I’m walking beneath an overpass in Austin and at my feet lies a homeless man. He’s in a sleeping bag, pen in hand, scrawling nonsense in a notebook. I’ve seen him every day of this music fest, always in the same spot, always asleep or scribbling. For all I know he’s legless, masturbating, or even a mermaid — he never leaves the bag. At times he gesticulates to an entity only he can see. At others he convulses like a caterpillar caged in its cocoon. He’s often on the sidewalk’s edge, off the road, where the underpass inclines to interstate. Though he lies in something soft, pillars and cement make this man’s home.
Myself and thousands more pass this sight each day. We’re drunk, having fun, trying to fuck. We step around him like a dog shit diaper left unfurled. He acts as an unpleasant reminder that from excess comes waste — a problem best left in the hands of another. But there is no other. He lays here each day, baking in the sun, long forgotten. He mumbles and scribbles, an endless loop as he rots beneath this bridge. It’s a city sight I’m so used to that it rarely registers. I take an interest because I wanna see if his writing is introspection or outward expression. Plus he’s in the way. But for now, as always, I’m occupied with something else. I take off to a show, forgetting the man in an instant. There’s booze to drink and bands to see.
Later on I’m coming back from a show, trying to reach the core of downtown to catch another. It’s my birthday and I wanna experience as much as possible. For birthday treats I bought a Four Loko and drank it from a paper bag. Plus I swallowed a sandwich found at the foot of a hydrant. Its meat had turned so I tossed its ham slabs and salami. The lettuce and cheese were hot and wilted, probably unsafe to eat, but I gobbled them anyway. I thought of treating myself to food not found on the ground but this sandwich would do. It tasted awful. Last week I was snatching discarded drinks and accidentally drank cigarette butts floating in beer. But I’m not picky when it comes to free. I’ve been eating pizza off these streets ever since I arrived in Austin. The bounty is great for a grift hound like me. The world deems a lot to be trash. Some edible, some still breathing.
I walk toward the bridge to where the homeless man rests his failing body. I always walk on his side of the street so I can see him as I pass. He’s a grizzled old man, unkempt and in disrepair. The surrounding area shows no sign of food or water. His belongings tally to little more than implements of prose and the coffin keeping him in. He’s older than my father and if he once had a family it seems they’ve given up or forgotten. In all regards he feels separate from this world and maybe that’s why it’s left him here to die. Whatever the case he never takes notice of those around him. He just mumbles and scribbles on paper. For me the sounds of music, traffic, and crowds melt together. For him I have to wonder if he even knows he’s in the middle of a music fest.
I wait at a stoplight ’til it’s safe to cross to his underpass. There I see a group massed together, not moving. I wonder if the hobo has done something to make them take notice. I approach his bridge and see a werewolf on the incline, his human hands playing violin. It’s a thin man in a rubber mask creating classical notes from wood, string, and skill. I don’t know if he has a donation box but I stand and listen, taking in this absurd sight. His face is set in a howl, teeth bared, blood lust ready to bite. His animalistic expression remains ever unchanged despite each shift in notes. He’s wearing pants and a yellow top, his spastic movement punctuating the intensity with which he plays. I peer further down the sidewalk and there’s the hobo sitting as always. He hasn’t noticed the werewolf that’s entered his home. I turn my attention once more to the monster. He shifts his bow to start a new song. I can’t place the melody but it’s beautiful.
Near my feet is a scrap of cardboard no bigger than a cereal box. It’s filled with writing so I pick it up — collecting hobo signs is one of my hobbies. I try make out the words but they’re nothing more than small and illegible letters. I’m not even sure they form sentences. I wonder if it’s an old piece of parchment from the hobo dying just feet away. If this is his writing then he’s the only cipher to its understanding. There’s nothing but nonsense so I set it down. I catch a few more seconds of the violin werewolf then get on my way.
The hobo has shifted his body so that his bag is sprawled across the sidewalk. He’s set in a way that one must step over or around him. I spot a forgotten beer the next street down. From the foam it looks to be full. I step over the hobo and hustle to the can, failing to look down as I hop across him. I’m in a rush. It’s my birthday. There’s shows to see and trash to eat.