Hallo SpaceClown.

The other evening, I was sitting outside of Lucy’s Laundromat in the pouring rain, waiting for my ride. It was freezing cold and I was soaking wet, but waiting inside wasn’t an option. It was packed in there and the machines were all roaring full bore. Plus, there were probably a half-dozen very small, very sticky children running around all sugared-up and squealy. The television inside was blaring forth with all its might, too, presumably to compensate for all of the other noise. The guy behind the counter was arguing with a woman about dryer sheets, and one of the young men folding clothes was singing at the top of his lungs along with his ipod.

So I thought it would be best if I sat outside in the rain. You know, before someone got hurt. Probably the ipod kid. Strangled with the cord from his own earbuds, I’m thinking.

And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge,
And the rain poured down from one black cloud;
The Moon was at its edge.

So I was sitting there in the dark - wet to the bone and shivering my tail off - when this homeless veteran came stumbling out of Down Home Foods next door. I assumed he was homeless because he was carrying dirty, wet grocery bags filled with his belongings. I assumed he was a veteran because he was dressed in worn-out camo fatigues and a boonie hat with an American flag patch sewn on it.

Within minutes it became perfectly clear that this guy was not just a little inebriated, but was staggeringly, belligerently, wasted. He was drunk, high, tripping, and probably lots of other things, too. As he lurched across the rain-soaked parking lot, he screamed curses at people at the top of his lungs. Not creative ones. Just your typical, disturbing, nasty curses.

For a second, I thought he might not have noticed me huddled there on the walk, but no such luck.

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
"By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?”

I’m not very good at avoiding encounters with people. In fact, I’m pretty bad at it. I say hello to people almost on impulse. All people. Shop girls and the old couple sitting on the park bench and trees and dogs and the kid who busses my table at Headlands and children and cops and crazy people. Maybe especially crazy people. I guess I think they need it more.

So when his eyes locked with mine, instead of looking away or going back inside, I smiled and said hello.

Then he asked me if I’d ever been shot.

Which is when I began to draw up a mental plan to better-control my impulse to always say hello to people.

I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.

So I was in it. And if I’m in it, then I’m in it.

Here’s how the rest of the conversation went:

Jendocino: I’ve never been shot. I have recurring nightmares about being shot, but I’ve never actually been shot.

Disturbed Homeless Veteran: Well, I’ve actually been shot. And if I’ve actually been shot, then I can curse at whichever of you fuckers I want.

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.

An orphan's curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man's eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse--
And yet I could not die.

J: Getting shot equals a free pass to curse people out. Got it. Sounds reasonable.

DHV: Yeah, it does. It sounds all kinds of fucking reasonable. Because like I said, I've been shot. And I can show you the scars. (Sets down his bags and begins to untuck his shirt.)

J: I can see your scars just fine from here.

DHV: (Shaking his head, raindrops scattering off the brim of his hat.) I make myself sick. What about all those people over there who got shot? Who I shot?

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.

J: I don’t know how to answer that.

DHV: It doesn’t matter anyway. None of it was real. None of this is real. I’m not real. You’re not real. You’re just some little clown. Probably a space alien. Some cute and happy fucking little space clown that isn’t even real.

J: (shivering) Clowns aren’t cute. Clowns are disturbing.

DHV: No, clowns are cute and happy, like you. If you were real. Or clowns.

J: Having a grin painted on your face all the time is disturbing.

DHV: (smiling) Sister, you’re something else.

He turned to walk off in the night, but then he turned back to me. “Nothing is real, space clown!” he shouted. Then he laughed. “Except for the fact that I’m soaked to the balls! SOAKED TO THE BALLS!!”

And that was it.

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner is an early literary example showing a character with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was written in 1797.

You’d think that since we’ve known about this condition for such a long time now, we’d have figured out a better way to help the soldiers who suffer from it.

The chaos is killing me.


  1. Jen,

    This made my throat ache. I always feel so helpless when confronted by the fact that niceness only helps so much (though it does help a bit. Thank you for being kind and untwisting this man's pain a knot)

  2. I like the way you tied the poem into what happened with that Homeless veteran.

    Very clever. Shrewd insights. But most of all I want to say, "Thank you," for caring enough to take a chance and talk with that veteran. Your compassion is noteworthy.
    It's really nice knowing a person like you.

  3. Cracking stuff Jendo.

    "Paddy - who's been wearing Miranda's clothes????"

    "it's confusing these days..."


  4. Thank you all for the encouragement and kind words. There's a line in the Bowie song that says, "You're released but your custody calls," and I can't help thinking that while this vet is no longer on the battlefield, he's still at war.