It's true. Whether I'm on a bus or a subway train or walking down the street, mentally ill people seem to seek me out for conversation. I listen as they spill their stories and illusions and marvel at the line between reality and fantasy, and at how close I've come to that line. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I simply joined them. A quick glance through my diary shows how often these conversations have happened:
Consider August 1st:
"It's August. Yesterday, another madman spoke to me while I was on the bus. I seem to be some sort of magnet for insanity. He was a large man, with an unkempt, scraggly salt-and-pepper beard, yellow, mishapen teeth, pointed fingernails with dirt underneath them, pockmarked skin and a faded once-blue UCLA hat. There was a surreal moment as I sat down in front of him on the bus and begin to scribble random thoughts in my notebook. For some reason, I wrote down the name "Carter". A moment later, the man began to speak to me, and to be polite I glanced back to look at him, on his wrist was a dirty hospital band with the name "Brown, Carter" on it. This frightened me more than the man's rambling about going to college at Cal State Dominguez Hills or being an educator. I knew this man's name before he told me.
"I don't remember most of what he said. Like the woman on Hollywood Blvd who stood near me for heat and said I had kind eyes and that she had written 'More Bounce to the Ounce', or the woman who claimed that the Miami police teach that 'everything can turn to nothing', this man spoke in vaguely coherent sentences. He showed me a ticket stub to a tennis match that he had evidentally gotten out of the trash proudly. He gave me an old UCLA daily newspaper that smelled like the trash and a tri-fold flier about a local newscast before he got off the bus at skid row. He looked into my eyes and said, 'someday I may need you'. I tried to repress an involuntary shudder. I couldn't help but wonder if the mad are attempting to recruit me into their own secret societies. But then, perhaps I'd find a place where I belonged."
Consider also an except from July 22nd, 2000 (written about an incident Not Too Near (poem) was based on):
After Richard and I saw X-men the other night, we walked along Hollywood blvd and waited for the bus. While we were waiting, a madwoman began talking to me. The woman was cold, and she stood by me to keep warm. And she told me she could tell I had a kind heart. I was reminded of the madwoman in Neverwhere who told the main character, 'you have a good heart. Sometimes that's enough to see you safe wherever you go, but mostly it ain't'. Right now, I'm wondering what good a kind heart is at all. If things had been different, Richard might be sleeping now in the bed with that guy he went to meet, nevermind what sort of person he might be.. and he's not sleeping with me now.
Or March 12, 2000:
"On the bus that I took that afternoon was a madwoman. She had artificial flowers in her hair and a coat that looked like it had once been camel. She said that she was a Professor Emeritus who had once been considered for the Nobel Prize. Although she sat next to me, she did not say this to anyone in particular; she spoke in that same monotone to the air until her stop.
"I kept my eyes down and pretended to be interested in my book, fearful that she should notice me. The mad seem to watch me as if knowing that there was some kinship that they share with me. This frightens me most of all. I could not read my book, I was transfixed by her words. She said that Christ had died and was not resurrected, but was seen as a ghost. She talked about the police in Miami who, she said, 'teach that everything can turn to nothing'.
"Moments before she left the bus, she stared directly at me and said, read 'Revelation 20, it's all in there'. I would have perhaps forgotten this woman if her chosen stop had not been near a wall where the number 666 was written in orange graffiti. I had not noticed it before."
And these are just the more interesting accounts of my conversations with the mad. Sometimes these talks take on the vividity and strangeness of dreams, and I am forced to bite my wrist to ensure that I am really awake.