I used to live in a city, but I’ve gone suburban. That’s what I tell everyone, anyway–it lends a hipster sound to an otherwise bald and dreary situation. Or I tell people, “This is what the new economy hath wrought,” although this is an incorrect assertion, as I had no part in the new ecomony, except as a minor consumer–a book or two from Amazon, an ISP, e-mail, a new computer from time to time.
No, my being here is no fault but my own.
But as long as I’m here, let’s look around.
The other day, as it was sweltering in the house (this is suburbia, but our house has only downstairs window air-conditioners, and I work upstairs), I went to the proverbial coffee shop, with my computer and a book and a notebook, to sip iced mocha and look studious and deep, or at any rate as deep as it is possible to look while drinking coffee-enhanced chocolate milk from a carefully logo-imprinted cup. (Not very, I think). The proverbial coffee shop had three sets of clientele: moms, there to pick up beans and a drink to go; teenagers, there to speak teenager-ese and play with their straws, and schizophrenic men, who sat outside, where they could smoke (and where, I suppose, people found them less objectionable). The schizophrenic men were something of a topic for the teenagers, who of course deemed them “creepy.”
Of course, my diagnosas of the men with schizophrenia may be wrong. They may just be bums–although nowadays, that is often much the same thing. A third of the homeless population is said to be mentally ill (I’m not clear if this is an estimate or some more elaborate kind of census count–a subject to research, no doubt), frequently with schizophrenia. Once they kept them in institutions; now they keep them on the streets.
These men, I suspect, are only marginally homeless; they are the sort medical students giving histories would term as “middle aged-man of no fixed address.” They slouch, they smoke, they read folded up newspapers and make cryptic notes. They could be graduate students–some probably once were–except that they have slipped; their appearance is a few notches below even grad student grubby. They are there every day, doing the same thing, watching. Of course teenagers find them creepy. I find them reassuring: reassuring in the way of a dive bar or a truckstop restaurant. There is still a place that you can go, they say. Maybe next time I’ll sit outside with them.