The dog in my building sings the song of his people when he hears fire engines in the distance.
Our eyes widen at the loud blowing from the table to our left. A man in a blue business shirt blows his nose, much to our horror and glee. “Rude,” one of my Japanese housemates mutters, and I nod in agreement. A group of twenty-something year old boys jokes and laughs with each other, discussing social intricacies of who gets to bang whom.
A man walks over to the corner table, sits down and rests his feet on the rungs of the chair, sipping his coffee. He smiles to himself when he hears their banter and laughter, and looks on at my table with curiosity, perhaps considering us as I consider him. His beard makes him vaguely resemble Viggo Mortensen. He looks away and politely declines an offer for free food, a burger in the hand of a well-intentioned stranger. Why? Because for a moment of a day, he has a chance to quietly fade into the background, observe people living their lives, perhaps imagine himself in their places. An offer for free food shatters the illusion of normalcy, he once again becomes “The Barefoot Homeless Man,” dependent on the kindness of strangers.
A woman with red and slightly blackened, oozing sores all over her arm sits down at the table across from me with a .99 sundae. “Odd” I think. They’re not track marks, I don’t think, but there is something striking about the quantity of perfect, almost pencil thick holes dotting her arm. A man in disheveled clothing sits down next to her holding a pink cockatoo. Now, it becomes clear where the marks are from. The formerly rowdy post-adolescents are now stone cold speechless as we all stare at the bird in McDonald’s eating french fries with her claws. The man tries to offer her some of his burger several times, but she shirks away and raises her feathers while squawking, clearly preferring french fries to meat of dubious origin. For five minutes, everyone on our side of McDonald’s is transfixed, united in our amusement, silent in our study of our neighbors.