One thing you notice about Stretch is his beard. It’s huge. Alan Moore huge. Hagrid huge. I’d go so far as to say Mad Monk huge. The first thing you notice about Stretch is his straining against the brick column near the reference desk. The third thing you notice about him is that he is homeless. I work at the downtown library in a fairly metropolitan, Southern city. And like a lot of centralized libraries across the country, we have a fairly sizable homeless population. They vary in degrees of strangeness from mildly strange—talking to oneself—to dangerously so—one pulled a knife on a co-worker once. Stretch was in the mildly strange category; a harmless, homeless man who occasionally braced himself against a wall.
He didn’t just jump up and start pushing on it, either, he had a ritual. He would stand before the support column, about the middle of the building, and stare up at it about halfway, then after a few seconds, he would thrust his hands forward and lean against the column with all his might. Then a few seconds later, he’d stop, relax and go back to the chair he’d been sitting in or leave the building entirely. This didn’t happen every day or even at the same time of day, but it did happen frequently enough that we all noticed. Most of my co-workers just took it in stride and considered him another casualty of a de-regulated mental health industry. I, on the other hand, just knew there had to be some better explanation for his behavior than that.
One evening my wife and I were in what is termed the “
“Excuse me, “ I said. He started then turned his shaggy self toward me. “I don’t mean to bother you, but I’ve seen you at the library doing what you just did to that lamppost and I’ve got to ask: why?”
He looked at me for a few moments then cleared his throat.
“Sometimes I see things about to fall, so I try to stop them.” And then he walked away. I told my wife that and she just called him crazy. Maybe he was, but then again maybe he was a seer or a prophet? To see something falling that isn’t, one might have to be a little crazy. All I know is that our 45 year-old building hasn’t crushed us, yet.