“I saw you beam down just now,” he says to me as I was tweeting about wanting a vegetarian corndog which may be more surreal than the conversation that followed. And I knew we would have a conversation–he had that look as he approached me on the sidewalk just past the intersection at Broadway and Myrtle.
“Which ship are you from? ‘X’ or ‘Y’,” he asked me. “X” and “Y” represent the names that I didn’t not hear clearly and that I did not recognize or know. He had a split in his lower lip–the kind of split more likely because of the cold dry air in Boise at the beginning of December than getting hit.
“I don’t think either,” I replied looking up from my phone and facing him. “Then are you from ‘Z’,” he asked suggesting he knew I was from elsewhere. Again, “Z” simply represents the name of a planet, or place, I’m not familiar with.
He was neatly scruffy with a 5 o’clock gray stubble that illuminated in the sunshine. His eyes are dark, intent, not at all agitated. He looked at me, not at my eyeballs as some people do when they have a desperate message to put upon you, but at me the way people do in respectful conversation.
“I don’t think so,” I replied slightly annoyed but I wrote earlier today to practice empathy so I eased into the familiar moment of having a conversation with someone at an intersection at 35 degrees who experiences the world very differently from me. His breath didn’t smell of alcohol. I couldn’t smell anything unusual at all.
“I saw you beam here,” he repeats, “Which ship are you from?” I’m not a therapist, or psychologist, but I seem to attract people who have something to say from an unexpected perspective and, I think, have an extreme empathy for those who experience the world in a way that is obviously different from me.
“I’ve just come from Boise State,” I tell him. The direction he’s facing I know he can see the top of the Albertson Stadium over the chestnut trees in Ann Morrison Park. Of course, I don’t know what is his perception of the huge concrete structure that looks to me like the hand of one of the watchers, the stone nephilim, from Darren Aronofsky’s cinematic telling of the story of Noah.
I walk this way, through and around the park at lunch, just for a walk or to hit Whole Foods for lunch most days. I recognize many of the people who live in, or near, the park but I do not recognize this man. He does not live in the park. His clothes and hair are too clean. He must live somewhere warm and dry.
Working and walking downtown San Francisco for a few years, I frequently met homeless people, many dealing with mental illness or extraordinary experiences of the divine, and usually in conversations with these people, I noticed that the interjection of a real, nearby physical location would bring us into a simultaneous physicality pulling them from the additional worlds they experience. Or, the introduction of perceivable physicality would create a dissonance, some frustration, and they would move on down the sidewalk.
But this man wasn’t becoming more agitated. He was even. The kind of even produced by medication that inhibits frustration at not being able to express or communicate his experience. I wonder who benefits from him being on this kind of medication?
“There are Ferengi among us,” he tells me earnestly, “Are you one?” I’m struck that this man, for some reason, doesn’t come right out and explain to me these things he knows–he always leads with a question. Does he know he perceives something I don’t? Is he looking first to corroborate these facts, these perceptions, before telling me?
“I don’t think so,” I heard myself tell him. His eyes didn’t twitch. Was I messing with him I wondered. His left eye leaked a bit of white mucus. Was I playing into his story in some way that could be detrimental to this man? I wanted to connect with him, to understand, to see the world as he does. Or at least listen to his perspective. I think.
His intensity didn’t waver, again, likely some kind of medication. He spoke rapidly with a slight mumble as he told me, I think, that he was Vulcan. Star Trek.
I didn’t see his world until just then. He was using Star Trek as a metaphor to explain something to me about his world. Was he doing this intentionally? Had he learned, like all storytellers, that if a specific communication is required that he must attach recognizable images to shared experiences in order to communicate?
“I’ve seen them congregating over there,” as he points toward an empty parking lot across the street from WinCo. I wanted to know his story and the world as he perceives it. “Have you seen them,” he asks. “I don’t think so.”
“Well maybe you need to pay more attention to the world around you,” and he walked on down the sidewalk toward the giant hand of the watcher coming up from the ground on the other side of the Boise River beyond the park.
I put my phone in my back pocket feeling as if I had just been beamed down to a place I was sent to investigate, to pay attention to and learn its ways.