The Man With The Pillow Case On The Side Of The Road


He stood there,

as I inched up the ramp onto the highway,

on the side of the road, holding a white pillow case.

Just smile, it said, scribbled on in black magic marker.

My lips were freshly coated, cherry bright.

I grinned, gave him the peace sign,

and accelerated onto the highway.

Who was he, I wondered.

For a moment, I felt unsafe, manipulated into a smile

from someone who surely wanted my money for drugs

or would follow me home and hurt my family

because the world is unsafe

and no one wants to simply shock someone’s system

into happiness by making them smile,

in traffic no less.

Or maybe it was a benevolence.

Or maybe it was simply something to do on a spring morning

when there was no house to leave,

no car to get into, and drive up the on ramp

off to work.


2 responses »

  1. Thanks for putting that scenario into words.

    What is MORE likely? That this presumably homeless person, whose teeth probably make every waking moment a living hell because he hasn’t seen a dentist in years, and whose only blanket is the indifference alcohol or drugs can provide, stands outside, exposed to the elements, wanting the better off folks he sees driving by in their expensive vehicles…smile?

    Even if we don’t, we at least know we’ve got it pretty good.

    Or is that his angle? Is he playing the odds?

    Maybe he’s really good at math and knows that for every 100 cars that pass by, he gets about eighty who don’t look at him at all, about fifteen who smile, an average of one cop who slows to give him a stare-down, and ONE sap who stops, gets out, smiling, and gives him a 50 because “that’s just the kind of guy he is”?

    It strikes me as passive aggressive, ’cause when the people leave him choking on their exhaust fumes and didn’t bother to smile, do you think he’s still smiling? Or cursing under his breath at them? It’s a little manipulative.

    • Yeah. . . after 15 years as a clinical social worker, I’ve gotten a bit jaded. I felt a little manipulated too, but then was uncomfortable with what that feeling said about me as a person. I get confused.

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