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You've probably seen him. He hollers from the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue into westbound traffic stalled along the Pike/Pine corridor. He's also been haranguing passengers on the #7 downtown bus with his nearly incomprehensible rant for a year and a half now. His voice is shot and he has no upper teeth. His eyes are jaundiced but intense. The worn cardboard sign propped under his chin reads: "Frye Apt and Seattle police is Communist! You Communist are damn liar! Stop you devil stop!"
For the record, his name is Pedro. He's a slight, wiry, 57-year-old Cuban refugee dressed perennially in a red flannel shirt, brown slacks, and a yellow ball cap on which is inscribed, in neon blue ink, "Yes God so loved Yes." And here, phonetically, is what Pedro's rant sounds like:
"Seattle police gibby moh-ney. Ebry-bohdey in Seattle for righta Red China a poppy for gibbah meh trio-bley for meh. For me, dey tohkey a people de Seattle police is communist!"
He repeats this, over and over, with an apostolic zeal. It's hard not to stare. The diatribe, once you get a handle on it, contains all the information you need in order to understand the bent anger that drives Pedro. It's getting a handle, though, that's difficult; all day you can see people straining to understand what the hell he's saying. From across the street folks stop and gawk; drivers roll down their windows and crane their necks.
"Seattle police are killing me," Pedro tells me, making a rapid slashing gesture across his throat with his right hand. He gives himself three or four months, tops. (When I ask him how the cops are killing him, he gives me a look that says, "You are an idiot.") The elements of the alleged conspiracy that have resulted in Pedro's homelessness and the perceived threat to his existence are vast, though they do contain something of a thematic consistency: the Seattle police, Jesus Christ, Cuba and Castro, Mexico and immigration, Catholicism and atheism, Kennedy and Vietnam, and, of course, communists and communism. "I no like communists," says Pedro, adding that "in this city, many, many, many people like the Cuban president."
(By the way, the back of his sign, which he never shows, reads: "Jesus of Nazareth. Power of God. Jesus is. Yes he is. I am the Son of God.")
Here is a stitched-together synopsis of Pedro's concerns: Seattle police officers are taking money from Castro, which makes them--along with all Catholics--de facto communists. Some time back, these same police officers were given money by an unspecified source as a bribe to evict Pedro from his apartment. By a leap of logic that is eminently clear to Pedro, everyone in Seattle is suspected of composing and signing a document ("ebry-bohdey in Seattle for righta Red China a poppy" translates to "everybody in Seattle for writing and signing a paper") that got him booted from his home, sent to prison, and thus unjustly stigmatized.
It's uncertain whether Pedro believes that everyone in Seattle qualifies as either a victim or perpetrator of communist chicanery; he does demand, however, that every last person in the city be compelled to appear before the high court of the United Nations in order to be tried as such.
Speaking to Pedro is difficult; he's irascible and grouchy, alternating between displays of warmth and disgust. He yells at me occasionally, or stomps off dismissively, waving his hand to shoo me away. "Leave me alone!" he barks. "I no have time for this!" Sometimes, when I repeat back to him what I think he's said in an attempt to verify a word or a phrase, Pedro gets up in my face and growls, "You no LISTEN!" Other times he brings me right into his confidence, eyes blazing.
When I explain to Pedro that people don't understand what he's saying, he gets really pissed. "People understand!" he yells. I tell him I'm a reporter, and that I only want to clarify his message. His eyes widen. "I no have time for you," he says and walks away.
Dan Boule, a manager at the Pottery Barn on Sixth and Pine, claims that Pedro has caused very little disruption to business. Boule says that, for customers and employees both, Pedro's rant is "more of a conversation piece than anything else." As with so many others, Boule is curious about the meaning of Pedro's message. "I don't have a clue what he's talking about," he says. "I just wish I knew."
When I finally get Kirby Brown, the current manager of Frye Apartments (after the cops, Pedro's least favorite "communists") on the phone, he says that, yes, he's aware of Pedro's allegations, though he will neither confirm nor deny whether Pedro was ever a resident of Frye's subsidized housing. "I've seen him there," says Brown. "He's had that sign and that message... for quite a few years."
Brown would rather discuss the crisis presently confronting low-income housing than Pedro's accusations, citing recent cuts in social services and funding for mental health in the King County area. Frye Apartments, which has offered subsidized housing since the early '70s, offers 234 units for very low-income people at a cost of one-third of their income. Frye currently has about 600 names on its waiting list. "The demand we have here is tremendous," says Brown.
When I bring our conversation back around to Pedro, Brown pauses. "I've been asked about him a number of times," he says. "I see him as a person with some critical unmet needs. I wish he could be helped somehow."
Pedro, for his part, insists that all he wants is "an apartment or a room." He's adamant about not being characterized as a panhandler. "Me no want the money," he says, shaking his head, "no want it." When asked where he lives now, Pedro doesn't answer, but gives me a hostile glare. And whenever the light turns red, he immediately turns away from me to take up his rant. "Seattle police gibby moh-ney," he starts in.
At one point in our conversation, a pair of beat cops stroll past on the sidewalk behind us. "Hi!" one of them yells jauntily over to Pedro. "Have a nice day!" Pedro spins and stands frozen for a second, then hunches himself as though for a fight. "Why for you kill me?" he asks. "Why for you kill me?" The cops just walk away.
Pedro watches them round the corner, then he turns back to face me. He comes in close. "You hear?" he says, grinning. "I said, 'Why for you killing me?'"