He was sitting, slightly sprawled on the sidewalk at the corner of 19th and Market. I could hear him a block away as I walked up 19th. As I got closer, I could see two Philadelphia cops standing over him. Sometimes interacting with him, but mostly just waiting to take him away. Too disturbed and disturbing to be left taking up sidewalk space on one of the city’s main business thoroughfares.
I had a chance to study the scene as I waited for the light to cross Market. Then I had to walk between him and one of the cops. He obviously wasn’t dangerous because they were letting people pass close by. Just loud, black, overweight, and spread out on a busy corner. Not drunk, just quite vociferous.
As I went up the block, I saw a police car speeding down 19th, lights flashing and horn blaring over a speaker. It had to turn on its siren to get across JFK against the light. As it went by, I turned to watch it screech to a stop at the corner of Market. It had come to take him away. A cop car to jail instead of a van to a shelter or an ambulance to a hospital. Cops instead of EMTs or social workers. The cops were being professional, seeming somewhat bored, but not aggravating him. He just didn’t need cops.
As I turned to continue up 19th, I started to cry. He is my brother.
Not loudly or for long. I didn’t want them to take me away, too. I wished I had the knowledge and skills to offer to help, but I knew that an ignorant do-gooder usually just makes things worse.
In addition to personal history, this scene affected me strongly because it contrasted so much with where I had just been. Another wonderful performance by the Camarata Ensemble at the Church of the Holy Trinity at Rittenhouse Square. Mendelssohn’s Piano Quartet No. 3, particularly the 4th movement, roused me from the torpor of an interminable Kodaly piece and lightened my step as I set off from the church to the bus stop on Arch Street.
That walk went from allegro vivace to andante doloroso.