A story from New Years Eve 2004 that I thought I'd share with everyone:
I was out with a group of friends, and heading to a night-spot in Sydney. We'd all stopped in at a Chinese restaurant to get some food just down the road from where we were going. I had been sitting at the table with a couple who were straggling. I didn't want to interfere with their time together, and since I didn't know them really well, I left to catch up with everyone that was ahead of me.
As I was walking up the road by myself, I saw a man crouching playing with something on the ground in a doorway in a little lane about 10 metres off the main road.
I was curious, so I walked over and sat down next to him (almost literally in the gutter). I said "How's it going?” He was pretty intent on what he was doing and only looked up for a second with an intimidating, violent flash in his eyes, then he looked down again and carried on with what he was doing, saying nothing.
I said, "Do you mind if I sit here for a while?” He ignored me for a moment, and then asked sharply "Are you a cop?" I said, "No".
He was sitting there crushing chalk on the pavement, sticking it into water balloons and tying them up.
I asked him what his name was, and he told me, although I forget now, and I told him mine.
I asked him what he was doing. He said he was crushing chalk and putting it in balloons to sell as heroin.
I told him that I thought that was probably a pretty shit thing to be doing. He looked guilty for a second, then he became angry and told me how he was sick of being abused and ripped off by wealthy yuppies when he went to the trouble of 'scoring' for them. He said he didn't have any money, and he just needed to sell one or two of these so that he'd have the money to get high and hang out with his girlfriend for the evening.
I kept pushing him, making him admit that what he was doing was a crappy thing to be doing -- and he did.
He was a pretty intimidating looking guy. He had long straggly, hair with deadlocks and chains and beads and the like. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and he was skinny, but muscular. He had the whole army pants and boots thing going on with dangling straps, etc. His upper body was covered in tattoos, and his chest was covered in scars. He looked quite old and weathered, but was probably only in his late 20's or early 30's. He was a picture of poverty and aggression.
A man turned up and interrupted us. He was trying to get past us into the building that we were sitting in front of. It was easy to tell that this guy didn't feel at all comfortable. He hesitantly leaned over both of us to get to the intercom and page the person who was going to let him in. The balloons and a large patch of crushed white chalk were plainly lying on the ground between us. Given that I was all dressed up for the night in black leather shoes, black pants, plain white t-shirt and black leather jacket with a shaved head and a goatee, and the other bloke was half naked, tattooed and scarred we must have looked like an odd pair, and between us, I'm pretty sure we managed to scare the other guy. We both realised the other guy was feeling pretty uncomfortable, and we knew that he had more call to be in that particular place than we did so we got out of his way, making polite chit-chat, etc. He was very polite too, and really did his best; although it was plain to see that all he really wanted to do was get inside as fast as possible. He had some trouble getting the person inside to answer the intercom and let him in, and it looked as if when he couldn't get an answer after waiting for 3 seconds he was inclined to just run away!
I got up and started walking down the lane a little, and the guy who'd been packaging the balloons got up and walked with me for a bit. Neither of us wanted to make the other guy uncomfortable, or get in his way. The balloons and chalk had been left on the ground in front of the door. I wasn't in any particular hurry, the place I was going was just across the road, and so I stayed and chatted for a while.
I asked the guy how he got the scars on his chest. He told me that one time he'd been contemplating suicide, and had carved "I love me" into his upper body. He was pretty factual, and just re-counting it as truth since I'd asked -- not with any particular emotion or agenda. I felt pretty bad hearing that, having known the guy for only five minutes I sort of had a slight respect for him and also pity for the way that his life was turning out. It crossed my mind while I was standing there with him, that this man could just have easily been one of the first guys off a boat at Gallipoli, or helping to build a house in the hot sun, or some other endeavour that while possibly romantic, was certainly respectable or courageous. Despite the way that he was living his life, it struck me that he was a strong person and he wanted to be noble -- perhaps I am just naive or childish.
Based on the way he talked, he was unpretentious and factual. It almost felt as if I could have been talking to Mick Dundee. I sort of felt like I could understand why he had such feelings of animosity and helplessness. I guess also that the guy didn't strike me as unintelligent, he wasn't dumb and angry (violent), just angry (self-destructive).
He didn't ask me for anything, but I gave him $50 so that he could see in the New Year as he pleased. He said thanks and walked away down the lane, leaving the balloons and chalk in the gutter.
I'm not really sure if there is a moral to this story, it's just a thing that happened, and I've put it here so that one day I can look back and remember that it did.