I think I saw an old neighbor homeless on the street.
I was on my way to the doctor. Got off the Gold Line, walked up the avenue, it was stupid hot, stopped in the gas station to grab a bottle of powerade, and there sleeping on a cot on the side of the road under a tree was Paul.
At least, it looked like Paul. Paul was Section 8 back when I lived in North Hollywood. His dad flew fighters in Korea, which means he wasn't as old as he looked. He lived with his wife downstairs and kitty-corner from me, across the hall from the meth addict. I helped them hook up their ATSC/NTSC converter so they could keep getting broadcast television on their fading, dimming projection TV.
Paul would regale me with tales of his father's daring-do because I worked in the "industry", you see. I'd write it, he'd help me out, we'd split the profits. It was a great tale that needed to be told. His eyes would brighten up and he'd shake photocopies at me, but I was never allowed to take them. Most of the time he smelled of cheap beer. I would run into them occasionally at the Mexican Wasteland Target (so named because nobody white shopped there, and it was so poorly stocked that I actually had to assemble a thermos one time from random parts scattered about in a bin) but then I determined it was worth driving the extra three miles to go to the one erected on the site of the former Lockheed Skunk Works. There's another tale there, but oh well.
Paul's wife hit the emergency room a couple times while I lived there. She had trouble walking after. I suspected it was diabetes taking her down but you don't ask these sorts of things. You just express sympathy and hope for the best. I saw her infrequently. Paul mostly started running the errands. To the best of my knowledge they had a car but eventually it stopped moving.
Paul gave me a rug doctor once. No idea why. He liked me. I moved out. I gave him the rug doctor back because where we were moving we had hardwood. A light went out of Paul's eyes. I took his number, he took mine. I wasn't going to call him but I figured he'd call me. He didn't. Even though I gave him a drill. Because these are our rituals. Move across town, never see each other again.
I don't know that it was Paul, there under a tree in 104 degree weather, taking a nap against the world on a Tuesday afternoon. I'd get a better chance on my way back. I worried about it my entire appointment - do I say hello? Do I wake him up? Do I strike up a conversation? What do I owe Paul, as a former neighbor? What do I owe Paul as a fellow human being? What can I really do to help Paul? How far am I willing to go to help him?
I realized about 20 feet past him, sleeping there under the tree, that every homeless person I've never looked at was Paul to somebody.
When I was done with my doctor's appointment the cot was still there, but the man was not. I don't know that it was Paul. I don't know that it wasn't Paul. I know that if I got booted out of my shitty North Hollywood apartment when my wife died, and my car didn't work, and I was largely unemployable, that Pasadena maybe isn't a bad place to be. And I don't know that Paul didn't have anybody in his social safety net, but I know he had no kids.
And I remember watching the light go out of his eyes when I moved away forever.
It's been on my mind ever since. Every person on the street is somebody's Paul. And I need to do more. I'm not sure how yet.
I know for damn sure it doesn't involve calling my mother, so you got that on me at least.