He is a great bear of a man,
He is not especially tall – maybe five foot nine or so.
He is surprisingly round, given the fact that I think he subsists primarily on alcohol.
One would expect that sort of person to be skeletal: even the various fairies that feed him – the croissant fairy and perhaps the apple fairy, if such fairies do in fact exist - with offerings laid at his side as he sleeps on the sidewalk are not of an order of magnitude to compete with the omnipresent tall can of fortified beer or the occasional bottle of wine.
So alcohol must be his major food source.
The first thing I noticed about him is how black his beard and his hair is.
His hair is a tangled mass of lightly curly black with red highlights hair surrounding his head and engulfing his cheeks and joining his equally black with highlights beard somewhere down the side of his face.
His beard is almost a mirror image of his head of hair. It makes his face seem very long since it drops quite a way below his chin.
He wears a khaki colored quilted jacket that is long enough to reach to his mid thighs. It is probably a brand of clothing that gets extensive marketing money.
His pants appear to be – I know how unlikely this sounds, but I think it is true – to be Armani jeans.
He wears athletic shoes the brand of which I haven’t gotten close enough to ascertain. There are no socks on his feet.
He is either always lying down and in a coma - or asleep - or standing up. and awake.
When he is awake and standing up he is always drinking a bottle of wine and staring out at the Quai as if to learn something from it. Other times when awake he sits on the vent and drinks his can of beer.
I see him every day.
He moved months ago from where he slept when I first wrote about him – when I saw the croissant laid by his sleeping body one morning in September – from the little pseudopod of rue Guénégaud that pushes out into the high speed rue that defines the boundary between Quai Conti and la Seine.to a vent from some subterranean dungeon below the sidewalk on rue Dauphine.
He has been consistent - since his move - in his residence on that vent with one exception.
I saw him one time sleeping back under the arch that covers rue de Nevers.
That is sheltered from the rain.
But apparently he isn’t very interested in being sheltered from the rain.
His new place – the heat vent – is out in the rain.
But he seems not to care.
That is where he has chosen to live.
So that has been intended to be a sort of background statement to the brief story that I am now going to try to tell.
As I have watched this man for almost five months now I have wondered how long a human being can live on huge cans of beer living on a chunk of sidewalk or, now, on a vent. I have been in complete expectation – some morning as I was walking to the market – for him not to not be there.
But he always is.
And that is the ultimate question that this little story raises for me.
How can anyone not die living like that?
And how can a society let someone discover the answer to that question?
And the “society” to which I allude is not France. It is the entirety of our self absorbed, consumer driven, keep the bubble pumped, but not so much that it pops, society.