“Hey man, you wanna buy some weed?”
I was headed down into the train station on Market Street here in San Francisco when Sherman approached me. He pointed to a scraggly looking character leaning against a trashcan on the corner.
“Dis dude here, he selling some primo stuff man and I get a cut if you buy! When I seen you comin’ I figured you’d be up for some so I told him I axe you, so how ’bout it man? You want some?”
I hadn’t a clue where Sherman got the idea that I’d be in the market for some street weed since I’d never bought any from him or anyone else. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that I’m friendly with all the street folks on our corner and I’ve had a soft spot for him since the first time we spoke.
He’s a scruffy old black man with a good heart who’s had a miserable life. He’s about seventy and God knows how long he’s been out on the street, drinking and getting high as much as possible. I heard it was nearly twenty years and if that’s the case it’s amazing he’s survived this long.
“Sherman, what makes you think I’d buy weed from that guy even if I did buy weed off the street, which I don’t, but seriously man, just look at him..”
He was a white punk in his late-twenties, filthy, tatted-up, scrawny and scraggly as hell. He looked like he’d rob his own grandmother for a few bucks to spend on a bottle of cheap tequila. Sherman knew exactly what I was talking about.
“Yeah man, he bad news but I just need somethin’ to help me sleep tonight, you know how it is.”
I told him I did, and that I was sorry but couldn’t help and then I went on my way. No hard feelings and no grudges are held by Sherman because he can’t remember having talked to you the day before, so he’d never remember you not helping him out. He probably wouldn’t hold a grudge even if he could remember anything because deep down in there somewhere, he’s really a sweet old man.
About a week after that I was headed up out of the train station to go home and Sherman approached me with some exciting news. It seemed his daughter and her husband in New Orleans, where he was originally from, had tracked him down through the city and had arranged for him to come home.
A social worker found him through the city shelter system and got him in touch with his family, then arrangements were made for a bus ticket. He could hardly contain himself as he told me about how his daughter said they’d pay for a rehab center and once he got out and was clean, he would stay with them.
He told me of the two grandkids he’d never met, and how he felt that God had just been letting him live so that he could see them one day. His daughter told him they thought he was dead but on a whim, she’d hired a private investigator because she wanted some closure. What a surprise it was when he was found to be living on the streets of San Francisco! He couldn’t even remember how he got there.
One of Sherman’s friends, Jerry, was a witness to his jubilation that night. He kept nodding and smiling as Sherman told me the story, and then Jerry told me that Sherman had been telling it to every passer-by who’d stop for the past four hours and it was about the hundredth time he’d heard it. He didn’t mind though, it was a happy story. I congratulated Sherman and wished him well. I really meant it too, as few stories turn out that nice when it comes to those living on the street.
The next day I saw Jerry on the same corner. “Hey, did Sherman get off okay?” I asked.“Oh yeah, we made sure he got down to the Greyhound depot when he was supposed to and the social worker met him with his bus ticket. You never saw a happier man, he wouldn’t stop yammering about his grandkids!”
About a week after Sherman had departed, Jerry stopped me one day as I came out of the train station.
“Hey man, I just thought you’d want to know.. Sherman’s dead.”
“What? Oh my god, how?” I felt a lump in my throat.
“It seems the bus stopped in Texas somewhere and the driver let everyone off for a smoke break. The ditzy old man stepped off and didn’t look where he was goin’ so he walked right in front of a car. They said it hit him pretty hard and killed him instantly. His daughter called to let the social worker know that he’d never made it home, and the worker came and told us ‘cuz we’re his friends.
”I thanked him for telling me and then made my way home through a veil of tears and disbelief.
I think it has to count for something that the chance came and he wanted to go home, so he took it. It must be worth something that his daughter had found him and they spoke on the phone, and he got to hear his grandkids tell him they wanted to see him.
I hope that when my time comes suddenly, as I know it will, I’ll be on my way somewhere in a metaphorical sense, and not just standing on the corner.