Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dudes of the Quartier

There's Rasta Man. I originally thought he was just rehearsing at Studio Bleu because that day he had a guitar but then I noticed him in other parts of the quartier, never further than a ten-shop radius, sometimes without instruments. I measure distances in shops because I can simply never get distances to stick in my brain - 5 metres? 5ks? I think you'd probably say a 10m radius, but then Mr Rabbit would probably laugh as that's way further or smaller than I meant. I'll stick to shops. You see Rasta Man sitting outside the Napoleon drinking beer or standing outside the Bobun shop and though he looks really poor with his big dusty dreads in his big dusty knitted hat and three-piece wool suit (in high summer, over a very very big black heavy body) I don't think he is, especially because the other day he asked me if anyone in our block was renting out their apartment over summer. Not that our apartment block is anything special, but the rue des Petites Ecuries is definitely not the value it used to be, and especially in summer everyone's doing Air bnb. I said I didn't think so, but it was really nice to hear him speak and I realised we were friends, which was nice because most of the dudes of the quartier, the ones you see every single day, never say hi. Now when I pass he acknowledges my existence, not with a smile, but just a something.

I guess the reason that most the people of the quartier you know and see every day don't say hi is because you see them every day because they live on the streets. Rasta Man, though he doesn't live on the streets, mustn't live far from them because you see him, literally, every day, outside the Napoleon or La Ferme or the El Papi Chulo. I don't think there has ever been a moment I have stepped outside and turned left and haven't passed him somewhere around. He's never drunk, but always drinking. He is very very huge so maybe it's too hard for him to get drunk. He has a stable air about him anyway, and doesn't seem troubled, so I don't know - maybe he just likes being outside.

Outside the El Papi Chulo is a spanish looking guy in a wheelchair whom I also pass every single day. He never, ever looks at me. Kiki has called out to him a few times from the stroller. I have caught his eye when he was looking in my direction by accident and smiled, thinking we might one day start up a conversation - I mean we practically live together. But he looked away.

There's the Indian man swamped in green bags and a shopping trolley on the steps of the Mairie. Kiki waves. He doesn't look away like the man in the wheelchair, he looks straight at me and there is nothing in his eyes at all - no begging or sadness or illness or drunkness or hope or joy. He's just - there. He has a thin beautiful face and an overgrown grey beard and you can imagine it wasn't long ago he was living a different kind of life. He is not always on the steps. The other day I passed him on the corner of Strasbourg and the Boulevard - he noticed me and we looked at each other like normal, like neighbours, though you'd normally say hi to your neighbour and start up a conversation beginning with 'what are you doing here?' It was funny to see him there like it's funny to bump into a neighbour in a different country.

There's brain tumour man. He lives in the Faubourg St Denis and the brain tumour changes size from a small egg to the size of another head over the course of a few weeks at a time. Then he goes away for a while and comes back and the tumour has gone smaller again. I don't know what to say. Seeing brain tumour man is something that after the initial shock of the moment you slowly grow accustomed to. He is ok - he sees things, and he dances. One day I saw him asleep bent over the bonnet of a car, his feet on the ground.

There used to be the Laughing Man, but I haven't seen him in a long time now. He was the drunkest, maddest, most joyful homeless guy I ever saw and he was always there around the quartier - everywhere - from the Faubourg St Denis all the way to the canal - omnipresent - everywhere I looked there he would be with a can of Despérados in his hand, filthy and shoeless, no teeth in the front of his mouth, laughing his head off. It was the truest laugh you ever saw. He was on another planet and there was absolutely no reaching him, ever - not once did I see Laughing Man connect with any real object or human, apart from his can and the concrete and possibly the remnants of a grimy lit butt in his blackened fingers. I wonder where he is now. Oh my god I hope he's still laughing.


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