Originally posted 27 Feb 11. Tom can use your prayers as he is again angry or maybe worse than he was when I wrote this.
“You want some coffee, brother?”
“I…I didn’t such as… do what?…I WON’T HURT SOMEONE”
His name is Tom. We call him Conjunction Tom as he so as speaks but and for to expresses himself with conjunctions. (Grammar check does not like that sentence) Others on the street call him Karate Tom as he occasionally does kung fu motions while explaining his story or thoughts. He doesn’t speak with his hands, but his entire body.
A few weeks ago he was doing well and we discussed the weather for a while. This does not happen often as even weather discussions are steered to deeper topics like the physics of say the color blue in the sky. He knows why the sky is blue and if you have 30 minutes to listen you might too. Although it might be difficult to picture as gray skies and clouds spit their rain on you.
A couple months ago, we discussed (discussed isn’t the word as he likes to monologue) politics and the laws of living outside and justice and oppression. He might have been ticketed for sitting on a sidewalk or in a park. He might have gotten arrested that week.
There is a good chance he was arrested this week. You see until last week his fingernails were long and thick and dirty. His hair was mostly covered by a bandana, but what was evident was matted and dirty. His beard was trimmed once a couple years ago possibly but was- what script writers would have called- scraggly and was mangy in places. It hadn’t been brushed and his mustache was beyond a flavor savor. It was a leftover container. Even when you say “You have a cup of soup in your beard”, he didn’t flinch and kept talking about the blues changing as you changed your view of the horizons of the sky. To complete the picture in winter he looks dirty and down on his luck with dirty clothes, an oversized coat, and sloshes about Portland’s streets in his wet shoes. In summer, he looks like he is more than down on his luck because he is still wearing that coat and shirt and his shoes are only a little drier than 4 months before.
Last week his beard was shaved. His beard was more a weekend without a razor than multiple years on the street. No one had seen him for a few weeks. He had a new coat, and a new shirt. His hair was not evident from the back of the bandana. But most surprisingly and unlike him was he Angry and LOUD. He wasn’t his happy go lucky self.
Yesterday morning he was outside a closed- for- the- weekend business. He probably camped there overnight or hopefully got out of the cold in the warming shelter across the street. He was still angry. Very ANGRY. My “how you doing” was met with a slightly hushed but still aggravated “they say we are all equal yet their guns say otherwise.” (edited) I am not sure if it was about soldiers at war (he likes peace) or the police harassing him (they have been known to draw weapons early). In any case he was frustrated and sadly looked very disheveled and uncared for and the most insane he’d ever appeared. My words or offers were not welcome.
He came to eat at 3 o’clock like most other weeks. He just walked through line quietly like he normally does. it wasn’t until we were cleaning up that his voice became raised and I tried walking towards my friend when he started cussing and spitting – still ranting about guns, war, patriotism and freedom. But still something made him seem harmless even though no one was around him, unlike normally, probably because he was no longer just interesting but now annoying.
The thing that makes him interesting is that talking with him on a normal day becomes a game. You have to try to piece his story together through sentences that don’t seem to make any sense. When you leave the conversation, it feels like you just studied for an anatomy test and kept having to process which bone was connected to the hipbone, or was it the anklebone? It’s fun, it’s a game, but it’s his life and his story. He has to live this daily.
Maybe his head is playing tricks on his mouth and not giving him the right words to speak to make coherent sense. Maybe he took too many drugs and blew a connection in his brain. Or more likely he never had that synapse or connection and has been like this for 40 years always having to rely on others. Not the government—although he receives medical help, not the church—for he is too loud and noisy for a house of worship, but his community.
His community all lives outdoors and looks out for him even when he is cussing and spitting. They don’t tell him he is crazy or wrong, just laugh with him and agree with him as he talks, moves and occasionally yells. They would make sure he knows the weather and to get inside. His friends give up their requests for a pair of shoes for him, or coat, or socks. They grab him on their way to a feeding to make sure he is fed and worry about him when he is not seen for awhile. But best of all, they let him be part of their lives and community. That, my friends, is love. My buddy Tom is loved.
To meet Tom and 100 others with amazing personalities, thoughts and stories come out to SE 12th and Alder any Saturday at 3pm.