The Milk Crate

The Milk Crate
ronnieb from morguefile

The black milk crate sits upside-down and askew on the weather-eaten sidewalk. Someone once sat there, wearing two hats and mismatched gloves and a thin coat over as many layers of clothing as he owned.

He would rock, disturbed by his own demons and memories. We'd give him a wide berth--is he mentally ill? Even as we tried to put distance between us and him in such a way that wasn't obvious (it always is obvious), he'd call out to everyone who passed by with a Trader Joe's or Whole Foods bag, asking for food or change.

I never had change. Sometimes I had a banana to spare.

I haven't seen him in a while. Is he okay? I scrutinized his crate as if I could divine some information about his circumstances from it.

I don't know his name. I should know his name.

A few paces away, someone is occupying his crate next to the Dunkin' Donuts and the parking garage entrance, swaddled in many dark blankets, yelling out for change, "Can I bum a quarter? Please? Please?" I answered, honestly, that I had given the last of my rare change to someone else. He wasn't content. Or else he couldn't hear me. His anger and frustration was palpable in his voice. I always give him wide berth, too.

I don't know his name.

I prefer the quieter ones, like the elderly Chinese man who would sit happily on his cardboard boxes outside of the Bloomingdale's Home Store, and gratefully accept all the bananas or snacks I had. He would sleep in the tiny nooks along the sidewalk where the basement window cutouts once were, and I hoped he could catch all the escaping heat he could.

I haven't seen him in a year.

Sometimes there's just one milk crate on the bridge. Sometimes several. When the weather is cold, there seems to be an accord among the homeless not to sit too many to a bridge. The earnings are too slim for that as people pass by as quickly as they can, bundled up tightly against the cold. And yet these men and women will sit out there, hour after hour, holding a sign, pleading for help.

How much of the sign is truth, and how much is marketing?

They look so cold.

One man went shoeless for weeks after they were stolen by another homeless person. His sign asked for shoes as he danced from foot to foot in his socks on the cold sidewalk. I wish I had spare shoes to give him, but somehow he finally secured a pair. He likes Pepper a lot--Pepper will run up to him to get petted as soon as we go outside, and he always smiles.

I don't know his name.

Another man, who has secured a job helping with catering events, is rarely there anymore, but every now and then I see him. He calls Pepper "my little buddy." He needed a black shirt and tie so he could serve at more events and make more money--apparently it's impossible to find them in thrift stores. We bought him one.

I don't know his name either, but I am hopeful for him.

The milk crate can be bad news when empty. One guy--Kenny--was hit by a taxi and was in the hospital for weeks, and we didn't know until he was released.

The milk crate can be good news when empty. I knew Kenny's name, because he was there for years, and I tried to help him get in contact with various social services agencies. He is gone now--hopefully in Atlanta, Georgia, as he often talked about.

His milk crate was stored in the bridge.

As soon as he moved on, another took his place. Then another. The familiar and nameless. The loud and quiet. The intoxicated and the sober.

Have we done what we can for each of them? Is it enough? It's never enough.

It never ends, the revolving milk crate door.

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