I stood on the roof and watched the sun set one last time. We would be kicked out of our apartment only a few short weeks later and I was cherishing the view from up here while I still could. Mt. Rainer loomed enormous far behind this city of men, putting into perspective just how petty our tallest buildings stood against the backdrop of a dormant, snow covered volcano.
Feet shuffled unwillingly to the edge of this two-story structure. I am not fond of heights. But I am fond of gaining a new perspective so I braved the roof and even peeked over the side to the street below. 43rd, the street directly in front of me, ran east to west and became a sort of hallway for the last rays of sun to be channeled within. Human shaped silhouettes emerged from the darkness on either side holding coffee cups and dog leashes, passed through the corridor of light, then resumed their journey back into the sun forsaken shadow lands.
Then there was a sort of waddling figure slowly dragging its old bones across the light. With a cane in one hand and some bags in the other I watched this weary soul leave the light and head for a bench beneath the green bus stop shelter. Even from my perch up on the roof I could see some sort of dark stain covering the entire backside of his light colored pajama bottoms.
No, surely it wasn’t that. Perhaps it was coffee. I mean after all, he had been sitting in front of the coffee shop before he made his short trip across the street. Yes, that was it; he had spilled coffee on himself.
But then came a woman with her dog. The woman walked by and acted as if everything were normal but dogs don’t follow societal protocol. He tugged on his master’s leash as the pants in question put his keen sense of smell on high alert. The dog sniffed at the pants and his owner had to pull him away.
It was not coffee.
Immediately I wanted to run down from this rooftop and over to this man who obviously was not having a good day. I wanted to help him in some way. But instead I waited for the bus to come. He would get on the bus and then be gone from my neighborhood and from memory shortly thereafter.
Here it came now, the articulating bio diesel carriage pulled to a stop in front of the Laundromat. Everyone boarded before him. He was slow, too slow for the world around him and so he came last. He disappeared into the bowels of the bus. But it did not move forward. I could see the bus driver through the big front windows turned around and talking to someone.
He wasn’t going to let him ride. After a minute the doors opened back up and the old man; defeated, mortified and stranded, made his way out of the bus and back to the place where he had started. The doors shut abruptly behind him. I could almost hear the passengers inside breathe a collective sigh of relief as it pulled away.
So there I stood. The sole witness to this depressing scene. I was disconnected by distance; two-stories above this mans life and the situation he was currently struggling through. Who was this man anyway? Where was his family? His sons, his daughters, his wife?
My feet pulled me away from the edge, across the roof, down the ladder and back into the apartment. My heart pulled me over to the dresser where it proceeded to instruct my hands to grab a pair of jeans, underwear and then a plastic bag to stuff them into.
I light out onto the sidewalk, crossed the street and found the old man sitting on a bench. What do I say? How do I offer him a change of clothes but still help him to keep some small shred of dignity (if he had any left) intact?
As I approached him I could see that my fears where correct. He had in fact soiled himself. I slowly made my way to the bench and sat down next to him. The bag in my hands rustled in the breeze. He didn’t look at me.
Stupidly, I asked him why the bus driver had kicked him off the bus. He didn’t answer. I just got right to the point and told him that I lived in the apartment across the street and that if he wanted to he could use my restroom to change out of his soiled clothing and into the jeans I was giving him.
He said no, but that it was very kind thing of me to suggest. I countered that the bus drivers wouldn’t let him on the bus if his pants looked like that. Then, in an effort to try and somehow relate, I told him that we all have bad days. Cheesy crap, I know, but I didn’t know what else to say. I hadn’t shit myself in public since I was 3.
His voice quivered and then he mumbled something about how things weren’t going well. I gave up trying to convince him that he should change out of his pants and asked him where he was trying to get. Aurora was his reply. Ok, that’s not too far away, I could probably find a ride for him if he wanted one. No, he said, I’ll figure it out somehow.
He was a broken man and I could tell that he didn’t want to accept my help. Or perhaps he wanted to accept it but was too embarrassed to allow for it. Freedom was his last right.
I sat next to him in silence for a minute.
Well, I brought this bag down here for you. There are some jeans and clean underwear inside. Do you want them? He turned toward me, held out his hand and said yes. I gave him the bag, bid him farewell and got up to leave. He said he didn’t know how to thank me enough. I told him it was ok and I was glad I could help.
Before I could round the alley that led back to our garden tears were gushing from my eyes. I wept for a lonely life of embarrassing and uncontrollable public bowel movements. I wept because I'm a big baby. I wept because this mans helplessness helped to put my life into perspective.