It’s a blazing hot and humid Monday afternoon and I can’t give two … cares, about anything. I’m alone, and hungry, and my friends are nowhere to be found. A McGriddle sounds pretty good. The journey begins as I walk down the sidewalk toward McDonalds located just across the street. As I reach the stop signal at the intersection, I see a few homeless men grouped together at the bus stop.
“God, why have you forsaken me?”
I never particularly liked encounters with the homeless. Every time I have an encounter I feel like I’m a terrible person or like I’ve been robbed of something; perhaps my dignity (or what little remains of it). The light finally, changes and I’m able to cross. I put my earphones in so they won’t try to ask me for something. Apparently personal space is not a luxury I deserve.
“I like your shirt. Gots blimps and s***,” one says, as I pick up my pace.
I realize it’s too late to escape as he stands next to me, belly to my arm. If my anxiety doesn’t kill me, then his stench sure will. I smell a pungent odor of liquor…and urine. As I look in his direction I see he is slightly hunched and has a wobbly stance. He has to be drunk. I look at his eyes and, of course, they’re glazed over like mine when I find out I have yet another paper to write. Suddenly, he grabs my hand to shake, and I begin crying internally.
“They call me Hutch.”
Hutch, you disgusting bastard, I have encountered many like you. What kind of encounter is this one going to be? Is it going to be like my experiences with the verbally violent, the perverted, or the “riddler” type? What goals did they have in mind? I’ll never know. Perhaps their goal was to make this tiny, antisocial Hispanic kid feel even more like a piece of trash. That’s the effect anyway. Every encounter has made me feel worse in some way or another as though I didn’t disappoint myself enough. Most of these encounters happened near my high school in Downtown Phoenix, or on the bus, which, surprise-surprise, was also in Downtown Phoenix. The recollection of them makes me feel like a war veteran, just back from Vietnam, having flashbacks of disgusting men, the stinging smell of liquor and urine, and the dread of the internal battle to run or stay and deal with them.
My verbally violent encounter was when I was heading to a coffee shop down the street from school with two of my friends. The coffee shop was called RedHut, and it was our go-to spot for hanging out (meaning intense games of Monopoly full of friendship, fun, and horrible deceit followed by salty attitudes). So, you might imagine that we were heading there to relax, not have our day ruined by a complete jerk. You see, after we crossed the road to get to the same side as our destination, we met a homeless man asking for money. One of my friends was nice enough to give him a dollar, but apparently, that courtesy was simply not enough.
“Come on, man. A dollar ain’t s***. I know you got more.”
My friend gave the man yet another dollar, but still, it was not enough. The man demanded even more money. Granted, it wasn’t a lot of money, but at this point the only thing we wanted to give him was a good ass-kicking. Instead, we decided to ignore him and walk away as he spewed profanities from his liquor ridden potty-mouth. I felt angry and defeated having to deal with that nonsense and just walk away from it as though it didn’t happen. That ruined the rest of our day.
Next, there was the perverted encounter. This type of encounter was my least favorite - as far as enjoying a disgusting man coming face to face with you speaking his disgusting thoughts with his disgusting breath immediately triggering your gag reflex. This encounter happened while I was on the bus with my girlfriend doing cute couple things on our way home. Sadly, the “cute” activities were interrupted by an intoxicated man commenting on the way my girlfriend looked and how he was wondering what she looked like under her dress. Unlike the previous encounter, I became furious, but I knew I couldn’t do much to scare off the drunken man for I am small. The most I could do was tell the man to go the hell away. And so I did. Surprisingly, the man looked almost offended, as if I had hurt his feelings. It was as if I had just humiliated him, which, given his actions, shouldn’t be so easy. I could barely process what had just happened. Instead of being happy about it, I just felt like a piece of crap. Now I was the bad guy. I’m still convinced he did that intentionally, knowing I’m as soft as a sack of jelly.
My most recent encounter was with the kind I like to call the riddler. This event took place a few days prior to the story about Hutch. I was walking across the same street towards McDonalds but this time there was an odd, crazy-eyed, doped up man standing at the corner. He was looking back and forth sporadically until a tiny girl on a tiny skateboard caught his attention. He seemed dumbfounded by the sight of her because he got so close that he was only a few inches from her face. From what I could hear, he was asking why she was using such a thing to travel. I like to imagine his questioning:
“Excuse me, how is it that you can travel such distances on such a tiny object?”
However, I’m pretty sure the questioning was more like this:
“Why the f*** do you ride that?” with his crazy eyes sporadically moving around to lock in place with hers. He carried on with questions for quite some time, all the while unleashing his toxic breath onto her face from four inches away. Eventually, she was granted freedom by the cross signal as she could now bolt away on her tiny skateboard.
“They call me Hutch.”
As I’m standing there awkwardly, Hutch is rambling on about some nonsense and still shaking my hand with his giant, greasy mitt. He eventually goes on a tangent saying he hates the guys he was hanging out with, flipping them off.
“This is probably my chance to run,” I think.
Instead I stand here like an awkward idiot, inhaling the musk radiating off him. Then, out of nowhere, he hugs me. Hugs. Me. In my head I am wishing for the sweet release of death, but my body is standing there accepting the odorous embrace. I can only turn and quietly walk away, accepting the embarrassment that comes with such an encounter. My day is ruined.
Not all my encounters with the homeless are like this, though. There have been a few neat moments like the time I saw a man jamming out with his guitar and an adorably small speaker. Sadly, most encounters happen to be unpleasantly close and of the worst kind. However, after having a fantastically mediocre McGriddle, I discovered how to avoid this issue in the future. Never go outside.