I took the kids to the park yesterday. I swear, I think I have a sign floating over my head that only bums can see. So often I get approached.
Now, lots of times, I'll go out of my way to seek a needy person out, and talk to that person and ask if there is anything I can do to help, etc. Just a week or so ago, I ended up having a delightful conversation that even ended in prayer (the prayer was his suggestion, not mine), with tears streaming down our faces as we interceded for this homeless man's sick wife who had kicked him out. Beautiful prayer to Jesus.
Well, yesterday was not so wonderful. But not really really bad either. I'm sitting on the bench watching my son practice his skating in the skate park. He was going down into the empty-pool-like basins designed for skaters and skate boards. His first time ever at the park, on in-line skates. He was doing alright for a beginner, and the very few older guys that were there were mostly just sitting around talking, with an occasional swoop on the skate board for either showing off or fun, or both.
So, this homeless-looking man sits down next to me and introduces himself: Wayland...perhaps. I barely caught his name because his speech was so slurred. Was he drunk? He didn't smell drunk but he sort of sounded it. Or he'd had so much drink in his life that this was his normal mode. Something. I kept waiting for him to ask for money but he didn't. Soon he is watching my son. Soon he is cheering my son on, and giving obnoxious unsolicited advice. I told him to lay off on the advice, that my son is a beginner and just needs to get a feel for things himself. He apologized and we went back to watching. But soon he started up again, with the advice. "Hey buddy, you need to bend you knees, and then pop up when you hit the rim!" There was no rim-hitting or popping happening. More like enthusiastic wobbling, and this supposed Dogtown retiree just would. not. stop. He had told me he was from whatever place in California skating stemmed from. Whatever. I've watched Dogtown, too, you know.
I had to go check on the girls. After giving a push on a swing, I wandered back over to where my son was, and this man was over there, WITH him, coaching him, etc.
I gave a pointed look up to the group of young men/guys sitting on the edge of the skate rink. You got my back? I thought it, and I think they got it.
"Hi, what did you say your name was? Wayland? Come here, we need to talk!" Mamabear mode: I led him out of the skate rink. Then I nicely let him have it: "Listen, you are a stranger at a park and he's a kid. I really need for you to quit talking to him and leave him alone!" Wayland got it, muttered an apology and left. I felt very good about being assertive.
Then the young men called out to me: "We are so sorry, we totally thought he was with you, otherwise we would have gotten rid of him for you!" Was that chivalry? Or just convenient words? At least I felt safer, like they WOULD have helped me if I'd have needed help.
One young man, who was so graceful on his skateboard it was breathtaking to watch, came over and introduced himself and shook my hand. The owner of Hellbellies Skate Shop. My son was having some trouble with the clasps on his ill-fitting blades (thrift store, what can I say?) and he gave us a bit of advice.
Savvy buisnessman, that graceful Evan with the goatee and earrings. I hope I can patronize his shop someday.