The most common comment I received on the previous posting on Bartram’s Garden was about the danger from the people I met, or might have met. But none of those people matched the bizarre behavior I encountered last year just a block away from my own house.
On most warm summer evenings I stroll over to Concord Pike and walk around the Unitarian Church on the corner before going to bed. I like to see the stores closing, workers sweeping and taking out trash just as I did at Pepper’s Pharmacy sixty years ago, and the eerily empty Concord Pike, the traffic lights cycling uselessly above empty lanes.
That night, as I reached the church, I heard drumming, “Boom, da, boom, boom.” Next to the church is a Re/Max office, and sitting on the bench in front was a young black man all dressed in African garb, orange and yellow flowing robes and hat, tapping on an African drum, an impressive and unexpected sight in our neighborhood. The bench was only about 15 feet away from the sidewalk, and it was natural for me to speak. I said something innocuous, like, “Nice night for drumming.”
At that, he jumped up in a rage, eyes wide open, and ran toward me, not directly, but at an angle so that he stopped about six feet away on the sidewalk from where I had come. “What did you say? What did you say?” he screamed at me.
“Whoa, whoa,” I replied. “I just said it was a nice night for drumming.”
“Better be careful—the devil’s gonna get you,” he said slowly with his eyes still widely opened. He then opened his mouth just as wide and hissed loudly, like a cat, “Hissss!”
I was about to explain that the devil is only an anthropomorphic metaphor for whatever a particular society deems as evil (we were, after all, by a Unitarian church) when he hissed loudly again. At that point, I understood he was not connected with reality, and I backed away, making circular motions with vertical palms that I learned in first aid was a calming gesture. I glanced at Concord Pike for someone with a cell phone to call the police, but when I glanced back, he had ducked in the bushes and was gone.
Despite my description, it was not a frightening experience nor did I ever feel in danger. Alone in my territory, he seemed more afraid of me, and I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, he would not endanger his expensive costume and drum. Besides, I can still outrun any dude in a robe when properly motivated.