A Man in the Bush

My daughter noticed a man living near the storm drain lake near our house. The storm drain lake sits behind a chain link fence and collects the run off from the city streets, the strip mall parking lot, and Pacific Highway South. The water sits in the pond and slowly filters through the gravel to the Sayworth Creek running in the green belt near the highway. The creek runs down a steep gully and passes through tunnels beneath side streets. Finally it comes out at the top of Saltwater State Park. The park seems like a little stretch of beach from the shore line, but really runs like a nervous system in thin belts through our entire neighborhood, green spaces that hold the inexplicable sound of the creek, birds, and frogs. The green belt behind our house is near the headwater. A man lives in the forest.

We left the house one day to buy Slurpees. We cut through the vacant lot, between the clumps of blackberries, across the field that had been bulldozed and then overgrown with scotch broom. An old aluminum truck trailer split and rusted and accumulated spray paint. An old couch collapsed in the rain and sun. We passed a bundle of rags holding a man sleeping under a stand of maple trees. At first I thought he might be dead. I realized it was the man who I’d seen on the sidewalk a few times, mostly in the early morning when I was on my way to work. He slept now curled under his rags. He had a puffy, grey ski jacket, blue jeans stained with dirt until they were the color of asphalt, a knit blanket rolled into a garbage bag. He wore a knit cap. His skin was shiny at the exposed edges, his nose, his cheeks. He was covered with long, grey and brown strands of hair. He had a shiny hand over his face as he slept. We walked past him without disturbing him.

The 7-11 parking lot has trouble. The asphalt was laid in a haphazard way so that it has peaks and valley and stray pieces of garbage collect in the folds, cigarette butts made fuzzy in the damp, straw wrappers, bus transfers, and slivers of lotto tickets. The pole for the bus stop lists and is surrounded by a heap of butts. The cement slab in front of the 7-11 holds unidentified stains, nicotine from Kodiak chewers spit, caffeine and coffee grounds from spilled travel mugs, and inside the store with it’s worn but clean yellow linoleum, the slick wieners circling on their oiled, rotating bed, and the long aisle of candy my daughter inspects. She eats Wonderballs, a sphere of Nestle chocolate with tiny, sugar tokens inside in the shape of famous Disney characters. She gets a Slurpee in the day glow green cup with a day glow orange straw – electric blue raspberry. We pay and cross the sidewalk and encounter then the Sayworth Stream on the other side of the highway, behind the stripmall. In this space – undeveloped, lies another empty fields. At one edge of the field there is a stands of trees that leads into a forest. In this forest people have been dumping things for twenty years. Unlike a country dump, as a dumping ground this material finds itself in heaps convenient to the existing roads. Local kids have set up old chairs in room like spaces. Some old pallets have been set up as a stage.

We drink our Slurpees under the clouds and then cross back to our house. The mad man has moved on. He isn’t there.

I’ve seen the mad man a number of times.

1) He walked on the sidewalk with his coat on backwards. His sleeves hung loose from his hand and he swung them. He wore his stocking cap and shouted at the sky.

2) He walked from the Safeway strip mall down the main north south road passing in front of the development where we live. He had his head down and stopped to inspect something on the ground.

3) He left the 7-11 carrying a hot dog. He stopped at the bus stop and started to eat it. I was at the stop light, and the light turned, so I turned toward my house.

He lives in the same space that I live, this plot of land at the head of the Sayworth Creek.

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