I used to work at a private montessori school as a teacher’s assistant. It was one of the hardest and most fulfilling jobs I’ve ever had and it was terribly convenient because the boy child’s class was right down the hall AND I got a hefty employee discount — so much, in fact, that it was CHEAPER than day care. Score.
One of my most favorite things was the period of time between my birthday and Christmas. Well, really, that’s just one of my favorite times, period. The weather finally changes from the eight month long summer in Atlanta to chilly, windy, crunchy-underfooted happiness. Of course, there are presents on my birthday. Then Thanksgiving. Then Christmas, which means more presents AND gift-giving. It was especially great when I was teaching because we got a whole week off for Thanksgiving and THREE weeks off for Christmas, er, um… “Winter Break” or whatever.
One year, I got tickets to go see the Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular Tour at The Fox Theater. I was STOKED because I hadn’t been to the Fox in several years and I could take the boy child! So, we gussied up, me in a standard issue LBD and his three-year-old self in dress slacks and a button up and “shiny shoes.” We were living alllllll the way out in the ‘burbs at that time, but I really wanted to take the opportunity to take the Marta Train into town. I knew the boy would the experience of getting on and off trains and people-watching.
So there we are, on a Saturday afternoon riding the train. It’s really not crowded and so we’re two of about fifteen people on the train. He’s on his knees in his seat, face pressed against the window watching the city manifest from sprawly suburbs to industrial parks to hoody neighborhoods and then finally, to the big city. In Atlanta, we’ve got a north/south line and an east/west line and we took the east/west line in and had to change trains at the Five Points station. This isn’t so much city-center as it is Marta-center, so there’s a lot more traffic and people are running up and down escalators to catch their trains.
We shuffle through and get on a north/south train and find two more seats together and, seeing as we’re underground at this station, the boy takes to looking around the people on the train and talking to them. For the most part, people are kind and receptive. He got a lot of smiles and polite nods from people as he squeaked, “It’s my first time on the marta!”
Then, the crazy happened.
This man gets onto the train and I could smell him as soon as he stepped through the threshold. He was clearly a homeless person, but not just your regular homeless person. One of those real crazy ones with random things tied to his person. I recall that he had a woman’s high heel, fashioned with holes through the sides, tied to his waistband and it just dangled there from his side. Where did he GET that shoe? I looked down at my shoes and crossed my ankles and sort of slid them under my seat.
He was growling and barking some words I couldn’t understand. After a bit, we discovered that he was “Maaaaaaad Max!” as he swung one strong, balled fist into his chest. You could hear the hollow THUMP each time he did it. If he did that to me, I would be doubled-over and out of breath but it almost seemed to recharge him and he would growl his name even louder, “I am Maaaad Max. You don’t want to FUCK with me!”
And for sure, he was right. Everyone on the train that we had been exchanging happy smiles with moments earlier, they were now all looking at their shoes — perhaps wondering if they would lose their shoes on this train ride? Sure, we were riding underground, but that didn’t stop the passengers from staring out their windows into the black blur of the tunnel.
“You bumbaclots don’t want to FUCK with me!” He was holding with both hands to the pipework that went from floor to ceiling, stretching his body across the entire breadth of the train. He was stomping too, which was causing the train to sort of rock as it rocketed forward on the tracks.
I won’t lie. I was scared. All of my experience with homeless people, even the crazy ones, was always pleasant. I had never been around someone so intimidating and scary and CRAZY. And immediately, my panic shifts from my safety to my son’s and I turn to him and realize that he is standing on the seat, holding onto the railing in front of him and giggling and MIRRORING MAD MAX’S MOVEMENTS!
Oh, it’s so entertaining to him to watch this man shout things that he couldn’t understand and beat his chest! My son is swinging his little shrimpy arm around and baby-booming on his bitty chest and then giggling, “Max! Mad Max!”
So, immediately, I use my arm to kick his legs out from under him, swiftly landing him right on his butt. I lean in really close and whisper, “Please don’t do that.”
He seems hurt a bit but I do not give a damn because in my mind, all I could see was one of his “shiny shoes” laced through the loop on Mad Max’s belt.
All of this occurred during one stop. Mad Max got off the train, still shouting at all of us and none of us really, pleading with us to not fuck with him. The collected sigh of relief when he got off the train was followed by a break-out of giggles and, “Holy shit!”s all around me. Everyone turned their heads and we all just reassured one another, “We made it. God damn it, nobody died!” And the Marta kept rocketing forward for a few more stops until it was time for us to depart and head over to the show.
Needless to say, as cool as the show was, Mad Max sort of ruined it. There was no way watching some broads and Santas dance around and kick would be as thrilling as a run-in with a character like that.