For the benefit of my two confirmed readers, here's the next episode...
Mike nodded discretely in the direction of the policeman, not risking being seen to notice him stalking through the TransBay hall. "You see man? Told you it was just gonna be a matter of time. Poor guy'll get arrested, just for being crazy. Being crazy's not a crime. Thats what I think anyway." He looked away from me and back to the man from SFPD, who had managed to get the guy to look up from the floor by coughing loudly three times. I thought Mike's brief discussion of insanity and crime was over, but I was badly mistaken. With disorientating speed, he dragged me to a highly personal plane, where I was nothing less than his confidante.
"I spent a lot of time in therapy as a kid. I had a stretch in hospital too. Ok now though." He smiled keenly, though without any suggestion that this was to reassure me. Mike was just pleased to be free of doctors and hospitals. As he sketched his experiences of psychiatry for me, Mike often paused in mid-sentence, as if he wanted to completely re-experience the event he was commenting on before he finished articulating his thoughts. He did this a few times as we watched the policeman lift the guy off the floor and begin to question him on an empty row of bench-seats a few rows down from us. I watched as scene after scene slipped through the little holes in Mike's brain, and waited patiently for him to hunt around for them, bring them back. The look of placid contemplation when he just stopped talking and went fishing around in his mind for something, dangling a needy hook beneath the thin ice layer of lesions and medication, became quickly recognisable.
While Mike was talking, the shiftless, motiveless lunatic derelict pulled from his plaid-shirt pocket a Greyhound bus ticket. There was no synchronous sharp-intake-of-breath from the room, but it was a sure bet everyone in there imagined that there should have been one. God, I hope he isn't travelling with US.
As the bum held out his ticket, the cop stood, legs an improbable distance apart, chanelling a tree so great that it needed two trunks. To this theatrical stance, he added a ludicrous, shameless flourish - he slowly removed with quick tugs his leather gloves, and then with near-pornographic relish, slid on a pair of latex ones he'd drawn from a pouch on his belt. He plucked the man's ticket from his hand like it was a radioactive shit, waving it around as if he wished it was behind several feet of lead glass. To be fair, the ticket was so grubby it had changed colour; gone was the uniform coroporate grey/blue, now it was a distinctly suspect mottled brown.
The policeman kept one plastic-clad hand on the bum's shoulder as he unrolled the ticket with the other. His eyes flicked relentlessly from ticket to man, man to ticket, unwilling to let a momentary lapse in vigilance usher in escalated craziness and violence. We couldn't hear any of what was being said, but the guy was certainly offering up some sort of defense, and in all honesty, looked quite saddened at the obvious insinuation that he was up to no good. As we watched, trying hard not to look like we were watching, Mike began to speculate about where the guy might be trying to get to. Mike thought his parents must be dead. "Sure thing," he said, "He's not trying to get home to mom and pop." I guessed that our resident loon was probably about forty under the accumulated layers of filth, sweat and fine, matted hair. "I dunno," I said, "his parents could be alive. He's not that old." Mike shook is head vigorously. "No guy with parents ever gets that bad. No one. It's part of the deal." I didn't argue the point further.
"My dad died a coupla years ago, but my mom still looks out for me," he went on to explain, once his longish hair had stopped swinging about. "It was my mom who told me about Portland. She read about it in an article, and she knew I was looking for a new place, so she cut it out and sent it to me, and now here I am, ready to start a new life in Portland and talking to a new friend all the way from England. She looks out for me for sure." Mike was proud, in a totally shameless way, which sort of threw me for a minute, and I forgot that I didn't trust him. "You know I've never met an English person before? I must've told you that right? I musta told you, so I bet I look like a real goof don't I?" His smile was enthusiastic rather than penitent, a plea for indulgence. He hadn't told me though.