Showers for Vagabond
It was a sunny day in May. Florida was hot. Humid air drifted in from the Gulf of Mexico and swept over the city. My carport was alive with orchids, succulents, and seedlings. I bounced from plant to plant with my elastic hose, wearing gray headphones and listening to a crime drama.
I was blithely unaware of the world behind me, until I heard someone shout from beyond my headphones, but I ignored it.
Finally, louder, I heard “HEY!” and turned around.
Before me, near the entrance of the carport, was an older gentleman in a long-sleeved denim shirt, dark blue shorts, and black boots capped with white tube socks. He wasn’t too tall or very built. His knotted gray hair was kept back by a ball cap. His stance was normal, although he held one fist to the side of his leg. An aroma of mold, whiskey, and body odor, wafted my direction.
“Excuse me?” I asked, removing the headphones and holding them at my side.
With my acknowledgement bestowed upon him, he leaned into his query like a magician, tipping from front to back on his toes.
“Are you the one with the bike, going vroom, vroom, vroom, at 3 a.m. last night?”
“I don’t have a bike.”
“Or a scooter, then?”
“I don’t have a scooter,” I answered back, the annoyance growing in my voice. I kept my thumb on the trigger of the hose and looked at him bewildered. I took a few more steps in his direction, as I couldn’t quite hear what he was saying in his normal speaking voice.
“What about your neighbor?”
Frustration abounded, he wasn’t listening to my responses, and was acting weird. It felt like it was time for him to go.
I activated my crazy eyes, hunched forward, and with deliberate over-annunciation replied, “Neither of us have a bike, motorcycle, or scooter.” I waggled my hand back and forth to indicate both my neighbor and myself, as well as accentuate the meaning of the words. Subconsciously, I was probably trying to sweep him away and back to the sidewalk.
I don’t hate homeless people. I had some homeless friends when I was in my early 20’s. With no family or wealth-connections, I found myself between rentals, and more than once, lived out of a car while I worked to get back on my feet. I also have a history of working multiple jobs and acquiring bad roommates who don’t pay bills. I know what it’s like to be down and out; I know what it’s like to be a nobody.
As Robert W. Fuller says in Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank, “nobodies are not an easily identifiable group… But there’s one important thing they all have in common: the experience of being dominated, degraded, exploited, or insulted by people with greater power than their own.” (link)
I wasn’t about to give this man power over me, nor was I going to let him act like I was some privileged brat with a scooter keeping my neighbors up at night.
He looked almost stunned when I bluntly informed him that he was mistaken. However, a frown crossed his face for only a second, and he responded, “I was going to tell you to take it to the shop up on the corner — ”
“But we don’t have any so, thank you.”
“You,” I added, holding my hand up, “need to get off my property.”
“What’s wrong with you, girl?!” he shouted in defense.
My front door whipped open after that.
“What’s all this yelling?” my then-husband shouted at me and the bum.
“Yeah! That’s what I said!” the bum yelled, back towards my direction.
“Why are you yelling?!” my husband yelled at both of us.
What the heck? I thought to myself. For a brief moment, it felt like the two of them were ganging up on me.
“No, I’m talking to you! You gotta go!” he barked at the homeless man.
The stranger threw down whatever it was he was holding and partially turned away. His words jumbled into a knot of anger.
Physical intimidation isn’t something that comes naturally to women, so I like to think he was surprised when I arched my back and held my arms out in the classic, “come at me, bro” stance.
“What?” I asked, approaching him, “You gonna go?”
He called me the b-word and a few other fun names.
I slung my hands back again, and asked, “What did you call me?”
He made a little mocking gesture, threw his hands on his knees, stuck his butt out, and said “I’m so scared!”
Before he could finish his sentence, I unleashed the hose directly at his face.
He walked across the yard after that, but called me the b-word again, so I turned and gave him a second shower until he was out of range.
If anyone is wondering, my neighbor thought it was hilarious, the video footage is hysterical, and what dropped out of his hand was half of a plastic doll and a clump of Spanish moss.
Even though it ended up a somewhat funny situation, I shouldn’t have been so heated when he called me names nor as frustrated when he kept pressing the issue of a scooter or motorcycle. If I had to do it over again, I would have set the emotional tone early, and asked him to leave me alone, in a calm and kind way. If he still ended up yelling, I wouldn’t have yelled back. Also, in my new version of events, I wouldn’t have anyone else yelling at this man either. Don’t get me wrong, he was rude and a jerk, but I could have acted better.
More than anything, I hate getting yelled at. When it happens, my heart races, my limbs shake, I sweat, and my brain short-circuits worse than usual.
Maybe, in this situation, I was the one who needed the spray down instead.