July 2007

The man wore old cargo pants and a blue checked shirt with ripped elbows. His chucks had the laces undone, and his toes were sticking through holes in the ends. His fingerless gloves were well on the way to being handless gloves, and his trucker cap looked like it had been run over. I was surprised, then, when I looked at his face—the man was clean-shaven, with a tidy haircut. He had a beach-tan rather than a dirt-tan, and his teeth shone white when he grinned.

His personality was equally confusing. There he was, leant against the wall of the shop building, hat in front of him with a ‘3 kids to feed and no job' sign, exchanging pleasantries with passers-by. He seemed quite comfortable where he was, and chatted easily and cheerfully with anyone who stopped to talk.

I sat and watched him for a while, from the other side of the mall. I was still watching when, at exactly 1pm, he grabbed his hat, had a quick count of the change, picked up his gear and headed into the nearby bakery. He came out a few moments later munching on a bread roll. He sat on a bench as he finished it off, then sat a few minutes longer, enjoying the sun.

With his lunch-break finished, he went and sat back in his earlier place. He took out his sign, but turned it around, to reveal—written on the back—'about to be evicted. can't make rent.' He opened his bag, took out a greasy, long, brown-haired wig, put it on under his cap, and settled back in.

Gone, however, was the personable attitude and the chatter. This time, he stared at the ground. When people approached him, he glanced up, glowered, muttered a vague thanks, then looked right back at the ground. I watched him for a while, and decided I had to talk to him.

“Which one earns you more money?” I asked.

He looked up, shot me a dirty look, muttered something, then looked down again. A beat later, he looked up again and grinned at me. “Y'know, people seem to prefer the grumpy guy. Now buzz off; you're disturbing business.”