Portland State University is scattered across the city’s downtown. I pulled my car up to the point where a city street ends and the school begins, at a stop sign beyond which only foot traffic is allowed. I was leaning against the front of my car waiting for someone and looking out over a near empty square; here and there were lone souls or pairs walking, students heading back to their dorms.
A pair seemed to announce themselves from across the expanse by their purposeful bearing. They were making for me. They wore long, form-fitting gowns; one tall and slender and the other all boxy, sharp angles, like a cardboard cutout slipped into a sheer gown. Encumbered about the legs by their close-fitting skirts, they took short, swiveling steps. The tall one seemed to float along in a ghoul-grey number, while the other telegraphed a subordinate status with clumsy, mincing steps. What could they possibly want?
“You’ve been following us all night.”
I laughed with the same humoring condescension I employ when addressed by the occasional street crazy. It’s a skill you learn and refine over time without thought; to give neither cause for offense nor the taking of further liberties. It helps to signal craziness of your own; let them think you’re the unpredictable one. If you have any size advantage you should use it; lower the chin and level the gaze while squaring up to the subject, as if ready to fight. But let your words contradict this posture: smile affably and return their idiotic comments in kind. Street crazies are some of the most rational actors out there, relying a great deal on the good citizen’s confusion and fear of Crazy. They are continually sizing you up as a potential mark, and almost always bluffing their own prowess or capacity for chaos. Keep them out of arm’s reach and bluff them back and they usually slink away. Predators seek the easier prey.
But these two were harmless, even as the tall one towered over me like a comic wraith. He had it in his mind that I was stalking them–they had seen my car earlier in the evening, as I had been back and forth between the school and work all night. They were positively enlivened by the prospect that this middle-aged man was tailing them, for God knows what purpose. Now I was pissed.
“When is this going to end?” Tall Boy challenged.
“As soon as you walk away.” I said. Looking down at the shorter one’s feet painfully pinched into his heels, and turning to answer my phone I couldn’t help adding, “if you think you can manage it.”
“You should know we’re going to report this.”
“By all means.” I said. Eventually they moved on. Later I imagined myself getting caught up in some great scandalous misunderstanding, having provided these two with their very own psycho-political drama; they would be victims of trans-phobia, hounded by a cis-gendered straight right-winger. Old blog posts of mine would reveal me for the racist I am. I would be fodder for the cause. It would be Hitchcock meets Tom Wolfe.
So there I was, just like my new adversaries, fantasizing my own heroic victimization. None are sane in the asylum.