Thursday, March 23, 2006

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream

Block Party
I was walking east on Center Street to get some coffee at the deli across from the Walter's Art Museum when I saw two men walking towards each other. One man, in front of me heading east toward Charles Street, was mumbling to himself (always a sign of living La Vida Loco, as I've learned after working over four years at a large urban library where angry, incoherent self-talkers are a daily part of the scenery). The two men passed within an inch of each other and the guy talking to himself looked over at the startled passerby and screamed at him, "Don't you block my sidewalk, motherfucker! You fucking blockers think you own everything, think you can block my life! You wanna block me, you know where to find me - 1022 East Monument Street, Apt. gibberish gibberish blah blah blah." The other guy had pulled his iPOD earphones off, but sensing he was dealing with an "offbeat" street person, put them back on and, picking up his pace, hurriedly continued on his way in the other direction - toward sanity.

Stopping in the coffee shop, I said to the owners, "Did you see that guy? The screaming guy?"

"Which one?" co-owner Robert replied, adding "We've got a bunch of screaming regulars around here."

When I pointed out the window, Robert peeped out to see the screaming man at the end of the block, and identified him. "Oh, that's Wendell, yeah, you better not block the sidewalk when he's on it."

Mental Gridlock
When I inquired about the other screamers, it turned out I had seen one of them on my daily morning coffee runs to another cafe, David & Dad's on North Charles Street. There I was astonished one day to see a middle-aged Black guy dressed in Army fatigues walking right down the middle of the street directly into northbound traffic on Charles Street during a green light. As cars honked and buzzed around him, he angrily pumped his fists and screamed at the vehicles "Get out of my way! Get out of my way! Fuck you! Fuck you all!"

A few weeks later, I saw the same guy stopping traffic on West Franklin Street, this time crossing the street laterally when the lights were green. His pace was slow and steady, as if he was a pedestrian at a crosswalk with a red light, and he looked angrily at the cars that drove around him, throwing his hands up in the air as if to say, "What are you doing? Are you crazy? I'm crossing the street! Can't you see that the light is green?" Think Dustin Hoffman as Ratso in Midnight Cowboy crossing the street yelling "I'm walking heah!" minus the Method Acting technique.

My initial shock at these screaming men's lunacy has now passed into nonchalance. Encountering an angry screaming man downtown in Mount Vernon no longer elicits an eyebrow-raising curiosity. Instead it now elicits nothing more than Robert the coffee guy's shoulder-shrugging response: "Oh, a screaming man? Which one?"

But I have to admit that I would like to meet the third screamer Robert referred to, so that I can be a completist and have Screaming Man Closure. I 'll be sure to be on the lookout. And to walk carefully down Center street, with plenty of space to spare, the next time I (make sure I don't) run into Wendell.

To paraphrase Don King, "Only in Mount Vernon!"


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