I met him in front of the Starbucks in San Francisco where my daughter works—the busiest one in the city, where tourists and sight seers wielding shopping bags and cameras and cell phones make up a snaking line that never goes away.
He was a small man, not much bigger than me. His wispy, fair hair brushed the sides of his cheeks when he looked down; he tended to look down a lot, at the dirty sidewalk in front of him, so his hair fell like feathers around his jaw. He told me his name is Sam.
“I’m almost fifty and I’m standing on a corner with a cup,” he told me. “I’m so embarrassed.”
Repeatedly he apologized to me: “I’m sorry I’m so messed up,” Sam said to me five or six times during the half hour we spoke.
It was hard for me to know what to say to him. “Life is really really hard sometimes,” is about all I could come up with.
“Yeah but, the reason—it’s my own fault,” he said. “I did a lot of stupid stuff. I had a job and a wife and kids. And now I don’t.”
Sam told me that two wives have left him, and his daughters—17 and 22—don’t speak to him at all. “I can’t blame them,” he said. “But it still hurts.”
“I guess everybody has stuff they wish they could change about their past,” I said.
Sam looked up and right into my eyes; his were light blue, very round, with little folds of dark flesh around them. “People make it, though. They do.”
He looked across the street where a woman was yelling at another woman, and then he looked back at me.
“I’m gonna make it,” he said, after a long pause.
When I saw Sam again this morning, in front of the same Starbucks, I almost didn’t recognize him. His face was bashed in: one cheek was sunken; one of his eyelids was drooped and red. He had blood all around his lips.
The barista called my name; I turned around to retrieve my latté, and by the time I turned back again, Sam was gone.