Monday, August 29, 2011

Bookers and Hookers

Esperanza Caminando

A rather large element of what makes a neighborhood special are the characters who inhabit it: small moving parts of the larger fabric lending the area a particular charm,  or lack thereof. Denver, a sprawling city at 40 miles wide, has subdivided into a collection of smaller neighborhoods, each with its own unique feel.

We’ve all noticed the personalities of these different neighborhoods--the Denver Country Club reeks of money, the Highlands give off whiffs of style, and the industrial sections of Commerce City? Well, they just plain stink. But have you ever paused to consider what features beyond architecture and monetary investment make regions the way they are?

When you live or work in a neighborhood you begin to notice patterns as you go about your daily activities, and the people you regularly see--whether you interact with them at all--become like familiar friends. Or annoying pests. Take your pick.

I once wrote about a few such New York City personages here and about how a city’s inhabitants shape its character here. Recently, I’ve been looking around myself in Denver, noticing oddities and people to whom my eyes are automatically drawn.

To start, there’s my garage neighbor, who drives immaculately-restored, washed, and waxed classic cars and trucks. We’ve never actually spoken, have exchanged no more than a head nod, but in our home he has come to be called “Truck.”

Truck is not only clearly dedicated to the beauty of his cars, but he preserves their little home--the communal garage--better than the rest of us slobs who pull haphazardly into what could only loosely be defined as our reserved “spots.” The demarcating paint lines have faded significantly into peeling shadows of their former selves, you see, and so I generally gauge my assigned slot by the positioning of neighboring cars. This method proves problematic when my neighbors are all out.

Not Truck. No, Truck re-paints his lines every few months with startlingly white paint, which acts as a sort of shield protecting his babies from the rest of us less-careful drivers. Not that we ever hit each others’ cars (which is a feat in itself, considering how narrow the garage happens to be), but somehow I’m extra careful to avoid Truck’s vehicles, because clearly they are valued more highly--better loved--than my own. Those white strips demand greater respect.

Another neighborhood character has been spotted by my husband and I while on the morning commute. Husband and I currently work different schedules, and I’m a bit of a night-owl to begin with, so on the mornings where I can manage to pull open my eyelids, slosh down some coffee, and find myself dressed by the time he leaves for the office, I will drive him in. Have you figured yet that he walks to work a lot?

In the past few weeks we have now twice seen a young man somewhere within the realm of our own ages, dressed in a suit, walking from Capitol Hill towards downtown with his nose buried in a book. He looks up from his reading only to cross the street, then turns his face back downwards to absorb the obviously engrossing tome in his hands. It’s rather amazing, really, to see how quickly he can mosey down the sidewalk without looking to see where he’s headed. Perhaps he has read this how-to.

The mobile reader is a fan of hardbacks and removes the covers, so we nosy librarians can’t see the titles of the books he prefers, but we highly approve, highly approve, of his dedication. I of course want to say something to him, and perhaps become fast reading friends (catch my pun there?), but my more restrained spouse keeps me from interrupting his reverie. Really, he’d probably just think I was weird. Goodness knows my spouse already does.

Anyway, the ranging reader’s name is now "Booker."

And the final recent character discovery is usually to be found on the sidewalk at the corner of 14th and Logan. He is what many refer to as a “sign person,” meaning that he is a homeless gentleman who sits on the corner with a hand-written cardboard sign, displayed to passing motorists in the hopes that someone will give him money.

Now, whatever you think about the politics or morals of panhandling, or the encouraging of said practice, I will admit that I’m an irregular donor. Sometimes the New Yorker in me simply refuses and continues walking, but every now and then I find myself immediately reaching for my pocket. While I tend to follow the rule that it is better to give in other ways, somehow I can’t help but respond to certain individuals, and I generally don’t quite understand what sparks the impulse on any given day.

This guy is an easy one, though. We’ve named him "Hooker," and you’ll understand why when I tell you that he holds up a sign that reads “Need money for a hooker.” This makes me laugh.

The more stern members of the “don’t give cash” camp argue that the money will not be put to a good end, but as I myself occasionally enjoy sitting on a bar stool enjoying a beer, I also think “who am I to judge? Why should the homeless be held to higher moral standards than the rest of us?” Oversimplification, perhaps, but hey, it’s only a dollar.

Hooker always looks highly pleased with himself, too, so he must be doing fairly well with that sign.

I always wonder if the neighborhood characters know they are being observed, and that they are delighting people they pass in some small way. And then I wonder if I’m somebody’s neighborhood character--perhaps for walking my cat down the block on a leash (regular and true story, unfortunately), or for any of the other myriad strange habits I happen to maintain.

Do you readers have a favorite neighborhood character?

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