Death of a Salesman

Master by Sherrie Hogan //

Death of a Homeless Man : Revised by John K. Nelson //

I had insulted him; a man I knew nothing about. I had amused myself; a man I knew very little about as well. A 'Russian nesting' doll?  Obviously, he either didn’t get the joke or was so far down the path of hopelessness that a remark, meant only as a humoristic poke was considered salt rubbed in an already seeping wound.
“Ya know, the wooden dolls? You open one and there’s another smaller version waiting to be opened as well?”
I was referring to the man’s coat layering; the month was April and the worst was over. A little rain maybe but the days would only be getting longer and warmer and would stay that way for at least six months. I could understand two coats, and maybe a tattered sweater underlying the project, but five? 
 “Good god man, aren’t you burning up in there?”
 “After a while you don’t even notice.” 
I noticed him though, after being awakened by the sprinklers, morning traffic and birdsong, the first thing I saw was a very large man sitting across the park at one of the picnic tables. Turns out he is actually quite a small man and seventy percent of his size was because of his apparel choice.
“I’d rather freeze to death than walk around with all that on.” I said
“It’s like my backpack, if it doesn’t all fit in one bag, than I’m not carrying it.” 
Ah the wisdom of a self-conscious transient.
Easing back on the funny stick, I made a second approach at a respectable greeting. Letting my actions speak for themselves I produced from my backpack a bottle of vodka. After taking a couple of mouthfuls for myself I offered the man a drink.
With an obvious delight, his eyes widened at the offer and grasped the bottle with both hands, poured back a half mouthful himself and grimaced as the cheap vodka made its way down his gullet.
“I still got some fixin to do.”
I said as I reached for the bottle in his tightened two handed grip. It was gonna take more than a few drinks to scare away the sickness this morning and I could tell by the way this man was staring into space, the social norm was something lost or discarded long ago. By the time this guy were to give me back my bottle by his own accord; I could have built the still, soured the mash, and condensed the booze myself.
Through further conversation, I found out this man's name, it was Tom and a quick ‘Glad to meet you ‘ was exchanged. I got to know him a bit; he grew up in a decent family, he was the only ‘black sheep’ like so many of us are, and his family has pretty much given up on him as well.
“I hate this fucking world.” 
Tom said with a passion and ferocity that gave evidence of a spark still alight inside.
“I know what you mean. They say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Let them eat from dumpsters, freeze to death, and get your asses kicked by the cops on a weekly basis and then tell me how much stronger you are for it.”
“Want another?” I offered
“Sure, thanks.” He said with a little more lightheartedness as he extended his hand to greet my offering.
Handing the bottle back; this time with no intention of coddling it, he said,
“It’s my birthday.”
“Yeah, how old?”
“Who knows, all I know is that it’s my birthday.” This was said with complete lack of emotion; it was simply a statement. He might as well have told me that the grass was green as well, ‘Yep, the grass is green. So it is, so it is.’
“Well Happy Birthday Tom, another year of this shit, you might not live to see another.”
We sat and greeted the new day the best way one can, with a buzz and good conversation. Nothing like it to help forget that your life is no longer the adventure it once seemed, but has rapidly become a dismal pit that day by day offers less and less hope of finding a way out. 
My morning buzz was quickly turning sour; it was the sickness coming and if I didn’t get some money together by the time it got here I might as well lay down and pray for death.
“Alright,” I said with a pat on his back.
“I’ve gotta make some change before the candy store opens, or I’m dead in the water.”
Staring into nothing, he nods his head in quiet understanding and with that I was on my way.
A couple of weeks later, I found myself in a detoxification facility; one that I knew well. I had been there about ten days and was just getting my wits about me when a friend entered the recreational room where I was sitting watching T.V. He was fresh off the streets and was sporting an unhealthy shade of jaundice yellow. Not noticing me, he slowly drags a chair to the side of the room and sits down. I decide to offer a hello and as I approach him he seems to be talking to himself. Lyrics to the song ‘Todays’ Tom Sawyer’ falls from his mouth, not in a sing along tone but in more of a mutter; a bland recital. Not too surprising considering that he knows everything there is to know about the 70’s rock genre, as well as being convinced that his biological mother is Stevie Nicks and is willing to fight you if you were to object to this known fact.
Finally getting his attention he turned to me in a very slow manner exhibiting a far off zombie like stare and without recognizing me said, "My best friend killed himself yesterday.”
I dismissed what he had said chalking it up to alcohol induced dementia, and told him I was glad to see him here and that maybe he should consider staying for a while.
“My best friend killed himself yesterday.”
This was the topic of conversation so I humored him and asked 
“Who are you talking about?”
“My best friend committed suicide yesterday. He jumped from the overpass onto the freeway.”
A little curious, I asked, 
“Are you being serious? Who are you talking about?”
“My friend ‘Tom.’
Was it the same Tom I had met that day in the park? I had a feeling it was.
I inquired further, "How do you know it was Tom?”
Still with a dazed glare in his eyes he told me, 
“I was standing there panhandling for change when a cop pulled up and asked if I could identify
someone for him. It was Tom alright; the only reason I could tell was by the coat he was wearing."