Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Where old men go to die

December 2, 1981

Where to the old men go to die? The bag ladies? The scared hobos?
Where do they go, the shiftless people, unshaven, unbathed, unwanted?
Where did Richi go? To join them? To find some invisible spot in the darkness, in the cold, in the trash by the river where the rats rummage through the garbage, where cats cry?
Where are you?
The Passaic River is an ugly stew which boils now at my feet, shaking the bridge with its rain sweepings.
Did that drown you?
Where do all the old men go when they’re not wanted?
Paterson hides them sometimes, taking them in its arms, crushing them with cold fits and broken brows.
A lady screams near here at city hall. An irate citizen? No.
They call her the screaming because she’s here every day yelling at some god, not Mayor Kramer, but not anyone anyone can see. She stands there in rags and screams, the clothing rotting with her frame.
Where are they?
No one knows.
Richi disappeared Saturday night. He tried to leave sooner, but couldn’t.
So he waited until I went to work, pretending to be asleep, walked out with only his jacket and twenty bucks.
A sad man already looking like a bum, his chin sprouting the rough beginnings of a beard, his clothing stained with some rushed cup of coffee.
The police say there are too many bums for them to shake them all down.
”If he gets arrested we’ll know,” the cop said, then the phone went dead – along with the person. All missing people are dead people until they rise from the grave when found.
I sit in Paterson watching the missing people walk, all wearing the same vacant look in their eyes, vacated for some new tenant who never arrivers.
Where do they come from?
Do they come from families like mine?
Crazy worlds of mixed feelings and bad tempers.
Out on Long Island, two hundred of these souls showed up to lay claim to a park.
“We can’t bust all the bums,” a police sergeant from Clifton told me. That phone went dead, too.
The hospitals tell me they have no beds for those kind of people as if they were bred wrong, as if they were some new kind of escaping slave, and the streets and starvation was really freedom.
“You know they call the Great Depression a depression,” the radio says, and that thought sticks in my head as rain pours down and I feel cold settling into my chest.
Where do these people go when it snows? Everyone points in different directions.
No one knows.
It’s like looking for a needle by sitting in a wheat field. You don’t even have the stack of hay to search, just rows and rows of buildings, each wearing the same unsympathetic face.
“Not here,” the Lodi police say, the click of the phone answering my next question.
The Passaic River flows quickly when it rains, shifting tires and old metal drums. They could be bodies. Maybe they never come back; they just get replaced by new generations of bums and bag ladies, and lost sheep crying without voices or people who’ll listen.
Somewhere out there my uncle Richi roams, with madness driving him on and on.

No comments:

Post a Comment