Don’t let it bring you down

This morning I saw a dead man on my way to work.

So as I somehow forgot to mention, I have been working at a preschool in Saburtalo during the morning since the beginning of November. I found out that marshutka #128 goes directly from my front door to the corner nearest the building I work in and takes about fifteen minutes to do so, which cuts twenty minutes off my commute, which is way worth the 80 tetri that the marshutka costs. So anyway I was on the marshutka and we pulled up to a bus stop on Kazbegi street where two cop cars were just chillin out. I wondered vaguely what was going on (but mostly thought that the cop cars ought to move out of the bus stop) until, as we passed, I noticed that the little bus stop pavilion – the stand with the bench and ceiling so people can wait out of the rain – had a single strand of yellow police tape wrapped around it. Sitting on the bench was an old man who appeared to be sleeping.

At this point, my early morning brain deduced that this man must have passed away, sitting on the bench, on a snowy morning in November.

I wonder what happened. Had he been there all night? Did he sit down to wait for a bus last night, fall asleep, and then freeze to death overnight? This morning the snow wasn’t sticking and the temperature readouts on all the bus stops said 1°C (about 34°F), and I guess you could still die of hypothermia if it’s not actually freezing, it seems less likely. Was the man drunk last night? Was he sick or sickly? He was older, but he didn’t look unhealthy (well, except for the being dead part – I guess I should say he didn’t look like he had been unhealthy in life) but I didn’t exactly stop to examine the body.

As the marshutka rolled on I wondered about this man’s family. Would they be expecting the news – were they just resigned the the fact that Grandpa was getting on in years and one of these days would be his last? Would they be surprised – would the dangers of hypothermia take them unawares? Was this a man who would have had a good decade left if he hadn’t made the one unfortunate mistake of falling asleep in a bus stop in winter?

I wonder if anyone stopped over the night and inspected this man. I rarely see homeless people without some kind of shelter (although I see a lot of beggars) and I imagine there are some places that people with nowhere to go end up going in this city to keep safe from the elements. But this guy didn’t look homeless at all – he had a coat and hat which were clean and neat, and overall he looked like he had been well put-together in life. But I wonder if, in the dark of night, people might have just left the guy alone because that’s what you do when you see someone sleeping on a bench.

Once, I was waiting on a train platform in Queens during a blizzard. I was wearing my heavy wool traveling cloak (yes, I have a heavy wool traveling cloak) and was warm and snug, and I lost track of the time. I waited about two hours before a policeman came over to find out if I was dead. He told me that the trains were shut down, and that it wasn’t so uncommon for people in winter – especially the old and frail – to fall asleep on a bench in the snow and end up dying from the cold.

It’s a little scary to think that you could just die in your sleep, totally by accident, because you were waiting for a train or a bus that never came. It’s sad that this man passed away alone, outside, in the cold and dark, without his family and friends to support him. But on the other hand, watching someone die has to be pretty messed up. Maybe it was better this way.

Be careful this winter, readers. Dress warm and don’t fall asleep in the snow.

Video: Neil Young, Don’t Let It Bring You Down

Old man lying by the side of the road
with the lorries rolling by
Blue moon sinking from the weight of the load
and the buildings scrape the sky
Cold wind ripping down the alley at dawn
and the morning paper flies
Dead man lying by the side of the road
with the daylight in his eyes

Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning
Find someone who’s turning
And you will come around.

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4 Responses to Don’t let it bring you down

  1. Jessica Mishaga says:

    That’s too sad. What a way to start the day. I can imagine your co-teachers asking you how you’re doing today and you reply with, “well, I saw a dead body on the way to school so… not so good.” 😦


  2. Amanda says:

    How did you get home that day then, in the blizzard??


    • panoptical says:

      I walked. Trudging through a foot or two of snow is totally doable, especially since New Yorkers actually do a fairly good job of shoveling pedestrian pathways when it snows.

      For those who don’t know, in New York there are laws about shoveling your property, and so when it snows – almost as soon as it snows – an army of residents emerges with salt and shovel to clear a path from their door to the sidewalk and then along the sidewalk adjacent to their property. This happens regularly and like clockwork; homeowners who can’t shovel have friends or family members designated to help who know what they have to do, and neighborhood kids looking to make a buck will sometimes ring doorbells offering to shovel someone’s property if they haven’t done it themselves yet. In fact, I had spent that very morning shoveling snow in front of not only my house but also the house of a relative who couldn’t shovel because he was stuck at work in Manhattan. His house is on a corner, which means like three times as much shoveling, but on the bright side he has a snowblower to make the job go faster. That house also happens to be at the halfway point between where I lived and the nearest train station, which was why I was out trying to get around on foot.


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