Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Legend of Dirt

Jenny Leading Cloud, a White River Sioux, once said that American Indians think of the earth and the whole universe as a never-ending circle, and in this circle man is just another animal. The buffalo and the coyote are our brothers; the birds, our cousins. Even the tiniest ant, even a louse, even the smallest flower you can find -- they are all relatives.

I guess this includes vagabonds, too. I usually dodge them at all cost when I'm downtown, lest I want to lose a few dollars or some spare change as I'm a very kind-hearted person. I once gave a guy $20 in Chicago on the condition that he didn't use it for food or shelter, rather that he buy as much booze as possible or the biggest rock he could find. "Oh, thank God. Finally, somebody who sees it like it is!" he said, running off with a handful of bills while 30 of my pledge brothers laughed.

Little Rock doesn't have much of a bum problem, but we do have a funny habit of making them local celebrities. The best was a man affectionately dubbed "Cantrell Carl." He slept under an I-430 overpass and rode an old 10-speed bike. Anyone from Little Rock knows this name, and most have some personal story about Carl. I once saw him get harassed by McDonald's employees over a cup of coffee. But nobody's seen Carl in a long time, and I think he may have either died due to exposure, or he finally took up that offer from his rich California relative.

There is no doubt that this man has a name, but in certain social circles in Little Rock he is simply known as "Dirt." He is obviously homeless, and he continuously walks the streets, rummaging through dumpsters for nourishment and listening to his Walkman, which is rumored to be nothing more than static. Like with others, there are many different stories about Dirt's past and how he came to be such a derilict, most of which involve a permanent acid trip.

I like to think that somewhere out there, all homeless people have a twin that lives a completely opposite lifestyle of luxury, comfort and ease. Dirt's is named Gold, and he sees Dirt from time to time, passing by in his Mercedes G55 on the way to his super-exclusive country club. Gold made his fortune in an early '80s savings and loan scandal, and he doesn't mind rubbing it in your face.

Unlike Cantrell Carl, who primarily restricted himself to the bounds of Cantrell Road (Highway 10), Dirt has been spotted all over the city, sometimes even well beyond its borders. I've even heard of sightings from as far as Memphis. One things's for sure, with all of that walking Dirt must be in serious shape. I'm talking Bruce Lee cut.

I thought about Dirt some over the holidays. He loiters at an EZ Mart near my house, and I think he stays back in the woods of Alsopp Park, because I see him nearby often. I can't help but wonder what he thinks about on cold nights, huddled up all alone under old newspapers. Does he think about his family, the life he once had or the dreams he had for his future as a young boy?

I bet I know what he's thinking about tonight: Why the hell did those two laughing jerks in a Solara take my picture this morning?

Wingy’s Addendum: Intrigued by the lines written above, my buddy Brad tracked down Dirt yesterday and asked him for his life story. It turns out that he’s from Texarkana of all places. Apparently, the guy stayed in college for over a decade, but spent most of his time doing all kinds of mind-expanding drugs and harassing girls at the bar. After his parents completely cut him off, Dirt crashed on his friends’ couches, endlessly driving from town to town with his dog like a gypsy in the night until finally becoming one... so sad.

Obviously, that was a joke. The next one is not.

Alex's Addendum: I received the following in an e-mail Friday morning ... Guess what? I passed by "Dirt" on the way to Withers' house last night. I turned around, stopped and said, "Excuse me, sir. May I give you a few bucks?" He talks! He said, "Sure." He approached my car and accepted the four dollars I had to give him. I asked him what his name was, and he said, "Keith." I said, "I am Alex. Have a good night, bud. I’m glad I could help you out." He said "Thank you, sir." I drove off, and he walked off into the dark night. True story.