Old and new faces in the City of Transients

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I saw him again the other day, deep into Auburn, stomping along Center Street like a pirate marching across a Pacific island, looking for plunder. From his ungloved hands hung those iconic plastic bags, overflowing with riches. And right about the time I spotted him, I read a message on Facebook from a person on the other side of the Androscoggin.

“Just saw him in Lewiston,” the message said. “Near City Hall.”

The enigmatic Magic Man still has it going on. He’s here and he’s there, seemingly at the same time. Physical laws of space and time? Who needs ’em? The Magic Man is wherever he needs to be, an eternal force in this city of transients. He’s out in blazing heat and he’s out in bitter cold. He looks the same today as he looked in 2003 – the same hard lines, the same small eyes that see only the mission before him. The same windbreaker, the same bandanna knotted at the back of his head.

Ten years ago, I wrote a piece about the phantoms of the Lewiston streets. Most of them are gone now, or at least they’ve diminished their street presence to a part-time gig. The Lady Who Twirls, The Other Guy with the Bags, The Woman on the Bike, The Man with the Flags.

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Some have died, some have found better things to do. They faded into mist and memory, under no obligation whatsoever to keep the rest of us apprised of their comings and goings. It’s the natural order of things; familiar figures are replaced by strange ones and the cycle starts over again.

Yet The Magic Man walks on.

In a hundred years or so, after I’ve retired and people ask about my time in Lewiston (and they will ask, mostly because they are Boy Scouts forced to visit people in the home for the decrepit and insane) The Magic Man is something that will come up every time. “Oh, he was magic alright,” I’ll croak in gore crow voice, reaching for the poor boy’s arm with gnarled fingers. “He could be in two places at the same time. Three, if the wind was right.”

And the Boy Scout will nod sympathetically, thinking me insane and wondering distantly if I’ve soiled myself again. (Hint: I have.)

A roaming bottle collector who can be in several places at once, he’ll think! Old folks can sure get some funny ideas.

But sometimes I entertain another idea. Perhaps instead of telling these weird tales to youngsters who don’t really care, I will be the one wandering the Lewiston streets, a new phantom in a different era. Penance, perhaps, for having poked the nest of street secrets too many times.

“They say he used to be a reporter at something called a ‘newspaper,'” they will tell each other, uploading their thoughts telepathically to Facebook servers on the moon. “Sometimes, on mild nights, you can see him out there, muttering the same thing over and over. ‘Can I quote you on that? Can I quote you on that?’ I tell you, Elrod71B, it’s spooky.”

And I’ll just keep walking back and forth on Park Street, staring up at the empty sky where a beautiful brick building used to stand. A brick building once filled with computers, fax machines and a mammoth press, now relics in a museum on one of Jupiter’s moons.

“Can I quote you on that?” I’ll mutter into the night. “Is that on the record?”

And then I’ll shuffle away, ghostly and enigmatic, just another street phantom tweaking the imaginations of the young folks who run the world. Just another passing shadow people wonder about from time to time when they have a few spare seconds to kill.

“I saw the newsman on Park Street today,” the people will say, and their friends will report that they saw him, too.

Mission accomplished. If I last half as long as the Magic Man out there, I’ll consider it a smashing success.

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