Thursday, August 6, 2009

do you have any tea?

I had a very drunk 63-year-old with no teeth tousle my hair at 9:28 this morning. The reason that he happened to tousle my hair was that he was explaining the Holy Trinity to me. After ticking off God, (his thumb) Jesus, (the second finger) he reached up and tousled saying this is the Holy Trinity. The initial reason that we were even contact was that
while in my office working on cataloging books I heard someone yelling obscenities which is really rare for the Davis campus. Sticking my head out of the front door brought the shouter into view. He was swaying gently back and forth next to the handicapped ramp. I asked him if he needed help. He requested tea from the cafe. Unfortunately for his purposes the cafe wasn't open yet so I suggested coffee as that is what I had. He asked for tea again. I said I didn't have tea but I did have coffee. S As I was coming back out of the library with the coffee in hand, someone across campus had sneezed and Steve was kindly administering the common courtesy extended to sneezers from his perch on the steps.
Handed him the coffee and attempted to avoid sitting down on the library steps.
-You scared?
-(in my head- a bit)
-(out loud) Nope.
-What's your name?
Steve, the teetering elderly man with no teeth, yelling at people across campus. Steve is about 6' and was wearing a greenish short-sleeve button-down shirt (possibly grey) over a yellow t-shirt with his legs wearing dirty jeans and white sneakers. He also wore glasses-bifocals. I think his eyes were brown and his hair was short and dark grey matted slightly so that it almost looked he may have used gel but based on the remainder of his physical appearance that was probably not the case.
I sat down next to Steve
We managed to discuss(where discuss = he talked and I insert Sure/indeed/ok at appropriate intervals. He was difficult to understand.) where he lived (about a mile away in Johnson City) the wonder of creation, Adam and Eve, the appropriate treatment of spouses, his occupation (this was tricky bc he said he was an art teacher (plausible) and he broke people's backs (implausible). This breaking backs thing may have been a metaphor to his perserverance as the literal was probably not true as he was barely in shape to walk.)
and infinity. Steve lacked teeth which made have made him harder to understand. He said
-Iforgot my teeth.
-that's alright, man.
-oh alright.
In the beginning of the conversation he managed to stick his tongue out about 5-6 times. Steve has an amazing tongue-partially bc it was mostly white rather than the standard pink/salmon tongue color that is expected and also bc he could basically touch his unshaven chin with it. (Not sure if this is due to a short chin or a long tongue-either way it was impressive.)
The weird thing is that conversation was progressing fairly well until he attempted to explain the Trinity in addition to the thumb/forefinger bit that the sound of the contractor's saw was also the Trinity and I responded really/i'm not sure if that's correct/I don't agree with you at which point I was told I was a lying sack of 'poop' and didn't know garble anything.
The police had been called apparently but I was not aware of this. I am not sure if I had been aware if I would have offered my hair to be tousled as a continued distraction.
The police arrived about 10-15 minutes afterward and I gave the report. The officer said if I wanted anything for my hair, not that there was really anything they could do. I said no not being particularly worried about it but my head continues to tingle, which is unusual. (Apparently Steve had been on campus before; hopefully I was on vacation when this happened bc according to the person telling me Steve had to be strapped down to a gurney by the ambulance who came to pick him up and if I had missed that working in the library I've got my own issues to work out.)
There's another part of this story that might be considered metaphysical. That the part where I'm not sure where if this is sad or funny or challenging or a call for action. How should this story be told? In the light of humor at his expense? Or do i swing it around at my expense where at the same time I'm hoping for some commendation for my interaction with him-on the level of a normal person interacts w/ non-normal person via a cup of coffee (which didn't even get finished as the coffee spilled during one of his stories and the cup was crushed underneath Steve's foot and for reasons unknown to me, upon his departure Steve pocketed the squashed cup) which I think is empty as it sounds but knowing the emptiness doens't seem to curtail or, more importantly, seem to dissolve the desire for that recognition. Even writing this down is probably a back-handed attempt to win recognition. However at the same time this is one of the much more poignant encounters than I normally have and so to document it, for rememberance and contemplation.
The police officer asked me if we (the college) wanted him around again. I said no. In his prior state, Steve was not particularly conducive to Davis campus. During the once a week chapel session we talk about inviting people onto campus and informing the community that they are welcome however the implication that they are in a state of mind and behavior that would be considered the antithesis of Steve's state of mind. This is not to be unfair or unduly ideological but rather that Steve in his appearance and demonstrating his distance from the life God has called us to walk requires something more than an invitation or a police escort off campus. We normal people usually call it 'help' as in 'Steve needs help' which is probably true whether or not he sees it that way and Davis is not equipped to receive and help people struggling the way Steve seemed to be as we are attempting to equip ourselves to help a different sort of struggling person. Should/can we be? Not everyone wants to be helped. I don't and from my viewpoint I'm much more 'together' than my man Steve seems to be.

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