Sunday, February 05, 2006

Gimli Gloin

The stout little man before me was the spitting image of an Ironforge dwarf. He stood five feet tall, his face bedecked with a bushy black beard, thick eyebrows, and a pale, bulbous nose. But with his eyes opened wide and his mouth slightly agape, he looked a little frightened, as if Gimli Gloin had been torn from the pages of J.R.R. Tolkien and unceremoniously dumped onto the streets of the Mission District on a rowdy Friday night. His left hand clutched a pathetic handful of plastic flowers close to his chest, most likely pinched from the planters of neighboring stores.

There had been eight of us dental students in suits and dresses, all standing on the sidewalk. What had started out as a straightforward cab ride back to student housing had turned into a slight detour down into the Mission for some late night nourishment (and possibly one more drink). Now we were trying to figure out how to fit everyone into one cab. “Only four,” the cabbie said. “No five!”

I took Kimi’s arm and guided her to the last remaining seat. “You go first. We’ll meet up with the rest of you at housing.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Yeah, we’ll get another cab, no sweat.” With that, the roof light winked out and the car pulled away from the curb.

That’s when I turned around and saw him.

“Would you like to buy a flower?” Gimli asked. He spoke so softly that I could barely hear him, but I knew what he wanted by the way he offered me a sickly sprig of green and white plastic.

I raised my hand and smiled, “No thanks.” And then I turned away to hail another cab.

“No! Please!”

I turned around. His shoulders had slumped slightly, and he looked ready to cry.

“Please… sir – I really need you to buy a flower,” he pleaded. “I don’t have any money, and I just want something to eat tonight. I’m a veteran, I’m disabled…” Gimli’s voice faltered slightly as he mumbled something about what he used to do for a living and only being on the street for a few weeks. Throughout his whole story, he looked at me straight in the eye.

It takes a certain level of resolve to swallow your pride and sell flowers on the streets of San Francisco. But at least you can think, I’m working, I’m out here selling stuff. It may not be much but at least I’m doing something.

But to transition from that point to begging and pleading, you can’t just swallow your pride anymore… there’s something inside of you that has to die. And when you kill that part of yourself repeatedly, day by day, it changes you. It can break you. Call it pride, call it dignity – all I know is that it’s something I’m not willing to give up.

I opened my wallet and pressed a five dollar bill into his hand. “Hey,” I said. “There’s a burrito place down the street that’s pretty good.”

“Oh, thank you – thank you –”

“Hey, it’s all right, it’s all right,” I said. “We all have it rough sometimes. Hope your night goes better once you get something good to eat.” And then I shook his hand. A taxi pulled up to the sidewalk and my friends started piling in. “I gotta go. Goodnight.”

I squeezed myself into the back seat and looked out the window as the car pulled away from the curb.

The last I saw of Gimli Gloin, he was walking down the street in the direction of El Toro Taqueria, plastic flowers still in hand. But now they hung by his side and he stood a little straighter than before. He strode with purpose.

I never got his name.


At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such hidden talent, Dave. I didn't know you were such a good writer! Must have been all my tutoring sessions in Arroyo.


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