Today I learned that blue-eyed-John who lived at the 690 Beech Street underpass for the last 8 years and invited me to photograph him, passed away. Enver, a Bosnian man, in broken English told me so.
When I stopped to collect the baking pan I'd left full of apple crisp Enver told me he had offered it to the guys at the encampment, but that they weren't interested in sweets, just beer. I took the glass pan from him feeling the empty weigh of it. He'd washed it and wrapped it in tinfoil for me. What became of the contents I'll never know. Maybe the feral cat ate the buttery top or a raccoon, or a dog.
I've never seen anyone here at this underpass encampment eat anything, but I always remember the movie, Babette's Feast that I watched with my mother when I was a teenager at the alternative theater in Buffalo where they showed all the arts movies. The movie was about a cook making this extravagant meal for a town of people who'd been living on salted fish and potatoes. What she gave them with that meal was pure pleasure--she engaged their dormant senses, their sense of tast, touch, smell. Babette, the cook, nearly pushed the austere islanders over the edge with that meal.
At the encampment all I saw were cans: cans of soup, cans of fruit, and a jar of grape jelly. Apple crisp in itself is no feast, but I imagined it might please someone to eat something home-made. So, I made it and when I didn't find John, I left it there with Enver, gave him the job of passing it around the next morning, thinking John, with those intense blue eyes of his, might lick the spoon.
Enver pointed at his chest when I asked what happened. He said the name of a woman. She had come to tell the story to him. In broken English he repeated what she said: "John walking. John fall over." He motioned with his hand as if to say, "Kaput, the end."
"Enver," I said, "I wasn't ready, not yet." I stood there looking at his stained hands, his one red eye. He too, drinks too much.
"Everybody go. I go, you go," was what he said when I started to cry. Then he invited me keep living, to drink Plum brandy and eat Kaimak cheese with him. And I had no time to share his food.
What I admired about John was that he lived with dignity and it showed through the alcohol haze he wandered in and out of. He made a home there with rugs and couches. For Christ sakes he swept the rugs. He kept it clean. He had standards. He made me feel safe.