When Wilson and I wander the streets of Fort Bragg each day for 20 minutes, most everyone we encounter is capable of the following interaction:
How ya doing?
Have a good one.
Over the course of several months, I was lulled into believing that if a street person can master the above, then s/he might be capable of holding a more meaningful conversation.
I tested this theory on Guy on a Bench.
I had not seen him for a couple of weeks and became genuinely concerned. Maybe the drug dealers or panhandlers finally got to him and he freaked out and was thrown in jail. (But his mug shot had not shown up in the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Booking Logs.)
Today, he was back on the bench. We exchanged our above-referenced greeting. I then added, “I haven’t seen you for a long time. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said. “Are you okay?”
My next mistake was to fail to keep walking. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Hippies come by here all the time asking me if I’m okay and infecting me with their supposed good karma. But they’re not good; they’re full of crap. Every day I have to fend them off with their supposed concern about my well-being. I’m fine until they come by. I don’t need their crap in my life. They need to keep their crap karma to themselves.
“Then there’s Ted [blah, blah] who thinks I need to be put in a home where I can’t get out and do what I want. Now there’s some bad karma crap going on right there. I tell Ted to stay out of my life and deal with his own crap.”
I engaged in what therapists term active listening—nodding my head and muttering, “Uh huh.”
“You must know Ted.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You’re nodding your head so you must agree with everything he says.”
“No, I’m just acknowledging that I hear you.”
I tried to coax Wilson away, but all the talk about crap led him to choose an inviting bush against which to shake his booty and take a dump. (Such is his favorite bowel elimination ritual.)
As I waited for Wilson to finish and used a bag to retrieve the poop, Guy on a Bench continued.
“Ted’s a jerk and should stick to his own business. I happen to know his karma’s crap and he and the Hippies can go to hell for all I care. With their karma that’s exactly where they’re going. Trying to make their karma rub off on me—now that’s just wrong!”
“I’m sorry if I offended you,” I said, backing away.
“You should be! Don’t be going around asking people if they’re okay. I’m fine. It’s you who you should be looking at.” His eyes squinted in a mad dog glare. “I’m starting to wonder about you.”
Wilson and I skedaddled away.
Lessons learned: (1) just because someone can exchange a greeting doesn’t mean his brain is composed of anything more than nacho cheese dip; and (2) it’s probably best if I start keeping my crap karma to myself.