When I saw Carl last winter, he looked bad, although maybe not according to the standard of scary men on the street. His grey wool overcoat still had some formality left in it, but he seemed ready for the rag bag.
Usually even strangers note your approach when you walk with a happy dog. But Carl passed right by, eyes averted, showing no sign of the cheerful, ironic personality I knew.
When I finally saw him again this week, he was cracking wise and speaking of salvation with the quiet enthusiasm of a man just plucked off a raft long at sea.
As he changed into brown dress shoes from a pair of blue-and-white Reebok football cleats, Carl updated me on the other changes in his life.
He was wearing dark sunglasses all time now because of his surfer eye, acquired after thirty years in the California sun. He showed me his eye, but I didn't know what to look for, so I just nodded.
He'd scored the fancy wrap-arounds on Super Bowl Sunday outside a bar. A disgruntled New England fan leaving at half-time had flung off his shades and left them broken on the sidewalk. Carl repaired the frames with a dab of super glue from the Dollar Store.
You could only see the crack if you looked for it.
Before the holidays, a woman with five cars in her yard had offered to sell him a '98 Bonneville for $300. Inspired, he gathered up all his stuff for a garage sale, put on his Santa hat and sat in her driveway all day without selling one thing.
Anyway, the deal's off. The woman moved away.
She could have just given me the car, he said. What's $300?
He removed a coverless paperback from his backpack and sniffed it.He said his camp had gotten soaked by rain recently and now everything smelled like urine. He didn't want to stink when he went to church that evening.
According to the polarized reviews on Amazon, the self-published account of life in Switzerland is either "in the satiric spirit of Mark Twain" or "arrogant and ethnocentric to an extreme."
Carl had picked it up from the free library at the Senior Center, two days before they 86-ed me for life.
Apparently senior citizens find mania less charming than depression.
At the end of the day, Living Among the Swiss appeared abandoned on a chair in the vestibule.
It did not smell like urine.