As much as I may say that I don’t like anyone, I actually tend to make friends pretty easily. When I have a mind to.
Ok, even when I just can’t help myself.
I was reminded of this a few times over the last week, and it had me thinking that I might be leaving you all with the wrong impression of my favorite person.
My ruminations took me back, all the way to my first days in Seattle. As the Operations Manager at the downtown Macy’s it was indirectly my job to make sure the store actually opened every day. It was directly Loss Prevention’s job, but often the Dock Manager would help and if I was there, I did, too.
You see, we had seven banks of doors to open on the main level, each bank had three double doors. On the sixth floor, there was a single door coming off the sky bridge from the parking structure and on the basement floor, there was a bank of three double doors coming off the light rail and bus tunnel. We weren’t hurting for doors so much as we needed a friggin’ army to open them all at 9:00 each day. When I first offered to lend my key to the process, I got the distinct impression that these guys weren’t used to a lot of support from my predecessor.
That didn’t stop them from taking advantage of my FNG status (Fucking New Guy) and giving me some hazing as a thank you for my contribution.
This is how I came to be opening the southeast bank of doors on 4th Avenue each day.
My first customer every day – no matter how strategically I began opening the doors – was a very friendly and exuberant young disabled man. He was the exact opposite of a Walmart Greeter, inasmuch as he didn’t work for us and did not let that stop him one bit.
The first day I opened the southeast doors, I opened all of the inner vestibule doors and then as soon as I opened the first outer door, he was right inside, up in my stuff.
“What is your first name, please?”
I’m standing there with the door in my hand, trying to pivot backward, around and away from him, so that I can keep opening the remaining doors. He actually sidesteps his way with me, until my back is up against the backside of the door I just opened. People were just funneling in the only open door available as I looked down at this guy – who had to be all of 4’5″ and built like a little fireplug – who was completely blocking my access to anywhere but where I presently was.
He repeated himself.
“What is your first name, please?”
“Excuse me, I need to unlock those other doors, please”, I say as I futilely try to negotiate my way around him.
“And, what is your last name, please?”
Somehow, he seems to be perfectly fine assuming my name is “Excuse me, I need to unlock those other doors, please” and has moved on to getting to really know me by asking my last name. He also seems to be taking notes.
Over his head – without much effort, obviously – I see our LP Manager pushing through the doors behind my new friend to open the remaining two doors in my block.
He might be smiling just the teensiest bit. He’s definitely not trying too hard to disguise his laughter at my discomfiture.
This happened several times a week for the 15 months or so that I worked at that store. I have no idea who this kid was or where he came from, but every day…
“What is your first name, please?”
First thing in the morning. No matter where he was when I started opening doors, he used that compact mass of his to move into position so that he was the first person through the door when I twisted my key in the cylinder. I mean, as far as first customers go, I’ve definitely experienced worse.
The Macy’s Greeter situation all came back to me the other week when I passed a guy on a street corner that turned out to be a beggar. The Guy From Saigon. God, of course this has to happen right in front of my mother, but we had parked around the block to run into Penzey’s Spices for one of their coupon offerings and were on our way back to the car. I saw the guy, dirty, straggly hair and all weather jacket that had seen better days standing there in the middle of the corner so that people crossing the street on either side had to pass by him. Mom and I were just hoping to walk around the corner, but had to do so single file because of his positioning.
“I am from Saigon!”
His voice is like a hatchet, chopping through his greeting. Caught slightly off guard by his delivery, I absent-mindedly took his hand when he held it out.
“Can you give some money!”
Note, that was not a question. I was glad that I had boldly let mom go first, so she could keep going as I got this guy’s attention.
“You know, I only have plastic on me”, I apologized as my feet tried to keep moving, but he had not yet returned custody of my hand to me.
“That is ok. You can buy me some food!”
He’s now let go of my hand and is motioning toward the restaurant behind me, which is a Vietnamese restaurant that just doesn’t think Panda Express charges enough for their food.
“You know, that’s a big ask, and I’m gonna pass! Thanks, though!” I’m as cheery as possible to avoid accidentally triggering this guy.
That’s a lesson I accidentally learned about 30 years ago while walking through downtown with my dad. I’m not sure what downtown it was, to be honest. The timeframe should place us in Long Beach, but for some reason, I remember it as Old Town in Portland. Either way, this clearly homeless Native American guy jaywalks across the street and demands, “Give me a dollar!” with an open palm, while literally standing in the gutter.
“No!” I reply, indignantly while me father pulls me into the crosswalk and away from this unknown character. It was probably a good thing, too. I was really worked up over his poor manners. This was back in the days when minimum wage was around $2.35/hour, so this fella had some nerve in my hard working book.
Fortunately, The Guy From Saigon was more than happy to move on to other pedestrians trying to make their way to shops or cafes during their lunch breaks. for her part, mom only got the meagerest of pleasures out of the interaction. Her mom radar noticed me holding my hand away from my body before I realized I was doing it.
“I’ve got some hand sanitizer back in the car.”
Now, I’m not the biggest fan of hand sanitizer, but in this case, I was glad to have my Swiss Army Mom handy.
Because I live where I live, there’s no shortage of opportunities for me to make friends on the street as I make my way to my here’s and there’s on any given day. There is an outfit called Central City Concern that provides shelter and social services to the less fortunate in our city. Since their board wisely gobbled up real estate in Old Town before the Pearl District became a reality, they own about 25% of the buildings in the area. They put them to good use with short term micro studio housing as well as longer term shelters, flop houses and rehabilitation centers.
The end result is that I get a lot of chances to “meet” folks on the streets of the central city that are…concerning.
One such guy is a fella I call The Forgetful Guy.
He’s a shambler.
Just making his way from here to there, just like the rest of us, albeit without any real focus or urgency. It’s a nice day when his antipsychotics are all loaded up just so, he just meanders down the middle of the sidewalk around the Burnside/Broadway/Couch/8th block for hours at a time. I’m not sure where he goes when he’s not there, and when I see him anywhere else, it usually disorients me for a moment.
Then there’s those days where maybe he didn’t get his meds mixed just right or into his system on time. Or maybe his socks are wet. I don’t know.
What I do know is that those days he is just the most vocal, disturbing person to be around. And he’s pissed because on those days, he’s lost track of something.
“Where’s my LIGHTER?!?”
He mixes up the things that he’s lost from week to week or sighting to sighting – because in all fairness, he’s “on” more than he’s “off” – but when he is off, I try to give him about a block’s worth of buffer. It’s still an assault on my ears, though.
Couple weeks back – right around the time I met The Guy From Saigon with mom, I came up behind him on the Couch part of his circuit and when I was about 10 feet behind him, he just let it rip at some woman walking toward him.
“WHERE’S MY SMOKE?!?”
Holy mother of…that was a good effort.
I think I jumped higher than the woman his outburst was actually aimed at, but she went sideways and landed with one foot on the curb and the other in the street. I moved up to her real fast – which I think did nothing for her frazzled nerves in the moment – but I wanted to get myself between her and him.
Before you think I’m too brave – because, I’m too stupid, if anything – I know this guy well enough to place him when he’s around, but I couldn’t pick him out of a line up if I had to. What my quasi-familiarity provides me is the knowledge that he is a one-hit wonder when it comes to these outbursts.
One per customer, please.
Then it’s usually, nothing to see here, please move along, until he encounters a fresh victim.
So, that’s reassuring, I guess. The most impressive part of his walkabouts is that he never lifts his head. I’m sure it’s a physical disability that gives him this posture, but the impressive part is how attuned his peripheral vision is to people around him. Like I said, it’s one verbal assault per customer, and he’s done with you and on to spread his special brand of attention to the next lucky pedestrian. Which is way better than cornering some poor tourist who doesn’t know any better than to expect weirdness in general in Portland, but specifically on this particular block getting pinned against a wall or parked car and not able to get away from The Forgetful Guy. Lunch time is the only really bad time for him to be out and off his meds. Otherwise, there’s not too many people on this particular block. Thankfully.
Now…I have to take a moment to say that I’m really bummed, because when I thought about this Who’s Who of the Friendly-ish Portland Crazies, I made notes about my usuals and then made this note:
The Lincoln High (not) Grad.
And, for the life of me right now, I cannot recall the incident that prompted those notes. Clearly someone who was sharing his educational accomplishments-slash-shortcomings with passers by one day a couple of weeks ago while this blog notion was kicking around my brain. A guy who also happened to have quite a catchy verbal tic.
I’ll keep my eyes and ears peeled for Mr Hot Second, but that I haven’t seen him in the last couple of weeks suggests that he might be a true transient and has moved on. Maybe he was just letting us all know that he was only gonna be around for a hot second when I saw him.
I think the Silver Fox would be disappointed if I didn’t mention The Richest Homeless Guy in Portland while I was talking about our (mostly) affable street folks.
The Richest Homeless Guy in Portland is a fella that we usually see when we head over toward Nossa Familia for a Sunday coffee or if we need to – need to – buy a lottery ticket. Safeway is one of two joints nearby where we can get a lottery ticket once it gains enough potential ROI to get on the Silver Fox’s radar. The other place is a murder mart called Pico Mart, but they close early and are dangerously close to the Bing Me! food cart, so when we go to Pico Mart for a lottery ticket, we feel ripped off if we can’t get a Bing at the same time.
So, Safeway it is, oftentimes.
And when we go, there he is, The Richest Homeless Guy in Portland, standing by at his station, ready to avail himself to the kindness of strangers.
Or Safeway customers as they exit the store onto NW 13th.
I nicknamed him The Richest Homeless Guy in Portland because he is a monolith of wool, every time I see him. Covered, no…wrapped from head to toe, face barely visible, in more blankets than you could imagine carrying. The first time I saw him, I thought to myself, “That homeless mo-fo is gonna trip over those blankets”, because the edges of his blankets drag the ground.
But he never has, as far as I know. And if he did…he’s well cushioned. And god help him, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say a word. It may be because his mouth is partially covered by blankets, thereby muffling his words. But I really think he’s a quiet guy. All I see of him is eyes, nose, tufts of wayward hair and whichever hand is holding his sign. Otherwise, he’s just slowing moving through the streets of the Pearl District, either on his way to or from the Safeway like a statue of liberty wrapped in moving blankets.
And frankly, aside from an occasional outburst or two from The Forgetful Guy? These folks are all local flavor. Down right affable in the case of The Guy From Saigon and pretty much harmless if they are anything other than affable. It makes me feel…generally comfortable, if that’s the right expression. Not that we have homeless people wandering in our midst. But that they are at least mostly harmless fixtures in our community.
There’s panhandlers that make me feel ill at ease on every block, don’t get me wrong. Usually with a dog I trust more than I would trust them. These friends I’m talking about that I’ve made while living in the Pearl neighborhood? They’re good enough folks. And I’m glad that Portland has the social-ist network that they need for support in their day to day lives.
Because it can’t be easy for them, that’s for sure. That’s why I always try to give them some eye contact and a smile or nod when I encounter them.