His eyes are gutters, black and bottomless. From the ragged clothes and heaping grocery cart of rubbish, it’s obvious that the man is homeless. His outline fades into the shadows, but his shoes catch my eye. Bright gold high-tops with ruby red tongues. They look brand-new except for what appears to be a signature in black marker on the left sneaker.
“Cool kicks,” I mutter as I keep walking, not expecting a response.
“Magic gave them to me.” His voice is husky and resonates with surprising strength.
I stop to look back. “Like, Magic Johnson? Is that his signature?” I ask, dismissive yet curious.
He clears this throat and I wonder about the last time he had a drink of water. “No, Magic like the invisible force that makes dreams come true.”
Something about him compels me to not write him off as just another lunatic living on the streets. “I’m not following but listen, you should take those shoes to a consignment shop and see if they are worth anything. You’ll probably get enough for a sit-down meal.”
“No, I would never sell these because they keep me safe. Magic gave them to me the day I got kicked out of my wife’s house and nearly killed myself driving. I tried to pass a semi on the 405 and lost control when I hit 100 after leaving the bar. I remember there being a moment where I thought I had lost it all. I came to and felt my body in some serious pain under the car, with these shoes on. Call it finding the grace of God or the Universe looking after me...whatever it is, I call it Magic.”
“You have no idea how you got those shoes?” I ask incredulously, “You just woke up and they were on your feet?” I’m slightly irritated at this point because I'm wasting time talking to a homeless man about God and miraculous footwear.
“Yep. I asked the cops and they had no idea. Believe it or not, that was the best day of my life," he says beginning to stroke his beard. "I woke up. Learned a pretty important lesson that day."
“When it feels like everything’s been taken, that’s when Magic will come and help you. I always try to give more than I take so I can find Magic again.” His beard expands so quickly after each stroke that it looks like someone pulled the ripcord of a brown parachute.
“If you believe in Magic, why are you sitting on a street corner with not much to your name? The luck on those shoes might have worn off.”
The man shrugs his shoulders. "People judge me on my appearance all the time, and because it looks like I don't own much, they think I’m not worth much. That doesn't really bother me anymore. I spend my days with the kids at the shelter, helping them to get clean, giving them all I have. I don’t put in a lot of time thinking about how to improve my situation. Maybe I should do more of that, but I consider myself a lucky guy as it is. How many people have shoes signed by Magic?"