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A unique aspect of the quartier in Paris in which I live is its fascinating beggars. Over the years I’ve become familiar with their routines: daily, weekly and seasonal – some take a break in summer, others do so in winter. There’s the quiet young woman in a print headscarf who squats at the street corner on Sundays. She could, if provoked, overturn a cathedral with her voice. I know this because at four o’clock on her intermittent Wednesday beat she sometimes yells into her phone – a more recent model than the one I own – at someone who’s habitually late picking up the kids. Then there’s the man who hobbles on crutches and lives in scruffy briefs and a blue striped pyjama top. He keeps his face contorted and groans when you pass. But as soon as he crosses the Boulevard St Germain, his face relaxes into something almost pleasant and his crutch becomes an accessory. I once watched him give a sandwich to a less fortunate beggar; I wouldn’t have known it was him if he hadn’t been wearing those signature bottoms. Then there’s the mourner. His lament wakes me up on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He sustains the dismal face and plaintive cries all day outside the bakery. Come eight o’clock when the bakery shuts, he’s a happy chappy, and he hobbles off chatting with the friends that have come to get him. But my favourite of the lot is Fred.

Fred sits cross-legged by the cashpoint down the road. Beside him his phone charges on a photocell battery charger that he moves around in pursuit of sunlight. His begging bowl, a sardine tin, is half-hidden most times as if he’d brought it along as an afterthought. He has long twisted blond hair, a slim face ending in a pointy beard and the gentlest eyes on the planet. His look is never pleading, rather you get the impression he knows something you don’t, and if you lowered your head he’d let you in on the secret. Fred never speaks but always smiles. And Fred is the name I gave him; I haven’t asked for his name yet.

I pass him twice a week on the way to the market. He’s helped me with directions a couple of times, tracing out routes on my map with a tobacco stained middle finger. He also warns me when the cash point is out of order or eating cards – that’s what he mimes. Once I gave him some carrots and he displayed his teeth, the few left in his mouth; so I gave him bananas and peaches instead, which he carefully placed by his side before bobbing his head. Occasionally I’ll put a coin or two in the tin. He looks up with a smile as if to say “what a pleasant surprise”, as if he hadn’t expected the sardine tin trick to work.

Recently I discovered his watering hole, not for beers or spirits but for coffees. It’s the local Tabac and he’s a regular. When he’s amassed enough coppers, he goes over there, tips them onto the counter, and settles down to sip the coffee the coins get him. Someone will buy him a second or third when he’s done. The day I tried, he put up his hand, palm towards me: he’d had his fill. He twirled a stained finger forward: next time perhaps. I smiled and nodded.

I saw him stride out of a bank the other day and it didn’t surprise me. Nor would it surprise me if his bank balance was better than mine. He’s does less kowtowing than anyone I know and has such an air of laissez-faire about him that he’d be as unsurprising in the back of a Bentley as he is on his regular turf. Tomorrow is market day again. I think it’s about time I know his name. I’ll take a pen.

by David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, July 13, 2016

When my stepson was very small, he liked to talk about things that he had experienced, sometimes as recently as a week before or even a few days. It’s not like he could remember very far back. He didn’t have years worth of memories. It was more like weeks or months. A few weeks was a lifetime to him.

He would say, “Remember that time when we went to the beach, with you and mommy?”

“Yes,” I’d say. It had been just the previous weekend.

“That was fun,” he would say and smile.

He just wanted to relive the memory with someone. I think it was his way of looking at the world in a romantic light. His daydreams of what had been. He was always a romantic; always creating costumes, and imagining himself as other people.

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Originally posted Jan, 2005

We’d been hearing for several days about the snowstorm. They made it sound like it was going to be quite a doozy. Of course, if it’s going to be more than a few inches in our neck of the woods, they start calling it a blizzard. It comes complete with graphics and a name. As in, “The Blizzard of 2005” or “Storm of the Century.”

So, everyone was out buying snow shovels, salt, milk and bread, like we were all going to be holed up for weeks. But while everyone else was hunkering down for the storm, Bob had different plans. He wanted to go cut wood.

My friend Bob just moved here with his family from Washington State. Where he’d been living for the past ten years, it’s a little more wild than our little corner of South Jersey. The land is harder, the trucks bigger and the people tougher. Or at least that’s the impression I get. The night before, we’d been standing outside looking up at the night sky, when Bob commented that he didn’t think it was even going to snow.

“Really,” I said. “What makes you think it’s not going to snow?”

“Well,” he said, “Look at that moon.”

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Originally posted in 2005.
When I was in grade school, we had a genius who lived in my closet and smelled of garlic. He lived on the third floor of our house, slept at odd hours of the day, and kept his mail in our cereal cabinet. It’s a credit to my absolute belief in the normalcy of my family, that I didn’t find this strange in the least.
The genius and I shared the third floor, which was basically a converted attic. His bed was near a large walk-in closet and that is where he kept most of his processions including his TV. Most nights, while I was trying to fall asleep, he would be watching TV. The light would emanate from inside the closet like some weird Close Encounters moment, backlighting his inert body. The sound would be just loud enough to be distracting, but not loud enough to be entertaining.
How he came to live with us escapes me now, but what I do know is that my father had known him for years, and the genius, being without a place to live at the time, had been invited to come live with us. His name was Tom.

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