Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mean Streets

Waiting for the bus downtown and having my after-lunch cig break on downtown benches leads me into many unwanted conversations with street people. Once you're around 'em enough, you stop feeling sorry for them and start to simply get ANNOYED. Annoyed with the religious nuts railing at you about Jesus, with the aggressive cigarette-beggars practically grabbing a cigarette out of your hand after they've asked for one without giving you a chance to give it to them, with the "I'll bet you think you're better than me" attitude, with the sheer bullshittery that usually goes on when street folk are in conversations amongst themselves. It's just mentally draining to listen to.

Today after lunch I was having my cig when a 20-something street kid screeches his bike to a halt right in front of my bench for no reason, then asks me if I mind if he sits there. I shook my head "No, I don't mind" then internally clenched up, waiting for the inevitable stupid conversation. Fortunately, he had his own cigarette so didn't ask me for one, which was one positive thing. And he was silent for a minute or two, which was also nice. Then he was on his phone, so that also kept him from pestering me. Although I overheard him ask one caller if he could crash at his/her place because he hadn't slept in 5 days. ("Oh great. He's on meth and is going to go nuts at any second.")

Then a couple of 20-something office girls walked by behind us, and he had to yell out to one of them,"I hope you don't mind if tell you you're one good-looking lady!" Good lord. They ignored him, of course. So then he had to turn to me and ask, "Now, would you be offended if someone told you you were good-looking?"

Now, this could go either way. Sometimes if you engage, things quickly descend into gibberish and/or weirdness. But he was young enough not to be too scary (despite his 5-day binge), so I decided to take a chance and answer honestly:

"Yes, if it's some random guy hollering at me on the street!"
"How is that offensive?"
"It's the same as walking by a construction site and having guys going 'Wooooo! Hey Baby!' It makes you feel uncomfortable."
"Well, girls in Detroit don't mind it. I think girls here are just different."
"Really. Girls in Detroit like being hollered at on the street."
"It's not like I'm doing what some guys do: 'Hey, yo, bitch! Come over here!'"
"True, but still. Most girls don't like being hollered at."

Then another call came in. Somebody had some money ready for him.

When he got off the phone, now I was the one striking up a conversation: "You're from Detroit? They're having a hard time! What made you come down here?"

Sounded like he was just bumping around everywhere; he'd also been in Seattle and Atlanta and New Jersey in the past year. In Austin for just the past few months. The police were meaner here.

"The police in AUSTIN are mean? Meaner than Detroit or Jersey? Really? How so?"
"Just because I have some investments and they see the money coming in, they assume I'm a drug dealer and give me a hard time."

OK, I'm sure it wasn't a "shareholder" who had called and offered him some money, but I went on anyway.

"I mean, are they just bugging you when you're on the street? Are you living someplace while you're here or just hanging out?"

So then he says he's renting both a house AND an apartment. The apartment he shares with his currently off-again girlfriend and her nephew and sister. He pays for everything there, but since they're currently broken up, he's being a gentleman and letting her stay there while he stays in the house with some roommates. I asked if the girlfriend had a job and could she pitch in with the rent; apparently, she's a full-time grade-school teacher, but no, can't pay anything: "I don't know what she does with her money!"

And he's going to be attending Austin Community College in the Spring Semester, taking psychology courses. He had thought about going to UT, but the program wasn't for him. When I said, "Well, UT's also a lot harder to get into," he said that, no, he had credits from a Detroit-area college that would let him transfer, but that when he sat in on one UT course recently, it was all stuff that he already knew and that "I want to take classes that will blow my mind, ya know?"

That I actually did know.

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