A homeless man ran past the storefront window and frantically entered the little lobby where I stood.
“Only two people in the store at a time sir.” The old woman behind the counter said, routinely.
“You don’t understand!” He shouted, pleading, pulling at his jacket. “You don’t understand!” He was a few feet in front of me, wild eyed, his flaring negroid nostrils filled with snot. “You don’t understand!” He all but ran past a pair of Middle Eastern girls hustling out, embarrassed, and right around the counter, heading for the nether reaches of the little pizzeria.
The old woman blocked his way but he would not stop. He did not raise a hand or grab her, but just kept coming, squeezing past the narrow passage a little on one side and then the other, as she grabbed hopelessly at his jacket and blocked him with her body. She was losing the struggle and the other employees, some sort of transgender person and a petite young woman, stood and stared.
And I had just wanted something to eat.
I came across, realizing I had no idea what I was doing. I think I barred him with my forearm across the chest–fortunately he was no bigger than me–as I grabbed rather timidly at his coat here and there, thinking his clothes might hold God knows what filth. Still he wouldn’t raise a hand, but did not stop. He thrashed with manic strength, weaving, slipping, making slow progress against our pathetic attempts to stop him.
Finally he ended up on the ground, I think in trying to execute a pass-rusher style spin-move on the old woman, who may have collapsed on the ground behind him. Desperate now I grabbed a foot–Converse style sneakers, wet and kind of slick in my bare hands, I noted with mild disgust, and started pulling. He could have kicked me square in the face with his other foot but thankfully did not. He grabbed wildly for something to stop our progress–I was surprised to find it working, that I was actually dragging the screaming man toward the door–but the tile wall on one side offered no purchase and the little metal rack on the other side just came along with us in his hand before catching up in something else.
He kept up his desperate pleas; I think he said something about the cold, or food, but always, like a refrain, “you don’t understand!”
I was screaming myself now, enraged by his pleas, worked up by the sound of my own voice, growling like a lunatic; “motherfucker get the fuck out!” “You motherfucker! You motherfucker!”; “I’ll drag you across the pavement you bastard!” I threatened as we reached the door, held open by the old woman, then proceeded to do just that; I felt a little sick at the sound of his wailing, genuine, unrestrained, and the thought of what the pavement must have felt like. The door slammed behind us; I let go and the man bounded off, heading into the boarded-up gas station convenience store next door.
“Oh shit.” I said.
I came back in and asked to use the sink to wash my hands. “I was handling a homeless guy’s feet.” I said impatiently to the kid’s quizzical expression. The gender-non-specific one came over and complimented me on the “blocking”–must be a term in their community.
“Thanks. Draggin’ a guy across the floor’s harder than it looks” I said jokingly, looking over at the petite one, a Mexican cutie, who won’t look up; I suspect she’s terrified of me, after all the screaming.
The old woman and I hung around the boarded up gas station convenience store, unable to see what was happening inside, waiting for the police. They came along in about ten minutes; one unmarked SUV pulled up briefly, then a lone female cop in a black-and-white. Her questions evinced two particular concerns: was the man having a drug related episode and was anyone injured.
The man was not arrested or detained I learned when I checked back in later; the policewoman had explained to the old woman an arrest could not be made in this circumstance, and the desperate man wandered off into the night.