b Papa Dog's Blog: Need to Know

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Need to Know

I guess my obsession with anonymity herein is kind of silly. Most people who read this here faversham regularly know my name and those who don’t probably don’t much care. A compulsion’s a compulsion, though, so the fake names and obfuscated details accumulate. The funny thing is, I’ve put in enough accurate information since I started that if you were so inclined you could narrow down to within a block or two of where I live. Moreover, there lurks somewhere in an old post a not-too-indirect means of divining my actual own personal name were an investigator so intrepid as to follow up on it. Still, I sleep easily secure in the knowledge that none of you have that kind of time either.

Don’t feel excluded, strangers who for whatever reason read this cal. I’m a need-to-know kinda guy. For example, I have for many years now managed to keep most of my kith (but, alas, not my kin) from finding out my birth date. Those who know it are sworn to secrecy and those who don’t – all together now – don’t need to know. Over the years it’s become a bigger deal than it has any business being, I suppose. It all stems from when I ended up in a brand-new town and suddenly realised that none of the people I was hanging out with knew anything about me but what I chose to tell them. I devised a birthday tradition that I’ve followed ever since, though with necessary modifications. In its original form, what I’d do is pick the person I felt closest to and take them out to dinner without telling them why. It’s trickier than it sounds. Sometimes my chosen dinner partner would have something going on that night and suggest an alternate date; I’d have to find a way of saying “No, it has to be tonight,” without saying why. Roommates also complicate things; one year I had to tell my family that if they called on my birthday and I wasn’t there, they shouldn’t leave any messages. Somebody screwed that up – I forget who – and I got stuck enduring a really inconvenient surprise party from well-meaning housemates. Nowadays it’s easier; I just take Mama Dog out for dinner. She knows why, but we don’t tell anybody else. These things have to adapt with the times, after all.

In 1997, maybe the loneliest year on record, I found myself without anybody to take to dinner. Avenuu had moved away, Mama Dog and I weren’t close yet, and I don’t know what the hell was up with Bernardo, but I guess he was doing other things. I really didn’t know what to do with myself, but by then it had become a tradition and had to be kept alive. Finally what I hit on was this: I’d go to a late-afternoon movie at the Shattuck – or maybe it was the UA? – one of the ones in downtown Berkeley, anyway* – and when I came out into the evening press of panhandlers, I’d offer to take the first street person I saw to dinner. The first guy I saw seemed a likely candidate. He wasn’t very scary, seemed sober, and cracked a huge delighted grin when I asked if he wanted me to buy him some supper. He said “Shit, yeah,” and we crossed Shattuck and headed up towards University. His name was Darryl, and for once I’m not making up a name, because what would be the point? I was thinking Yenching or Mandarin Gardens. Cheap Chinese, anyway. When Darryl saw where I was headed, his face fell a little, and he said, “Aw, why don’t we just go to Burger King?” I thought for a second that he was worried that the Chinese places were too expensive – fancy sit-down places – and I sure as hell didn’t want to eat at Burger King on my birthday, so I said, “No, it’s okay, let’s go in here.” He demurred again, and it hit me – of course he doesn’t want to take the time to go into a restaurant and sit down and order and wait for a meal. I’m taking him away from his job. The meal’s a treat, sure, but I’m keeping him from his cash. Well – at least I tried, and I did make actual human contact for a few minutes. “Sure,” I said finally, “I’ll get you some Burger King.” So we went up the corner and stood in line at the monarch’s counter. I asked what he wanted, and he said some burger meal or other, then asked, “Can I get one for my kid?” “Get as many as you want,” I said. He looked at me like he couldn’t believe it. I thought for a second he’d ask for a dozen burgers and then go re-sell them to the rest of the Shattuck homeless. He hesitated. It was probably his mind to get as much from me as he could, but then he said, “Naw, just one for me and one for my kid,” and inasmuch as I’m capable of feeling all warm and fuzzy for humanity I was feeling it then, because this poor guy at the very bottom of the socio-economic pecking order was too nice a person to take undue advantage of a crazy white liberal. I got him his meals and he shook my hands and thanked me effusively. Then I said goodbye and walked over to the Chinese restaurant to eat my birthday meal in splendid isolation. I had just ordered when Darryl suddenly popped in through the front door, held up the bag of burgers, waved, and God blessed me very loudly. I waved back and he God blessed again before disappearing into the night with his burgers and Cokes. Everybody in the restaurant was staring at me, and I was feeling more than a little sheepish, but it occurred to me that it was really a damn fine birthday, all things considered.

PS: Today's not my birthday, if you were wondering.
*It was the UA. Just looked it up. I saw what the movie was too, but I’m not going to tell you. Need to know.


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