While on a recent trip to Southern California to spend time with my daughter at her new address, I had plenty of opportunities to explore her ocean-beach neighborhood. My favorite walking route took me down a few curving roads that ended at the P.C.H.
As I became familiar with the area, I spent time each day making my way to the beach. As it turned out my usual route took me down a block that had a couple of restaurants, a piano bar, and a photo studio. While passing in front of these on my walks, I noticed a tall, slender man often sweeping the sidewalks and parking lot entrances. His work was not some superficial street swishing, no, his method bordered on street-detailing, much in the manner showcased in used car lots. This gaunt, leathery-skinned man swept the concrete slabs with such thoroughness that nothing was left on one before he moved to the next. He painstakingly cleaned the expansion joints as completely as he cleaned the sidewalks. I was a long-pausing spectator to this man's industry.
Now, I had seen those picturesque European villages on the Discovery Channel where shopowners and women in brightly colored native clothing come out in the mornings to sweep away their store fronts and stoops clean. None of them could hold a candle to my sweeper man.
What probably caught my eye on my passing, more than the energy and concentration he put into his work, was the broom he used. It had been one of those angle shaped household brooms with nylon bristles. His, however, had at most an inch or less of actual sweeping material. (It could easily be considered as a broom stub) He gathered the swept debris into small piles and the scooped them up in some homemade cardboard dust pan and deposited the contents into a large receptacle sitting at the curb. One day as he stood working his broom, I said, "Looks good." In a soft yet clear voice, he replied, "Thanks."
It was pretty obvious that this worker was one of the coast's homeless men. The owners or managers of those establishments must have given tacit approval to his undertakings for on a couple of occasions, I saw kitchen staff hand him bags and/or containers of food that he placed near his piled collection of extra clothing.
Once when I was walking on the beach, I saw him emerge from a spot near a fenced in utility shed. An old blanket was stretched over some posts and all kinds of street-found items were neatly arranged nearby. He passed me wearing multiple-layered clothing, clothing I had seen many times before, and, of course, he was carrying his broom.
On a Saturday, a few days before I was to leave for home, my daughter announced that she was going to clean out her garage, which meant that I, her father, would be doing likewise. So after coffee and breakfast, we set out to empty what the former owners had left behind. In truth, the garage wasn't all that bad. Most of what was left behind was tossed into the large plastic dumpsters in the alley: old curtain rods, broken down storage and moving boxes, worn out gym shoes, odd shaped wood and plastic pieces, well-used garden tools, ceramic plant containers, etc.etc.etc. Within a few hours we were finished and the garage was ready for my daughter's car, bicycle, and surfboards.
I noticed that one of the dumpsters my daughter had filled contained some decent looking yard tools. I asked her about them. She said she had her own tools which were ergonomically designed and she neither wanted nor had room for what she had discarded. As she was about to close the garage door, I checked out her throw aways. There in the midst of non-ergonomically friendly yard tools was a new-looking, long handled broom. I pulled it out. It was in great shape. I put it back in the garage and told my daughter that I had use for it. She just shook her head.
On the very next day, I laced up my walking shoes, picked up the saved broom from the garage, and headed out on my morning walking route. As the restaurants near the beach came into view, there was the sweeper working his tired broom over the sidewalks and cracks. I approached a few feet from where he was bending to pick up a crushed water bottle. "Good morning," I said, "I think I have something you can use." With that, he stood up, turned and looked at me as I stretched to hand him my broom. He barely glanced at it and said, "Not right." With that he went back to his work as I stood there somewhat confused and embarrassed still holding a second-time dejected broom. Walking away, I quickly dropped the broom in the city receptacle and went on my way.
After my walk, I showered, dressed, and used my daughter's car to pick up some items for her before my departure later that week. Driving past the restaurant block, I noticed there was no sweeper man about, but there was my long-handled broom still sticking out of the the trash can.
On my flight home, I thought back to my encounter with the sweeper. What was there about that gift broom, a broom that in my eyes would have made his toils much easier, that could have been "not right"? I pondered that question for quite awhile before I dozed off leaving that question unanswered for good.