alan the tramp.
A small town
I used to live in a small town,more of a village really.
As I walked about I always saw the tramp.
The first time I saw him rooting through the garbage bins in the village high street.
He took out a Mcdonalds carton – opened it up – there was nearly a full burger.
He kept on going, eating the burger. He walked up the street to the next bin. He seemed happy.
Sunny day,free food.
What could be better?
A house right?
You got it in one.
Chess and Busking
It was chess club when I first got to know him. He’s always looked pretty tidy for
tramp,with a smart mind to match. He wasn’t the best at chess, I struggled to beat him.
His clothes looked old. His beard and face clean, eyes always shining.
Even when I saw him busking he would stop mid song and shout “Tim,” slapping his
belly with his left hand. “Not bad for a tramp.”
Each time I saw him he was bigger than the last. He had to feed that smile.
I ventured outside and found my way into a local pub.
I saw Alan the tramp. They let him in to watch star trek on the pub TV.
Darmok was the episode. One of the most interesting episodes of Star Trek I’d ever seen.
For me it was all about the origins of language and the desperate attempts people can go
to just to communicate.
Alan said it was ” a bit abstruse for star trek.”
I asked him and he told me the meaning. “A bit like recondite.” He said.
Words were precious to me – they were my world. It was unusual to learn a new word that wasn’t from a book.
He played his guitar on the bridge and a few other places in the village.
If you were nice you could call it busking. He wasn’t very good and usually drunk.
He had a smile on his face, glowing like he’d been to a spa, maybe.
He used to live in Amsterdam, he made it sound so great. He had never had a house.
Homeless everywhere he went.
I was expecting Alan to turn up to watch Star trek as he usually did. Instead Sammy Boy came in, looking a bit roughed up. His long coat was dirty with a tear in it and his cowboy boots were all scuffed.
He sat on the bar stool next to me and ordered a bottle of Newcastle brown ale.
You had to walk past the market square to get to the pub. I asked if Sammy had seen Alan the tramp, but he quickly said no and took another swig directly from the bottle.
He was in his early 30’s a few years older than me. He still had that need to pretend as part of his personality, he pretended he was cool but today he looked messed up.
We stayed late and had too much to drink. Sammy said he knew where he lived.
“Don’t worry he won’t be in tonight.”
He lived out of the back of the pub. There were a few garages back there.
One of them had part of the metal door bent back. Alan would obviously lift the metal up and crawl in each night.
My friend crawled in and I followed him.
He had taken up the wooden floor, so there was a pit, lots of mouse traps and hidden
wires protecting him from rodents and intruders.
His bed was in the corner. Next to it was a sandwich.
My friend picked it up ,took a big bite and put it back.
Alan now had a half-eaten cheese sandwich.
We both crawled out laughing thinking Alan would think he had a big mouse.
I heard later, he was busking that night as usual. He got beat up, they smashed his guitar.
He ended up in hospital.
I saw him again about a week later for the last time,shouting across the market square.
” Tim,” he said. His stomach rippling as he slapped it several times.
“I’ve got a colostomy bag,” he shouted. A big smile on his face.
“I can drink all day and don’t need to go to the toilet.”
I find I often lift my hand to my stomach,like he used to.
My friend came into the pub one day earlier than expected. He told me he had heard Alan had died.
We both looked at each other. We silently left the bar and went out to the garage.
If we were lucky Alan may have left a cheese sandwich.
All these characters and relative strangers in my life, I try to remember.
Strangers I’ll never forget, who have forgotten me.
Just like I try to remember Harry and live by his rule.
My friend eventually persuaded me to get a monkey so we could perhaps make our own sandwiches in future.
Have you found that strangers have had a massive effect on your life? Who?