Not long ago I ran into a friend who is now living on the street. I will call him Dean. We agreed to get together later in the week and I hoped I could think of something to help him out. A day before our meeting I went to a local donut shop where a man in the parking lot was staring intently through donut shop window. It occurred to me that he was scrutinizing the premises with an unusual amount of care but I had pretty much forgotten about him by the time I was ordering coffee. Shop proprietress stayed deep in conversation with another patron while she poured my drink. “You are so good-looking.” she was telling him. “Your eyes are so green.. look at how handsome you are.. people look at you because you are so handsome… ” Customer was proffering little response and I had the opportunity to observe him from behind. His skin and clothing indicated that he was living a pretty rough existence. Suddenly he turned, our eyes met, we both smiled. Indeed, he had a very magnetic face but his ruined teeth told a story of their own – lots of hard years. He and I sat at separate tables while proprietress continued pep talk.
Another customer entered, ordered something, placed himself near me. For some reason his very aura set me on edge so I laser-focused attention on notepad in front of me without once looking at him. Green-eyed guy left and the remaining man began asking proprietress questions about him. Within a few sentences it became clear that remaining man was completely fixated on the green-eyed man. I didn’t even need to glance at him to realize that he was also the person who had been staring into the shop from the parking lot. Proprietress seemed disconcerted by the barrage of questions and wasn’t saying much, quite unusual for her.
“Was that guy talking about me?” remaining man finally blurted, unable to contain himself. “If he said I was looking at him then he is crazy. That guy is crazy!”
Pieces fell into place. Remaining guy had been doing everything possible to attract the attention of green-eyed man and now he was humiliating himself even more as he tried to pretend the opposite. He reminded me of countless men I’ve encountered at strip clubs who pretend to watch sports in a topless bar, turn their backs to the stage, pretend their friends dragged them in the joint, feign disdain for the dancers, pretend they came to a nude club for the food, pretend this, pretend that, maybe fooling themselves (I doubt it) but nobody else.
I should mention here that I live in an area well known for availability of male prostitutes who service men for money or drugs. Second customer had probably been hoping to get lucky if he wished hard enough.
Fast forward to the next day… Dean and I met for coffee as scheduled. At Starbucks Dean touchingly offered to pay the bill but of course I refused. Over conversation it became apparent that he had become quite resigned to his circumstances, no longer really trying to get off the street. Out the corner of my eye I noticed a man staring fixedly at our table, imploring Dean to look at him. Without making mention of it Dean simply stood up, turned his chair around so his back faced the man, and continued talking with me. The staring man would not give it a rest, causing my hackles to rise. I could see that Dean felt eyeballs boring into his back. Eventually my friend just broke. Our coffee date had started on a cheerful note but now Dean was unreservedly displaying odd behavior which caught the attention of everyone nearby, almost like he was manifesting the mindset: “OK, if you’re going to stare at me like I’m not human then I will really give you something to stare at.” I tried to get him to calm down – no luck. He was acting like the stereotypical “crazy homeless guy” that everyone in large urban areas has encountered. Finally I left, feeling heartsick and helpless, because Dean was beginning to direct his animosity toward me. We have not seen each other since.
Last summer I made mention of a man at the grocery store filming me like I was an animal at the zoo. The unattractive man (I speak boldly because he made himself unattractive) at the donut shop and the creep at Starbucks were behaving in the same manner, so eager for acknowledgement that they fell all over themselves like slobbering idiots. Any of those three people could have observed us without attracting our attention but it was our attention that they so desperately craved. Where am I going with this? I don’t know. Just felt like getting it off my chest. Green-eyed man and I will likely continue to ignore fools but I worry about Dean. For the record, I no longer wear crop tops in public (crux of grocery store episode. ) All of us live in the Land of Fruits and Nuts (AKA California) and I wish people would at least loosely respect that old adage: “It’s not polite to stare.”
Saw great piece of street art last weekend (top pic) and it strikes me as a fitting amalgamation of the good and bad out here in Cali. Check out the license plate on that vehicle.
Song playing in head.. “Welcome to the Hotel California.. ”