Ballad for a Friend

The weather couldn’t be more perfect. My mother is in town for the day and I take her to Nina’s Cafe for lunch. We have our sandwiches and coffee and we find the last table for two outside. This is city living the way I want it to be. The way I want my mother to see it. Easy-going and laid back. Autumn trees with the sun shining through. People chatting. People walking their dogs. Everyone friendly.

My mother is giving me an update of the people I grew up with–former friends, aging relatives. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a down-and-out man approaching. He looks like he’s here to beg for money. There might be a story about how he lost his job or how he needs bus fare to get back to Green Bay for his cousin’s funeral.

I try to ignore him but he’s getting closer. I’m about to tell him that I’m sorry. I don’t have any change. It’s then I realize that he is not bowing like a beggar, but crouching, like a cougar about to pounce, and his eyes are fixed on my mother. He lets out a cry and jumps magnificently. I am up out of my chair and push him away before he can reach her.

Now his crazed stare is fixed on me. He lets loose a long string of foul words as we circle each other. I’m scared like I’ve never been scared before and I’m wondering if some of the other cafe patrons are going to step in to help me, but they keep eating their lunches, looking on as if they’re watching some old rerun of a Jerry Springer show.

He takes a couple of swings at me which I avoid. I don’t know what to do. I think about the semester of karate I had back in college as a phy-ed requirement but remember nothing. I could employ my skills as a student of Bashido–the way of the Samurai–but man, I am nothing without my sword. Besides, it would take me fifteen minutes to warm up, bow, and say hello.

As quickly as he came unglued, he becomes subdued. All the madness and crazy light in his eyes has changed. I am no longer his personal demon. He turns  away. I go inside the cafe to have them call the police. They tell me they already have. Within minutes the squawking police car arrives. The man sees it and turns around. Puts his hands behind his back. He’s been through this before.

I can only imagine what will happen to him. Someone will write up a report at the station. They’ll add it to his records. He’ll go through another evaluation. They still won’t be able to assess him properly so he won’t get the treatment he needs. He’ll be released. He’ll perpetually go through our government’s revolving door. That’s the real madness.

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