Free-Floating Hostility

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ravings of 1) Madmen 2) Me at 7:00 AM

I left the house this morning with my chin defiantly up, crying, "I'm packing my gloves today, and the world can blow me!" It was a slightly elevated but not entirely unusual level of drama for me at that hour, and when I found myself stuck at the nonexistent Berkeley train station for an hour and a quarter tonight with the wind off the Bay chilling me to the bone, I was damn glad I had taken a stand for what was nerdy.

Yesterday evening while I was similarly engaged in losing hours of my life to Amtrak, one of the guys who lives on the other side of the track (literally) wandered across. I would guess he might be a former professor who went off his nut. The conversation he was having with himself didn't differ much from mediocre standup, though I was inclined to agree with his analysis. "Why is it," he asked the station, "that women have experiences, and men just have baggage? Women have experiences, and they just move on and use them in new relationships. Men have baggage."

Last week, while waiting an hour and a half under the incredibly loud and incredibly innaccurate electronic schedule, I made the acquantance of one Gerald. Gerald mostly lives in the empty building that I'm told, ironically, used to be the train station. As I waited, he gave me some of the low-down on the local homeless. The guy who occasionally wakes up and yells until the overpass rings with his unintelligible hostility is, according to Gerald, really large. "He don't have no hustle," he told me, as though he just couldn't believe it. Gerald also feels that recent immigrants are giving the homeless a bad name. "It's the Mejicanos," he said wearily, "They make a lotta noise, and they pee, sometimes the even take a dump. And then the cops come and tell me I gotta move. But when they do it's like, 'Gerald is that you?' 'Yeah man, it's me.' 'You gotta c'mon out of there, can't sleep here tonight.' I'm not like that. I'm homeless, but I'm happy." He paused to pick up a soda can and scrunched it. "Well," he decided, "I ain't happy."

Gerald did not seem to me to be obviously mentally ill. He credits his prison record with his current living situation. He and his brother committed armed robbery at a young age, and after that came a series of parole violations, which Gerald says make him unemployable, and I can believe it. "I'd work if I could," he said, "That's why I'm out there doing this," and pointed at his cans.

Gerald hasn't been on a train since he was a kid. "I remember it so clear, though," he said, "It was in England. I was maybe five years old. My mom and dad got up and left me for a minute, told me to watch my two brothers while they got us something to eat. And I started to see the train move through the window, and it was just for a few seconds like, but I thought my mom and dad left me, and there I was with my two brothers to take care of. Scariest moment of my life. All those years, and I still remember."

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