I first noticed them at the next bench over from the drummers’ bench, a separate group of homeless youth who often congregated there. They wore different clothes than the rest of the people. Their clothes were darker and somewhat dusty, but serviceable for survival. Next to the bench was a large carpenter’s cart loaded with sleeping bags, tents and backpacks. Everything had to be watched all day so that it wouldn’t be confiscated by authorities or stolen. Most of these people had to carry all their stuff with them everywhere they went. This particular group had a communal arrangement going, in which their belongings could be placed in the cart and watched together by one person.
I’d also seen them walking across the meadow to their camps in the evening, their many dogs trotting behind. They had a special silhouette and a special gait as they lumbered by, each harnessed with a backpack loaded taller than their head. Some had a cat perched right on top of the swaying backpack, riding it as if riding a camel. There were dogs on leashes and dogs running free, and often there was someone playing a guitar as they went.
The way they walked was very strong, in sturdy hiking boots meant to negotiate the forest paths. Now they would go make their camps in the woods, sleep on the ground inside their tents. It is a way of life that they are used to. Some have been doing it for years. The routine of putting up and taking down their small dome tent is the closest thing they have to a household. Their dogs make it seem like a family. Those who live alone treat their animals like partners. Couples treat them like children.
Their clothes are not the pastel polyesters of the picnickers, but they have flashes of color. Tie-dyed t-shirts are a uniform, though some are faded and worn. Hand-made jewelry of natural materials, political and religious emblems, are their decorations. There is brightly-colored cloth of paisley or rainbow designs, feathers, bells, ornate pouches and belts. Their clothes are so much a part of who they are that they seem molded to their bodies.
They really dress like gypsies, wearing their valued items on their person where they can’t be confiscated or ripped off. Someone who barely has enough to eat will invest in a very expensive and ornate coat made of rich materials, because it says something about who they are. They will wear that coat on the street and in the park, sleep in it every night on the ground. The edges will become worn and some buttons might be lost, but the coat will still make the wearer look and feel like a prince. A dark brocade can mask any stains.
A beautiful young girl with pink and lavender hair walks by with a powerful stride, easily carrying a tall backpack with a lovely black and white cat perched on top. She’s dressed like a fashion model in an ornate short skirt and bright multicolored tights. Her attractive boyfriend walks beside her, also with a backpack, his long loose hair blowing in the wind, both hands holding the leashes of their two dogs. She has tattoos on her arms of butterflies, which symbolize metamorphosis, and peacock feathers, which are supposed to be God’s eyes. 🦋
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