Death of an anonymous street tramp

originally posted in 2007)


We got the news the other day that Mott died. For a half hour, Mott was the gossip of the day. And then, he’s forgotten. It’s amazing how quickly people are forgotten. Mott was another one of those guys who’s been “on the scene” for at least the last 20 years. A face in the the crowd. “There goes good ole’ Mott.” And then, suddenly, its: “There went good ole’ Mott.

Death becomes a drum-beat that gets louder and louder as you get older.

At first, when you’re young, the deaths are spaced out years apart. But as you get older, they’re months apart. Then weeks apart. Then . . .

Pretty soon its almost like every day you’re hearing about somebody you know dropping dead. Its not so much shocking — the reaction you get when you hear somebody died. It’s more like a “Huh? What the fuck?” reaction. Like when something peculiar happens and the mind can’t quite wrap itself around the subject.

This weird reaction to death. Where it seems so weird, AND so normal. All at the same time.

Mott was this scruffy little guy, almost dwarfish in his stature. I always pictured him as “Pig Pen” — the “Peanuts” character. Every now and then, like on the first after he cashed his SSI check, Mott would look neat and clean — new clothes, hair-cut, etc. But within days he’d be back to his naturally dirty look. Disheveled hair. Scraggly beard. Tooth-less. Weird stains on his torn jacket.

Mott was the classic hobo. The classic street-tramp look. The harmless little troll sitting under the bridge. He was one of those archetypal street people — you couldn’t picture Mott existing anywhere but the streets. One of those guys who never “dropped out.” Mott was never “in” in the first place.

Mott was a nice guy. Even Hate Man called him “sweet.” A lot of people had a secret soft spot for Mott. Even the bullies that picked on him, who Mott just shrugged off with a “That’s just how people are, whataya’ gonna’ do, Ace,” shrug of the shoulders. With no sense of bitterness or need to retaliate. Mott was one of those guys who accepted whatever life gave him, was grateful for any scrap he got, and never complained when he got the short end of the stick. Which was often.

The last time I saw Mott he was lying on the sidewalk on Bancroft and Telegraph.  He wasn’t passed out, but he couldn’t get up.  He was surrounded by three paramedics who were getting ready to load him into the ambulance.

When we heard Mott was in the hospital, we thought of getting a card and all signing it. But we never quite got around to it. Which somehow summed up Mott’s life. Typical. You cared. But not that much. Or maybe it was just the “solitary tramp” side of Mott that always kept you at a distance. Like . . . Mott himself was more comfortable watching the doings of humanity from a quiet place in the bushes. He knew what the fate was for the trolls who ventured too close to civilization.

“Hey there, Ace, how ya’ doin’,” was Mott’s quietly chipper greeting as we passed (many, many times) on our sidewalk routes. He had the bearing of a wary, scraggly puppy that had been beaten too many times, and yet could still cautiously and eagerly warm to the friendly overtures from others. Just a good guy, Mott. One of those guys defeated a thousand times by life, but never really defeated. Always bounced back. Had more soul than a lot of people.

One time, Mott came up to me and said: “Ace, two months ago I stole 50 cents out of your donation cup when nobody was looking. I been meanin’ to pay you back. Here’s a dollar.”

That was Mott. He didn’t have to tell me, after all. And 99% of the other bums on the street scene wouldn’t have. A good guy, Mott.

And yet still, when I think of Mott — or when I think of most people I know who died — there’s this sort of empty feeling. Like: That’s IT?? Mott tramped and bounded and stumbled and staggered and strutted (even Mott) through life. Then, like a wind-up toy that ran out of ticks, it toppled over on the sidewalk one day and laid there, silently. Done.



3 thoughts on “Death of an anonymous street tramp

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