How the Ghost of New Year’s Future Calls to Her Kin

A visitation from a homeless angel

My migrant seemed to be of the spiritual sort

My New Year’s day was truly hallucinatory, and not from any absinthe I’d bathed in the night before. I don’t know if the first full day of a bad cold is like this for most people, but for me, it’s a sharp-taloned grip of flaring headache, lead-gravity fatigue, eye and ear impairment, and consciousness without focus. So, when I found out—when I’d finally been able to pull myself out of bed to leave San Francisco—that my girlfriend’s Alice’s car had a dead battery, I could only numbly nod.

We waited at the car for a tow truck to give us a jump, me lolling in the front seat with my head in my hands. I glanced up every few minutes, and despite being half-witted, noticed that a man standing across the street was staring directly at the car, or at me. Every time I looked, his gaze was fixed on the car, his stance, held up on one side by a cane, rigid. I got out of the car to get some air, turned away from the man, but when I turned back he—or rather she—was standing almost next to me, staring with a sharp ferocity.

A Migrant of the Spirit
I hadn’t realized it was a woman until she was close, because she was wearing big sunglasses, the bright sun was from her direction, and she was nearly shapeless, a tall, skinny, wraithlike creature. She looked somewhat like the migrant worker in the Dorothea Lange photograph above, but with a thinner, more angular face and nose, and an even sharper-though-faraway gaze. Having walked up Market Street every workday back in my San Francisco days brought me into contact with many a street person, and though not particularly ill-dressed, she had the overall look. Except for the piercing stare.

My wobbly consciousness had me slow on the uptake, staring back at her for a bit before I could ask “Can I help you?” But she didn’t answer, just returning my question with the caverns of those dark eyes. When I asked her again, she finally just mumbled something, a few mixed words, looking into the back of my head. But I was feeling so ill I was in no real condition to create a conversation. When I leaned back against the car, she leaned back against it too, both of us looking into the street. The tow truck didn’t arrive for about 20 minutes, and during that time, I moved to the curb to sit, and she sat down next to me. I was able to make her laugh a little with some remark, but mostly we just sat in silence, she staring fixedly off.

Back to the Future
Just before the tow truck showed up, she stood, and started to move very slowly back across the street. She’d left her cane behind, but I picked it up and showed it to her and she took it. I asked if she wanted some help across the street, and she said yes, so lightly touching her shoulder, I led her across. Then she assumed the position in which I’d first seen her, standing rigidly erect, staring expressionless toward us and the car. After the tow truck drivers arrived, I looked back toward her and she was gone.

Sometimes we connect with people in the weirdest of ways, and for the briefest of times. For me, that stark, inarticulate homeless woman was a brief companion angel, there to be a presence for me when I was barely capable of words myself. I felt an odd connection. Transient, it’s true, but connection nonetheless.

A Wave to Sarge Bentley, a Year (and a Dimension) Away
New Year’s day was the first anniversary of my father’s death. Dad, I miss you. Maybe you sent that strange street person to say hello from the other world. Hello back.

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17 thoughts on “How the Ghost of New Year’s Future Calls to Her Kin

  1. I have discovered over the years that when I’m stationary in a public place, people come to me. Someone always walks up and asks for help, or asks if they know me ’cause I look familiar, or just seems to find an excuse to talk. I like it.

    My colds give me warnings in tickles and scratches, but yes, when they arrive from the Great Beyond, a wobbly fog settles, and though I think I can see and hear what might be going on, I’m certain it has nothing to do with me.

    I no longer remember the date of my father’s death. Other memories have softened, or sharpened, where appropriate.

  2. I do think it was dad who sent the woman to you…although you would have thought he’d send a wise-cracking guy, but maybe a staring woman was the best he could muster on his first attempt! Seriously, nice piece…

  3. Like your sister said: nice piece. I like the image of you two sitting there in the kind of fleeting, companionable silence that happens sometimes between strangers. Lovely. You and your odd connections; please keep sharing them.

    And like Joel, I no longer remember the date of my dad’s death, but for some reason I will always remember when Sergeant Bentley died. Sorry you’re missing him, but I’m appreciative that he passed on to you that valuable wise-cracking gene.

  4. Well, you do know that odd things happen on sunny days in the city….great piece, it was almost like being there. Oh, wait a minute, I was there.

  5. Joel, you do look to be the fellow that might know when it’s best to plant rutabagas, how to avoid turnpike traffic and the names of Jupiter’s moons, so it’s not surprising that your approachable person brings on the buzzing bees. Do watch out when they start asking for your checkbook though.

    As for the date of my dad’s death, it will be a hard one to forget, since it is a day that so many people attach weight to, and my own weight will have a bit more heft.

  6. Sister, you’re right, dad needs some practice on his spectral emissaries. I will request a card-dealing poker player who also pours liberal shots of whiskey next time.

  7. Hey Annie, I’ve had much odder encounters, as we all have surely had; I’m glad most of them continued to provoke my curiosity about just how variable and tangential to my perspective other people’s personalities are. Other odd encounters have had me wishing a cop or a shower were nearby.

    Thanks for the note about my pop.

  8. Joel, Marie (being Alice’s sister and all, and the gracious San Francisco homeowner) was indeed there, but I had to exercise writerly restraint and not add details that would deter the story’s focus.

    Marie, sorry I neglected your presence in the post, but in the next one, I’ll have you riding a valiant white stallion, dressed like Joan of Arc, and you can be ridding the world of bedbugs.

  9. Very cool experience. I do sometimes get these other worldly experiences when I’m sick. Maybe it’s God’s way of opening up doors within us that otherwise we wouldn’t have access to.

  10. Hey Karl, yes, that sense of being outside yourself and oddly connected to other planes is an interesting one (though perhaps not best suited to driving). Just as long as God doesn’t show me the gates of hell, I’m fine with it.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Da Lifnei Mi Attah Omed:
    “Know Before Whom You Stand.”

    This phrase is primarily a reminder to have a reverent and focused attitude when attending religious services, in particular those that take place in synagogues. Hey, that’s not Finnish or Tagalog or Mandarin up there, ya know?

    Yet in a classic twisting about of a phrase with more than one meaning, Da Lifnei Mi Attah Omed also reminds us that we are ALWAYS in the presence of God, even when out and about in the world. Even when we get stressed by a dead battery.

    I’ve always rather doubted that He intervenes in our lives directly much at all. I’ve always rather fancied that it’s like He sets up the pins, and then it’s up to us to hurl the bowling ball. But once in a while we encounter a story like Tom’s, and it makes me wonder.

    I don’t think that brief connection was random. You are right, Tom, to find meaning there. Da Lifnei Mi Attah Omed.

  12. Rick, I agree: we should be reverent and focused in places of worship and out in the world (another place of worship, as you suggest). But we should always be ready for our mad grin to emerge, for the world is as full of whimsy as it is transcendence. Or whimsical transcendence.

    I couldn’t say if my connection was random or not, but even in randomness (and sometimes BECAUSE of randomness), there are moments of grace.

    Love the bowling reference; now that’s true religion—at least for bowlers.

  13. Bowling and religion both tell us:
    “Aim high and stay out of the gutter.

    Though my favourite comment on religion of all time is the line by Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich:

    “Religion is like bad whiskey. It should be taken seriously, but not straight.”

    Note the brilliance of inserting that word “bad.”

  14. Rick, as for religion, I’ve always enjoyed E.A. Robinson’s “The world is not a prison house, but a sort of spiritual kindergarten, where millions of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.”

    A bit harsher perhaps, but still juicy, Montaigne’s “Man is certainly stark mad: he cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.”

    As for me, I do keep God around for those nights when there is nothing on television.

    Thank you for the closing of the quotes. It’s a bit like running around with one’s fly open, whatnot?

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