For example, there’s this one street person who’s been hanging out on the Berkeley campus for over a decade. He’s a big, burly, heavy-set guy with a bit of gut. Blandly normal looking face. You could picture him playing the gruff-but-lovable middle-aged father on a TV sitcom. Its easy to picture him sitting in his easy chair with a pipe. Or cooking burgers on the grill in the backyard. He’s the kind of guy who blends into the crowd and if you passed him on the street you probably wouldn’t even notice him. It’s only after repeated exposures to the guy do you become aware of his, uh, peculiarities.
For example, in all the years I’ve seen him, I’ve never seen him once talking to another human being. And he’ll often sit for hours in the same place, staring blankly into the sky. If you happen to get close to him, you’ll notice that he’s often making these weird sounds — this high-pitched squealing sound. And he’ll often make these contorted facial expressions, squinting his eyes, like there’s some kind of intense struggle going on in his brain. It’s like he’s talking to himself, having some weird conversation in a language only he understands. But unless you looked closely at him (which few people do) you wouldn’t even notice these peculiarities.
I have no idea what his name is. And he’s so bland, I’ve never even come up with a nickname for him in my head. So lets just call him Milton.
So anyways, this one morning I’m in a basement men’s room on the campus, sitting in a stall taking care of business. It’s the weekend, so the building is practically deserted. Which I’m grateful for. A little peace and quiet and privacy. Frankly, I’m not a morning person. When you wake up with 300 hangovers a year, you develop an adversarial relationship with morning. I’ll sometimes warn people: “I don’t turn into a human being until I get that first cup of coffee in me.” So I’m usually a little shattered and fragile in the morning. So it was nice to have found this peaceful haven, this quiet bathroom stall, to help me ease into my day.
When suddenly someone walks into the men’s room, followed by the sounds of explosions crashing all across the room. I’m momentarily stunned and confused at first. What the fuck is going on??!! This cacophony of explosions echoing and reverberating across the tiled men’s room walls (amazing the acoustics you get in a bathroom). At first I thought it was a series of firecrackers. I quickly realize some nut was rushing from toilet to toilet, flushing them over and over again. It was like being in the middle of a fireworks explosion. And while the guy is flushing the toilets non-stop he’s making these weird, high-pitched giggling noises, almost like a little girl. He’s obviously getting his jollies off flushing all the toilets. God only knows why.
I immediately suspect it’s Milton, because I’ve caught him doing his toilet-flushing routine before. And I check under the stall wall to get a good glimpse of his shoes, just to make sure I identify the right guy. Over the years of using public restrooms I’ve come across three or four different people who got their jollies from pulling this toilet-flushing routine. Serial flushers. It’s a special kind of nut.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?” I shout. “STOP FLUSHING THE GODDAM TOILETS!”
I would have rushed out of the stall and confronted him right then and there, but unfortunately I was, um, preoccupied at the time.
The guy makes a couple more high-pitched giggle sounds, flushes a couple more toilets, and rushes out of the room.
So now I’m really steamed. My morning has been shattered. I finish my business and go rushing off in search of Milton.
Now I’ve gotten into more than my fair share of these kind of confrontations over the years. Because 1.) I can be a bit of a hot-head. And 2.) After several decades of living on the streets, surrounded by nuts and assholes like Milton, you just get damn tired of taking shit.
But these confrontations can be very tricky. Especially when you’re confronting a nut. And doubley so when he’s a large nut. The goal, of course, is to resolve the conflict, nip the thing in the bud, draw a line in the sand and make sure he knows he better not cross it. Which is how it works out sometimes. But other times, it can escalate into an on-going feud and outright war that can go on for years. Which can involve physical violence, the police or worse. And the street scene is a very enclosed scene. So you’re constantly running into each other. So it’s a tricky situation that has to be handled with a certain amount of tact and restraint. Which I unfortunately lack.
I quickly spot Milton hanging out at his usual spot behind the Student Union building, staring blankly into space like a big, dumb bear. I get right in his face and shout:
“DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN!! FLUSHING THE TOILET OVER AND OVER WHEN I’M IN THE RESTROOM!!”
“Whatever are you talking about?” says Milton with a look of blank innocence on his dull mug.
“YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!! YOU WERE JUST IN THE BASEMENT MEN’S ROOM AT WHEELER FLUSHING THE TOILETS OVER AND OVER!! DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN!!”
Milton gives me a blank look of stupidity, like he can’t quite formulate a response in whatever passes for a brain in his head. I give him one last hard look and stomp off.
Well, thankfully, nothing more came of that particular confrontation. But for years afterwards, whenever we happen to pass on the street, I always think of that incident. And I’m sure every time he sees me, he thinks the same thing.