This story is about a rather odd encounter I once had when I was desperately trying to track down a topic to write about for my Immersion Workshop.
While the titular character
said things that obviously revealed some kind of insanity, I could not
anticipate the even more insane twist at the end of the day, when her
son got in my face with a camera and threatened me with all kinds of
legal action. Suffice it to say, the whole family was nuts.
sits alone by herself in the middle of the University Town Center,
surrounded by bustling shops and busy people. Wedged between a 24-Hour
Fitness gym, the Edwards Cinema, and the Center for Living Peace is
“Can you donate please?”
come out in a rehearsed gasp. She is old, her face sinking into a pool
of wrinkles. Dark beady Asian eyes stare from behind rectangle lens and
short white hair grows from her scalp. In her hand is a small cap,
jutting out to collect donations.
She sits in a
wheelchair, stuck to the side of a bench like a fixture. Her belly
spills over her lap while shrunken legs lay tucked beneath blankets. She
is covered in patchwork quilts; layers of jacket and sweater protect
her from the cold. A dark scarf wraps around her neck. The sky is
cloudless and the sun is sinking. It is late afternoon.
had better watch out for the mafia. The mafia are everywhere. They will
poison you like they poisoned my husband.” The words come out easily,
despite her physical effort. The bottom half of her mouth squirrels
independently from the rest of her face, a row of bad teeth sloshing in
the cradle of her jaw. Spittle threatens to spill with every word, but
she pauses enough times in her speech to keep it in her mouth.
“Can you donate?”
man empties a handful of coins into her cap. She tucks the hat into her
body and the money mysteriously disappears. She sticks the cap out
again, now devoid of money.
“Can you donate?”
Murals of bright colors and happy slogans saying to “Find your place” are painted on the walls across from her.
you take vitamins?” she asks. “Do you take vitamins? It is very
important to take vitamins. It keeps you strong. My husband, he was
eating at a restaurant, but then the mafia poisoned him, as soon as he
get to the door, he drop dead. Just like that. I lose 50 billion
dollars. They stole 50 billion from us. The mafia are after me, I have
to pay, I have to pay so much, 500, 10,000.” Her speech is hard to
understand, her words slurring together.
On the bench
beside her is a white plastic bag filled with clothes. It is placed
neatly.Another person walks by, makes a show of checking his pockets,
and says “Sorry, I have no money.” He takes a couple steps, stops, and
puts a dollar in, “Oh, here you go.”
She doesn’t thank the man. She peers to her left and to her right, waiting for more opportunities for donations.
people ignore her; some have the courtesy to say “I’m sorry,” and few
deposit bills into her cap. The crowd is diverse: students, couples,
shoppers, and business people all walk by without a second glance.
The custodian comes to empty the garbage bags. The wheels of the plastic cart he pushes grates against the concrete.
woman? Yes. She don’t bother me. She not a problem,” he laughs. “She
shows up starting this year. Her brother takes her here at 5:00 until
about 8:00. I see police but I don’t want trouble.”
her? Yeah I know her,” Francisco, a student at UCI says. “I saw her
there last year, last month, and this year too. It’s kind of a mystery.”
Even more mysterious are the things she says. Nobody stops, so nobody ever hears it.
“My ancestors used to have good land. The kingdom ruled over mountain and underground. We used to be so rich.”
She goes on to speak of fairy tale kingdoms, of wars and arrowheads.
It’s getting late, almost 9:00. She dislodges herself from the bench and puts herself in the middle of the path.
trio of girls comes across Cathy. They stop to talk with her. Two of
them leave and one stays behind. The one who stays is Marissa. She sits
on the bench, hoping to keep Cathy company. The other girls return with a
cup of coffee. Cathy doesn’t accept the drink.
“I can’t drink it.”
A few minutes later, the girls bring a box of rice for her.
“Oh no, I cannot eat this.”
The girls are puzzled.
“Didn’t you say you wanted to eat some rice?” one of them asks.
“I cannot eat rice you see.”
asked for a sandwich but then you didn’t want one. We offered to get
you a sandwich,” the girl says, pointing to Lee’s Sandwiches.
“Oh no, it is too much for me. I cannot eat this,” she drops the bag of rice to the ground.
The girls are offended.
“Why did you do that?” Marissa asks. “You don’t just throw food to the ground. Didn’t you say you were hungry?”
can I trust the food? How do I know that you not mafia too? You try to
poison me? Besides, I have food at home. It has everything I need,
supplement, B1, B2, B3, all vitamins. Don’t worry about me.”
“We just don’t want to give you money because we want to make sure that you’re using it correctly. We want to get you food.”
“No, it’s okay.”
do you want us to keep you company?” Cathy’s nose is dripping. She
takes a tissue to wipe it.“You see, they killed my husband and stole my
money. They stole 50 billion dollars. My husband was an inventor. He
made the nuclear submarine, the ultrasonic sonar, but the mafia killed
him. The banks own the mafia and Illuminati controls the United States.
They use microwaves.” She regales the trio with tales of fantasy
kingdoms and conspiracies.
The girls are agitated, staring at the old woman with scrunched faces and pity.
A drunken bicyclist crashes 10 feet away.
“We have to go now,” they say, “can we pray for you?”
“You don’t need to pray for me, I pray for myself everyday you see, I pray that I don’t get poisoned by mafia.”
Despite her protests, Marissa blesses her.
“May the lord be with you.”
Marissa and the other girls leave.
11:00. The night chill is enough to make breath visible. Cathy now
wears a red beanie over her head. She has sat in the same place without
eating for six hours, asking for donations all the while.
a silver Toyota stops by the curb. A man comes out dressed in a blue
track suit. He isn’t too old with short black hair. He walks briskly
towards Cathy, grabs the plastic bag of her belongings, and starts
wheeling her towards the car.
“Who are you?” he asks, eyes
wide, momentarily stopped in his pushing of the wheel chair. “I’m her
son and she has been a victim of mortgage fraud! No I won’t give you my
name! Do you know that you can’t ask for that kind of sensitive
information in this day and age? My nephew is the assistant DA of Los
Angeles. I will sue you; I will charge you right now if you are in any
way associated with the banks.” He continues to make legal threats and
finally leaves, pushing his mother towards the car.
The man comes back again, with a Sony HD camcorder in hand. He begins an interrogation, taping for evidence.
“Are you working for the banks?”
asking a couple questions, he forgets his recording task, and tilts the
camera aside to go into a tirade about how the banks controlled
everything in the country.
“Don’t you know that California
is corrupt? Name any judge or attorney here and I can tell you that
they’ve taken millions of dollars in bribes. You are a fool to believe
in university education. The communist country, North Korea, we came
from North Korea, and its communist right? Well you know what, this
country is even worse than North Korea! That’s why my mother needs to
gather donations. Because the government—the banks—stole everything. My
father was a scientist, but they targeted him. They’re targeting me, and
if you print what I’m saying, you’ll become like me. I’ve filed charges
for assault and conspiracy but they don’t do anything, because they
control the system.” He continues to ramble on. “Yes, I got a degree,
I’m an engineer, but I was fooled back then, and the same is happening
Just as abruptly as he started ranting, he turns
around and leaves without saying goodbye. They disappear into the night,
only to repeat the same song and dance until something gives.
"Can you donate?"