BY JEFF DEENEY
TODAY I SAW a psychotic man harassing the African vendors who hawk oils and knock-off handbags on Market Street outside the Forman Mills on 49th. The psychotic’s beard was thick and matted, his clothes filthy, and the bulky leather jacket he wore over a thick hooded sweatshirt was too heavy for a warm fall afternoon. It looked like he hadn’t changed clothes since last winter. His ranting was incoherent; he wasn’t stringing full sentences together, his yelling hopped from topic to topic. His anger was unfocused but his gestures pointed in the general direction of a younger vendor who sat at a table next to an older woman, maybe his mother. The young boy watched in apprehensive confusion, not sure if the psychotic was going to charge at him. After a minute the man turned and walked west on Market Street, still shouting at random intervals and waving his arms.”Whoa, boy, he kill me,” one of the other vendors said in heavily accented English. “That one, he so funny, he crazy.” He laughed and waved his hand at the psychotic, as if to shoo him away.The older African woman picked up a tattered paperback copy of the Qur’an off the table and went back to reading. The table was piled high with boxes of sneakers and cheap imitation leather belts.
Across the street at the CVS, a young white couple was sitting on the curb, looking strung out and dejected. They had two pieces of electronics still in their plastic boxes, and it appeared they were trying to return them for cash without a receipt. The hustle didn’t seem to be working out for them. When the guy came shuffling back out of the store in his oversized sweatsuit, still holding the plastic boxes, the girl sent him right back in, frustrated with his inability to work a con. She looked pale, desperate and dopesick; maybe they met in detox around the corner at the Kirkbride rehab and rolled out together AMA.
“You got to move your legs, baby; I can’t see too good, I don’t want to hurt you, now.”
A gray-haired grandmom in a giant, rumbling old Lincoln stuck her head out the window to let the girl know she was blocking the handicap spot. The girl had her head resting on her knees and the hood of her sweatshirt pulled up. It looked like she was barely able to muster the energy necessary to scoot back on the sidewalk enough for the elderly woman to pull in.
Behind the girl the door to the CVS swung open and three black teens in jeans that sagged low enough reveal colorful boxer shorts sauntered across the parking lot, each shouting in turn “FOOOOOOORMAN MILLLS!” mimicking the store’s trademark radio commercial.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Deeney is a freelance writer who has contributed to the City Paper and the Inquirer. He focuses on issues of urban poverty and drug culture.