SJSU is smack in the middle of downtown, as universities often are. In the area are an awful lot of halfway homes and government housing, so the result is that there are a lot of people wandering around that, not so very long ago, would have been locked away in institutions. That means you can't go a day without being ranted at by some dude off his meds or being stopped by a guy asking for change.
Today, I was sitting on a bench a block or two away from school, eating lunch and reading a book. A guy comes up and asks if he can sit next to me. There are other empty benches nearby, but I say, "Sure, go right ahead" and move my lunch detritus off of it. He's got a big paper bag with him, so I assume he's going to eat his lunch.
He introduces himself as Chuck and smiles at me, and I smile back and say it's a pleasure to meet you. He then tells me that I'm pretty in a slow, halting speech that makes me think he's a bit simple, to borrow the old-fashioned phrase. He's also got visible head trauma, although I couldn't tell if the marks on his forehead were scars or still healing. I smile, thank him and return to reading my book.
He sits there quietly, but I'm pretty sure he's watching. He doesn't give off a creepy vibe, exactly. He just seems lonely. He reminds me of those depressed people who go out to commit suicide but secretly hope that somebody, anybody, will stop and talk to them. When I get to the end of the chapter of my book, I take out a piece of paper to scribble some notes. A breeze picks up and the pages start to flutter, so he reaches over and holds the pages down. I thank him, but he doesn't let go until I gently pull the notebook away and put it back in my backpack.
I can't really read with this guy watching me, so I talk to him for a couple of minutes just in case he is just lonely. We talk about very basic things: the weather, the pretty flowers, that sort of thing. He keeps saying that I'm so pretty, but the tone is that of a six year old. I mean, this sounds a bit creepy as I'm typing it, but I didn't really get a creepy vibe from him. He just seemed so sad.
I was careful not to reveal anything about myself save that I was a student, since the combination of backpack + book + taking notes probably made that obvious. After about ten minutes of alternating between stilted conversations (he kept introducing himself and repeating his comments, like he was in a loop) and awkward silences, I made ready to go back to school. I said he was very kind and it was nice to meet him. He asked if he would see me there again, and I said that I did sometimes go there on my lunch break.
Then he asked if he could have a hug, and part of me was like, "Touching a stranger, eep!" but again, he just seemed so lonely! And again, he really seemed to have some sort of mental retardation. Plus, if he tried to do anything to me there were plenty of witnesses around, since I was sitting across from a busy light rail station. So I gave him the hug.
I'm debating whether I want to go back to that area again next week. I mean, it's a nice spot to eat lunch and people watch, and if he's harmless than I don't mind talking to him for a few minutes. But watching all of those "Extreme Forensics" reality TV shows makes me paranoid about talking to strangers. So I'm not sure what I'll do.