I’m having breakfast at a delicious rooftop-high hideaway. It offers a bird’s eye view of the beachfront as well as the teaming masses making their way under the hot sun.
From my vantage point, I have been watching a homeless man as he reclines in his fold up chair, surrounded by his sole possessions; a red cooler, a plastic bag with what looks like shorts and a tee-shirt, two stuffed black backpacks and a cylindrical wrapping of something that he keeps close at hand.
People pass him by, ignoring him, as if he were merely part of the very cement he occupies, or perhaps an odd shaped shrub. I wonder how many folks actually see him as they make their way past, or if he really is as invisible to them as he seems. He sits stranded in solitude on his own island, in his own world.
He takes occasional sips from a bright red sports drink that had previously been baking in the sun a few yards away. Looking into the wide-mouthed top, he seems disenchanted and unzips one of the backpacks producing a nearly empty plastic bottle of vodka. It’s obviously cheap and likely tastes less appetizing than paint thinner. Pouring the final bits into his sports drink he tucks the container away.
His area is remarkably clean. While I’d been watching him earlier, as he set up the lawn chair oasis, he picked up the bits of trash that had collected in his newly claimed area. "A man’s Home is his castle," even if that castle is a 5 by 3 foot slab of shady cement.
Ten or so birds have begun to gather around him and he is chatting with them like an old friend. His hands move this way and that, animated with the excitement of the story he’s sharing with them. He looks slightly insane, but no more so, I suppose, than the folks walking past him loudly chatting into the Borg-esq Bluetooth devices.
The flock at his feet clearly know him well and they focus their attention on him. He laughs and smiles and looks about them as if explaining the preliminaries of a magic trick. The rabbit from his hat however, takes the form of the cylindrical wrapper…Ritz crackers!
The birds are ecstatic! I think they think it’s the best magic show in town, and they applaud and flap about wildly with their own special kind of laughter and commentary. “Bird Man Magic Show, come one, come all!” they all shout and a dozen more friends of friends touchdown at his feet, fly about his shoulders and land on his arms. Crumbs of crackers are raining down on his audience and together they make quite a sight and I can’t help but smile at their joyful display.
Maybe the folks going by think he’s a total nutter, if they’re even bothering to take notice, or maybe he simply appears to them for an instant, Brigadoon style, as a laughing, talking fiend raving madly and happily to his feathered friends.
From his not so deserted anymore island, a man and his birds have each other. I think about how he’s connected to something beautiful, the way Tom Hanks’ character did with Wilson the Soccer Ball and it makes me happy to think he's not really alone. As he sits in that chair, invisible to the “normal” people passing by, he is loved by his birds and he loves them back. We should all be so lucky.