When you witness something are you really seeing what’s going on?
The other day I was walking a brick path lined with wooden benches. Perennial gardens and low shade trees flank the walkway, which connects a library, courthouse, municipal offices and a veteran’s memorial. Rising above all this is a bronze sculpture encircled by a splashy water fountain. It’s a peaceful, pretty area generally populated by teen boys rumbling around on skateboards, seniors parked on benches, and children chasing pigeons. It also has a lot of homeless people.
On this day, the walkways were empty. As I followed the path, supervising Girl from the East’s balancing act on the garden wall, I noticed an attractive, well-dressed man walking toward us at a brisk clip. His mouth threatened a smile. His eyes and whatever story they might tell were hidden behind dark glasses. He balanced a cardboard pizza box on one upturned palm. Mr. Well-Dressed passed us, turned and leaned over a white-bearded homeless man slouched on a bench. The pizza box exchanged hands. Mr. Well-Dressed — was he a lawyer from the courthouse or one of the local business owners on a break — crouched to get at eye level with Mr. Homeless and began talking to him in a low voice.
At this point my attention shifted to Girl from the East, who was attempting a jump off the wall. But I couldn’t get Mr. Well-Dressed out of my mind. It wasn’t his looks or his clothing. It was what he did. It really moved me.
When I worked in this town years ago, my co-workers and I occasionally (and by that I mean rarely) would leave food offerings on benches and in doorways. Generally it was a bag of bagels or takeout leftovers. I’ve never had the courage to hand food directly to someone on the street.
I looked back at the two engaged in quiet conversation. I tried to read body language. I tried to eavesdrop. Was this a random act? Did this guy pick a different person each week or each day to feed? Did the two strike some kind of deal earlier? Was this an attorney-client thing? Why the heck was I obsessing as usual about something that did not concern me.
As I walked toward my car, a breathless woman clutching a cell phone caught up to me.
“Did you see? It’s him, isn’t it?” she asked.
“That GUY! The one who just gave a pizza to the homeless man. He was on ‘The Sopranos.’ I can’t think of his name,” she said, clearly hoping I’d jump on her bandwagon.
“I never watched that show,” I said, shrugging and beginning to feel like I was on one of those candid camera shows.
I looked around for Mr. Well-Dressed. His good deed completed, he was now heading toward the parking lot. Pinstriped lawyer? Incognito actor on a personal mission? Weird set-up for ‘Punk’d’?
Ms. Enthusiastic was still going on about ‘The Sopranos.’ She said something about a cop show in Detroit. I shook my head, told her I really had no idea who he was. Then she was off to follow Mr. Well-Dressed to his car.
I went home. I Googled. I looked at pictures online. I think Mr. Well-Dressed really was Mr. Actor Guy.
I’d like to think I witnessed something random and kind. I’d like not to think of this as some celebrity sighting, something that made its way around Twitter or Facebook. I don’t like the creeping cynicism that poisons my thoughts.
When you see something happen, do you really know what you’re seeing?