I was ten minutes into a morning tennis lesson with my ex wife and her son, when an older man came up to me from outside the fence when I was picking up balls for the next drill. He had something to tell me, that was clear.
He wore the sleek attire of a serious athlete. He was probably on a routine fitness walk through the park. He held out a phone and informed me that he had just called 911 because a man inside a portable toilet, the one I was now looking at 30 yards away from the court, had apparently trapped himself inside, was screaming, and also attempting to free himself with a knife, even though he had apparently chained himself inside.
Phone man had been walking by the toilet and heard the commotion, tried to aid the trapped man, something went wrong, there was cursing and pounding, threats, and thus, the call. It didn’t make much sense to me and was happening very, very fast.
“He’s crazy,” said phone man. “And he has a knife and I wanted to warn you. He might be coming out and over here.”
I’ve played a lot of Oregon tennis in my life, and….forget it…all of the old ways are out the Oregon window for good. An encounter with a homeless person while playing tennis on a public outdoor court is going to happen, so buck up, maybe bring along an extra racket, and see if he or she wants to join the lesson.
I am not kidding. I am not being facile. Stick a racket in his fucking hand and let’s play! I might learn something new about this issue that can only originate across the net. Tennis is great for conversation.
My ex and her some came over and listened to phone man conclude his report. So did the the two older women playing on the other court. The homeless man reading a book in the grass while his dog snoozed near him, didn’t notice a thing.
Phone call man seemed nervous and started wandering away. I didn’t really blame him, but suggested he should probably stick around because he made the call and knew the details. He said nothing. I went over to the gate to the court and tried closing it. It was so beaten up that it didn’t really fit so I kicked the son-of-a-bitch into place and latched the handle.
Then…the man in the portable toilet wasn’t in the portable toilet anymore. He came out swearing “fuck you” and “fucking” this and that. He was thin, tall, with scraggly black hair, wearing red, and exuded the unmistakable look of an unhinged homeless man. He looked toward the courts and directed his fury at phone man and kept screaming that “you didn’t have to fucking call it in” and “fuck you.”
The phone man said he was trying to help. He was concerned for screaming man’s welfare.
“Fuck you. I don’t need your fucking help. Fuck you,” and “fuck” this and “fuck” that.
Screaming man made a slight move toward the courts.
This is really happening. My ex looked at me. I looked at her, the kid, the two woman, and the screaming man outside the fence. I sized up escape routes. Was I going to have to batter this maniac senseless with a tennis racket? He was a lot bigger than me and out of his mind.
The screaming man produced some kind of wooden staff, or walking stick or weapon from the toilet, a real heavy duty Moses-grade implement.
He then threw it to the ground, picked up a garbage bag, and headed away from us into another part of the park, yelling “fuck” this and “fuck” that the whole time.
Everyone calmed down. The 911 man maneuvered away.
Those of us on the court held a brief discussion. We tried figuring out what had just transpired.
The tennis lesson resumed.
Five minutes later, a Portland police SUV rolled up on an access road above the park. I left the court and sprinted up a bark-dusted slope to give the officers the lowdown. They emerged from the SUV: a young bearded man slighter than me, and a woman with gelled-up, spiked hair and a tiny neck tattoo.
I gave my report. I used the word “rigmarole,” in what context I no longer recall. The officers left to investigate. I wouldn’t want this fucking job. What if they encountered the man and he had a knife? Right there in a park with kids and moms and walkers all around? What if they had rolled up to the court and he was brandishing a knife and the five of us were inside the fence holding him off with tennis rackets.
It could have happened. Then what?
Lesson three in a week.