The Call Never Came

That’s me on the street. 

Actually, he’s kind of an unwitting surrogate of mine.  I saw in him my reflection, and I projected myself upon him at that moment.  I knew how the final photo would look, and how you would likely interpret and impose meaning on him in the same way that I did.

I remember an experience I had during one of my first trips alone to Manhattan in the 1970s.  I was armed only with a camera to hide behind.  The homeless were at that time more or less contained in the Bowery.  People called them bums.  I stumbled upon an alley where a number of these discarded people had congregated, perhaps outside a shelter.  Growing up in the suburbs, I had never seen a person in this condition before.  I didn’t dare to photograph these lost souls in their suffering, although I carry their images in my head today, some 40 years later.

From that first moment of shock, I felt that this could easily be me one day.  I was seeming without direction and there was no straight line being drawn from where I was as a young man to the successful husband and happy homeowner with a big house in the suburbs.  Strangely, I identified more with those shattered men on the street, then with the fathers of my friends that I knew.  I had been without a father or any reasonable surrogate for many years, and for me, the path forward was not clear.

When I entered the workforce after college, I worked as much as I possibly could.  I’d sometimes work up to 16 or 18 hours a day, just to distance myself from the inevitability of winding up on the street. broken, distraught, and estranged from anyone who was once close to me.

I look at this man in the photograph and I imagine a man without options.  A Biff Loman who always felt that he was somehow absent on the day when the instructions were given.  He didn’t know to adapt, and he never caught up. Family ties and friendships were strained, rent unpaid.  And so he walks into the cold night, not knowing where to go or when he will finally, at long last, arrive. 

In his mind his fate in the hands of others.  This act absolves him of the responsibility for his actions and years of poor decisions.  He was waiting for a call that would make everything all right again, but we know how this ends.  It’s the same way it always ends.  The call never came.