Sitting at one of the cafe tables outside of Starbucks at the foot of the Big Pink. I am trying to get my head around a new project I am working on. Inspiration has not been breathed into me yet today so I’ve pulled the earbuds out and gone out for a walk – with my laptop in case, by some miracle, anything happens and I am compelled to write.
A thought propels me to a metal table where I sit with my laptop. I am furiously typing — trying to grow something out of the little seeds that sprouted while I was contemplating the bulgogi taco cart across the street. Trying a little desperately to pound something out before I lose momentum.
Focused on the screen, I am startled by a loud scream directly behind me. “DAMN YOU STARBUCKS!!! DAMN YOU TO HELL!!” I whip around. A man is standing about five feet behind me with one of these iron chairs chair raised up over his head. People sitting at all the tables around have stopped talking and are looking at him.
It looks like I am in the direct line of fire. I think that he might smash that heavy looking chair down on my head so I pull off my fake ray-bans and look him in the eyes. He is Sasquatch. Wild hair and eyes, a grimacing mouth that is stained with something bright red. His flannel shirt is ripped down the side and his pants have pee stains on them. His feet are in cheap shower slides.
A beat while we stare at each other, and he slams the chair to the ground. Averting his eyes from me, he staggers over to a table where two business women are sitting. They both immediately stand, grabbing their purses and hurry away from the man who is now sprawled in the chair at the empty table. I turn back to my work and try to pick up where I left off — thinking “damnit, this is not going to come easy today.” A few minutes pass and I hear him talk again.
“Look at you with your laptop you think you are so special. Does anybody give a fuck. Does anybody care about me? No man. I care about you, though. I’m a good hearted motherfucker man. Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not lie, thou shall not kill. — you with that laptop do you care about me? Do you care, lady?” No, I totally do not care. Digging around in my bag, searching for and not finding the earbuds I regret leaving in my office, I come to the slow realization that he is talking to me. I lift my head away from the screen and turn to look at him. I am aware that all around, people at the tables are staring at him pointing and and cursing me.
I am furious. “Shut the fuck up.” I say, meanly — glaring at him now. He raises his arms and opens his mouth to start — and I point my finger at him. “Shut it!” Spit flys out of my mouth. I mean it; the urge to jump up and poke him in the face with my index finger is almost overwhelming. After all, I am trying to get something written for the LOVE OF CHRIST (!) Already. God (!!)
He stands up and lurches towards my table. I am very tense now, wondering if I am going to have to spring up and fight. But he isn’t menacing; his face looks like a contrite little boy’s; ” I am sorry I didn’t mean it that way.” He wheedles, “You’re a beautiful lady. You have awesome hair.” I jerk my head away from his hand reaching to touch it. ” Do you care about me?” He is standing up against my table looming over where I sit, staring down at me. His eyes are red and his mouth is turned down further than a bad sad clown painting.
Something like regret comes over me. I feel no fear, just sadness. I want to cry because I have been such a jerk. And I say a little pity prayer, “why God? seriously – what the fuck is this all about — I just have to get some work done” I find myself extending my hand to the chair next to me. Pointing now at that seat, not at his sad face. He looks at me with disbelief. “Really?” I nod. “I can sit with you?” He is incredulous and excited.
I am terse. “Yes. If you respect my personal space and you talk so that only you and I can hear the conversation”. He nods and quickly sits down before I change my mind. In a loud stage whisper he breathlessly blurts out his story. I am detached because I have heard it before many times. He is on the street…homeless…kicked out of his aunt’s house…his brother died of diabetes and he found him dead….nobody will talk to him….God is punishing him…the world is ending.
I know it is not about the story. It’s about him being able to tell it to someone who will listen to him.
When he takes a breath and looks expectantly at me, I ask him what kind of drugs he is taking. “Only alcohol, ma’am.” I laugh a little mockingly. “Only.” He laughs back- unsure about where I am going with this.
Like a mother now, I scold him. “You are scaring people.” I go on with a little lecture and lay out that because he was acting angry, yelling and picking up a chair like he was going to throw it, he ran off people who have “every right to sit here.”
He is super hang-dog now, and confesses that he is drunk and sad. I tell him I can see that and ask him if he ever thinks about quitting drinking. He said that he wasn’t ready. I nod; “yeah. It’s gonna be hard for you, then”. He ruffles a little “what do you know about it, lady with the laptop?” Pissy again, I reach in my pants pocket and pull out the AA coin that I carry. I put the coin in his hand. He squints, trying to focus. “What’s the number on that? — A year?” I tell him “Four”.
“Four Years. I can’t even get four hours!” He starts to cry. I sigh and feel my forehead wrinkle. “What can I do for you?” I ask. He says, “You know what I am going to ask because you’ve been there.” I say “You want money”. He doesn’t say anything, so I reached in my bag and take out my wallet. I open it up so he can see the money. There are several twenties and some singles and a five that is folded over. “I’ll take the five” he said. “That’s enough for today”. I hold the open wallet out toward him, “I have to go now.” He reaches in gingerly and picks out the five dollar bill with his thumb and forefinger. He puts it in his pocket.
He grabs at my hand. I let him hold it for a moment before I pull it away, more gently than I would have earlier. “Personal space.” I explain. “I’m sorry.” he says. “Will you please stay and talk to me.” I shake my head. “I really need to go.” I ask him if he knows the red door church. He does. “Go tonight at seven for dinner. Someone will give you some soup and a blessing.” He asks if I am going to drink the coffee I have only taken a few sips out of. I hand it to him, gather up my things, then walk through the maze of tables into the building.
I am halfway home before I realize that he still has my coin.