After serving on the street tonight with The King’s Jubilee, I had occasion to recall a homeless man, Brad, whom I met almost twenty years ago on a similar late spring evening. He was under 25, white, of slight build, literate. He had just found himself homeless. His mom had moved in with her boyfriend and there was no room for him. His dad had disappeared several years before. Brad was afraid of what might happen to him on the streets. Nothing in his life had prepared him for this. He felt completely vulnerable.
The next week, Brad came to eat with us again. This time, he was all disheveled and he was talking to himself and arguing with himself the whole time he was in the line. I was able to speak with him privately after everyone had eaten and the crowd had dispersed. He told me that a couple of the old hands on the street told him that the number one rule of the street is that you never mess with a crazy person. So he decided to start acting crazy as a defense, so nobody would mess with him. He learned to survive and cope on the street. I tried to direct him to programs that might help him get off the street, but space was very limited, and he didn’t fit into any of the usual categories.
After a few months, Brad stopped coming by to eat with us. A few more months passed and he showed up again. He was acting like a full-blown, psychotic, paranoid schizophrenic or someone on a very bad trip. The problem was he wasn’t acting anymore. He had fully inhabited the role he had chosen and had forcibly driven himself crazy; like method acting gone terribly wrong. I still see him from time to time. Some nights he is better than others. Instead of the frightened young man, he is now a quite aggressive 40 something man and is quite direct in asking for or demanding what he wants. It reminds me of a program I heard on the radio about bullies. A psychologist described aggression as preemptive fear.
The irony with Brad is that his crazy behavior is not irrational. On one level, it has served him well. He is still alive after spending almost 20 years on the street, because no one messes with a crazy person.