Friday, January 24, 2014

Call Me Sid. No, Call Me Ismael. Okay, Whatever.

For over a week, you have seen a man whose name may or may not be Sid, standing at the Las Positas Road entry/exit to the Loreto Shopping mall, a mall of modest size in what is a tad north of the central part of Santa Barbara.

Sid, who may or may not be homeless, appears to be about the size and proportion equivalent to a man's off-the-rack suit size forty, a size which in its way is about the average size for man's clothing.  He has gray, curly hair of a tint and intensity that adds to your suspicion about whether Syd is homeless or that his name is Syd.

Disclosure.  Such hair as you have is gray, in about the shade of Sid's more luxurious growth.  Your hair is the color it is because your cutter, Maryelle, some years ago confessed to you that she used a shampoo on you with blue in it.  Indeed, her Christmas gifts to you have invariably been shampoo, known by her to contain a blue agent.  Her reason is the essence of simplicity.  "Gray hair can get to look yellowish and grotty.  Blue rinse removes the tendency for gray hair to yellow."  

When she first discussed this with you, she gave a gesture you have seen many French persons make, on many occasions.  Her gesture reminded you of pantomiming the release of a pigeon, the hands beginning in near enough proximity for you to visualize them holding the pigeon, followed by the upward flick whereby the bird is sent off to fend for itself.  Since you've known Maryelle, she has thus released many pigeons.  For at least fifteen years, she has been slipping blue into your hair.

Thus in four paragraphs, a background for your belief that Sid neither has his hair cut in a barber college or is a stranger to shampoo with blue in it.

Your assessment of Sid not being his real name came as a result of you asking him what his name was, which came as a result of you having read the hand-lettered sign he extended to every car entering Loreto Plaza, either as you did, by turning left at the intersection of State Street and Las Positas Road, then making an immediate right into the parking lot.

Unlike many of the hand-lettered signs you've seen here and numerous other places in Santa Barbara and such satellite destinations as the warp and weft of your life take you, the headline on Sid's sign did not advertise hunger, homelessness, joblessness, or all-inclusive despair, nor one memorable headline, "Wounded for Country."  Sid's sign said, "Be Sure to Read Small Print."

When you first saw that sign, you knew you were going to be out at least a dollar.  After you parked your car, alit, then approached him, his posture and demeanor impressing you with its anomalous-yet-apt Ralph Lauren stylishness, you forced yourself to set a limit.  No more than five dollars.

In range to read the small print, you were impressed.  "I am,"  it said, "a sincere person."  No more than five dollars.

There has never been a question in your mind that a person holding a sign, such as Sid, standing at a freeway off ramp or entry to a shopping center, is in effect putting the bite on humanity.  He or she--for you have seen women sign holders--are asking for money.  They know it.  You know it.  Transactions are made or not made with this basic understanding as a subtext.

"Hey,"  you said to Syd, which is not so innocent or friendly as it sounds.  If the response is anything approximating "God bless" or "Spare change," you will have been impressed in a most negative way.

Sid made immediate eye contact.  "Hey,"  he said, establishing the kind of peer relationship you admire.  He wore a threadbare buffalo plaid shirt, stringy-but-clean khakis, and a faux Sherpa vest against the cold.  The Ralph Lauren image was entirely one of projection.

"Tell me your name,"  you said.

There was enough of a pause, while he appeared to you to be considering possibilities, to cause you a moment of suspicion you might be getting a street name or an improvised name.  "Sid,"  he said.  "Call me Sid."

You did, resisting the impression heavy within to reply, "And you can call me Ishmael."  Instead, you reminded yourself about the five-dollar limit.

Sid's story was short because, after all, he was at work and you were only a potential income stream, quantity as yet uncertain.  He had, he told you, not been doing well in this location even though word on the street was that Loreto Plaza was "reliable turf."  He'd tried a number of hand lettered signs, including "Stranded," "Out of Work," "Hungry," and "Need a Job."

Then he met Fonzo, not by any means to be confused with Henry Winkler, rather the diminutive of a man named Alphonso.  Or so he said he was called.

Sid claimed to have purchased the sign and working rights to this entrance/exit for Loreto Plaza, home of Gelson's Market, Chaucer's Books, Renaud's Patisserie, Harry's Plaza Cafe, Norvell Bass Dry Clearner, and The Federal Pharmacy.  Sid further claimed he turned over six dollars in wrinkled dollar bills and a near perfect set of eight of the fifty twenty-five-cent pieces representing various states, which he was hopeful of converting into a full fifty, as he put it, thinking it would be irresistible to some collector.

Of all the things Sid told you, this last struck you as the most sincere and convincing.  You also gave weight to his assertion that a motherly type donor gave him a coffee from the bakery in Gelson's and a cinnamon bun rather than hard cash.  "That's two, two fifty worth of goods,"  Sid allowed, "But think about it, man.  Where am I going to get anything close to drugs for two fifty?"

How much of Sid was true?  How much of him was on the spot improvisation, reading you for clues as he went along, estimating how long he could in fact keep you there, listening to him?

These entries and observations under your name and logo often attest to you vulnerability for story, your sense that a reality without it is a matter of untrustworthy clutter.

Sid, who might not have been Sid at all, had the power over you that story has, including the moments of cynicism, doubt, skepticism, and wondering if you were being played.

Before parting from him, you were reminded of your own days as another kind of storyteller, a carnival barker, an individual selling outcomes such as teddy bears, stuffed dogs, canned hams, and kewpie dolls, then, in reversed circumstances, at the mercy of auto mechanics, landlords, and street-corner sales persons with deals too good to be true.

Of course you gave him the five dollars.  And of course, in the future, when you ask one of the individuals who appear to you, looking for work in a novel or short story, you will listen with great care when you ask them to tell you their name, looking for clues of how much you can trust of them.

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