May 23rd of 2009 was a red-letter day downtown. Not only was Phantom of the Opera playing at the local Theater, but the strangest religious fanatic I’d ever seen was downtown preaching at the ranks upon ranks of elderly white people heading to the theater, and they were scared of him.
This young black man was posted up on the corner across from us, dressed in an embroidered bath towel, wearing a backpack, and carrying a megaphone. Every time that the light would turn green, and the throngs of caucasian elderly would walk towards him, he would get angry and yell this into his megaphone:
“White People! When are you gonna turn from your sinful ways, your wicked ways, your crooked ways and use the bath towel? Negro with the bath towel? NO! Black man with the bath towel!”
Over and over he would yell the same thing. His yells scattering the elderly like a large pair of legs scatters pigeons in the park. They were frightened, some cowered in fear, or walked across the street and out of his way. It took us a long time to decipher what he was saying. When we realized what he was repeating over and over, we became amused.
He yelled into his megaphone for the better part of an hour before the police came and made him leave. When he walked past us he said hello, and seemed completely normal. I remember wondering if it was performance art or a hidden camera thing, but he disappeared and we never saw him again. . .
. . . until Saturday.
Where has he been the last year and a half? I’m not sure, but he followed some people to the front of the restaurant. He stood quietly next to them for a while, waiting for them to politely address him. When this didn’t happen he forced his way into their conversation. The only thing that I heard him say was, “Gentleman, do you have any dirty bath towels?”
One of the guys said, “Sure, but I wash them, and then they aren’t dirty anymore.”
“So you don’t have any dirty bath towels?”
“No, I wash them when they’re dirty.”
“So you haven’t done anything really dirty, really filthy that you’re ashamed of?”
This is where he lost them. “Nope, I have clean bath towels. I don’t let them stay dirty.” The group of men turned their backs on him and shut him out of their circle of conversation. He stood there a moment, and sadly shuffled off down the sidewalk.