Knowing when to take immediate action is, of course, crucial, but that has been remarked on frequently in the past. Knowing when not to act is nowhere near as celebrated, though it is probably the rarer and more practical of the virtues. The person who acts rashly might put off those people they would like to impress, or get themselves stomped by those people they should have avoided, whereas the patient human might win useful friends, and see their enemies crumble before their very eyes, in a matter of time.
I first started seeing Black around the homeless shelter about six months ago. He immediately stood out from the crowd. A six foot, three behemoth with Coke bottle glasses and a taste for florescent jumpsuits that would not have seemed out of place in the Eighties; Black would be conspicuous even if he were a quiet and contemplative man. His beady eyes are amongst the most arch and wicked I have ever seen, barely concealing the deceptive combinations of his twisted, scheming mind.
Black is given to extemporaneous outbursts and self-aggrandizing proclamations, "I'M A SICK MOTHERFUCKER, YALL. HAHAHA! I'M A SICK MOTHERFUCKER. IT'S GOOD YALL DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON IN MY MIND RIGHT NOW. WHOOO!!! I NEED SOME ALKEEHOL. WHO'S DRINKING SOME MOTHERFUCKING ALKEEHOL?!?"
He often rants wildly at invisible enemies, some from his past, others imagined, "WHO THE FUCK YOU THINK YOU FUCKING WITH? I'M A MOTHERFUCKING SOLDIER. YOU BETTER GET ON WITH YOUR BITCH ASS. HAHAHA! HE THOUGHT HE COULD FUCK WITH ME. YOU KNOW WHAT I DID? I SENT THAT MOTHERFUCKER TO BRECKENRIDGE. GODDAMMIT, I'M READY TO GO TO JAIL TONIGHT!
On top of being obnoxious, he is a bully who picks on the weak. If he knows someone has something he wants, he'll loom over them menacingly and try to wear them down with repetition, "HEY POPS, WHY DON'T YOU LEND ME FIVE DOLLARS UNTIL TOMORROW? YOU KNOW I'M GOOD FOR IT. COME ON POPS, I'M ALWAYS LOOKING OUT FOR YOU. LEND ME FIVE DOLLARS TILL TOMORROW. COME ON MAN, WHY YOU GOTTA DO THIS TO ME POPS? WHY YOU GOTTA DO THIS TO ME? LEND ME FIVE DOLLARS. WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU POPS? I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS! LEND ME FIVE DOLLARS, POPS. LEND ME FIVE DOLLARS."
I tried to avoid Black as much as possible, of course, but I did end up having one run-in with him. I was leaning next to a tree outside the shelter and, as always, there was trash strewn about everywhere. Black walked up to me with an evil look in his eyes, sizing up the situation, looking for a weakness to exploit. Finally, he came up with, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING LEANING UP AGAINST THIS TREE? YOU STOLE MY MOTHERFUCKING PATRON BOTTLES!"
I looked down and saw a couple of empty bottles of Patrón Tequilla laying on the ground, but before I could protest, Black continued his accusation, "THERE WAS FOUR BOTTLES DOWN HERE A MINUTE AGO, NOW THERE'S ONLY TWO. I KNOW YOU GOT THOSE BOTTLES IN YOUR BACKPACK. WHY ELSE WOULD YOU BE LEANING ON THIS TREE? ALL THE TREES OUT HERE, AND YOU'RE GONNA STAND BY THE ONE WITH MY BOTTLES NEXT TO IT?!?"
"Why would I want your bottles?"
"I KNOW YOU GOT MY BOTTLES. DON'T MAKE ME SEARCH YOUR BACKPACK."
I knew he was full of shit. He wasn't about to touch me, he was obviously just bored and trying to see if I would rattle. But I've been dealing with assholes like Black my entire adult life. I can tell the difference between empty bravado and serious threat. I looked at him calmly and said, "Yeah, I do have your bottles. I'm going to use them in an arts and crafts project."
"MAN, I KNOW YOU AINT GOT THEM BOTTLES YOU STUPID MOTHERFUCKER! THERE WAS ONLY TWO TO BEGIN WITH. I CAN'T BELIEVE YALL MOTHERFUCKERS OUT HERE. DON'T YOU HAVE SOMEWHERE ELSE YOU CAN GO?"
"I wish." I replied, and he walked off giving me a sullen look, like I'm no fun.
Black bothered me. Not because of that incident, or because of anything he did to me, personally, but because of the way he brought down the street environment, in general. People like him make it very easy for society to dismiss the homeless as shiftless scum, whereas most homeless dislike a guy like Black even more than normal people do, by virtue of the fact that we have to interact with him.
But I didn't let it worry me, because I knew that one day Black would simply disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. It happens with guys like him all the time. Either he'd get killed, or jailed, or run out of town. There is no need to get upset and take rash action when your problems are only too happy to take care of themselves. Sometimes, all you have to do is sit back and observe.
It was around Thanksgiving that I noticed Black had hooked up with Sassy. Every town has one drunk who is more belligerent, more depraved, more adept at making a spectacle of themselves than any other, and in Austin, that drunk is Sassy. She is a force of nature. At fifty five she has the body of a forty five year old, and she likes to show it off with a dazzling array of the skankiest outfits imaginable. Sassy used to be beautiful. As hard living and the ravages of time took their toll, she had to find ways to adapt, and she did so by diving deep within and discovering the source of cruelty.
Sassy turns tricks for money, but she's usually too trashed to make it through the negotiation phase. It's not uncommon to see her walking the streets at five in the morning, makeup smeared haphazardly, hair a wild tangle, propositioning yup college students as they stagger around oafishly in the early morning light, "Hey man, you want to go on a date?"
"WELL FUCK YOU THEN YOU FUCKING QUEER. WHY DON'T YOU GO SUCK A DICK? YOU KNOW, IT SAYS IN THE BIBLE, 'IT'S AN ABOMINATION FOR A MAN TO LAY WITH ANOTHER MAN!'"
"Say, you don't have to..."
"'IT'S AN ABOMINATION FOR A MAN TO LAY WITH ANOTHER MAN.' YOU COCKSUCKER. I BET YOU HAVE A LITTLE DICK ANYWAY."
You can hear Sassy coming from a block away. Her voice, quite stayed and polite when she's sober, turns into a demonic howl when she's on a tear. She is indiscriminate in her abuse, and can frequently be heard railing away for hours at a time at whoever should cross her path. When I first started seeing her around, I couldn't believe people put up with her. They seemed to take her constant ranting in stride, "That's just Sassy." Then, over time, I got used to it as well, even started to regard it the way one who lives in the forest might regard the singing of the birds.
Now, don't think from my description that I don't like Sassy. Quite the contrary. It is true that Sassy is the kind of person who you must appreciate from a distance, but it is hard not to respect her fortitude, and even more so, her integration with her environment. In a harsh and brutal world, she has the spirit to live on her own terms, and doesn't take shit from anyone. As a result, of course, she spends a lot of time in jail.
A match made in heaven; who else but Sassy and Black could tolerate Sassy or Black? There was nothing surprising to me about their union. They were obvious soul mates.
Around Christmas I was going out at night frequently to scour the grounds near the shelter. During the holidays, Christian groups come out in droves, handing out food, clothing, camping gear, and other supplies to the hundreds of poor people who gather there. During the day, it's a total mad-house, with cars of volunteers being swarmed with homeless the second they drive up. It's a grim spectacle, very zombie-like. Fights break out over prized items like tents and shoes. It's brave for the people to come out and do it despite the third-world atmosphere.
In order to avoid this ugly scene, I would go out after dark and look for things that had been discarded and left behind during the day. There was plenty of stuff to be found, and I managed to outfit myself for the winter mostly during those few nights. Also, there is a powerful beauty to be felt in a place that is usually overrun with people, but is now quiet and still. (The ultimate expression of this is Times Square at four in the morning.)
It was during one of my nocturnal runs that I witnessed the bitter end of Sassy and Black's brief dalliance, and what would prove to be the beginning of the end for Black's run as mayor of the block. The shelter was a veritable ghost town that night. There were just a few stragglers, some people hanging out in their cars, and there was Sassy and Black in the middle of a dramatic confrontation.
If they ever shared tender moments alone, I cannot say. In public they were constantly making a scene, the ultimate couple you'd want to avoid: drugged out, mentally deranged, sociopathic, drama queens. On this serene evening, their battle escalated to previously unseen proportions, threatening to rend the very fabric of reality with their histrionics. It was very cold, the atmosphere was surreal, and, partly because I was so high, their conflict seemed almost operatic to me, as though I was lucky to witness this exclusive performance of human tragedy play out.
As I walked up, Black was stomping around in a bright green bathrobe, intermittently cackling like a demon and weeping like a child. It was hard to catch a lot of what he was saying through the tears, but the general idea seemed to be that he was begging God for mercy, "PLEASE, I CAN'T TAKE THIS ANYMORE. I JUST WANT TO BE HAPPY. I JUST WANT TO GO SOMEWHERE WHERE I CAN LIVE A NORMAL LIFE. I SWEAR TO GOD I'M GOING TO KILL MYSELF TO END THIS PAIN."
Sassy sat on the curb just a few feet away manifesting as much negative energy in Black's direction as she could generate. In her cruelest demon voice she growled at him, "I HATE YOU, YOU EVIL MOTHERFUCKER. I HATE YOU MORE THAN YOU COULD POSSIBLY KNOW. I HOPE YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY DIE OF CANCER. I WISH I HAD NEVER MET YOU, YOU SLIMY PILE OF SHIT. I'VE KNOWN PILES OF SHIT THAT I LIKED BETTER, NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT. I CURSE YOU, YOU SCUMBAG. I CURSE YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY!!!"
She began speaking in tongues, trying to put a Voodoo curse on Black. She got up and started dancing around and making guttural noises from the back of her throat. Black got on his knees in the middle of the street and began howling at the sky in abject despair, "AAAAEEEEEEEHHHH!!! I CAN'T STAND THE PAIN. PLEASE GOD, JUST LET ME HAVE A HEART ATTACK AND DIE! I JUST WANT TO DIE."
"I HOPE YOU DO DIE OF A HEART ATTACK YOU COCKSUCKER. I'LL SQUAT RIGHT OVER YOUR DEAD BODY AND PISS ON IT. WHEN THE COPS COME I'LL TELL THEM I PUT A CURSE ON YOU. I DON'T CARE IF THEY LOCK ME UP FOREVER AS LONG AS YOU'RE DEAD. I'LL BE HAPPY SITTING IN JAIL KNOWING I GOT TO PISS ON YOUR DEAD BODY. I HOPE YOUR MOTHER DIES TOO."
"DON'T YOU TALK ABOUT MY MOTHER!"
"HEY, WILL YOU TWO PLEASE SHUT THE FUCK UP!?!"
Another party heard from. One of the many people camped out in their cars around the shelter was disturbed by their argument. Black immediately got up and ran over to the car, "YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY MOTHERFUCKER?"
The guy in the car was big and black, also. He didn't look like he scared easily, but I could tell he wasn't in the mood to fight. He looked at Black and said, "Yeah. I already said it. Why don't yall take that shit someplace else? You disturbing everyone."
"I DON'T SEE NO ONE ELSE COMPLAINING ABOUT THE NOISE. JUST YOU. WHY DON'T YOU TAKE YOUR SHIT SOMEPLACE ELSE?"
"Yall should just break up. You don't do nothin' but yell at each other all the time. It's ridiculous."
"MAN, YOU NEED TO MIND YOUR BUSINESS!"
During this exchange Black kept running up to the car in a confrontational manner, and then walking away, only to run back up on the car yet again. The other guy just sat in the car. Meanwhile, Sassy was on the sidewalk smashing oranges into the pavement and throwing trash onto the roof of the shelter. After going back and forth with the guy for maybe five minutes, Black walked away without having resolved anything, and went back over to Sassy who was crouched on the ground, taking a short break.
I didn't catch what was said, but the next thing I knew Black was running down the street with their bags, and Sassy was chasing after him, screaming like a wild animal, "I'LL KILL YOU, YOU MOTHERFUCKER. I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU! GIVE ME THOSE FUCKING BAGS!"
Black ran around the corner with the bags, and Sassy chased after him. I followed behind, unnoticed. He made it halfway down the block on 7th Street before Sassy caught up to him and jumped on his back, biting and clawing at his head. He dropped the bags on the ground, and all the food they had saved up over the holidays fell out on the sidewalk. Sassy clawed him a few more times and then jumped down to the sidewalk and started smashing up the food and throwing it into 7th Street. Black began sobbing and beating himself in the head, "OH GOD, JUST KILL ME NOW. JUST KILL ME NOW!!!"
"SHUT UP YOU FUCKING CRYBABY PUSSY."
And then, just when things were about to reach level three, the cops arrived. They pulled up to the curb, lights flashing, and jumped out of the car. Black got down on his knees, still sobbing, Sassy stopped throwing food into the street, sat down on the curb, and said, in her most innocent voice, "Hello, officers. How are you doing this evening?"
Just then one of the guys parked in front of the shelter leaned his head out of his car and yelled, "A.P.D. SUCKS DICK!" The cops couldn't tell who said it, but they started looking around more intently, scrutinizing the few people milling about. I decided it was time to head home to my ditch. I already had enough drugs to last for a few days, and four jars of peanut butter, so I figured it was better to split even though I would have loved to have stayed and waited for Sassy to turn on the pigs and, hopefully, start attacking them.
Sure enough, as I walked away down Piss Alley, I could hear Sassy howl in the distance, "FUCK YOU, YOU MOTHERFUCKING PIG MOTHERFUCKERS, YOU BITCH MOTHERFUCKERS, YOU DICK TO THE BOOTY ASS MOTHERFUCKERS. GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME YOU FUCKING PIGS. YOU LITTLE DICKED COCKSUCKERS. I'LL BET YOU BEAT YOUR WIVES!"
It was going to be a long night for those fellows. I almost felt sorry for them.
The next day Sassy was gone and Black remained. She probably had some warrants, or maybe got herself an "Assault on an Officer" charge. In any case, I haven't seen her since. But though Black had somehow avoided arrest, the events of that evening seemed to haunt him. With Sassy gone, he changed; became more crazed, more desperate. Though he still made a show of "having a good time" it now seemed forced. It's as though his relationship with Sassy, however dysfunctional, had somehow grounded him, or at least given him an outlet for his negativity. Over the course of several weeks he began drinking more, showering less, sleeping outside in the cold with no blanket, and becoming more and more disheveled; a downward spiral I have witnessed many times. The streets have a way of wearing a person down. Once they let themselves go, the streets are happy to do the rest.
Black disappeared a few weeks later. At first I heard he raped a girl and was running from the cops, but then I heard he had robbed a drug dealer and was running from them. Then I heard Black was in jail, for what exactly, I'm not sure. I hope it's not true that he raped someone, but if so, I'm glad he got caught. If only they'd gotten him sooner.
But it goes to show that some things in this world are predictable. If you just go with the flow and bide your time, eventually, all the assholes disappear. Even yours.