There is a veritable shanty town developing underneath the bridge next to my workplace. Ordinarily, there are a couple homeless people living down there as trolls would, but unlike trolls, they don’t even have the courtesy to be interesting and ask riddles of passersby. Usually, they’re run out by the cops or driven out by the flooding creek, but they appear to be staying for the long haul.
They’ve constructed tents out of old sheets, built a bathroom area, and established a rudimentary parliament. I’ve been joking with my coworkers that soon the UN will recognize it as its own Shanty-City State, and any acts of aggression would constitute a declaration of war. The fragments of humanity down there are nothing more than a joke to us surface-dwellers.
The other night when I was closing up, I could hear the sound of what I thought was the beginning of a hobo fight. Now I like laughing at a good hobo fight like any other red-blooded American, but I was minutes away from finishing my shift. There would be other hobo fights, and this one sounded pretty one-sided. It was just a dude yelling something unintelligible. He continued to shout for a few minutes until the new guy said to me, “Hey, some lady fell off the bridge.”
In the darkness I saw a man kneeling beside a prone figure. Heroically, I thrust my hand into my pocket to dial 911, but noticed the man in the creek had already done so. I was disappointed I didn’t get to make the call. To me, it would have been the same as getting to lick the brownie batter off the spoon.
I felt a basic human sympathy for this poor woman who fell the 15 feet off the bridge, but I also felt slightly annoyed. Not only was I going to have to stay at work later, but I didn’t get to lick the hero spoon. It wasn’t until a paramedic shined a flashlight on the woman’s face that I actually saw her human form. Blood poured from her nose as she writhed in the mud.
Witnessing her agony made me regret my choice to ignore what I now know were cries for help, but the remorse dissipated when I saw the stolid, uncaring expressions on the paramedics’ faces as they slowly extracted her from the creek. They would’ve been moving much quicker if she were in danger.
I later made a couple jokes to the new guy about the situation. They aren’t funny enough to repeat in print, but the situation made me realize something. I have a dark creek bed running in my mind (and maybe you do, too), to which I exile fragments of humanity to become, in addition to a tragedy, a joke for me and those callous or brave enough to laugh with me. Whether it’s right or wrong is a question best left for philosophers. I just know I would rather laugh