I had an encounter with a lunatic today.

Quick digression — this isn’t the promised rant, but it will have to tide you over.

So the nut. I ran errands today including getting my car serviced. Decided to walk to the chiropractor from Nissan (which woulda been great if I hadn’t picked the hottest day in weeks to do it), get some lunch and then walk back when they were finished.

On the return trip, I came upon a young black guy stopped at the edge of the sidewalk, staring at the wall of the Ralphs I was passing. He was groomed, thin, ripped biceps, wearing a basketball jersey and shorts (essentially the school uniform for twenty-something black dudes in L.A.), standing like a statue looking at… nothing.

The only things off-kilter were the battered leather briefcase he carried in addition to his newish backpack, and his shoes. Now, I’m comprehensively ignorant of modern fashion so this could be a whole look (I’ve seen far worse accepted as “hip”), but he had on thick, black dress socks and cheap brown loafers, sort of like Hush Puppies. From the shins up: Aspiring L.A. actor on his day off from Micelli’s. Shins down: Old Jew in St. Petersburg.

I shrugged mentally — who am I to tell anyone how to dress? — and plodded on. As soon as I walked past him, he turned and fell in step behind me. As anyone who’s lived here for any span of time can tell you, an event like this engenders one response: I’m About to Get Hustled for Cash.

There are three basic kinds of — seems foolish to call them homeless, since a majority of them aren’t — I dunno… Vagrants… indigents… solicitors… bums…? When I’m homeless (and, really, given the way things are going in this country, isn’t this an eventuality we should all be planning for?) I’ll ask to be called either a hobo or a panhandler, just ‘cuz I like the old-timey, railroady feel of ’em.

Anyway, bums come in three basic flavors in L.A. There’s the sad-eyed, battered sign, shabby, Emmett Kelly freeway offramp bum; The South Parkian, shambling, “spare some change… god bless you anyway” bum; and the shaggy-dog story, “just need a tank of gas/bus/train/plane/space shuttle ticket so I can get back home” bum.

When I’m in the right mood, I prefer the latter. If you actually pay attention to their stories, often there are holes in the logic you can catch them up on, or you can make them dance out of non-cash help (Well, where’s your car? I have a gas can. We’ll go fill it up).

Also, when you frequent the same areas, paying attention allows you to bust them for hitting you up with the same lie over and over again. Just last night, K & I were getting noodles in Little Tokyo, when a middle-aged woman with a slightly desperate, Geraldine Chaplin demeanor came up.

“Can I bother you for a second? I’ve been out here now for about an hour…”

I took her by the arm and said, “Hon, you hit us up with this story a couple weeks back.”

I expected to get some kind of lie or claim of misunderstanding. Instead, without missing a breath, she launched into her backup shaggy dog story about the real reason she was out there scamming change.

What. Fucking. Balls. Right then and there, I decided that if I ever own a company whose primary business is sales, A: I’m going to eat a fucking bullet, and B: my sales staff will be comprised entirely of Bums. Vagrants. Whatever. Those people have got a fucking tenacious desire to close!

Sorry. So Basketball Guy. Today, I really wasn’t into the mood for the hustle, but I knew it was coming. The shaggy-dog bums are generally a lot cleaner and neater than the god bless bums, and this fucker was clean, man. In fact, shoes aside, he was wearing expensive-ass Lakers gear, was in better shape than I’ve been my entire life, and when he smiled at me he flashed a set of flawless fuckin’ teeth. Before he’d said word one I’d already decided I should be asking him for money.

Then he lays it on me. “Whew, man, it’s only now, when you came by I was able to move.”

This is a new one. I’m curious, but silent.

“I’d still be standing there if you hadn’t come by.”

Well-spoken. Perfect grammar. Smart. Walking with purpose next to me, not just tagging along. I’ll bite.

“Why’s that?”

“Oh, you know, energy, man. Energy.”

Now I’m realizing there’s no hustle coming. At least I don’t think so. I look him up and down out the corner of my eye. He’s sweating; been out here in the sun a while. No cologne, but maybe a whiff of deodorant? Certainly no homeless B.O. From the way he’s whipping the briefcase around, I’m fairly certain it’s empty. I’m not even sure he’s aware of it in his hand.

He’s just looking straight ahead, smiling; happy. Then he looks at me, guileless.

“When they killed me, and I came back, my soul just got split up all over the place, y’know?”

He tells me this as if I know exactly what he’s talking about. It isn’t a confidence; just casual conversation. The plotlines of a dozen sci-fi movies and t.v. shows plop into my head. He chuckles.

“I never know when I’m gonna meet someone that has another piece of me.”

With that, he turns off onto a side street. In my mind’s eye, he’s the godlike alien from the future who’s been sent back to save our world, but something went wrong during the trip and his mind has fractured. Once the pretty blond girl from the record store helps him track down all the pieces of himself that have taken refuge in unsuspecting prols like me, he can stop the alien invasion.

If my part in that movie didn’t suck so hard, I might have changed course and followed him to get more of his story. As it is, I prefer to believe he’s just some harmless schizo whose mother lets him off the tether during the day. Fuck him anyway for giving me such a shitty role in his little fantasy world.

Whatcha think?

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