Happy Potato Chip

Two weeks ago, I was waiting for the trolley on the way to work when I saw a man walking on the tracks, holding a soiled roll of toilet paper. He had clearly thoughtfully placed a crap in the full privacy of the tracks. He was coming back, muttering to himself, and as soon as I saw him, my heart jumped. Heart in throat, I surveyed my fellow travelers on the platform switching for the trolley. No one seemed to mind the man walking on the tracks. I looked down the tracks to see if a trolley was coming and if he was in danger–so far, no incoming trolley. I was about a minute in to my time on the platform–I contemplated my options as the man continued walking down the tracks — he was still muttering to himself and the lights of the coming trolley were in the distance, now a few minutes away. I reviewed internally what I knew about crowd behavior, and the behavior of the man. I contemplated what I could do. He approached the edge of the tracks, stepped onto the platform, lost his balance, windmilled his arms, and then got himself back onto the platform. He came towards me, still walking close to the edge of the platform. I was rifling through my mind–how could I approach him kindly and invite him to safety? He was likely psychotic, and perhaps paranoid, muttering to himself constantly. I tried to approach him with kindness–in the most non threatening way I could–and I waved him toward me as he explained as he walked along the edge of the platform as the 34 trolley approached that he was not something (I can’t recall), he was a “happy potato chip”– and he took a step forward, and the trolley pulled into the station, and we both got on, and we were both safe, and I did not know what the day would hold, but my part was done.

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