Last July, I was three weeks into living on my own in St. Louis, with two new tires replacing the ones which had blown out on the same street on two different days, and driving around a part of town I honestly can’t pinpoint even now. Knowing how I was back then, though, I was
probably definitely in one of the worst parts of the county. Still, after my relentless hunt for jobs either took a nosedive for the day, or the temperature hit something below 80 degrees, I would drive around the city, from Normandy to Ladue, from The Loop to downtown, from SLU to Fenton, or from Maryland Heights to Crestwood. Nothing was off my radar, because getting to know this city was first on my agenda.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and the humidity was God-awfully high. The air condition in my car, per usual, was blowing nothing but the air from outside in, and I could feel myself progressively becoming more and more dehydrated. It was nearing the early evening anyways, I thought, and decided to get something to eat.
Jack in the Box sat on the corner of a relatively busy, but run down street. I remember the parking was an absolute pain, and the entrance on one side was locked, so I had to go around the entire building to get to the other entrance, and was met with some really bizarre, glaring looks from people eating food. At the time, I was still experiencing a bit of a culture shock, and adjusting to small businesses being crowded with people at such an odd time of a day still made me feel weird, and I specifically remember their looks making me uncomfortable.
Regardless, I got my food and sat down, and everyone else left shortly thereafter. Finally, I thought, it was quiet. No more yelling, no more awkward glares from total strangers, just quiet.
And then walks in this man, proudly claiming his every step, and quite obviously reclaiming what he saw as his property. Quite literally, he orders ‘the usual’, hit on any human that had boobs, and then took a seat behind me, more-or-less talking to himself. Once he got up to pick something off the floor, I nodded at him, and he begins asking me questions.
Wearing cyclist apparel, and spouting a sporadic mannerism, he just starts asking me about everything. Nothing weird or bad, just things. What I had to eat, what I had to drink, what I think of the weather, what I think of the black people in St. Louis, what I think of the economy in St. Louis, so on and so forth. He was nice enough, but the entire time he would ask me question after question, and hurriedly finish down whatever it was he was chewing on, something seemed different compared to the other customers now sitting around the restaurant. Homeless was my best guess, but never had any sort of actual proof either way. Regardless, he seemed very genuine, and comfortable with himself and who he was.
I ask him for his name, and I believe he said Steve. Steve tells me his life story, starting from last 2011 when he went to prison! Yes, prison. What for? I have no idea, because I never cared to ask. But, if you can imagine what a bald, Tour de France-like, tattoo-wielding man might look like, picture that, and imagine why I might not ask. He was not on parole, but happily bragged that he had finished his time in prison after nearly two years.
“I’d never do that shit again,” he told me with a hint of regret.
Steve shows me his impressive leg tattoo an inmate drew for him for $150 (I’m assuming that’s cheap for something that size, because I know next to nothing about tattoos), and be bragged about how incredible some of the inmates are, “aside from the blacks”. His random stories about prison life led to wanting to convincing me prison life isn’t as dangerous as one might believe.
If he’s right he’s right, and if he’s wrong, he’s wrong.
Steve asked me about my views on religion, cutting me off before I could even answer, saying, “It’s cool if you aren’t, man, I just think we all need some sort of religion, you know?” to which I nod and say that I believe in God. He sort of halfway smiles, and then shows me one of his other tattoos.
Turns out Steve is also a Neo-Nazi! The same inmate who drew the leg tattoo also gave him quite a remarkably large swastika on his right shoulder blade, and he flaunted the ink and his nazism higher than about anything else previously mentioned. It was then that all of the blatant racism, clothing style and bald hair came together and just slapped me right in this face.
“I’m talking to a fucking (Neo-)Nazi.”
There aren’t too many things in conversation that make me at a loss for words, but this was certainly one of them. I notably became quieter, but not because I was scared or because I was thinking, “Look at this idiot!”. I was quiet, because I was listening. After twenty years of living in a city of the same people with same personalities and same interests, I was all of the sudden looking directly in the face of the polar opposite of what my life had been used to conversing with.
There were all sorts of bizarre comments thrown about, some of which included masturbating in public bathrooms with his mind, and a small story about his ex-wife who found out he was having sex with a McDonald’s employee down the street (in the bathroom), but he kept relating back to beliefs and his life. Steve admitted that his life was not what he wanted, nor was it what he would wish upon anyone else, but he was happy, he was sober, and he’s “pretty sure one of the girls back there (in the kitchen)” wanted his dick.
I definitely didn’t know what to say by the end, to about
any all of what he was saying, but he appreciated me talking with him. Before I left, after realizing I had been sitting for almost an hour, he cordially invited me to “finding some street bitches” and hanging out if I was ever on that part of town again.
I said thanks, wished him a good day, and left.
Was this experience absolutely bizarre and almost too much at times? Yes, absolutely. The hour I spent in Jack in the Box was different, but that’s why I moved away from Texas, to live a new and different life. My naive, small-city personality absolutely needed to adjust and grow and morph into being comfortable around myself, and around others, in a city with millions of people living around me.
So for that Steve, I say thank you. You single-handedly pushed me out of my cultural bubble and helped open my eyes to something I truthfully never thought would cross paths with me personally. You’re happy with yourself, you’re happy with others, and though you’re most likely homeless, you make yourself as approachable as anyone else.