A Rolex ad towers over the large multi-retail building that stretches over a city block downtown. It’s been vacant and fenced off for years, periodically swept by graffiti and painted over.
“Yo you need something?” One of a pair of homeless men lying in an alcove says as I pass. “You need something?” At first I think he’s talking to me, trying to sell me drugs; no, he’s talking to a man out ahead of me, who’s looking down the street in our direction. The man is small and frail, dogeared and gray despite not being that old. He’s standing at a bus stop, watching silently and incomprehensibly at the homeless man who’s up and walking toward him now.
I pull up to the bus stop and stand near the little gray confused man.
“Yo you need something? What are you lookin at bro?” The homeless man says threateningly, his hands balled up in fists and trailing behind.
“He’s looking for the bus.” I say, as flatly as I can, stepping forward. I look over at the gray man. “You’re watching for the bus, right?” He barely nods, looking confused; he doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening.
“He’s just watching for the bus, man.” I say, conciliatory, motioning at my own eyes and down the street. My tone is deliberately mild, but I take another step forward, trying to look taller. This is my strategy; my words are almost apologetic but my body language is meant to convey a certain readiness. “It’s okay.”
The homeless guy pulls up and mutters something about how he “don’t fuck around”. I just nod, eying the homemade flail in his belt, a flat piece of metal connected to a short stick by chain link. I don’t fuck around he says I’m not that guy I don’t fuck around. I nod. “Okay. Thank you.” I say as he turns around, revealing a Friday the 13th style hockey mask on the back of his head.
A crazy black man is dribbling a basketball and trying to do tricks with it, but he’s clumsy and keeps losing the ball. As it bounces away he takes a deep, formal bow as if for an audience, and then stops, bent at the waist, swaying a little. He decides to stay there a while. Another crazy black man is shadowboxing with a parking sign, pretending to slip and counter punches; I think he’s inspired by the first guy.
Somebody has excavated the dirt from planter that’s flush with the ground, leaving a round hole several feet deep like a trap. Nearby is still another manic black man, naked to the waist. He’s ripped and trembling violently in little spasms as if an electric current is running through him; splashing water desperately on himself as if he’s on fire.
This is Portland.