Saturday, May 30, 2015

San Diego diary: He thought I was an angel

a.m. hours of 10/25/2008: Tonight I met a homeless man who sincerely seemed to believe that I was an angel (although, at one point, he also asked if I worked for the FBI).

I went out walking by the bay, in the direction of the well-lit/tourist area. There was construction closing off part of the sidewalk. I had two options: walk into the nearby hotel parking lot and way around the hotel to get back to where the sidewalk wasn't closed off, or cut through the grass, past a small stone picnic table and stools where three homeless people were sitting and talking loudly (about the Flintstones, I think... I heard references to Pebbles and Bam-Bam). Being me, I chose to go by the homeless people, knowing full well that they sounded boisterous and drunk and would probably try to talk to me.

Sure enough, as I passed them, I smiled and made eye contact, and a guy who looked like Bill Murray, in a Hawaiian-print shirt, clashing plaid swim trunks-style shorts, flip-flops, and a straw hat beckoned me over to them. And being me, I politely agreed to sit on the fourth stool at their table.

The guy said, "Meet Grandma!" "Grandma" was a boozy old homeless lady, loud and with erratic movements, a Chicago-sounding accent with stretched-out vowels, and a hairdo that looked almost punk, like an accidental mohawk, dyed a garish red. The Bill Murray guy was called CD, and a dusty-looking skinny guy, the most normal-acting of the group, was named Josh, I think. CD poured brandy from a big bottle into its cap and gallantly offered it to me. "No thanks," I said, and when he offered it next to Grandma, she gulped it down without hesitation.

We chatted, and at one point CD said he wanted to show me "the statue." For some reason--I this is a regular thing for him--Josh and Grandma groaned, saying, "Aw, don't show her the statue." "She doesn't want to see the statue." Naturally I was intrigued. "What's 'the statue'?" Finally, CD got up to show me, and I followed him for a short walk toward where Midway, the big Navy ship from WWII, is docked as a floating museum.

CD had seemed normal at first... then I noticed that he was complaining about the Navy in this vaguely conspiracy-theory way, so I thought, "Uh oh." He peered at me and said, "You're an angel." He also said stuff like, "I knew it the minute I saw you" and "It's you." I mean, this guy *really* thought I was sent to him from God. He said, "My kind stopped thinking that your kind existed." It was crazy--and I was strangely loth to disabuse him of this idea, which seemed like a touching one as we strolled among tourists and couples walking by the bay.

Somehow I had never taken this very slight detour off the boardwalk from my usual route--so I'd never seen this giant statue of that couple in that famous photo of that WWII sailor kissing the girl... this one:

It loomed, giant and surreal and floodlit above us, and CD said something like, "Do you know why he did that? Because that's all he's got." A theme of the night was that CD is very big on love--"I'm a lover, not a fighter"--and nearly moved to tears by the very subject. (And yes, at one point he talked about the possibility of making love to me. He blurted out: "I wouldn't pound you if I were making love to you." Meaning, I guess, that he'd be gentle and suave. I said, "Uh... oh... that's nice to know.")

I thought, "Oh, okay, that was the statue." But then we kept walking, and there was a cluster of statues illuminated by more floodlights--a bronze Bob Hope speaking into an old-timey microphone to a group of about a dozen bronze sailors. CD said, "I want you to meet my best friend in the whole wide world," and I figured he'd picked out one of the bronze sailors as a "friend." But instead--with a few tourists around--he hopped up onto the platform that "Bob Hope" was standing on, and talked into the "microphone," pretending loudly to be Bob Hope thanking the "boys" and saying they'd be coming home soon. People stared, and it was embarrassing--but I think people just thought I was taking my crazy uncle out for a walk or something.

We passed a ramshackle seafood restaurant on the waterfront, and he said he was going to take me there, then added, "I have fish in my house." And then, apropos of nothing, "I make potato soup." He said he'd "crawled around in there" (inside the restaurant) before. I said, "Uh, why did you do that?" And he looked at me conspiratorially and said, "I was tempting death." !! I said, "Well, that's a brave thing to do." I mean, you know, tempting death *is* a brave thing to do, I guess.

We sat on a bench looking out over the bay. I knew I'd get going in just a minute--but I was in no hurry, had no plans, there were tons of tourists around, I felt totally safe. So I sat with him for maybe 15 min.

He'd say things like, "Are you scared?" (I'd assure him that no, I was not scared.) He'd say something cryptic about a politician or what "they" were trying to do, then peer at me and say something like, "Can you think that deep?" and seemed disappointed when I'd admit that no, I wasn't really following him. I wasn't patronizing at all, and the conversation sometimes took on a surreal/ambiguously philosophical tone. I'd give him answers he seemed to need. At one point, he suddenly turned and said, "Did she love her brother more than she loved her husband?" His eyes were full of tears when he said this, so I said, "No. She probably did love her brother, in a different way, but I'm sure she didn't love him more than she loved her husband." Miraculously, it was what he'd needed to hear. (Yeah, that was out of the blue, had no idea who "she" was or what the deal with the brother was.) Because he was sitting there trying not to cry, my heart just melted and I actually reached over and patted his arm reassuringly and said, "Aw, you're making me so sad! It's okay." His crying made *me* feel like crying.

He kept up with the angel thing (saying, "Who sent you?" and things like that), although, again, at one point--he mentioned an earthquake that made the bay spill over into downtown, and somehow segued into taking off in his car and heading for Alaska to find his dad (?)--he suddenly said, "You're not with the FBI are you?" and then, "But it's okay. I'm out there. I'm on the Internet. My life's an open book."

He said bizarrely poetic things, like about how he sees "the shadows in the ocean." After talking about the shadows in the ocean, this image/phrase struck me, the two of us on this bench under the soft glow of a streetlamp, looking out over the dark bay, two lonely people sitting together yet not really together... and I sighed in sadness, and he said he heard it, and seemed to get what my sigh was all about. He said, "You're a poem within a poem."

Finally, I said I'd better go. I walked with him back to the boardwalk, passing bronze Bob Hope and the bronze soldiers again. A group of three young black tourists (with accents; I think they might have been British) were admiring and talking about the statues. I could see CD staring at them, and I thought, "Oh no, he's going to say something to them." Yep. He suddenly blurted out: "They stole my harmonica!" to the tourists (not about them--it was never clear who "they" were). Fortunately, the tourists were very sweet and said, "Somebody stole something from you?" I was behind him, and gave them an apologetic look and mouthed "I'm sorry" and one of the girls nodded knowingly. I got him to scoot along out of their way.
As we walked, he was still clutching the bottle of brandy in its white plastic bag, and he said, "I drink too much." I said, "I drink too much sometimes, too." He generously offered me as much of the brandy as I wanted--and I swear that he belched right in the middle of the sentence. I politely declined.

On the way to where our paths separated, he said, "I think I'm over trying to figure out who I am. I have to figure out who I want to be." I told him that sounded like a good plan. He looked at me hard and said, "I think I've found it. Thank you."
He then asked me if I wanted to be his wife. I looked down sadly and said, "I can't, but thank you." He nodded, as if he'd expected that answer. He said, "I know. I already had a wife. But if I were to have another one, it'd be you." He reached out and very lightly touched my hair when he said this. He said, "You're not my wife, but you have the same energy as her." I took this as a compliment.

We hugged good-bye, and I walked home, through the night and away from this guy who'd thought I was an angel, leaving him with the shadows in the ocean.

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