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‘That’s what the police officer keeps asking’

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POSTED April 19, 2017 1:29 a.m.

As I was jogging down Cowell Avenue to cross Moffat Boulevard to reach the Tidewater to head south toward Sedan Avenue Monday at noon, a figure was sitting crouched over on the concrete near the fence line of the self-serve fueling station.
I see plenty of homeless individuals every day going to and from home in the Powers Tract neighborhood whether it’s during daylight or returning from work in the wee hours of the morning. This one looked different. I couldn’t tell if it was a he or she as I kept jogging. The only thing I could make out for sure was a large green plastic saucer-shaped disc like kids use to ride down short slopes of snow, an umbrella, blanket and a backpack.
I was bugged but didn’t know why. Fifty-five minutes later on my return, the individual was still there, virtually in the same position. From the angle I was now jogging it definitely looked like a young man. I continued jogging, got home, showered, did some chores, and headed out an hour later.
For whatever reason I swung back by the fueling station though it wasn’t in the direction I was going. The items were still there but now he had moved across the street and was curled up in a ball sitting on the dirt between the Tidewater Bike Path and the sidewalk.
I flipped my Escape around and pulled over. I got out, walked over and kneeled next to him. He was looking down holding an old dirty cigarette butt that he must have retrieved from the ground or from rifling through a garbage can.
I asked if he was OK. He looked up and I was taken aback.
He looked like my 19-year-old nephew but only younger. His eyes were clear. There was a yellowish tattoo on his arm. His hair was long but not disheveled and it looked clean. His clothes appeared just a tad worn with the strategic prerequisite “fashionable” hole at the knee. He could have passed for a high school student.  Trying to read his eyes I’m not too sure whether he was fearful or lost in his own world. And while I’m not a drug expert by any means, he didn’t look like he was under the influence of anything.
I asked again if he was OK.  He asked if I had a cigarette.
I said I didn’t smoke and again asked if he was OK.
“I’m OK,” he said in an even voice.
I then asked his age.
“Thirty-two,” he replied after a few seconds.
If this kid was 32 then I’m 99.
“Are your sure you’re 32?” I asked.
“That’s what the police officer keeps asking,” he replied looking straight into my eyes without a hint of malice. He continued looking at me with what can be described as sad puppy dog eyes with a touch of confusion added into the mix. “Are those eyes glasses?” he asked.
I said they were. He then started talking fairly animated about ripping his pant leg and how he fixed it, repeating his story four times without getting out of his balled up position while changing his focus back and forth from his left leg and looking me in the eyes.
I asked if he was from Manteca. I couldn’t make heads or tails from his reply although he did reference Stockton. I asked whether he had eaten lately, if he needed some help, and again if he was OK and if he was really 18. Each time he said he was OK and then he added “that is what the police officer keeps asking.”
At this point I realized he was on the radar of the police. It was clear he had some mental health issues.
Whether I liked it and regardless of what I thought, he was OK under the eyes of the law meaning 50 plus years of court rulings.
And since I’ve experienced helping take someone to San Joaquin General Hospital that said they wanted help but when we got there they were talking to the medical staff coheneretly and saying they didn’t need help, I also knew that there wasn’t much anyone could do if the person says they are OK and isn’t posing a threat to themselves or others.
Most of us may think that someone balled up sitting in the middle of nowhere for hours has the potential to get themselves hurt but that isn’t the way the game is played. The courts have made that clear through the efforts of lawyers arguing for the rights of the mentally ill.
I cannot say with 100 percent certainty that the self-proclaimed 32-year-old young man who looked more like he should be getting ready for the junior prom that being curled up in a ball along Moffat Boulevard has mental health issues or whether he had simply become lost in his own world coping with whatever situation he was in.
He asked again for a cigarette and I told him I had none and asked again if he was OK.
He turned his eyes away and looked toward the ground and without a change in his tone said “I’m OK.”
It was my cue to leave.
Swinging by after work at 1 a.m. the blanket and umbrella were still there by the green plastic saucer, backpack and the kid were gone.
There’s not much we can do about it.
I just hope he’s OK.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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