Yesterday, waiting outside Videomatica/ Zulu for a bus to get me to the West Coast Express, I noticed, some blocks away, across 4th Ave, a hostile, raging drunk shouting at the top of his lungs and angrily gesticulating, beer can in hand, as he walked. I couldn't quite make out what he was saying, but as he got closer, it became apparent that a key theme of his rant was "the criminal is dead!"
No doubt some of my fellow bus-stop-waiters felt the same trepidation as I did when they saw that he was crossing the street to join us. Sitting at the centre of the bench, he continued his raging, obscenity-rich, intermediate-ESL rant, and everyone moved a little further away from him. "He's a criminal! He focking deserve it! Focking media love him but he a focking CRIMINAL! I know da troot! They suck my dick! The criminal is DEAD!"
Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I walked over. "Hey buddy - who's the criminal?" But I had a pretty good guess ready. Stubby and dark-complected, the guy had a definitely South American look to him, and I'd read the day before that Hugo Chavez was in delicate condition; I hadn't caught the headlines that morning, but it seemed a pretty good guess. I know that many Venezuelans dislike Chavez, regarding him as a corrupt dictator, despite his success at wooing leftists and media-types in the west; certainly all my Venezuelan students, when I taught ESL, were pretty much unanimous on the topic of Chavez.
After buddy confirmed that indeed he WAS indeed talking about Hugo Chavez, I checked one more thing with him. "You're Venezuelan, right?"
Like I needed to ask.
He actually seemed a bit calmer after our exchange. I tried to validate his feelings a little - "I know - the media DO love Chavez up here, but I know a lot of Venezuelans hate him."
"He a focking criminal!"
"Well, you should be happy, then!" (This was an unsuccessful attempt to redirect his mood). "A lot of these people probably think you're crazy" - this was an unsuccessful attempt to call his attention to the reception he was getting - "but I understand" (if all else fails, validate his feelings, let him know he's being heard).
After that, a few of my fellow bus-stop-waiters came over to ask me in hushed tones what he was going on about and I explained and I think it actually helped make people a little less afraid of him, to know the context of his rage. You gotta extend people a little indulgence when it comes to being oppressed by tyrants (not that it's at all clear to me that that's what Chavez was). Then the bus arrived - of course, it was the same bus *I* was waiting for - and he calmly got on and took a seat, toning down his routine for the first few minutes.
Eventually he started up again, at first on the level of angry mutterings, then getting louder and louder as we crossed the bridge, until everyone could hear him and he was raging full-on. Standing near the front, I made sure the driver knew what was going on; fortunately, he was an affable type, who joked that we should sing the Venezuelan national anthem (if only we knew it) and told me that he saw his job as being less about driving a bus than about "compensating for bad behaviour." Just before my stop, I checked in with Mr. Venezuela again, to try to calm him down a bit, without actually telling him to do so (since no doubt saying that would just have fuelled his rage further).
Poor Venezuelan guy: not only is he now likely hungover as hell, he has to face the news: Hugo Chavez is likely still alive. Though perhaps not for much longer.
Later, on the train, I texted a few friends to say that I'd had a "chat" with a drunk angry Venezuelan on the theme of the criminal being dead. Alas, I managed to type "chant" instead. As colourful an image as that produces - myself and a small brown drunk dude chanting "the criminal is dead! the criminal is dead" - I'm simply nowhere near that passionate about Venezuelan politics, so if you received that text, be advised...
Update: okay, drunk Venezuelan, NOW you can go rage on the bus.