David Hirning
6 min readMay 17, 2017

The Man in the Street

Alarm blares. Hit snooze. Turn over in bed, burrow deeper under the covers. No, not yet. Just a few more minutes….

Alarm blares. Repeat.

Alarm blares. OK, OK. Give up. Turn off alarm, throw back covers, climb out of bed. Stumble to shower. It’s Monday morning. It sucks.

Finish shower. Get dressed. Lament having to do these boring, painful things every morning, five days a week. Resent the grind. Grumble, grumble.

Peek out the window at the morning weather. Observe a Man sprawled on the sidewalk across the busy street. Blink.

Look again. Man on the sidewalk. Is he asleep? His arm is flung awkwardly over his head, hanging into the gutter. He doesn’t look asleep.

Is he… dead? Stare. Wait 15 seconds… 30.

He moves. He’s alive.

Think for a second about your friend, the one from the youth shelter. The one you see frequently walking down this street in the morning. Is it him? No, the body type is wrong. It isn’t your friend.

Cars drive by without stopping. Why would they? Just another homeless guy sleeping on the streets of the University District. Just another homeless person in Seattle. A statistic.

Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan, drilled into every good Catholic schoolkid. Who will stop for the Man on the side of the road, the Man who needs help?

Sigh. Put on shoes. Grab keys. Walk out of the building and across the street to where the Man is lying.

Two young Asian women — students — have already approached the Man, are crouching next to him. They are talking to the Man. You join them.

The Man is dazed, but slowly responds. He is probably in his 50s, with shaggy white hair. Medium build. The Man is dressed in gray sweatpants and a WSU Cougars windbreaker. (Think about this irony, but mentally put the jokes aside.)

He appears to either have spilled something on his pants or wet himself.

With the help of the students, boost him into a sitting position, leaning against a signpost. Notice that he has a hospital bracelet around his wrist. It says FALL RISK.

The students ask the Man if he has just been released from the Med Center. He mumbles something, perhaps Yes. Says several times that he just quit drinking, and that’s why he collapsed.

Think in passing about the awfulness of addiction.

Feel relieved that one of the students is calling 911. Listen as she talks to the dispatcher.

“So, you’re not coming?” Hangs up. Says they won’t come, because he’s not asking for help.

Wonder what he is asking for, then. What does he need? Realize he needs many things, everything. He needs a different life. Realize you can’t give him that.

The Man says, with derision and resignation in his voice, “They’re not going to do anything.” He unzips a pocket of his jacket, pulls out a small scrap of paper, hands it to the woman. A phone number is scrawled on it.

He says something about a man from the bookstore, someone who previously helped him. She calls the number, chats briefly. Says the guy is at work, far away. He won’t come.

The students say they have to leave. They have a midterm. The Uber is almost here.

Tell them to hold on real quick. Run back to your apartment. Grab a bag of medical supplies. The man’s hand is slightly cut.

Run back. Attempt to clean his wound, and mostly fail. He asks if you have alcohol pads. You don’t. Bandage the cut anyways. Tell him he’ll need to clean it again later. Feel inadequate that you can’t even do this one simple thing right.

The Uber arrives. The girls apologize. They get in the car, leave.

You help him up, guide him over to a low stone wall, help him sit. He seems confused. He says he just wants to take a hot shower. He says it twice.

Think about how you are late for work… and about how disconnected work seems from the reality of the street, and of the Man.

Remember a place where they let people from the streets take showers, wash their clothes. Recall the name — Urban Rest Stop. There’s one just down the street, in the shelter where you’ve volunteered. It won’t take long to get there.

Look it up on your phone. See that the location nearby is closed on Mondays. Figures.

Notice that the one downtown is open. You don’t know exactly where it is, but it lists an address. You look at the Man. Contemplate trying to get him on a bus. Discard the idea. He’s in no shape physically or mentally to get on a bus and find some place downtown.

Decide what you must do. Tell the Man to wait. That you will bring your car around.

Go back and grab your car keys. Don’t think about work. Don’t think about all the little problems that occupied your brain just 15 minutes ago. Get in your car. Drive around the block. Pull over. Get out, and help the Man into the car.

Start to drive towards downtown. Look at the Man’s hospital bracelet. It says his name is Randy Williams. Think about how it’s the same last name as your ex-wife. As your daughter.

Chat with the Man. Ask him a few questions, but don’t get too personal. Remark on the bad traffic.

The Man responds, then suddenly slumps over, asleep. Wakes up. Apologizes. Chats for a minute. Slumps over again.

The Man wakes up and starts to talk. Says he worked for 30 years washing the windows on Seattle high-rises. Said that the work is really hard on the body. Adds that he is originally from Hawaii. Answer him in generalities.

Wonder briefly if you’re doing the right thing. Or if you are crazy.

Fight through traffic. Decide what exit to take. Check the phone to verify the location. Get off freeway. Traffic is jammed. Try a different way. Road blocked. Wait.

Finally approach the correct street. Find a parking spot. Feed the meter. The Man gets out. He seems to be coherent, walking fine.

Go with him around the block to 9th Avenue. Wander down the street, wondering if this is the right spot.

See an address that is totally off. Feel confused. Why would there be a place for homeless people to wash up in the midst of all these giant buildings, in the heart of the downtown Seattle business district? This can’t be right.

Suddenly, a small brick building appears. The sign says Urban Rest Stop. Feel great relief.

Guide the Man carefully across the street. Point him toward the door. Say he can get a shower in there. Wish him good luck.

Walk back to the car. Stop and get a mocha in a fancy café. Feel that you’ve earned your $5 cup of coffee. Feel that you need it.

Get back in the car. Drive around, finally locating the freeway onramp. Drive back to your building, thinking: Did that just happen?

Park car. Grab lunch. Walk to work, 90 minutes late. Think some more.

Wonder about this world. Ponder the randomness, the sadness. The pain. Decide that everything is a mystery, that nothing really makes any sense.

Sit down at your desk. Turn on the computer. Take a deep breath. Begin the workday.

David Hirning

I’m a Seattle resident of four decades. I write about homelessness and other pressing (and not-so-pressing) issues that beset the human condition.