July 13, 2010

broken people on sidewalks.

Ever since C and I moved out of Atlanta's Toco Hills area and into the suburbs, I've been lamenting the lack of verifiable crazy people to gawk at. You just can't find them out here like you can in town, unless you think Yankee yuppie transplants wearing 3 strands of pearls and stilettos to do their grocery shopping at Whole Foods is crazy.

To give you an idea of what I've been missing for the last 7 or so years: when I first started dating C, he was living off Ponce de Leon in Midtown, right across from Murder Kroger. Murder Kroger is exactly 500 feet from the East Ponce police station, which is exactly 1.5 blocks from the crackhead transvestite prostitute corner. I don't know that the people milling around this corner are actually crackheads and/or transvestites and/or prostitutes, I just know they mill around this corner at all hours of the day and night (heavy stress on night) and it's best to keep your doors locked and your car moving even if the traffic light is officially red. I'm going to let the name Murder Kroger speak for itself.

What was so odd about this setup is that C lived in some really, really nice apartments. And these nice apartments were across the street from some really, really nice older homes some people with big dreams in their hearts had turned into ridiculously overpriced real estate that I'm sure put fat wallets in their pockets. And all of this was located down the street from a stupendously nice neighborhood filled with houses offering nothing but many, many feet of great curb appeal.

It's one of the things that makes Atlanta such a great place for a curious people watcher to just hang out for awhile: take a walk around town one way and you'd swear you stepped through a time wormhole and somehow landed on LA's Rodeo Drive, circa 1950. One wrong left turn up the next block, and you're dodging drive by bullets and side stepping drunks urinating on the sidewalks.

Which is why I had both a giddy "man! You NEVER see THIS in THESE parts!!" kind of feeling and a sad "should I be concerned?" feeling all at once this morning when C and I went to meet the tow truck at the grocery store parking lot where my car sat all last night.

My car has issues. It's been having issues since April. First the emergency brake light kept popping on and off while driving. Then the key fob needed a new battery. Then the brake fluid needed replacing. And it stalled on me a month ago and needed to be jumped, but it wasn't a battery issue. Finally, yesterday, right after I ran into a store to get some macaroni & cheese, tampons, olive oil, dishwasher liquid, and challah bread it just died. Done. And I was so frustrated because (a) I don't want to know why or how a car goes, I just want it to go, consistently, and (b) now I was going to have to get on the phone and talk to Kevin, the person I'd taken my sick car to a month ago, and tell him (1) the brake light had never stopped popping on and off even though he'd told me it was doing that because of low brake fluid and (2) the car didn't die a month ago because the key fob needed a battery, the car died a month ago because Kevin and his mechanic friends didn't actually take a really good look at it like they swore up and down to me they had. And having to do THIS meant Kevin was going to be kind of snotty to me, much more so than he was a month ago when I took the car to him the first time and he kind of talked down to me after I told him I didn't think the car had brake fluid or key fob problems, I thought the car had much deeper issues. Kevin talked to me like I didn't know a thing about cars like he did. It was the kind of snotty that male car mechanics are with women who aren't Danika Patrick. Or, I don't know, maybe snotty male car mechanics are even snottier to women named Danika Patrick. Either way, I don't know what to say to them to convince them I have super psychic car powers they'll never ever possess and if they'd just shut up and listen to me, we can all be out of each other's hair in mere hours, never to meet ever again.

Anyway. The car is fine now--there was short in a fuse, and C ended up doing most of the talking to Kevin and Kevin wasn't snotty with him at all. Win-win.

The thing that gave me the giddy/sad feeling was what happened moments before and after we met the tow truck at the grocery store. Before heading over there, we stopped at a nearby Starbucks for coffee. C parked in a spot right in front of the door and waited for me to get the coffees. When I came out, he was gone. Gone! I was about to throw his frickin' decaf into a trash can, because I've done this joke before--when I was 15, with a learner's permit, and my mom left me unsupervised behind the wheel while she ran into the house to get something.

I backed the car out of the driveway and hid a few feet down the street, but not so far down I couldn't see the look of bewilderment, then fear, then terror, then rage on her face, mere nanoseconds between each look. The memory of it is making me giggle right now; she was deeply unamused for, like, a whole week, which is how long I was grounded. Which is why I was not amused when I couldn't find C in the Starbucks parking lot this morning; this joke is ONLY funny if you're the driver.

Then I saw him several feet away and he slowly crawled his car over to me.

"What the heck are you doing? Why did you move?" I'd gotten in the car, but the door wasn't officially closed yet; his coffee could have still hit the pavement if the answer was less than satisfactory.

"I had to. So I could see the fight!"

C pointed to a man, late 50's or 60's, salt and pepper hair, moustache, wearing all black, holding a jacket. He was wandering around the edge of the parking lot like he was lost.

"That dude right there just had a screaming fight with some other dude, " said C. See the jacket he's holding? The other dude was screaming something about suicide and then ripped that jacket and his shirt off. I thought he was going to pull a knife out but then he just turned around and took off running. Wait! Look! See? There he is! See him running?"

And sure enough, there was a very young skinny man, black hair, completely shirtless, sprinting across the parking lot on the other side of the street. My brain started concocting all kinds of crazy answers to all the Why's in my head: maybe the salt and pepper haired man had tried to kidnap him; maybe the boy was trying to get a coffee at Starbucks and the moustache man propositioned him; maybe that was a father and son meeting for the first time after many long years of estrangement. All kinds of stories were up there; C invalidated them all: "No way, man. That kid is hopped up on crack or something."

We drove by the boy on our way to the grocery store. At that point, he'd stopped running, and was sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, arms on his knees, head on his arms, sobbing.

"C," I said, "We need to stop and ask if he needs help."

"What?!" said C, "Why??"

"Because. He's obviously in trouble and he needs help."

"And you want to help a crackhead by...how again?"

"Okay, fine. Then let's call the police."

"It's the police's job to help suicidal crackheads?"

"Uh, hello, yes. The police are here to protect and serve, even if you're a suicidal crackhead."

C wouldn't let me call the police. This is the last time I listen to C about things of this nature; next time I'm not even saying a word, just grabbing my phone and dialing 911 and here's why:

When we drove home about half an hour later, there was a police car, lights flashing, stopped on the road by the sidewalk the boy was on. The boy was up, his shirt was back on, and he had a friend with him--another young man who appeared to be clean and sober. The upset boy was gesturing wildly to police officer, he was sweaty, and he was incredibly distressed about something. But clearly, someone not named C had called the cops, who had come to help this troubled human being, even if he was hopped up on crack. Because, I told C later, that's what cops are supposed to do--protect people, and that includes from themselves. And then we got into a discussion, fueled by THE VIEW'S hot topics discussion about Mel Gibson's recent craziness that ended in an agreement about how police don't always protect some people as much as they protect others. But that's another blog post for another day.

Anyway. C wouldn't stop as we drove home so I could be nosy and ask the cop, the boy, and his friend what had happened. And was everybody okay? And the man with the salt and pepper hair/moustache was nowhere to be seen. Where did he go, and why?

And the reason I feel all giddy and sad at the same time is because I've spent so many years lamenting the lack of that kind of bizarre, random sighting while living in the suburbs...but this particular bizarre, random sighting took place right between Melissa's school and the one I teach in. It really put all those sad, what-the-heck-was-THAT-all-about-at-my-house-last-night stories I sometimes hear each year from wide-eyed, filter-less six year olds into perspective.

Because I feel pretty wide-eyed, what-the-heck-was-THAT-all-about right now myself. More sad, less giddy. I joke about my love of "people combing", looking for the craziest of the craziest while out and about, but I think there's a big difference between crazy that's crazy for the attention and seeing a troubled human being who needs help. Like, it's one thing to sit in the Hartsfield-Jackson airport, watching some stranger with an orange spray tan scoop up melted cheese with a taco and then lift his shirt to lick off dribblings and taco sauce while wondering almost out loud: "How did you get from the birth canal to THIS?" But it's a totally different thing to see another human being--crackhead or sober--in tremendous distress, and not know what to do for them or how best to help them. (I suppose this is the part where codependency rears its ugly head and C's role is to remind me I'm not here to save the world and don't want that kind of responsibility anyway.)

...Is it bad if I still hope the boy is okay right now, and not suicidal anymore? And that I'm hopeful the salt and pepper haired man was just trying to help and not part of the problem? And that if he was part of the problem it was sorted out or the cop went and got him and put him in jail? And that when school starts in a few weeks I don't see any of these people at Open House?


  1. I would have called the cops. Other half would have tried to stop me.
    I hate car issues. My car is in the shop right now. Let's say some prayers that it's a $100 problem and that's all (especially because I'd like to do some fun things and also get my hair highlighted so I need the cash flow this week).
    I'd love to go out for coffee and talk drama and light. xo
    My co-worker is in such pain right now and all I can do is listen. I really hope that is enough. She is in a bad way. Ack.

  2. Unless I see blood I don't get involved.

    Car issues suck... my car died on me 2 years ago and I'm still sad about it... mostly because I HATE public transportation. It was a '93 pontiac grand prix. The GOOD old cars where the door was so heavy you had to hold it open with one leg and get it in quick before it slammed on it... not like the cars now where the wind blows and you drift to the other side of the road.


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