An angry woman

You know I'm a fan of public transit, but my favorite part of the work commute isn't riding the bus, it's being downtown, amidst the bums and lowlifes. Always I've enjoyed bums and lowlifes.

On my morning commute, when I switch buses downtown, most of the street people are still asleep or just stirring from doorways, tents, or the too-few shelters. When I'm back switching buses in the afternoon, though, they're everywhere — and that's delightful.

Well, it's delightful until one of the bums beats me up or stabs me, but in years of mingling with the homeless in San Francisco and Seattle, that hasn't happened yet.

It does happen, though. A lady I worked with many years ago got decked out of nowhere by a bum while she was waiting for a bus in downtown Seattle. She literally never knew what hit her, until she read the witness statements.

So maybe I've just been lucky. Most of my luck comes from being big and male, probably.

Anyway, I was downtown, waiting amidst the broken bottles and broken people at the Charles Bukowski Memorial Bus Stop. Heavy traffic rolled by between two homeless shelters across the street from each other, and commuters and bums wordlessly mingled, the commuters waiting for any of twenty buses that stop there, and the bums just standing around being bums.

On this day at that corner, there was also a woman screaming fuck-yous and other random insults in a steady stream. Her tirade was aimed at nobody in particular; she was simply unloading on the world.

She was old, kind of scrawny, but her clothes were cleaner than homeless people usually wear, so my usual snap judgment about the crazies must be tempered. She might've been a homeless lady, fresh from laundry day at the shelter, or she might have been one of the normals who'd missed a dose of her meds, or otherwise dropped over the precarious edge into madness.

It doesn't matter which she was, of course. She was just a woman who'd had more than enough, which could be any of us on a bad day.

A main in a cheap suit walked by, and stopped to interrupt her hollering. "What's the matter?" he said, in a very patient, almost professional voice. Instead of answering she took a swing at him, and missed, but he said "OK," and wisely walked off down the street.

She kept screaming profanities and inanities, and soon a bum-looking guy in a wheelchair rolled out of the Bible Mission Shelter, approached her, and said, "You OK, lady?"

It set her off like explosives. She called him all the nasty names in her vocabulary, screaming. In answer to a string of fuck-yous, the guy in the wheelchair said, "You're not my type," and as he rolled back inside he said, "I'm calling 9-1-1."

Hard to say whether that was intended as a kindness or a threat. Calling 9-1-1 probably brings police, and what could cops do but shoot her, as they often do in a mental health situation. Guns is all they know.

Whatever that woman's crisis, though, it seemed to me that everything reasonable anyone on the street could do had been done. All that remained was the entertainment factor, and after a day at the office that lady was definitely entertaining, so I guess I smiled.

And holy crap, she spotted my smile from fifteen feet away, and started screaming at me. "Oh, you think I'm funny? You're laughing at me, you mother-f*cking @#$%& #^%%$π¢@!!"

I shook my head 'no', and looked in the distance for my bus, which dammit only runs every half hour and was nowhere in sight. And this maniacal lady continued to scream at me. It had probably been 15 seconds, but it felt like 15 minutes.

I thought about walking away, but I'll be damned if some nutty old dame is going to make me flee my preferred leaning post at the bus stop, so instead I looked right at her, trying to keep my face blank but respectful, and hoping she'd shut the hell up.

For a moment, she shut the hell up, but only because she'd finished one paragraph of her tirade and maybe she was organizing her profanities for the next outburst. She was looking at me as if I was supposed to reply, but fuck you bitch, I'm not saying a word. I'm not a helper in a situation like that, but I'm also not going to argue and make things worse.

Another good Samaritan approached, and thankfully distracted her attention from me. He was a big bald Asian man in sweatpants, and looked like the bad guy in a chop-socky fight scene, but he said what the others had said, "Lady, what's the matter?"

And he got what the others had gotten, which is screamed at. When she reached her pause point, a moment of silence, the Asian guy said, "Do you want a hug?"

Brilliant line, is what I thought. He'd chosen the most cutting insult he could give her — a concise, sarcastic, stab to her psyche. It was marvelously mean, and I wished I'd thought to say what he'd said, so I smiled again, eager to see and hear that woman's hilarious, hysterical response… 

But she stood silent for the longest time, and then softly said, "Yeah."

That moose-sized Asian man slowly walked up to her and wrapped his arms around her, and they embraced for a few seconds, right there at the dankest downtown bus stop. It was a powerful weird moment, and I guess the moose hadn't been trying to be mean.

When he let go she said, "Thanks," and that's where the story ends, I guess. The lady turned and walked down Second Avenue like a normal old lady, no more screaming, at least while I was there. The man got onto the next #7 bus.

Sirens sounded in the distance — maybe cops coming to 'help' that woman to death, but she'd gotten away instead, thanks to the kindness of a passing stranger.

Me, I stood and waited another few minutes for my bus home, scribbling what I'd seen into my notebook, for typing it later.


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