On warm days, I stretched out on river rocks to read, the brown Passaic a gurgling stench at my feet.
With Mombo battling polka for possession of my block, I found comfort among the swallows, turtles and bums.
Leo, a gray-bearded string bean, lived in the cardboard city behind the church -- a moody, solitary soul who seemed to dislike his fellow bums as much as the city did.
Filthy as any junkyard dog, Leo bore his affliction with strange superiority as he roved the riverside in search of bottles to sell.
He perpetually wore the same old worn clothing" khaki hat, threadbare vest and ankle-high boots empty of laces.
And he always stopped to snort his disapproval over my studies, telling me each time I was "reading trash."
Bums weren't bums without reason. Some got there through the bottom of a bottle. Others got dropped off via UFO. Leo seemed to have chosen to come, making some statement on life by annoying people with his pungent presence.
He haunted the public library, too, tugging on his knapsack straps as he studied the tomes patrons perused. On one occasion he saw my texts on philosophy and psychology and creamed, "No, No, No!""
A moment later, he dumped proper volumes before me: Shakespeare, Faulkner, Graham Greene.
Other patrons must have presumed us friends because the following winter the police appeared at my door saying they had found him frozen without any next of kin -- handing me his knapsack lacking anyone better.
Inside I found no clothing, no money, just a battered frame containing a degree from Harvard.