We're All Damaged

Friday, August 7, 2009

Does This Tank Top Make Me Look Crazy?

There’s a crazy man who lives in downtown Baltimore. I see him almost every time I go running in the city’s Inner Harbor, and whenever I do, regardless of the weather, he’s wearing the exact same thing: threadbare jean shorts and an old wife beater. I’ve nicknamed him “Tank Top.” I’ve never been very good at nicknaming; I can never think beyond the wildly obvious. I call my dog “Yellow Animal,” and my wife is “Tall Girl Who Lives in My House with Me and Likes Math.”

Broadly speaking, there are two types of crazy people in Baltimore. The first are harmless. They wander about, smiling and waving at pigeons and chattering away happily with people who aren’t there. Collectively, we, the not-crazy citizens of this turbulent city, agree that they’re not going to hurt anyone.

And then there are the crazy people like Tank Top.

His brand of whacko leans toward anger. He leers, shifty eyed, at everyone, and he seems to be holding some long-standing grudge against the invisible person who is standing always to his right. People, particularly women, walk wide circles around him, and I don’t blame them. I once saw him angrily drawing slashes on his forearm with a magic marker. “There!” he kept yelling with each deep black line. “There!”

This morning, as I ran along the murky water, I stopped to fiddle with my iPod, moving it along to one of those songs we listen to only when we’re running. That’s when I noticed Tank Top. He’s usually on the move, but today he was sitting on a bench, and he appeared to be saying something to me.

I was a good thirty feet away, and so it was safe to pull my earphones out and make eye contact. Crazy or not, I doubt very much that Tank Top would be able to catch me, if it came down to some sort of frightening chase scene.

“Hey,” said Tank Top. And for a moment, that’s all he said. So there we were, two out-of-work guys staring at each other on a humid morning. But then he tugged his beard, and his expression took on a sort of clarity of focus. “Jesus loves you,” he said.

It was a strange thing to be told by a guy like Tank Top. Not so much because of the sentiment, which was undeniably pleasant. It was his tone that was odd. He told me that Jesus loves me the way one might yell “Yankees suck!” from a passing car, like he believed it wholeheartedly and it was really pissing him off.

I’m awkward around strangers, especially scary, crazy strangers, and so I told him “OK” and ran on. However, I’ve been able to think of little else since. Hey. Jesus loves you!

What could he possibly have meant by that?


  1. This man likely suffers from schizophrenia. My grandfather has the same disease.

  2. I am not sure what he meant but I would be haunted by that too- normally you walk past, do not make eye contact, do not draw attention to yourself around the crazy so giving him a moment of your time was actually really cool. It obviously spurred him on to make the nicest comment he could muster- one that I am now going to make every time I am in an awkward situation and notice people looking at me when I am talking arse.

    Kinda an interesting parallel- the 'out of work' connection. Very poignant. I guess we're all a step from Tank Top in some way. I just hope he finds a lovely Mrs Tank Top to talk to in the future.