Aspects of Living in a One-Bedroom Car


The homeless man does not consider himself homeless. He does not want a home. The suffix -less suggests a lacking, and the homeless man does not feel a lack because he has no windows to wash, no toilets to scrub, no carpets to vacuum. People in town call him the homeless man because it is the easiest way to distinguish him from the man who repairs plumbing or the man who sells insurance or the man who drives around in a van to steam-clean carpets. The homeless man is accustomed to this label and does not mind it terribly much.



The homeless man sleeps in his car. He leaves promptly at nine in the morning because he believes in order, in schedules, and in reading a newspaper at the cafe every day. Living in a car makes him a social person. One cannot hide in a car as one can in a house.

At the café he nods to two librarians, three farmers, a hairstylist, and his friend the retired gynecologist. Everyone nods back. The homeless man erases yesterday’s Specials menu from the blackboard next to the register. He selects a piece of light green chalk from the cigar box of chalk nubs beside the board, and copies the new Specials from the list left by the café owner. The homeless man has excellent penmanship. When he is finished, the café owner pays him with breakfast. The homeless man orders coffee and a bagel with peanut butter, settles in a corner table to read the newspaper and work on calligraphy projects. This week he is lettering diplomas for next month’s high school, elementary school, and kindergarten graduations.



“You aren’t loitering, are you?” the policeman asks the homeless man when he stops at the cafe for a cruller and coffee.

“I’m lettering, not loitering,” says the homeless man.

“Very good,” says the policeman. This is their morning game. Town is not large enough to have official loiterers. The homeless man knows most people in town do not mind him because he does not look as they expect a homeless person to look. He is young and polite and does not smell bad. The homeless man is not from the area. He moved to town eight years ago. No one knows where he used to live because he will not tell them.


Possible Romances:

The bank teller comes to the café at quarter after five in the afternoon. She is in love with the homeless man. At least he believes this to be true. She has light brown hair that falls just above her shoulders. She wears skirts and button-down blouses in neutral colors, beige and brown and gray, to blend in with the drab landscape of town. The homeless man thinks the bank teller is around his age, perhaps in her late twenties.

She does not sit at the homeless man’s table, but one beside his. There are two chairs between them. Two invisible people. She takes the same seat even when there are ten or fifteen more tables available in the café. The homeless man believes that is a sign of something. He glances at the bank teller from the corner of his eye and thinks she looks at him in the same way.

The bank teller orders a donut with white icing and tiny chocolate chips on top. She eats the chocolate chips one by one before eating the rest of the donut, breaking it into eight pieces. She chews slowly.



The bank teller listens while the homeless man debates his opinions on world events with his friend the retired gynecologist.

“Everything is going to hell in a handbasket,” says the retired gynecologist. This is his general opinion on The State of Things. It rarely changes.

“But there are treaties,” says the homeless man as he shakes his newspaper and points to headlines. “There are agreements to stop fighting.”

The bank teller nods.

“And then there are more wars,” says the retired gynecologist.

The bank teller nods again.

“We must hope things will improve,” says the homeless man.

“Of course we have to hope,” says the retired gynecologist, “but hope rarely does any good. There will still be wars.”

The bank teller nods, wets her finger on the tip of her tongue, and collects the donut crumbs from her plate. The homeless man is pleased that the bank teller can be a wordless participant in their debates, pleased that she appreciates a larger perspective. Not many people in town care to discuss The State of Things as they relate to the larger world.



Once a week the homeless man and the retired gynecologist drive to the homeless shelter in the city a half-hour away. The gynecologist takes bread and cookies and cakes that he bakes on Thursday evenings. They work in the soup kitchen. The homeless man enjoys visiting with those he considers to be truly homeless. They make him appreciate his car and steady work and ability to spend all day in the café and not be harassed. People assume that those who can do calligraphy are cultured individuals.

“It’s a tragedy to be judged on the fact I can write well,” says the homeless man to the retired gynecologist.

“No matter what you do or don’t do, people are bound to judge you for it,” says the retired gynecologist.

The homeless man is judged only occasionally, but not by people who think they will change his behavior. They just like to argue. The homeless man knows this is part of living in a three-traffic-light town where people see fit to remark on most anything.


Confrontations, Part 2:

On Wednesday the homeless man is yelled at by the elderly librarian who berates him for not having a house.

“It isn’t decent,” she says.

“What isn’t decent?” he says.

“People without indoor plumbing,” she says.

“But my plumbing or lack thereof should not concern you,” he says.

“Everyone needs indoor plumbing,” she says. “Without it you are simply taking advantage of the indoor plumbing of others.”

“I use the plumbing in the cafe exchange for my calligraphy services,” says the homeless man.

“No one likes a sponge,” says the librarian.

“Except for people with damp countertops,” says the homeless man.

The librarian harrumphs and drinks her coffee, then they resume their discussion on Hawthorne and the meaning of the forest in The Scarlet Letter. She likes to follow every rant on homelessness with a rousing debate on Romantic authors. The homeless man likes the idea of forests, their darkness and mystery, but he prefers living in his car. The seats are softer.


Possible Romance, Part 2:

The librarian leaves at five o’clock, fifteen minutes before the bank teller arrives and sits two chairs away from the homeless man and eats her frosted donut with tiny chocolate chips on top. He is not prepared to be liked in the way he thinks she likes him. It is a predicament. He wants to keep everything simple. The homeless man watches the bank teller’s cold fingers break her donut into eight pieces. He likes her quiet demeanor, but is confused why he also finds it unsettling. Most people talk too much.

“How many chocolate chips can fit on a donut?” he asks the bank teller.

She starts, jolted by the words.

“Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“Between thirty and forty,” she says. “Forty-five if I’m lucky.”

“You count them,” he says, though he knew this was the case.

“I count everything,” she says. “There are four hundred and fifty-six floor tiles in the café.”

“You counted them all?” he says.

“I counted a few,” she says, “the rest was multiplication.”

He appreciates her curious rhythms since he has many of his own. It is logical that if anyone would love him, she would be the person to do so.



The homeless man wonders if he wants to be loved. Love is more complicated than houses, which he has avoided with great vigor.

He tried loving someone ten years ago, when he was living in an apartment. She was a waitress at a café he frequented. The waitress had a good male friend who she said was not her boyfriend, but this male friend was also the reason why she said she could not love the young apartment-dwelling man.

“You understand,” she said.

The young man said he understood, even though he didn’t.

Five years after that incident, he decided to become homeless.

This did not help him to understand what the waitress meant, but he keeps hoping.


Polite Gestures:

The homeless man wants to do something kind for the bank teller, a small offering of friendship, so he pays for her donut and coffee before she arrives. It is not supposed to be an intimate act, but one of respect.

He explains this when she walks into the café.

“I respect that you count things,” he says as she eats the chocolate chips one by one.

“Thank you,” she says. Then she is quiet.

The homeless man does calligraphy work on ten signs the librarian ordered for the first floor of the library. She says he does excellent work, even though he is not decent and a sponge. She also pays him quite well.

From the corner of his eye he watches the bank teller eat. Does she seem to enjoy this donut more than she has enjoyed donuts in the past?

“Do you want to know how many chocolate chips were on the donut?” says the bank teller.

“Certainly,” he says.

“There were forty-three chocolate chips,” says bank teller. “That’s a good number.”

“How nice,” says the homeless man. He is pleased that she is pleased. He wonders what that means. The homeless man ponders this situation as he walks to his car that evening. His car is parked outside the shoe store. The store owner does not mind since he thinks it prevents theft to have a car sitting behind the store and a person sitting in the car, rather like a night guard. In towns with three traffic lights, few people venture to break into shoe stores, but the homeless man is pleased that he makes the shoe store owner feel more secure.


Mild Concerns:

The following day the homeless man buys another donut and cup of coffee for the bank teller. It is a way to make her happy. He wants to make her happy, though this thought is disturbing.

When the bank teller walks in the café, she smiles at the donut. She sits down in a new chair, one closer to him, leaving only one seat between them. One invisible person.

“There were thirty-five chocolate chips on the donut,” she tells him without his needing to ask. “It was reasonable.”

The homeless man letters a flier about a free movie playing at the cinema downtown.

“Do you like movies?” he asks her.

“I like old movies,” she says. “Silent movies.”

“Ones with dramatic music,” he says, “and words on the screen.”

“That kind,” she says.

“I don’t think this is that kind of movie,” he says, showing her the flier. “There are people speaking.”

“Those kind are fine, too,” she says.

“Oh,” says the homeless man.

He wonders if she wants to go out on a date. The homeless man does not want to go on a date, but he is too polite to inform the bank teller, especially since she has not spoken of dates. This should resolve the issue, but he feels he must dissuade her from something.

What would it be like to go out on a date? If they went to see the free movie, they would not talk because actors would be speaking. That seems to defeat the purpose of the date. But what constitutes a date? Does buying coffee and a donut qualify, even if it is meant as a gesture of respect, even if there is still a chair between them?



He explains the situation to the retired gynecologist as they drive to the homeless shelter. The retired gynecologist never married, but the homeless man respects him as a reasonable person, even if he is a bit crotchety.

“She might not want to go out on a date,” says the gynecologist.

“I don’t know,” says the homeless man. “She doesn’t say much.”

“You should ask her,” says the gynecologist.

“That’s difficult,” says the homeless man. “She doesn’t say much.”

“Many people do not get married because they have problems talking,” says the gynecologist.

“I don’t want to get married,” says the homeless man. “I want to find out if she wants to go out on a date so I can tell her I don’t want to go out on a date.”

“That’s why I never dated anyone,” says the retired gynecologist. “It’s too confusing.”

The homeless man decided to live in his car because houses were confusing. He wanted to simplify, simplify, but still be around people. But people are not simple. People demand that others have indoor plumbing. People may or may not want to go out on dates. True simplicity is more than the absence of things. Lovers of simplicity must be hermits. The homeless man wishes it weren’t so difficult.



The homeless man buys the bank teller another cup of coffee and another donut. He needs to tell her that he does not want to go out on a date. The food is meant to soften the blow, and to prove that he still respects her.

“I don’t think I will go to the free movie this weekend,” he says to her.

“I don’t think I will, either,” she says. “There will be too many people talking.”

“True,” says the homeless man, though this still does not resolve the real issue of him not wanting to go out on a date.

“There were thirty-nine chocolate chips on that donut,” she says. “A good number.”

“That’s nice,” says the homeless man.

“You don’t have to keep buying me donuts,” she says.

“Oh,” says the homeless man. “But it’s a gesture of respect.”

“I just wanted you to know,” she says.

“Okay,” says the homeless man, wondering why he feels slightly disappointed.



The next afternoon he is unsure whether or not he should buy a donut for the bank teller. Did she think that the other donuts constituted dates and did not want to encourage him into a relationship? But she said he didn’t have to buy her donuts, which is different than he can’t or shouldn’t buy her donuts. Perhaps she wants to buy her own donut so she won’t feel beholden to him. Or perhaps she wanted to let him know that she did not expect donuts on a regular basis and he should not feel compelled to continue donut purchases, though she appreciated his kindness.

He decides to buy a donut and place it at the empty space between him and let her decide how to interpret the gesture.

The bank teller enters the café and the homeless man nearly chokes on his coffee.

She sits one chair over from the donut, glances sideways at the plate and the homeless man.

“For me?” she says.

“Well,” he says, “maybe. If you’d like it. But it wouldn’t have to be for you if that would be somehow offensive. Or if you’re not hungry.”

“I’m hungry,” she says and begins picking the chocolate chips off the top of the donut.

“How many?” he says after a moment.

“Forty-one,” she says. “Above average.”

“I’m glad,” says the homeless man.



The homeless man sits in his car and glances at the empty passenger seat. Does he want someone to sit there? He didn’t before. Now he isn’t sure. Perhaps it would be better if he didn’t have to guard the shoe store alone. But any companion might complain of the heat or cold or not think the seats were comfortable. She might want niceties such as a toilet or reading lamp. The homeless man wraps an afghan around his legs. When he had a bed he slept on his stomach, but this is difficult to manage in the driver’s seat of a car. He doesn’t miss it much, has read studies suggesting it is better to sleep on one’s back than one’s stomach. The homeless man knows this is one of those few things it is better to do without.