I just met Yoda. The incident occurred after I had finished my lunch on the covered patio at Greenwise, a supermarket. I’m currently reading again Orwell’s great book, Down and Out in Paris and London, and just finished up a chapter of the book that takes place in London where Orwell is on the bum, forced to march endlessly with the many thousands of other tramps who did this daily as, thanks to certain English laws in the ’30s (and likely the decades before, and perhaps after), they were compelled.
He had, through the agency of another tramp he was marching with at the time, been introduced to a type of character called a ‘screever,’ a pavement artist, or more specifically, a person who literally draws or sketches portraits or scenes on a sidewalk in order to gain charity from passersby, who went by the name of Bozo. This fellow, Bozo, was one of the more peculiar characters Orwell met on his forced rambles around London because unlike the rest of the homeless and destitute, he had a level of intellect beyond that of the tramps whose main focus, perhaps unsurprisingly, was on the standard ‘tea and two slices,’ the next lodging house he might be sleeping in (if he could rustle up the needed payment), and scrounging cigarette butts for tobacco. Bozo had a small knowledge of astronomy, and developed a philosophy that essentially stated that just because he was poor and destitute with a mangled leg (BECAUSE OF the mangled leg) that didn’t mean that he couldn’t admire and take pleasure in the stars and their constellations. (“The stars and their constellations” may be taken as a metaphor for anything one might take interest in.) The key, in my opinion, to his intellectual acuity is that prior to destroying his leg he was well-traveled and educated. Yet, even taking this into account it’s remarkable that he was able to develop a manner of thinking which preserved his intelligence, interest in the world, and pride too, thus preventing him from going down the road that most in the tramping world found themselves on. He didn’t think much of this ability, and in fact looked down on the rest of the tramping world because no others had managed to develop this particular faculty.
So I had just finished reading this chapter, had just finished my lunch, and put my book away, readying myself to leave when up pulls this African-American fellow on a bicycle trying to sell me a bottle of water. I told him I had no cash to give him but I’d buy him something to eat if he liked, so we went into the supermarket, all the while chatting, and I paid for a roast chicken for him. He seemed to have a philosophy similar to that of Bozo, and I was surprised (life is so ever full of these!) and delighted by such a timely and coincidental meeting. I remember one phrase of his that he repeated to me a couple of times, and which he would tell others, that being: “it’s never as bad as you make it out to be in your mind.”
And, yes, he introduced himself as Yoda. It’s the name he goes by, and in our brief talk I could see that it’s for good reason.