The Invisible Man in Pigtown

There is an invisible man in Pigtown. You don't believe me? He's there, sitting on that bus stop bench on Washington Boulevard; you know, the block between Martin Luther King, Jr, Boulevard and Barre Street, right in front of the Farm Fresh Super Market. If you've ever bought a Big Mac meal at that McDonald's, you've seen him.

He wears an old black derby hat and a thick brown corduroy waist coat. He's usually sitting slumped down with the rim of his hat tilted down to cover his face.

He's invisible because no one wants to see him. As people approach the bench, their eyes turn away to avoid seeing him. People waiting for the bus, will sit on one of the other benches. They would either stare across the street to avoid eye contact or glance impatiently down the street hoping the bus would arrive soon.

He's not invisible to all people. Sometimes, little children see him as the walk by with their parents. If a child stares too long, the parent would yank the child's arm to turn him or her away. In a hush voice, the parent would tell the child, "It's not nice to stare at people."

William isn't really physically invisible, of course. But, he might as well be. William is homeless.

William hasn't always been homeless. For years, he had worked on the loading docks in one of the big warehouses at the harbor. He lost his job when the warehouses were replaced by the swank Inner Harbor shopping pavilions. Afterward, he drifted from job to job. Eventually, age took its toll and William lost his ability to lift heavy objects. Virtually, illiterate, William's job prospects dwindled to none and he found himself on the streets.

One bright sunny Sunday, I ran across William on the bus stop bench. I had just come out of the McDonald's with my Big Mac Meal. It was such a gorgeous day and I didn't want to eat my lunch inside. Evidently, everyone else had the same idea. The only outside seat left was the bus bench where William was sitting. William was sitting there by himself. No one wanted to sit next to him.

Redundantly, I sat next to William. He looked so hungry. I immediately turned away, hoping to erase the image of the hungry man from my mind. It wouldn't go away. As I opened my paper bag, I took another glance at William. He looked so hungry. My internal guilt engine sprang into overdrive.

"Hey, would you like something to eat? Here, you can have this and I can get another."

William nods and accepted my Big Mac Meal.

When I came back with another Big Mac Meal, we ate in silence.

I tried to initiate a conversation but William wouldn't say a word. He responded by shaking his head for no and nodding his head for yes. He wouldn't respond to questions which require answers beyond Yes and No.

When we finished and I started to get up to go, William grabbed my arm. Slowly, he searched for the word in his memory. Then, William softly said, "Thanks." And let my arm loose.

The following week, I came back to check on William and again we had lunch together in silence. After several weeks of Sunday lunches, we finally exchanged names.

Slowly, William regained his ability to carry on a conversation. There were weeks in which he initiated the conversation. William was invisible no more.

One Sunday, William and I went to a Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch. Our conversation was especially lively because William was hired, that week, to do janitorial work.

As we entered the fast food restaurant, the manager of the restaurant stepped in front of William.

"If you are panhandling, you'll have to stay outside. You can do that out there in the parking lot, but not in here."

I quickly stepped in and explained that William was with me. But it was too late.

William ate in silence that day. William is once again the invisible man.


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