Wednesday, July 29, 2015

San Francisco Hotel Sweeper (1968)

    Those mornings I’d walk the streets of San Francisco, somewhat unsure of what I’d find, looking for work, and then as the morning progressed into day, and near noon, it would turn about with producing a cool warm summer air, a fresh breeze.  I’d walk by this certain hotel, it looked to be at one time, a grand hotel of sorts, now a bit worn, and  more on the dim side of its life, up and down, and around its frame, chips and bruises, wooden framed windows in a state a mildew, and you could see its aging the longer you looked for. Perhaps still standing as landmark of sorts and each morning I’d pass the hotel and noticed an old timer, he’d be sweeping the sidewalk, he appeared to be a more ragtag bum than a hired staff of the hotel.
       The Sweeper wore shabby overalls, unshaven, thin looking, not too tall, half his teeth in his head were missing, his fingers a slight bent perhaps with romanticism, a kind natured person by his looks, but not seemingly down and out, and there he’d be, just sweeping away, as if he had no cares in the world, as jolly as a fox who caught had rabbit.  And he had a secret, he kept to the day of his death. And this is what this tale is all about.
       What was the secret—figuratively speaking, he had the Golden Fleece!
       I stopped and talked to him a number of times, he said he had been doing that job, sweeping, and cleaning out the furnace, and putting in light fixtures in the basement, and so forth, going on fourteen-years.  And added to that, he was humble, and gratefully, and with pride, he was allowed to do so by the establishment. He didn’t get paid for it, because he was not an employee, he was a tramp that was found one day sleeping in the basement, and the manager had pity on him, and allowed him to say.
       “I get to sleep down by the furnace, it’s warm there, I like it there, and it’s private,” he told me. And he’d smiled with a funny kind of grin, as if he had swallowed a gold fish, I mean, he was happy go lucky, with his simple life, and simple it was, and I thought at the time, how kind it was for the hotel to put this poor soul in a bed and give him a roof over his head and a warm spot by the furnace, and not charge him a dime, and as a result, only expect him to do an hour’s worth of work each day, and never even push him to do that.
       I saw him off and on, as I previously mentioned, nodded my head off and on for several weeks, then found a job at Lily Ann, and didn’t seem him thereafter.   

       ‘What makes a man like that,’ I thought time and again. Most people don’t smile when they’re down an out, and surely not to strangers. But he wasn’t like most people, he was different. A bum I used to say to myself, he’s just an old bum, no more, and I thought I was being kind to even talk to him, and I was perhaps more the bum than he, I had no job, I was twenty-years old, a Midwestern boy far from home, in what was considered, a very renowned city of the Western World, where everything was happening first, I was part of the hippie generation, without being a hippie.  Yet I told myself, don’t make any judgments, he perhaps had a hard life.  He was, or so it appeared that he was in his late sixties, or early seventies, if I remember right, that’s what I thought, didn’t know at that particular moment, told myself he was, but who’s to say?

         Then one day, a few months down the road, I picked up a newspaper, and found out he had died,  just up and died, he was sixty-six years old that was a ripe old age I guess back then, I’m now 67-years old, backtracking those far-off days.   But what startled me, what really fascinated me above all this, was that Golden Fleece, I mentioned in passing before. The fish he appeared to have swallowed, that grin, it all came back to me when I read the newspaper, although it was sad he had died, and perhaps not of a real old, old age, but the average age back then—I even took a closer look at the paper, to read the full story, —it read, and reread it, it to make sure I read it right:
        “(so and so)…leaves $250,000-dollars to the hotel in his will.”
       ‘If that don’t beat all,’ I told myself.
       I tell you, you just do not know a thing about the other person.  Perhaps my first lesson in absolute misjudging, and I never called a bum a bum again: don’t judge the person because he looks the way he looks, or as the old saying goes: by the cover of a book.  
       I was now proud to have known him, I wonder why, perchance could it be the money he left to the hotel, and I don’t think so.  The hotel was most gratified, and seemed sincere that the old fellow passed on, and was sad for that. So what was it, why the change?  Today, that money would have gained value every decade, so it would be in this reediting, 450% more, in other words, it would be worth over a million dollars.  
       As I am somewhat actuated with similar properties, or have been, and have given away a small fortune, and a potential fortune, not quite in the same manner, but can say to have taste it, perhaps Confucius put it best: “The hen-pheasant of the hill-bridge, knows how to bid its time, to bide its time!” On the other hand, Buddha would say: “As one standing on a mountain (Observes) those standing on the ground below. …As a racehorse who leaves behind a nag.   …He is not libel to suffer fall…”  Perhaps the old man felt supremacy among the gods; his life hard to guard and hard to check. To everyone he was like a water creature plucked from the water.  When I worked as a counselor for the Federal Prison system, I didn’t need to show my authority, they all knew it, and if they didn’t, I did. But to many of my colleagues, they needed to show it to feel they had the authority.  In a like manner, he was commendable in taming of his mind, and if one can do that, it brings ease.
Originally written in the summer months of 2008, and reedited and modified, in the winter months, of 2009. Reedited 7-2015