I used to park directly behind my building, walk up the stairs to my back deck and enter my apartment from there. Technically, that back parking lot belongs to the church property across the street. When that property was sold, the new owners turned the lot into a pay lot, so I now pull my car into the side lot (that my landlord owns) and enter from the front, off the street through the inside front stairs. Because of this, I miss a whole world of activity happening yards away on the other side of my building.
You see, if i did still park back there, I would have noticed what my neighbor and the employees of the adjacent restaurants already knew—that there was a man living behind a dumpster. I say man, but I really don’t know how old he was because I never saw him. I only saw his sleeping bag, backpack, a bottle full of urine (!) and other belongings scattered behind and around one of the several large, metal trash and recycling containers that line our alley. My neighbor leaves for work early and had nodded hello to him several times and alerted me to his presence, however, as far as I could tell, the man was never there during the day.
I don’t know why his presence struck me as odd, but it did. While our area certainly has a past (and present) of being rough around the edges, and I have experienced a fair share of urban adventures that come with living in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood, I had never ever seen someone take up residence in our particular alley. I felt sad and scared for him. I also wondered where he came from and why he choose an alley where he would be exposed to constant foot and car traffic and a never ending stream of servers and pizza delivery guys using the alley as their break room…talking on phones, smoking and socializing. Never mind that the alley also feeds onto a business street that is equally active late into the night. I concluded that he probably felt safe there and that, as long as he seemed harmless, then so be it…we had a new neighbor. I could have done without the bottle of urine that peeked out from behind the dumpster, but at least he had the decency not to use the alley as his toilet (which is more than I can say for the folks who don’t clean up after their dogs when they have chosen to relieve themselves on the little patch of green at the bottom of my stairs…but I digress).
I remained curious about his circumstances and often discussed it with my neighbor. I commented that his appearance in the alley seemed to coincide with the fences going up around the property across the way (see my last blog post) and wondered if maybe he had been residing in an outdoor nook around the church.
A few weeks had gone by, and I had been out with some friends. It was 10:30 pm when my friend pulled her car up to the back of my building to drop me off. As I climbed the back stairs to my deck I noticed a figure fiddling with a bike that was attached to the staircase pole.
At first I was startled, but said, “Hey, is that you Grant?” [who works at the eatery next door]
“No”, said the voice, “Grant’s still working inside.”
“Oh, sorry” I said, leaning over the railing into the dark, “I thought you were Grant…or maybe the ‘dumpster guy'”.
“Oh, you didn’t HEAR?”, said the stranger as he unlocked his bike, “About the ‘dumpster guy’?? He was RUN OVER by one of our delivery trucks this morning”.
“WHAT?” I said, completely horrified.
“Yah, his feet and legs were sticking out into the alley and the driver didn’t see him and BAM”
“Oh my god that’s horrible!” I breathed.
Then we exchanged introductions and my new acquaintance rode away on his bike while I ran back to the car to tell my friend the news.
Oddly enough I had, earlier that day, noticed his sleeping bag out of place. It was across the alley and out on the sidewalk. I had a split-second conversation in my head about how, yes, he lives behind a dumpster, but that’s his SPOT. That’s where his STUFF GOES. Why is his sleeping bag out here? Why was someone messing with his stuff? Did he abandon his few belongings and move on? No, he needs his sleeping bag, I thought. It was really cold last night. Hmm. Odd. Then kept walking and moved along with my day. Little did I know.
A smattering of his belongings lingered behind for a week or so then disappeared, and the dumpster was returned to it’s place snug against the yellow brick wall. Rumor in the alley is that the accident resulted in his losing some toes but that he was relatively ok, considering. The other rumor passed from our alley-mates, to my neighbor, then to me, is that the man had previously been “squatting” inside the empty church. When the fences went up, the interior deconstruction started, the workmen discovered him and kicked him—quite literally—to the curb.
I have written a whole entire story about a guy I never even laid eyes on for the purpose of illustrating the unintended consequences of change. I started this blog to share my experiences living in the midst of change. For all the people in favor of—or hotly opposed to— the changes happening in our neighborhood, I’m sure nobody expected them to result in a man losing his toes. My hope is that any other changes don’t alter unsuspecting lives forever. But I suppose, that is what change is all about.