(Delmar & Skinker boulevards, November 21)

The man stands next to the traffic signal, crooked and gaunt, holding a piece of cardboard that says: BROKE. Matt can read it from the driver's seat with no trouble, even in the urban half-darkness, where pockets of light illuminate random patches in a vague half-exposure.

It's late rush hour, cold and drizzly. The light is red; Matt's car remains motionless, idling, close enough to the broke man to make eye contact a disconcerting possibility. But the man appears to be staring straight ahead, his eyes glazed over, his expression one of distant bemusement.

Matt risks a quick glance, notices that the man isn't looking back. So he looks once more, allows his eyes to remain on the man a little longer. BROKE. It's more like a definition than a plea, Matt thinks. What if everyone carried a one-word sign: CONFUSED, MEDICATED, SPOILED, CONSTIPATED. (What would his read?)

The thought makes him smile inwardly, reassuring him that, despite everything, he still has a sense of humor. It doesn't make him think of poverty, doesn't make him feel compassionate. It makes him think of his own sense of humor, which, apparently, he still has. And he's thankful for that.

He stares at the brake lights of the car ahead of him, wondering.