The People Here
by Ford A. Nickel
| Sometimes you take a step out your front door, and realize very quickly that it's going to be a strange day. Sometimes it's the smell of the air, or the way the clouds hang. Today it was the child sitting on a stoop across the street, playing a particularly somber version of Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette on a plastic toy trumpet. He was weeping openly.|
Making my way up the hill for breakfast, I saw a man sitting on the corner shaking a change cup. I tossed in a few coins and tried to ask him his story, but he couldn't hear me over his iPod.
Closer to the top of the hill, what must have been an eight year old girl was chalking a butterfly on the sidewalk. She had already completed a stylized pink sunflower, a hopscotch court, and the words "sabotage the war". She had curly blond hair, bright eyes, and was missing her two front teeth.
Later in the day, a Native American of unknown tribe in a worn out jacket and Rainier Lager baseball cap approached me like a talk show host walking onstage to start his monologue, with arms outreached and a huge smile. He asked, rhetorically, what one calls a white man surrounded by Indians. He actually gave me a few seconds to think about it before springing the answer on me: a bartender. He asked if he could have some change to buy more booze before he starts sobering up. The man
|wasn't intoxicated in the least; it was just a spare changing schtick. I'm not sure if his angle was that youth culture tends to embrace vice and faux-honesty, or that white guilt finds relief in the reinforcement of stereotypes. I gave him a dollar either way.|
I never saw any of these people before, and I may never see them again. For such a physically small city, this in itself is unusual. There are, however, a few recurring characters.
There is a girl I see on the streets all the time. She's often spinning around, screaming at, and taking swings at, unseen assailants. Sometimes she insists they not look at her, other times she's claiming that she's of pure blood and that her wings have just been torn off. She has a very specific walking circuit to maximize her exposure to the public. For a short time she was openly accusing them of raping her in the same tone that someone would say "Oh darling, petite syrah again?" I don't think it was as well received and she has since reverted to her original, more Paradise-Lostish routine. The precision of her performance and her repetition of lines every now and then tells me she's not really crazy, but wants us to think she is. It's uncertain to me whether her act is street theatre or if she just likes the attention, but she never breaks character.
I call her Dame Quixote.