You could almost have seen it coming.
I was talking to a Berkeley Mental Health commissioner outside the Caffe Med, about mental health, Thursday, when my old friend Michael moved in. Michael has experimented with schizophrenia for the thirty-five years I've known him.
I say "experimented" because Michael is one of those schizophrenics who seem to relish it. Still, he certainly topped himself, Friday.
He was together enough, according to the look-the-other-way system that makes me the cold-blooded mammal I am. He moved into my conversation with the mental health commissioner, greeting me, disrupting the conversation, and shoulder butting me, in a friendly way.
He was mildly demented. This time, though, he seemed amused by it all. Any paramedic would have called it mania.
I had noticed him earlier, going through the most-shopped trash can in all of Berkeley--the one not far from the door of the Caffe Mediterraneum. The pickings were lean. But something always turns up.
He pulled out a plastic bag full of empty styrofoam containers, and twirled it above his head.
Although, I didn't speak with Michael until later, in the evening, I was aware of his movements, as he darted about the Med. He seemed momentarily cured, as he spoke with me of mutual friends. I hoped he wouldn't threaten me.
Thirty-five years ago, our friends--his roommates--warned me that Michael was "dangerous."
Six months ago I had offered to walk him to treatment, at an agency downtown.
Last week I warned the owner of the Med to keep an eye on Michael, having previously vouched for him.
Perhaps my conflicted views on Michael stem from my own shaky mental health, which was what the health commissioner and I were discussing earlier. Later, I saw the name of my condition on the cover of a book being read at an adjoining table.
I browsed the self-help book.
Although Michael had been asked to leave repeatedly, he now was having his way with the Med. I hardly noticed. I was lost in the clouds in my laptop.
Then a cop came in. I was about to tell her that the owner was not in. She was looking for someone.
That someone was Michael, I learned soon enough. And before I could piece it all together, Michael was trapped, like a rat in a trap, at the rear of the caffe up against the counter-rail, in front of the kitchen. There was no way out, and Michael didn't like it.
He was surrounded now by four cops. Every move they made was a threat to him. That's when he contacted his personal field commander, David, and called in the heavy artillery, complete with sound effects.
But his connection was stalling, and he had to keep asking if David was "getting" him.
I found myself digging the whole scene, but suspected that was part of my own mental condition. I hadn't known Michael could be so amusing.
When the cops got Michael out the door, he had a large audience of passersby, who may have thought Telegraph was under siege, beneath the flashing lights of five Berkeley Police squad cars. A fire engine, and a paramedic ambulance, joined the festivities.
Michael might have been playing the crowd, except that he seemed to notice only the paramedics, and cops. He got off a few threats, like "I'm going to kill you," and a paramedic, replied, "we're paramedics; we're here to help you."
On-lookers found it hard to suppress guffaws when Michael said the cops were up his butt.
A street guy, who had had problems with Michael earlier, was saying Michael was getting what he deserved. "I don't care if he is sick; he's a pain in the ass, and I hope they take him away for good," the street guy observed.
But Michael saved his best stuff for his exeunt. As they lifted his gurney into the van, Michael noted, with an amazed glare, "Oh-oh this is a nine balls hoist--a real balls breaker. Watch your balls!"
The incident had cleared the Med, except for hardcore Medheads, who have seen it all. I was questioned by a cop, after identifying myself as a long-time friend of Michael's. The cop was glad to learn Michael's name, and place of birth, but I didn't know what meds he needed, or how to contact his friends.
The old crowd we hung with at the Med thirty years ago is gone, and I realized I had been long out of touch with Michael--except for when he is driven into the streets.
Ted Friedman has written extensively on the Med for the Planet. Google: tedberkeleydailyplanetmed to see other Med stories.