Do not coddle the mentally ill

Walking into Safeway yesterday, I encountered an increasingly common sight.  A woman, dressed bizarely in a shiny purple outfit and pushing a grocery cart was haranguing people walking down the sidewalk.  I can only assume her behavior was at least in part modified by the tall beer can she was drinking from, further evidenced by the shopping cart she was pushing ahead of her that contained, in addition to her belongings, the empty remnants of more beer.

Toothlessly leering in the fashion of a methamphetamine connoisseur, she staggered up to people and swore at them, occasionally grabbing her breasts and pumping them.  With the maniacal precision of someone who has decided she is exempt from any possible implied social contract, she stalked up to cars and shouted into their cabins at the startled faces of newcomers, then lurched back towards the sidewalk to scatter pedestrians with her raving.

Intrigued, I activated the camera function of my phone and was prepared as I walked past.

“Say, would you mind smiling?  I’ve never taken a picture of a crazy person before”, I called out brightly and with a smile.

The suddenly shy woman ducks behind a pillar
The suddenly shy woman ducks behind a pillar

In a flash, her chemically affected exuberance at causing discomfort snapped inwards and she spun about, hiding her face as I took a picture.  Assuming this to be an accident, I followed her around a pillar to get a followup picture, but she hid her face and kept evading.

I glanced up as a pedestrian passed and smiled.  “Shucks,” I said, putting away my camera, “she seems to be a bit camera shy.”  To my surprise, I received a withering look that suggested that _I_ was somehow in the wrong in this situation, that my refusal to substitute pity for amusement was somehow indicative of a deep seated personality flaw on my part.  I suspect that she hadn’t considered the alternative, that I’m simply an asshole, and that part of being an asshole is being unwilling to treat adults as children.

Folks, at what point do we stop giving a free pass to the mentally ill or addicts who veer through our neighborhoods, menacing our kids and yellow profanities at the top of their lungs?  At what point do we call them on their bullshit?

Do not coddle them.  If people do stupid things or behave badly, say something.  You may be providing a vital service to someone who believes their actions are acceptable because society never tells them otherwise.

4 thoughts on “Do not coddle the mentally ill”

  1. If only more people realized that half of the ‘mentally ill’ population just needs a kick in the ass.

  2. You are, alas, kind of late on the scene with the “just get tough on them” approach. Doesn’t actually work, unless you get more draconian, which even you probably don’t advocate. It turns out that their problem isn’t generally just a matter of getting too much slack, as appealing at that analysis might be emotionally.

    “Amusement” comes in varied textures. Some is clever, some is whimsical, and some is just mean spirited intimidation. You seem to cover the gamut in your often clever blog, but this is not in one of the more entertaining of those categories. I’m not offended exactly, but mean spirited stuff is kinda of boring – dumb jerks are not exactly a limited resource to be cultivated. Your blog would have been less interesting you had had simply decided to stay up the next night and shoot the raccoon. (You would have had some posters who loved that simple ending too). This post is your “just shoot it and shut up” equivalent. I’m glad you were more creative with the raccoon.

    The people who do sometimes benefit from being “called on their bullshit” are those with well functioning consciences, or at least a partially functioning sense of how to live among a social species. Like perhaps you, or me.

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