Is he crazy?

April 14th, 2014, 9am

On his way out, the man threw a penny at me. “Keep your change,” He declared grandly, with a flourish.

The penny landed with a clatter, bouncing on my tray.

Our interaction had begun a few minutes ago. His age was hard to guess - he had a patchy beard, his clothes were dirty, his face was streaked with grime. When I got close I noticed that I’d never seen hands so dirty, literally blackened, his fingernails almost totally discolored. He had no wrinkles though and there was a certain youthful vigor to his rage.

When I walked into the Subway he was drinking something from a cup at one of the tables, his gaze slipping around the room in a way that seemed drunk at first, then purposefully mad. “ABORTION!” He bellowed, slamming a fist into the table top. “What’s the big deal? Get over it!”

I heard the workers behind the counter bristle, expressing their discomfort in a mixture of Spanish and English. They wanted to kick him out, but in the end they defaulted on acting as though he weren’t there, as did all the customers. The man behind the counter addressed the man in front of me in Spanish, then me in English. Before I had even finished my order the crazy man had zeroed in on me. “YOU!” He shouted, “You dried up old lady. You need to help me, you’re older than me, you owe it to me. You need to give me some change, you hear me?”

“Do you want tomatoes with that?” The man behind the counter asked me pleasantly. Distracted, I nodded.

After I had paid for my sandwich I turned around, clutching 56 cents in change in one fist. The crazy man was glaring at me. “I have every right to be enraged,” He declared, and I realized he sounded like a television evangelist. He enunciated every word with righteous, forceful zeal and it wasn’t hard to imagine him preaching about “hell fire” in front of an audience.

“You going to give me some change?” He persisted, now changing his tone, his head slightly cocked to one side.

From behind the counter I heard someone say: Tiene miedo.

I’m not afraid, I thought, annoyed, squaring my shoulders.

I focused on the man, looking at him directly. It was then that I noticed the lack of wrinkles, the dirty hands. “What happened in your life?” I asked, genuinely curious. I thought I knew - I’d read all sorts of articles, seen documentaries, studied criminology - but the truth was that my intellectual sympathy, the statistics in my head, these all fell short in the moment.

“My father,” He said, unsteadily, “He said you can’t brush your teeth unless you have a tooth brush.”

I gave him my 56 cents. On his way out he threw the penny back at me.

David Wade, Emanuel, Paul and Lia said thanks.

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Dani Z

The hardest thing about getting older is realizing that I might, in fact, be a minor character in someone else's story. (I keep changing this bio. I'm not sure I'll ever nail it)

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