Thursday, August 27, 2009

Heil Homeless.

Yesterday morning I found myself driving down one of those small one-way streets that feeds into Tennessee Street as I made my way to work on campus. I was in the middle of three lanes and there weren't any cars around me. As I approached the Tennessee Street light, I realized I needed to turn right, but as I made my way into the right lane I saw a man standing in the crosswalk. The light was turning orange (I know some people like to call it yellow), so I was going to stop anyway, but this man was in the way between me and a right-hand turn.

As the light turned red, other cars pulled up beside me, and I soon realized that if this man did not move, I would be stuck here for a bit. It didn't look like the man was going to move. He stood in front of me, looking eastward, for the length of the red light as traffic sped by him. I was afraid to beep as I was already scared for my safety (my windows were down and the man was not too far in front of me).

The man was dressed in blue jeans and a beige sports coat, both of which were a bit dusty and a bit too large for him. His shoulder-length blond hair was thinning near its roots. As he stood in the crosswalk in front of me, as traffic passed by him on his right, he began to raise his right arm in what suggested (in my mind at least) a sort of salute --- like the "Heil Hitler" salute. Except that his hand was not flat. He was making the "okay" sign with his hand...

and the first vehicle to pass by him was a large city garbage truck, which made me think that he was saluting the workers on it. (In high school, I remember visiting a local park in my neighborhood and seeing an overweight, shirtless middle-aged man who was quite noticeably flicking off airplanes in the sky as they passed over him. I was reminded of this as I watched this man in the crosswalk.)

Then the man began to raise his left foot up, Karate Kid-style. As a motorcyclist went by, the man, whom I took for being homeless at this point, flicked something into the middle of Tennessee Street. My light was still red at this point, and traffic was steady, so I wasn't really upset about this man blocking my turning path so much as I was disturbed by his appearance and actions. During a small break in traffic, the man walked calmly into the road to pick up what he had tossed. I assumed it was a coin or something close to that, but after picking up the object, the man brought it up to his mouth and I realized it was a cigarette. (It may have been a cigarette butt, because thinking back, I don't remember there being any smoke.)

The man soon returned to his place in front of me (in the crosswalk), and before long, he started making his way along the rest of the crosswalk. My light turned green, and the man was now blocking the car in the lane next to me, but it looked like he was making his way across.

I don't know why, but this experience really stuck with me. It made me think that this man was in some type of reality that was far from what I know and experience every day. Not just in terms of how our lives or daily actions differ, but when I saw him doing these strange things, he was completely calm and serious about it. To him, this was a normal way of conducting himself. I see a lot of homeless people around Tallahassee --- talking to themselves, begging for money, holding signs. But this was something different, and I'd rather not find out what.

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