b Papa Dog's Blog: The Exceedingly Lengthy Tale of Thomas the Homeless Guy, Part I

Papa Dog's Blog

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Friday, February 11, 2005

The Exceedingly Lengthy Tale of Thomas the Homeless Guy, Part I

Sometimes when I’m stuck for something to write in the old faversham, I just reach back into my valise of oft-told tales and finally commit one of them to (electronic) print. The problem is I’ve now been doing this thing long enough and steadily enough that my recollection of what all I’ve written is getting kind of shaky. The thing about Doggy Dog the other day is a good example. I got partway through and was suddenly convinced I had already written the “of course he’ll sleep in the yard” story. I had to go through my entire archive searching for “couch” to satisfy myself that I hadn’t.

One happy consequence of that search is that I came across a long-ago threat to acquaint you with the story of my ill-fated friendship with Thomas the Homeless Guy, and since I find myself with nothing else favershammable on my mind tonight, I think I’ll give it a go. I have a long stretch of stories I could tell about Thomas, and I only have 52 minutes of today left in which to tell them, so I may end up splitting this post into two parts. I guess we’ll find out together.

Anyway. The first time I tried moving to New Orleans, it didn’t work out very well. I mean, I had a great time, but I never quite managed to plant my flag. Ambrose and I had a good run couch surfing in the Quarter for a couple of months, but eventually we had to pull up stakes and return whence we came – he to Vancouver, me a couple days later to the Bay Area. The second time I tried moving to New Orleans, things just clicked. On my first day at Marquette House, I found a “roommate wanted” ad on the bulletin board. It turned out to have been posted by one of the desk clerks, and after passing the rigorous screening process (“Oh, you’ve got cash? Okay.”), I had a new home, a third-story apartment at Third and Magazine. Apparently Tom – the desk clerk – had a little trouble saying no, because he later told another guy that he could room there too. That made a total of three guys in a one bedroom apartment. It actually worked out sort of okay for a while – we all kept different hours. I was day shift, Scott was second shift, and Tom was graveyard. When one person got up to shower, another would go down to crash. I wouldn’t say it was the best system in the world, but at least it was mind-bogglingly cheap with the rent split three ways.

One of the first things Tom showed me was how to open the supposedly secure front door of the building with a credit card, just in case I forgot my keys. It was quickly clear that not only everybody in the building but everybody in the neighbourhood knew how insecure the supposedly secure door was. On my first day in residence there was a knock at the apartment door and Thomas – not to be confused with Tom – ambled into my life. Tom explained to me later that he’d known Thomas for a while. As far as he knew, Thomas didn’t do drugs and Tom had never smelled liquor on him; he needed no chemical assistance to attain his particular brand of dysfunction. Tom, being a soft-hearted hippie boy from West Virginia, gave Thomas the odd dollar and a bit of food. Thomas, knowing a good thing, dropped by often through the secure door. I got the impression Thomas knew that new roommates were in the offing and wanted to get in on the ground floor. He tried his rap on Scott first, and got a little change. Then he turned to me. I’m a big believer in paying it forward and random acts of kindness and decaffeinated instant karma and all that cal, and I was predisposed to give Thomas a bit of dough. I looked at it as an offering to the housing gods for having gotten me settled in such short order this time around. So when Thomas started to cycle through his tale of hard luck, I was already reaching into my pocket for some money—and this is the part of the story that could only happen to me or maybe to certain types of Englishmen of a sort described once or twice by Douglas Adams. I reached into my pocket, Thomas’ eyes lit up, and at just the moment that it became unmistakable that I was reaching for money, it dawned on me that all I had in my pocket was twenties, having just tapped the ATM for the rent money. I had a finger hooked around a bill in my pocket and I looked at Thomas’ moist and beseeching eyes, and for a second I hesitated. Could I ask him for change? Could I say, “Oh, sorry, I can’t, all I have is twenties?” Could I lie and say, “Sorry, I’m broke?” All of those options flashed through my mind, and in that moment they all seemed, in one way or another, unbearably embarrassing. I’m unable to explain this clearly even to myself, but for some reason the idea of admitting my error to this homeless guy I’d just met was intensely mortifying. All I could do was smoothly complete the motion. I pulled out the twenty and pressed it in his palm exactly as though that was what I’d meant to do all along. His eyes bugged out and he thanked me profusely. He hurried off to spend the money on whatever he was going to spend it on (a mystery, if drugs and booze were eliminated), and Scott, 18 and just in from L.A., whined, “Oh, great, now we’ll never get rid of him.” Well, no loss there, really. Thomas was already a fixture long before I showed up.

Tom told me that he ran into Thomas on the street several times in the next couple of days, and every time he’d bring up my generous donation. He couldn’t get over it. “I think you really made his day,” Tom drawled.

And since it’s almost 11:40 now, I guess that’ll have to be the Thomas saga, Part I—barely made it through the prologue! Part II probably won’t be until at least the day after tomorrow.


Hey – we finally finished watching Tokyo Story tonight! It only took – what, two weeks, something like that?


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