Over ten years ago, I started doing historical demonstrations of pioneer living. I called it Homesteading 101. I've been traveling to classrooms of every grade, senior centers, museums, libraries, and various venues to share how the hearty Pioneers survived making their own threads and yarns, cloth, butter, cheese, candles, soap, and bread. Quite often I'd have to find my way to a public school in a gritty part of a downtown urban neighborhood, lugging a weaving loom and a canvas bag full of filthy raw sheep fleece. Frequently, I'd find myself lost in transit to distant locations, struggling for nearby parking, battling flights of stairs with loads of cumbersome equipment, or jammed up in New Jersey traffic turned parking lot. I soon learned to leave a big window of time for any such delay.
Recently, on my way to a senior citizen's retirement community with all the equipment for a captivating historical bread making demonstration including a grain mill, several pounds of whole wheat grain, and loaves of freshly baked whole wheat bread, I found myself in fast flowing traffic heading north on the Garden State Parkway. I was ahead of schedule, encountering no traffic problems, and on my way to a group that has invited me back repeatedly for my "edu-taining" programs and workshops. It was a good day.
Shortly before my exit, however, there was trouble on the side of the Parkway. A mini-van was pulled over to the shoulder and I saw a young adult woman standing, a middle-aged man pacing, and a stout black woman my age gesturing and working a cell-phone. Relieved it wasn't my problem of the day, I veered into the middle of the three lanes to pass by, when the woman came around the front of her van held her phone out in front of her with one hand and her other hand out waving. She caught my eye directly as I passed, and pleaded with genuine earnest desperation, "HELP ME! PLEASE HELP ME!" She meant it.
I veered back into the slow lane and immediately pulled onto the shoulder and backed up our Dodge mini-van close to the front of their van and waited while she came up along the passenger side of the car, across the front, and to my window which I lowered with the automatic button as she approached. Holding her cell phone out again, she said, "Help me, thank you for stopping, I need you to call 911." I said, "What's going on?" and she held out her arm, still with the cell phone in hand, and showed me three successive large, deep, well defined, human bite marks that were fresh, raw, and real. The poor woman's skin had been so wounded, that her dark black skin was now sickly pale in the center of each large round raised flesh wound with red blood dotting the teeth impressions.
"Oh, Jesus!!" I exclaimed--"What happened?" she explained that she was a driver for the mentally challenged, and one of her clients had "Gone off" while she was driving.
That would have been Charles. He was the middle aged man I'd seen pacing moments earlier who was now suddenly in the middle of the road in the three-lanes of The Garden State Parkway. Cars started to honk and swerve to avoid him as he ran back and forth from lane to lane.
I dialed 911 on my cell phone. Hers was not working.
"Hello, 911, what is your emergency?"
I described the situation, and advised they'd better send police, FAST.
The woman started calling for Charles, as the cars honked and swerved to avoid him. "Charles, get back here! Get out of the road! Charles, come over here.!" She had the authoritative command of a serious black woman who knew how to take control, but she was worried and hurt and her pitch and intensity grew with every shout.
Charles ignored her and by now had removed his shirt, belt and shoes as cars continued to avoid him and his cast off articles of clothing littering several lanes of the Parkway.
The younger woman who until now had remained calm and quiet on the shoulder approached the car. I told the driver to put the young woman in the passenger seat of my van and pushed my electric lock latch to unlock it. The young woman climbed in, and I said, "Hi, I'm Jane. Sorry, you're having a rough day." and she replied, "Yeah, it is, and showed me her arm that had less severe but similar bite marks." She spoke slowly and without emotion--another client, I surmised. Then she said, "But it's my teeth that really hurts." and looked up at me, so I could see her swollen lips and red jaw. Charles had punched her in the mouth! And HARD.
As the traffic whizzed past, horns blaring, tires screeching, Charles reached down into his trousers and pulled and wrangled until he'd released his large white underwear that he began to swing above his head and holler unintelligibly. This, with the constant pleading of the driver for him to come back to the safety of the shoulder, the horns, the speed, the chaos of the few moments sped past with frantic anticipation. I called 911 again as Charles removed his pants and tore off his t-shirt and bit off pieces and spit them out.
I suggested they'd better send an ambulance; this man couldn't avoid being hit by a car much longer.
The woman's non-relenting pleas to Charles finally connected to him somehow, and he approached the car. He came to my window and stood breathing heavily, sweating, naked. I asked, "What are you doing?" and he replied with a sharp, fierce, strong, blow to my arm that was resting on the window ledge. Nonplussed, and with an unintentional Tony Soprano bellow I hollered, "WHOA!" Oh, man-oh-man, it really hurt.
At this point, I still hadn't even put the car in park yet; these events had unfolded so quickly. I slammed the gear shift into park, and leaned over in my seat toward the poor wounded girl in the passenger seat. Charles reached into my window, through to me and grabbed my shirt collar and started to drag me back toward him, with the look in his eyes that suggested he anticipated that I had a very tasty liver, and he would enjoy every bite.
I mashed him off, back into traffic, and pushed the button to roll up the window.
Unfettered, Charles returned to his private world as he removed his socks and used them as a flag-like accessory to whatever delight he was experiencing in his mind. He was stark naked.
By now, an unmarked state Trooper car had arrived and the Trooper stood with the van by the side of the road as he calmly and sedately put on rubber gloves. Charles approached the trooper, and I steeled myself for a dramatic physical scene. The trooper motioned to Charles, and said, "Hey Buddy, why don't you come over here with me?" and they calmly walked over to the unmarked car, Charles sat down on the pavement, and the Trooper put plastic Zip cuffs around his wrists. As simple as that.
The ambulance arrived momentarily, and the two women went off to be attended to, and I put the car in drive and left. My work here was done. Approximately 15 minutes had passed; I was still going to be on-time for my program!
I arrived at the senior center in less than 5 minutes, and I was trembling, my head reeling. I hauled my equipment, set up my grain mill, dramatically poured a tall pile of whole grain, fluffed a large bouquet of wheat sheaves, and was greeted by the familiar and friendly audience anticipating an entertaining tutorial on the history of grains, breads, and a delightful tasting session of home-baked wheat bread over the next 45 minutes. They welcomed me back by name.
"Hello! Phew! A funny thing happened to me on the way to this program today." and I described my encounter from just moments earlier, and took several sips of strong hot coffee in between breaths. The audience was captivated. I wrapped up my story with an 'All's well that ends well', and took a deep breath to begin my program and launched into the varieties of grain around the world.
Approximately 10 minutes into my program, after dispensing invaluable historical information, passing around species of grain plants for inspection and identification, and sharing timeless resources of grain production for our food supply, I took a pause, suggesting this would be a good time for questions from the audience that I might address during the remainder of my presentation. An elderly lady in a wheelchair in the back of the room raised her hand and called out, "Jane, I have a question."
"Okay! I called on her brightly--what's your question?"
"That man was COMPLETELY NAKED?"