Sunday, September 14, 2008

4:17pm, Lithia Park

I’m sitting on the waist-high wall toward the main entrance to Lithia Park. It looks like the wall was built using stones from Ashland Creek. I don’t know. If you are entering the park from the area of the downtown plaza, you can see this wall, curving around two sides of a small grassy yard like a thin arm resting on the back of a fuzzy green sofa. You could fit about six school buses under the arm – and about three between me and the walking path.
To my far right, I hear quiet cello music making it’s way through the trees and bushes behind the wall. A middle-aged man sits on a stool and plays cello about three hundred steps up the walking path. His music is improvised. I wondered about this, but it was somebody else who asked. I overheard the answer. I can’t see him from here. I’m not walking over there today. His case is always open, and he has a beautiful shaded location with a good flow of lazy foot traffic.
Enjoying an afternoon in the grassy yard, in front of the short piece of the wall, and to my nearly immediate right, is a guy with short curly red hair. He’s using chopsticks to eat something. By his slow manner and grace, I surmise that he is eating small bits of sunshine, practically weeping with joy.  This is the portrait of a satisfied customer.
Left of this, in the spectrum of my view, is a young man with long, thoroughly tangled hair and a Crosby mustache. He’s meditating. I can’t tell if he’s homeless or not. He hangs out on the plaza sometimes, and he carries a pack – but the pack is small. He sometimes shouts facts and theories, but it remains unclear whether he’s full of facts, conjecture, or sandwiches. Right now he’s serene and straight-backed. He’s a good guy. I’m not sure why I’m convinced of this, but I truly am.
I move my gaze another notch to the left. This old man with long gray hair is homeless. His pack includes his sleepshit.  He’s laying in the grass with his head on his pack, and he’s tracing something in the air which only he can see.  He’s tracing something very slowly with his finger. A cursive name? Imagined curls of smoke?
To the left – now to the right – to the left again… A frisbee toss.
The next character to the left is a young kid, maybe 15 with black jeans and a white t-shirt. His hair is a cross between early 60’s Beatles and skater kid. He’s asleep, cheek to grass, sprawled out like he fell from the 9th story of a building that is nowhere to be seen.
I turn my head several more degrees to the left, where I can’t help glancing every few minutes anyway. An attractive girl is laying on her stomach; her pants look like they are painted on. Not more than ten feet behind her sits an art critic. This man began a steady regiment of starting, with no other ostensible purpose.  No book, no turning of the head.  Seated in the grass, arms locked around knees, unflinching expression of stone.
About 25 feet behind the staring guy, there’s a man on the wall scribbling in a notebook. Writing a book? Poetry? He’s drinking a huge push-button cappuccino, checking his watch to see if it’s 5 o’clock yet. He’s a dishwasher at a healthy-looking restaurant by the creek. He’s looking forward to tomorrow when he doesn’t have work. He’s going to eat a bunch of shrooms up on the mountain in the National Forest. He has two more work shifts before he leaves Ashland, hoping to find new and refreshing scenery.

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