Invisible Men


Under a flat-gray sky Aki and I walk a familiar trail through Downtown Juneau. The little dog trots out at the end of her leash, stopping suddenly from time to time to pee or sniff. I am jealous of her ability to get so much stimulation from odors. While she checks the pee mail, I let my mind wander.

By the time we reach the Franklin Street tourist zone, it is filling up with cruise ship passengers. I am grateful to them for exhibiting even a little joy on this low contrast day. Crewmen from the ships stand in line at food carts run by local Pilipino families. Those already served sit on stone benches eating rice and barbeque meat from Styrofoam containers. Behind them the panamax cruise ships they serve send blue smoke into the already dark sky. Nearby, under the Marine Park shelter, a dark skinned homeless man shivers through a cigarette while clutching a paper cup of coffee. Aki drags me toward the food carts in hope of snatching dropped food from the feet of customers.


The cruise ship tourists, many this morning from big cities in China, look up at Mt. Juneau or out over Gastineau Channel where great rafts of gulls float as they wait for low tide. Some of the tourists smile when they see a local and his little dog. But few seem to notice the crewmen or the homeless man.


Climbing up Main Street we pass a sign drawn with some skill with chalk onto the side of a business office building. It quotes from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five: “Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt.” I shake my head. When the sun sparkles on fresh snow, a honest man might write that everything he sees in Juneau is beautiful, even the pink cheeks of locals huffing up our steep streets. But somewhere there will still be pain.

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