In the vague distance a man cried out in pain, shouting obscenities behind the parking garages and bank offices in downtown St. Petersburg. As I walked with my bag of cottage cheese and soymilk eggnog, his aching bellowing seemed to follow me from behind the buildings. I headed for the picturesque Christmas scenery straddling the bay in front of the Pier along Beach Dr. – a very desperate and hidden part of my mind hoping this demented shouting did not follow me there. But, of course, as I approached the first corner of the park, I saw the man, carrying a large bag over his right shoulder, with a windbreaker half pulled over him, shouting in a nasally, cranky southern twang to himself and perceived others. Once I could make out what he was saying, it seemed he was threatening some invisible villain. Someone who had called him stupid, lazy, weak. He rebutted these points by threatening to kill the fucking motherfucker if he didn’t shut up. So, I continued, walking parallel lines to him towards the next place where I might turn east and finally get on to Beach Dr. to walk past the park and the Christmas lights in the windy, cold night.  I realized he was stopping along his route to turn and confront his invisible assailant. During these pauses, the nasally whine of his voice would swell and crack, and full and truly tweaked out tirades of hatred and pain would vomit from his mouth. Mostly incoherent, except for a few definite threats and the obvious way the listener could perceive the pain in the man’s past.

Here, I face facts and either give up getting access to Beach Dr. and go home or turn into this man’s path and follow him to Beach Dr. Of course, he’s already ruined my plans. Who can enjoy the fantasy of nostalgic wintery music and bright, playfully arranged lights and the wind coming off the bay when all they can do is wonder whether this man’s suffering from the DTs or has let meth chew through his membrane to reality. Maybe he was raped as a kid, or beaten by his father – whether or not this has anything to do with drugs. He could be a veteran. He’s about the right age to be royally fucked from combat in recent and questionable wars. So, I turn and all but stalk him down the very same path I planned on taking in the first place. Who knows what terror he’s endured, publicly bearing all the pain in his heart to the backdrop of a particularly cold early December Monday night to the audience of a few, definitively wealthy patrons along St. Pete’s posh Beach Dr. dining scene – which, I might add, is unironically all out on the pavement and totally open to this man’s screaming. So, I sort of follow him about 20 paces behind and watch him shout and curse through pricey dinners and business casual eaters and waiters all but in white gloves. His southern twang immediately contextualizing this man’s pain as meth and poverty related. Spittle flying everywhere down the nearly mile-long stretch of Beach as he bellows and stops and curses the goddamn motherfucker to just shut the fuck up or I’ll fucking kill you, how dare you, how dare you.

At this point I face facts and cross his path, walking in front of the man as he’s stopped and turned facing towards me shouting at something invisible behind me a ways and over my right shoulder. He doesn’t even look at me. But I smell him and his spittle hits me in places. I pick up my pace so when he starts his steamroller up again, he won’t overtake me, but he turns right to enter the park and walk parallel to Beach across the street. At this point, a business casual driver in a black luxury vehicle drives by and – in the unmistakable accent and identical voice of Karl Rove – says “Hey, go take your meds.” Which, of course, slightly shocks the guy and gives him a visible and actual target for his tirade and he takes a few seconds to shout the very same things he’s been saying this whole time, but specifically to the guy in the car as he drives away. This is the only time another human addressed the terrified and tortured man I followed down Beach. I passed people with heads down, or pretending not to hear him shouting at the top of his longs. Others on the street noticed and craned their neck in such a deliberate posture of avoidance that they do a terrible job of hiding that which they were ignoring. Who knows how many untold dozens then came home in hand-wringing guilt for not having just braved the tempest of delusional violence to just offer a teary-eyed, hey, its OK, man. Hey, brother, it’s OK. We all love you out here man, what can I do, brother. It’s going to be OK.


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