Bruce Cockburn "Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon" (1970)
Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon
I was torn between going to work and going to class. Alienation was the order of that day as it was on many of my days. The life at the university had grown stagnant for me. I tottered on the precipice of the present and an uncertain tomorrow. Missing another statistics class would put me one step closer to a failing grade, while a few hours at work meant a few extra bucks in my pocket. I opted for work.
The walk from the campus to the place where I worked took about a half hour. It was not a bad walk up to the main street of Knoxville through downtown to the old city district. The sky drizzled not to a point of drenching me, but enough to dampen my hair which dangled toward my shoulders. I strolled through town in no hurry to get to work. They wouldn't be expecting me today anyway. Since I was a student they let me make my own hours.
My mind wandered as I walked in the misty rain. I pondered my life as it was. I wondered what I should do next. Answers were not at hand. Maybe I didn't really want any answers. Getting through the week was the main thing and the weekend was the prize. On Friday I'd need to go to the liquor store to find something unique to get high on. Every weekend it was a new wine or maybe something stronger. Fun times with my friends.
Walking through the desolate warehouse district the musty smells of the abandoned crumbling buildings mingled with the burnt toast odor of the JFG Coffee Company. They must have been roasting a batch of beans. "The best part of the meal" is what the JFG sign advertised. I didn't drink coffee back then and that smell didn't entice me to want it. JFG was a Knoxville tradition and the star of Jackson Avenue.
That old street--Jackson Avenue--was the location of my place of work. The rain gave the first block of the street a particularly gloomy look. When I came to the old Sullivan Saloon at the corner of Jackson and Central I paused. The old building that had apparently sat there empty since the early 1900's was a fine looking place that I liked to admire. What was inside that building? I was so curious.
This corner was a point of congregation for winos and other lost souls. It was almost as though they were waiting for the saloon to reopen. In an empty plot across from the ghost saloon, homeless men would sometimes have makeshift shelters set up until the police would come to make them move.
Huddled on a stoop of the saloon were Herbert and Foster, a couple of middle-aged black men who were not homeless but lived nearby. Since it was afternoon they were glassy eyed wasted and didn't pay much attention to me as I passed. They would pick up a couple hours of work at the local businesses when they needed some money. Sometimes I'd go to the corner to get them to help me unload a truck. They always reeked of alcohol, but they were dependable for work in the mornings. By afternoon, after they'd downed a bottle or two of Mad Dog 20/20, they'd be too intoxicated to be good for anything. That's how they were as I passed them on this day.
There had to be a better future for me. Wine on the weekends maybe, but some fellows had no control. Or maybe it was something else. Maybe it was more of a question of future and opportunity. I had both.
Have you ever hung out with homeless people or winos? Did you work your way through college? Do you enjoy walking through downtown areas?