• If there’s one thing you need to understand about Trace, it’s that he knows he could get out of his predicament any day. He just a grimy, lazy, belly-button picking b*****d.

    And don’t worry, he realizes that too.

    I’ve seen the sorts of hobo magic he can do. He stole a camera once from Comlardi’s Polaroid Prestige and bumbled off for a night on the town. Pictures of nuns playing hopscotch, subway flyers with a rainbow of cuss words scribbled across them, pigeons sitting in a phone booth, and my personal favorite—a punky teenager drawing eyes on the back of a sleeping bald dude’s head.

    Trace can tell the future by what he pulls out of his pockets on a certain day of the week. Lint on a Tuesday means your brownies are going to burn. So make lasagna. Lint on a Friday means you should call 104.1 for those Jingle Jam tickets. You gotta clear shot, man, take it. Don’t ask about lint on Sunday. Trace doesn’t like the religious pun and usually he’ll just take off one of his mismatched shoes and throw it at you.

    The saddest part about Trace is that he’s only nineteen. I couldn’t believe it myself when he told me. His secret is his beard. He grew out a real one but then he super-glued a fake one on top of it. That’s what I mean. The dude’s a genius. What’s he doing on the streets?

    So that’s what I asked him. Whaddya doin’ bumming this intersection anyway?
    He told me he got reasons. “Know what else I got?” he asked.


    “I got an Uncle Molly and an Aunt Frank.”

    I thinned my lips. He persisted.

    “And I got this sandal on my foot. And a boot on my right one. It fell off that bridge right there; you see it? Oh, and I got blue eyes. And I got honesty like trash got stink. You know, I like coffee. Once I found a coffee bean in my ally way. I got that right here.”

    He rummaged around in his tattered trench coat, pulling out a lone bean into the street light. “His name is Zeus.”

    And see, Trace is just friendly like that. That’s the other thing about him. If he’s that fearless—to just walk up to a stranger and tell them about Zeus and Uncle Molly and The Boot That Fell From The Sky, what does he have to fear about the real world?

    Why can’t he just saunter right up to Comlardi’s Polaroid Prestige and say:

    “Hey guys. I got this camera in my pocket that I stole from you three months ago. But I wanna pay you guys back, you see? I wanna work here. And I don’t care what kinda job you give me, but I will do it, I will.”

    I told this to him once, but he didn’t listen to me. He just waved his grubby hands and told me he already had a job.

    “And what’s that, Trace?”

    Musing, he took a long drag out of the straw of his juice box. The juice box that hadn’t had juice in it for three days now. The straw hissed and jabbered in its cardboard coffin, mimicking what I imagined Uncle Molly’s voice might sound like.

    “My job is this.”

    He touched his pale lips to my cheek, leaving me with raised eyebrows and a grating, misshapen gape like an opened tin can. He pulled away quickly, a Muppet-like grin stitched across his face.

    “Cheek-kissing,” He chimed. “It’s a great gig, let me tell you that. I don’t get booked that often, but when I do I guarantee surprise and satisfaction.”

    I squinted, rubbing the side of my face. “I hear Cheek-Kissing doesn’t pay too well.”

    “It doesn’t. That’s why I have millions of other side jobs.”
    I raised my eyebrows higher and Trace indulged me.

    He swaggered away from me and swung himself around the street light pole.
    “I’m a veteran. A veteran Star-Gazer, I mean. On occasion, a Star-Catcher. I’m a Hand Holder. Air Breather. Cloud Painter, Sun-Starer, Leaf Tearer…”

    “But Trace—”

    “—I shiver, I litter, I clean up the streets when I paint with garbage. I’m a Sunday Stroller, a Thursday Thespian, your Street Car Confidante.

    I’m a broken and ungreased gear in the great machine we call Society.

    I’m a hobo, a bum, a vagrant—I am a figure of pity and dishonor in the eyes of those big fat men that sit in those big fat chairs in their big tall buildings. I’m the option after your last resort; I’m a victim of your confidence, a casualty of your uncommon compassion…”

    “Quit it, Trace.”

    “…I’m your release, your entertainer, your source of rising and falling hope. I’m a freak, a failure, an anonymous and famed photographer, a fleeting moment of belonging for a fearful female like your fading self.”

    I rolled my eyes.

    “But most of all,” he half-sang, flinging himself off the street light and onto the grass—

    “I’m you’re friend, Eliza. I think that’s the only job I really want in the first place.” He blinked his stone gray eyes at me, and then took another empty swig from his juice box.

    I couldn’t look at him. I only tapped my boot on the sidewalk that might as well have been a tombstone. I would never let Trace know how much I wanted to agree with him; how much I wanted to renounce the world and steal cameras with him, to live in the midst of society but never apart of it. I wanted to be free of all the organized confusion the city and the citizens and the world called “order;” to be the fork with crumpled prongs who, in its imperfection, refused to feed another ungrateful mouth ever again.

    I wanted an empty juice box.

    “Whatcha got in your head, Eliza?” Trace rasped. “You look like you got a thought clattering around in there.”

    For a moment I allowed myself to look back at Trace. I saw his mismatched shoes, his real beard and his not so real beard. I saw his grimy finger tips, his improvised hat that was really an overstretched sock, the pocket in his trench coat that bulged with a stolen camera. But then it was like I became blinded; it was like Trace had been hit with a bolt of lightning straight from the grasp a Zeus, only not the coffee bean.

    I could see Trace. Really, really see him, I mean. I could see Trace underneath all the garbage, the tattered clothes, the fake beard. I burned through the battered coat and past the three oversized shirts he wore, through the thin fibers of his yellowed wife-beater. I could see Trace until all his clothes seemed transparent; until they decided they had better things to do than to sit on his skin and define who he was and who he had been and how he would live and how he would die.

    And no, he was not naked in the slightest bit.

    He looked only as naked as any hobo could be when you take away all the sloth and all the feigned indifference they wear. Only as naked as any human could be when you take away all their accomplishments or possessions or lack thereof. Only as naked as the tiny smudge of blood and heart and soul and irrefutable existence that is apart of anybody and everybody, but most especially Trace’s body. He was not naked, no he was not. He was, for that split second, liberated from every description and classification I had assigned him. He was Just Trace; he was My Trace; he was Free Trace. He was free.


    Free, free, free. Like passed up pennies in the subway. Like flowers by the sidewalk. Like a smile from a stranger. Free and few and far away.

    A screech from an angry juice box straw broke me from my thoughts.

    “Got that thought all stomped out, Eliza?” I heard his voice say. “It must have been throwing a tantrum with how long it took you to take care of it.”

    I turned away from him, suddenly feeling a load of guilt and treachery gathering in my gut. “No,” I said. “It wasn’t a thought.”

    “A daydream, then.”

    “No,” I replied. “Can’t you see the sun’s not out?”

    Trace just blinked. “Not when you’re around.”