You must take care of your business quickly along Dog Alley. Things change suddenly. The homeless person who sets up a temporary camp goes away. So does a dog. What happens here in the Alley mirrors America. We’re on the move.
More than a year has passed since I last wrote of the Alley. To the few who casually pass along its rough unkempt pavement, they may see nothing. But it is like anything else. The more focused you are the more you see. The more for instance you observe blindingly bright and cloud-covered Venus the more detail that becomes visible.
Take the case of “David,” a homeless person who camped there a few weeks when the weather was warmer. He is tall and slender with the brightest of blue eyes, a shaggy beard and long hair threaded with gray. It’s hard to estimate the ages of street people. Life is hard and the years slink by brutally. But I’d guess he’s in his mid 40s. I often saw him doing something that always catches my eye. He reads.
One day I stopped to talk with David, who seemed to be deeply engaged with a book yet having difficulty. “I was wondering,” I said, “if you’d like a pair of reading glasses.” I had cataract surgery not too long ago and have plenty of useless eyeglasses laying about the house. No, he said, “I don’t want the Devil in my life. God has given me a pair of eyes. I’ll get along with what I have.”
David said he was, or hoping to be, an ordained minister in, I believe, the Assembly of God Church. He had grown up in Phoenix, but I didn’t ask why he was on the streets. I did noticed two or three large empty bottles of beer nearby, and his breath smelled of alcohol.
Then he made an unusual request. “If you want to do something for me,” he said, “get me a King James Bible.”
I made that a project for a while. But the Bibles were too expensive. A new one may cost $14, I learned. I thought, “How strange. All these churches spouting the Good Word of the Lord, and yet where are the free Bibles?”
At Bookman’s I found a used Bible for three bucks, but it was the “New King James” version. David wanted the standard King James. “The one with the thees and thous,” he said. I took it back. Eventually I found the right one and was prepared to hand it over to him, though it is in small print. But David was gone. I haven’t seen him now for a few weeks.
Then there is the case of “Biff,” a pit bull that I “befriended” if you can do that with a pit bull. We spoke though a small opening in a backyard gate. Every time I passed down the Alley, I’d whistle and holler the name I gave him, “Hey, Biff.” He would come to the gate and over time bark less vigorously, even whine. Later, as I came by going the other way, he would race, happily I thought, to the other end of the yard, and speak to me, though I held few doubts what would happen should I expose even a hand to him. It was almost a month ago since I last saw him.
So Alley life has changed again. David is gone perhaps temporarily. He could be dead. But Biff is gone, I fear, for good.