The other day I was biking on one of the dirt trails near town, minding my own business, when I saw a man walking down the middle of the trail coming toward me. It was a beautiful afternoon — a great day to wander down the middle of a trail — and I thought nothing of him until he started waving me down. That’s when my mind did its little dance. Do I wave in return and keep going? Does he need help? Is he dangerous? What’s in the brown paper bag in his hand? I should stop, in case he needs help.
During the roughly 40 milliseconds it took for these thoughts to race through my head, my hands were already on the brakes, and thanks to those traitorous appendages, I found myself stopping alongside a stranger who I realized about 39 milliseconds later was a drunken monkey.
As soon as I pulled my headphones off my ears (silently saying good bye to Lacuna Coil), the guy said, “Hey man, can you stop a sec and help, or just talk?”
As I started formulating a response, he continued, “I’m just out here, doing my thing, man. I mean, is there anything FUCKIN’ wrong with that?”
I shifted gears and let go of his first question and began formulating a response to his second question, but then he said, “I’m just out here, wandering through life, and these people,” waving around at the trees and the trail, which was devoid of people at that point, “they FUCKIN’ don’t get it. Where do they get off, man?”
Shit, another question. As I considered a response to that one, I looked my inquisitor over. The man was dressed a little grubbily, but not obviously homeless-grubby. Partly covered by a paper bag was a huge can of what I figured to be a Mickey’s. He gestured a lot in the large and unsteady way of someone who’s very buzzed. His voice alternated between being confidential and boisterous. He made me a little nervous, but I just kept one eye on his hands and figured I’d be able to deflect him if he tried to vent some of his anger at me.
“I stopped and tried to talk to this old woman,” he continued on, apparently untroubled by the fact that I had not said one word to him, “and, hey, I’m just out here, trying to do my thing, you know? And, who the FUCK is she to judge me?”
Meanwhile, a few other bikers rode by and I could practically see them holding their hands up to shield their faces from the spectacle of the drunk guy and the poor fool who stopped to listen to him. I watched, a little envious, as they passed on their way.
My new drunken friend waved after them, “See what I mean? FUCK them! Man, I don’t know how they think they can judge me. I mean, I’m just being myself, wandering through life. Is there anything FUCKIN’ wrong with that?”
Finally I spoke, bypassing the formulation process, and said, “No, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I mean, that’s what I’m doing.”
And this guy looks at me, smiles and holds up his hand for a high five. “Right on, man,” he said as we clasped hands briefly, and he began walking down the trail.
“Have a good day,” I said after him and watched for a second as he wandered his way down the middle of the trail, apparently happy to have had someone just listen to him. Such a little thing. Huh.