Last week I took lunch break at the City and County Building. Two weeks ago I had run a red light. My dad would have called it pink. Instead, I told the cop I would have landed in the middle of the intersection and gotten creamed by oncoming cars. Then I couldn’t find my proof of insurance. He brought a flappy yellow notice back to my window and told me I needed to go prove I was insured if I was telling the truth. So I went, without any reckless driving ticket, to show the good officials of Denver that I did, in fact, possess insurance. The hall stones gleamed with the reflections of limp flags, the pleasant man operating the metal detector said, “How do you do,” the woman in the miserable office was spilling over about a shake she’d had earlier that day. I heard “coffee and chocolate” in her phrase, so I said, “Was it by any chance a Jamocha shake from Arby’s?” and she said, “YES! Have you ever had one?” I told her about how when my mom was pregnant, that’s all she craved, and she passed it onto me.
I went across Bannock Street to spend the rest of my free hour in the Denver Public Library, but it was so sunny, I posted up under a small leafless tree in Civic Center Park in close range of a group of homeless men. A younger one passed a joint to one in a wheelchair; a man in a puffy red coat limped across the grass; a whole homeless network of exchanges and conversations took place between the park’s sidewalks and the gaze of Denver’s many multi-million dollar buildings.
The Key Bank, The Sheraton, and The Denver Post were statues of note, watching these men and me in the windy park. A man in bike cleats and spandex clopped by and a woman in an expensive suit swung a thin briefcase in one hand and held an iphone in the other. An orange prescription bottle made its way from some dirty fingers into some more. I wondered where my Speer and Colfax friend might be whose sign says he’s trying to get to Arizona. No one must be helping him very hard because he’s been trying since September, and the only thing he's getting is skinnier.
I’m not exactly sure why people live here. If I were homeless, I’d spend a lot of time in movie theaters and churches or I'd try to hitch a ride to the beach. If I could live anywhere, I might live right here. I keep reminding myself I can live anywhere, and I do live here. My friend Dagny is from Denmark, but she’s a hairdresser on South Broadway. I wonder if she misses things like what she tells me: how the fish flap in your net when you walk home from the Danish shore; how soup always suits any day by the sea. She makes hers by boiling down broccoli and adding just cheese.
I like Denver, but I miss New Orleans’ diversity: the shoeless kids who ran down the street when it was too hot to walk or when the rain was too hard to hear your own voice. The crawfish that’s so meaty and soft this season, you eat them with strangers around a big silver tub til your lips hurt. Denver feels more anxious than New Orleans ever did, or maybe that’s because rich people right now seem to wear their worry more than the poor, and the wealthy are the ones we’re all looking at.
I left the park when the ants started hitchhiking up my ankles. The only people who had noticed me were the homeless ones. On the way back to the office, I heard on NPR that because of the economy, prisons are starting to give people shorter sentences, and the death penalty is being rethought.
I'm hoping that losing our money means we're becoming more human.