Brief Encounter: Silently

by Treehouse Editors

Doug Hoekstra

Last time a homeless man asked me for money, it was by the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where Fatty Arbuckle’s career ended. Buster Keaton stayed true to his friend, and I thought of Buster as I folded a Franklin and dropped it into the man’s upturned pork pie hat. The bill landed softly over scattered change, covering it like a newspaper blanket. The man quietly nodded his thanks.

“That was a bit much,” my cousin said, as we continued walking. “What if he spends it on drugs? Or worse?” he added, snapping his words like chewing gum.

My cousin had never given me a gift that he didn’t follow up on, asking if I’d played it, read it, or wore it, dependent.

“What if he does?” I said. “It was a gift, he can do whatever he likes. Maybe it’s what he needs right now.”

I wondered what “worse” could be, as we turned the corner and passed the storefront where Tippi Hedren met Rod Taylor at the pet store in The Birds. Something apocalyptic? Seemed like the man was already in a state of worse.

“That’s funny coming from you,” he added, eager to emphasize the fact that I was a teetotaler, since he was not. My cousin was a bricklayer, I taught schoolchildren; he hunted venison, I was a vegetarian; he wore MAGA hats while I raged against the machine. For him, it was always competition.

As we passed the Bay Area Mindfulness Center, the sun shimmered over the China Basin, just past where we were about to take in a Giants game, the last remaining link to our childhood. I thought of Buster again and the baseball scene in The Camerman. No words, just action. Pure genius. The silent movies were the best.


Doug Hoekstra is a Chicago-bred, Nashville-based writer. His first book, Bothering the Coffee Drinkers, appeared on the Canopic Publishing (TN) imprint in April 2006 and earned an Independent Publisher Award (IPPY) for Best Short Fiction (Bronze Medal). Several of the selections in the book appeared in other publications, and one story, “The Blarney Stone,” was nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize. Other stories and poems of his have appeared in numerous online and print literary journals and a second book of prose, The Tenth Inning, was released independently in 2015.