The bum bopped to his own beat south along the beach with a rucksack on his back, a chilly breeze in his face, the setting sun in his eyes and waves lapping over shell beds at his feet. A light fog settled over the coast as the late afternoon air cooled, diffusing the sun’s rays and adding a surreal, other-worldly sense to the atmosphere.
He pondered in the sanctity of his heaven if he had completely lost his mind.
Earlier in the day he had published a scathing blog about the city having issued a permit to a church for the playing of live Christian music in a residential area on the Saturday morning of the annual marathon. The blog also documented the chaos that ensued after the bum crossed the street to complain to Crappy Crusaders band members. Their sound system had shaken his apartment building’s walls, waking at least one of his neighbors.
He had made four phone calls to city hall to tell government employees that the band faced his apartment — merely 120 feet away. He registered a complaint with the mayor’s office, also leaving two messages with the zoning administrator and one message with a woman said to handle the permit process. The calls to the zoning administrator and the “permit” woman weren’t returned. As Gomer Pyle often said, “Surprise! Surprise!”
Beachcombers followed the ebb and flow of the waves, chatting and laughing with friends and family, enjoying one of the most popular tourist destinations on the east coast. The bum felt like an outcast among them; their faces reminded him of the People of the Pew. Still, he said “hello” to any of them within 20 feet of him. He wished them a “good day.”
The zen lunatic wanderer whistled and played air guitar as he strolled along. He spoke with seagulls in a high-pitched voice so they could understand him. He consoled one of them after it picked up a spiny sea urchin by one of its quills and dropped it back in the surf.
“Hey, baby. You hungry? Aw, I’m sorry. You look cold, too. Awww.”
To most, he must have looked like an aging, carefree hippy. but what they saw was a façade. Rage roiled in him where his conscience once reigned. His anger stemmed from an incident involving idiot ex-landlords and the ineptitude of a few of the city’s “finest.” That story will have to wait for another day because justice is bogged down in the muck and mire that is our legal system. For now, he must be happy that he is “winning.”
The confrontation with the church people had exacerbated the bum’s anxieties. The resulting fracus was ugly, and his documentation of it might very well have made it worse. He sent his blog/website address to the church’s social network page and challenged its congregation to read his take on the chaotic situation.
An old friend of his from Pennsylvania — a former newspaper co-worker — had contacted the bum on a social network and told him that he had come across in his blog as a cranky old man. His highly-intelligent buddy pointed out to him that he lived in a resort town just blocks from a commercial district. He should expect the unexpected.
The bum kicked at stones and shells, hoping to dislodge a fossil shark’s tooth. He wondered if the rumors about him — that he had gone crazy — were true. Had he overreacted? Then he remembered the first words out of the preacherman’s mouth that morning.
“Who are you?” he had asked, his tongue thrusting piety like a dagger.
Great question, but one that shrinks and mirrors can’t answer. Fakirs don’t deserve to know. If the bum had known at that moment the identity of the person asking, his responses would have been designed to cut to the bone.
“I’m not someone,” he might have said, “who makes a living telling people what they want to hear — that if they are good boys and girls here on earth they will be rewarded upon death with rebirth into a magical playground of eternity.”
Perhaps he would have said, “I don’t know, but I don’t make an above average living by passing around a tin plate and asking for money. They call that panhandling on the streets and panhandling is illegal.”
Then he realized that he had already said enough. He glanced out into the greenish ocean and exhaled deeply, traipsing over the sands of time. He took another breath. The air was salty and fresh.