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When I was working in New York City, there was a gentleman of the outdoors who would sit on 57th st, near the SE corner of the 57th and Park Ave. intersection. He always had an elaborately colored sign, which he would make using colored Magic Markers and a piece of cardboard, then cover with clear packing tape. His name was Norm.

He was quite friendly, and had few foibles unless you count barking at women. He never made any move to even approach them, but when a nice-looking lady went by, he'd start softly yapping, culminating in a series of barks if she ignored him. If she looked at him, he'd start panting or even whining, and if she smiled before turning away (rare, but it happened) he'd stop and blow her a kiss when she wasn't looking.

But I digress.

One day, out of the blue, Norm waved me over as I was on my way to lunch. I went over and greeted him, and without preamble he told me that he wanted to say goodbye, because he wouldn't be seeing me for a while. When I asked why, he replied that he had always had a hankering to see Mount McKinley, and was going to do so.

In Alaska? I asked.

Yup.

Okay, Norm. Good luck! How you getting there?

Oh, walkin', naturally.

Note that up to this point I'd never even seen his legs as he sat there with a blanket pulled over 'em, so I just kept a straight face.

Then he vanished.

Ten months later, on my way to lunch, I heard my name shouted out, and there was Norm. When I welcomed him back and asked how Alaska was, he got very quiet and said "Beautiful." Then he gave me a pebble which, he explained, was from the river below Mount McKinley. I thanked him solemnly and continued on to get lunch.

On my way back, he waved and handed me something without speaking. I nodded and hurried back to the office, already late, without looking. When I got to my desk, I checked it out.

It was a photo of Norm, still kneeling with his blanket, next to a river, holding some stones. Next to him was an enormous wooden sign welcoming all visitors to Mt. McKinley, and in the background, there was the mountain.

I laughed for perhaps ten minutes.

I never saw him again.