I never saw this man in my life, but I always called him Packer. He would have been at home in a mule-skinning outfit, as a trapper, prospector, or other frontiersman. Unfortunately those days were done well before 1912. Those professions were in Western Territories. Packer lived on the East Coast. I believe he died in the early years of the twenty-first century.
How do I know Packer existed?
He had one grocery cart, purloined. To the front of it was tied a plush teddy bear, splayed out like the prow on an old-fashioned ship, or, alternately, a Catharine Wheel. For one two-week period of one summer, he had eight stuffed animals hanging from the grocery cart. I particularly remember a red-and-white elephant. Always, two five-gallon buckets, one for washing and one for rinsing, sat drying in the open air. The cart was full of neatly-folded blankets and clothes, as well as found salable objects. Over this, tarps would be neatly stacked, everything roped in, if the weather was good. There was always a sense of industry and cleanliness, purpose and regimen about his camp.
Only his camp was next to a bank. Stone-throwing distance from a major city intersection.
Did he have a body? Oh, yes. I never saw it though. I would leave mass transit and head home late at night. By then he was always asleep on a neatly-made bed. The bed consisted of a groundsheet and quilts ranging from small nursery-printed dumpster treasures to government-issue felt. They covered him completely, including his head. On rainy or snowy nights I would find him completely encased in tarps, his buckets lined up to catch rain for washing, his grocery schooner wrapped into a cube of blue plastic, and, as always, tied down.
I believed he was one of the few homeless people who might have chosen to live that way by true preference. He was too competent to blame it entirely on constitutional deficits or bad luck.
One winter morning, on my way from home to work, his camp was gone. In its place was a large soot-blackened stretch of pavement, from the front of the structure pictured above to the edge of his normal camp. The globe on the lamp-post you see was now a Janus-head shape where one side was perfectly formed and the near side melted horribly, wrongly, into a distorted icicle. It looked like the lamp had a stroke. It looked like Packer had lit a cigarette under the neat bundle of tarps and blankets and burned to death. Or perhaps he had a brazier going, and everything caught on fire.
I am not sure how my fiction ends--did Packer die by fire or live to get treatment? Did he recover, but the bank finally told him to shove on? Or did this lapse from order cause him to be ashamed, to lose his sense of home, to go away and never come back?
The cart and buckets were gone. I never saw them elsewhere. The soot marks remained, uncleaned, for a year. The city replaced the melted glass globe on the lamp-post about two years later.