Bob had the kind of face that would compel you to volunteer any loose change your pocket held without him ever asking for a handout. His home consisted of a metal shopping cart supported by well-worn wheels, two paper bags, an old plastic container of water and a rolled up gray blanket. The corner of Central Boulevard and Windsor Road in Glendale, California was where he called home. This move was a sage-like decision on Bob’s part since the Salvation Army was positioned across the street which provided food, clothing and care and half a block to his east was the Windsor Al-Anon club that furnished free coffee, occasional shelter and most importantly, some welcomed comradeship with fellow tribe members.
It was up to you to get Bob talking since he was never known to initiate a conversation. His english was laced with a thick Yugoslavian accent and it was because of this that he was christened with the street name “Bob from Yugoslavia”. In his youth, he was trained as a pianist but as the years passed by his hands grew to be swollen and arthritic which made tying his shoes or buttoning his coat as painful as a Beethoven sonata. Bob’s private moments took place in a utility alley behind the Armenian market where he would seek refuge by smoking discarded cigarettes and watching reality slip away.
We had a very short history in our acquaintance but Bob from Yugoslavia became my navigational marker that signaled my return home from overseas. As strange as it may sound, it was comforting to see him sleeping under the tree, his tree, at the corner of Central and Windsor. One day, I noticed that the only thing holding his threadbare jeans together was the grim beneath him. I managed to sneak a pair of new levis and socks into one of his paper bags while he was napping under his tree. I couldn’t help but watch from a distance to witness Bob’s reaction to his good fortune; he proudly held the trousers up to the sky with a toothless smile and turned to look around as if he would find a magical garment fairy. The following day I expected to see him wearing the new pants but to my surprise he was wearing the same grubby jeans. Bob had traded the jeans and socks for two packs of Marlboro cigarettes to a local gardener.
I asked Bob one day, “If you were to write a letter to God and be guaranteed that God would read your letter, what would be your the first sentence?” He looked up and spoke as expressively with his eyes as with his words, “God keep me warm and never let me get cold again”
We continued our brief interludes over the years until one day conspicuously absent from the corner was Bob and his shopping cart. A member of the Al-Anon club told me that Bob had peacefully passed away underneath his tree while napping. I can only hope it was on a warm sunny California day.