Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

The Bus Stop Inventor

Both times I’ve been to the central bus stop in Sydney, a man has caught my eye. He could be homeless, and upon first glance that is exactly what you think. He approached us with a piece of paper, worn from weeks of use. He gave it to us and it informed us that he needed money for some kind of device. The specifics were not very much so, but it did give enough information to indicate that he was crazy. We brushed him off and he looked on to the next person. He had a faraway look in his eyes, half glassed-over as if he was going through the motions but didn’t fully understand why or what precisely his body was doing. That was the extent we thought about him.

Today I saw him again when I got there. His clothes appeared to be the same as did his gear. He wore brown boots of a pretty serious nature, and I would have thought they looked fine except that the soles were detaching from the leather and his thick wool socks were visible. His pants looked almost like decent Dockers, but for the slight wrinkled pressing at the bottom from one too many days walking on them. The places that saw the most use also had a dirty look to them, as the pants had probably not been washed in some time.

His backpack was one of character. Covered in patches and paint, it had been with him for years. The material looked to be in remarkably good condition for how worn the colors indicated it was. The bag looked to be a conundrum – old enough to have lived a full life already but giving no signs of giving up. His suitcase had the same style but had clearly seen better days. The handle was a piece of wood about two fingers wide held on by thick wire – functional and elegant in a nomadic way. The case was covered with faded patches and cracked oil paint stains. He caught me looking over at him a couple times and each time our eyes met I looked away quickly for fear that he might react. Would he come over and ask for money? He didn’t, and I wasn’t actually afraid of that. Would he feel watched? Possibly. And it was on this point that I was afraid. I didn’t want to ogle, I didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to make it seem like I thought he was a freak. I felt compelled to look but guilty about it at the same time.

After the third time he noticed me noticing him, he slowly started to gather his packs, hoisted them on his back and wandered to the road. He stood with his head forward as if working on becoming a hunchback. His gray moustache came to triangular points at each end but without being stylized. His grooming was quite functional for someone you think to be a homeless crazy person.

And then he looked the right direction for traffic and he went one lane at a time. Where most pedestrians would have waited at least for a solid gap if not an actual gap, he moved across quickly and efficiently. His delusions of building a machine aside, in the crossing he was totally aware of his surroundings. And I wondered just how much of an act all of it was, whether he was actually homeless or crazy. Just how much you need to be aware of your surroundings to cross the street without dying?

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This entry was posted on November 27, 2011 by in Australia, NSW (Sydney).

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