I knew the instant the homeless man appeared on our subway train with a trash bag full of something that my afternoon was about to become interesting.
My wife and I, along with my mother-in-law, were on the train heading out of San Francisco. We had spent the day touring around, and – it being my first time there – I had enjoyed myself quite a bit.
As we sat on the relatively empty train car, a beady-eyed man with a scraggly beard and worn out trench coat slipped in during a stop in Berkley, carrying his trash bag over his shoulder as Santa would. He took a seat diagonally from us.
Homeless Santa put his bag down and stared in my direction for a moment. “Hey, man,” he shouted towards me. “You like shirts?”
I pretended not to notice him.
“Hey, man,” he repeated. “I have shirts. Want to see them?”
Finally, I had no choice but to acknowledge his presence. “No,” I said. “I have a shirt.”
“You don’t have a shirt like these shirts!” he said.
Suddenly, and without provocation, he began hurling these shirts in my direction, one at a time. “Nice shirts, huh?” he kept asking. His pace was methodical but consistent.
Not knowing where these shirts had been, I reasoned that it was better to catch these cotton projectiles in my hand than to let them hit me and my wife in our faces. (My mother-in-law was behind us and out of range of the t-shirt bombs.)
I snagged each shirt out of the air as it was hurled at me and immediately threw it to the ground. This guy has a pretty good arm, I thought. Eventually, a mound of homeless-owned t-shirts lay strewn on the rail car floor, piling up rather quickly. My wife and mother-in-law stared, aghast at the events transpiring.
After the last shirt was thrown at me and I had put down its violent coup, as I had all the others, I hoped that this would end our conflict. If anyone needed an Appomattox Court House moment, it was me.
“Hey, man,” said the shirt-throwing homeless individual. “Do you like birds?”
Is this guy going to start throwing birds at me now? I thought to myself.
I looked at my wife and we telepathically communicated an escape plan. We were still several stops away from the sanctuary of our automobile.
Our homeless friend then pulled out two bird statues from his trench coat and approached me, one bird in each hand. A bird in the hand is not better than two in the bush, in this scenario. Nearly tripping over the pile of shirts on the floor (which he was responsible for creating), he asked me if I’d be willing to watch his birds for him.
He placed them by my feet and then shuffled around the shirts to retake his seat.
“They are nice birds,” he said. “Aren’t they?”
Apparently, the telepathic conversation I had just had with my wife had only been understood by me. As soon as the train came to its next stop, I bolted for the door, only to find myself fleeing alone, like a tumbleweed running from a tornado.
However, my wife and mother-in-law, upon realizing that I was leaving the care of the birds to them, decided they wanted no part of that responsibility. They joined me on the platform, just before the doors closed.
“Why did you get off here?” asked my wife, with a twinkle in her eyes. “It’s not our stop.”
“Oh,” I said, “I thought it was.”
I wonder how those birds are doing.