I made myself available to listen and this is what people told me


Over the weekend, I participated in citydrift/Portland, “a three-day meta-event” that took place in Portland. I am still not clear on what a “meta-event” is, but I know that there were various installations, performances, and other related goings on. I participated because Mariah Bergeron asked me to, and I do whatever Mariah Bergeron asks me to do.

My installation was called “Let’s Figure It Out Together,” and so I set up podium made out of a couple of wooden boxes stacked on top of one another in Monument Square and affixed to them a sign that read, “HI, I’M ALEX. LET’S FIGURE IT OUT.” My wife and I stood there on Friday evening, making ourselves available for curious bystanders who proceeded to address us or avoid us or be amused by us or all of the above. The “it” of “let’s figure it out” was entirely up to the bystander to settle upon, and the point of the exercise was to engage in face to face conversation to get to the bottom of random inquiries rather than to resort to relying on a throw-away Google or Wikipedia search. More than anything, we were there to listen.

A lot of people were amused. We were hugged much more often than I expected we would be—a much welcomed surprise—and in all, people were overwhelmingly grateful for being listened to—no strings attached—by willing strangers.

What follows are three of the many responses we were privy to. The first comes from an exchange with two homeless men, the second from a drunk white guy from Philly, and the third from a young boat building student. I mention that the guy from Philly is white to put some of his language into context.

Warning: Some of the language is sharp and drunken and potentially offensive.



Figure what out? Really? Anything. We’re newly homeless as of four days ago. We’re from New Hampshire and he and I are in this together. We’re not together, but you know what I mean. We got kicked out of the shelter for having a cell phone. I was just playing games on it. A lot of the people down at the shelter are selling drugs and doing a lot worse but they don’t get kicked out.

I’ve got to look for work, but I can’t take a shower. I’ve got kids, and I wish I could see them. It’s scary out here. It gets so I want to find a bunch of heroin and OD to end it all. I’ve got some warrants in New Hampshire for some stuff and maybe should just turn myself in so I can have a place to stay. Avesta? RTP? No one mentioned any of those, thanks. We’ll look into them tomorrow.

[goes in for a hug]

Your sign should say, “Hi, I’m Alex. I am a good listener. God bless you.”


My first question is can I fuck your wife? No? Well, now that we’ve got that out of the way, do you have any jokes?

I’m from Philly. I like this. I like what you’re doing. Let’s figure it out. I like it. I’ve seen a lot of faggoty artist bullshit in my time and I like this right here. What have I been up to? I’ve been out drinking. We just got done at Shay’s and now we’re about to head home. I came to Portland in ’98 and I just fell in love with it. It’s the atmosphere.

Where’s that music coming from? Is that Slab? Those motherfuckin’, criminal, highway robbers. Sicilian pizza? I’m from Philly, brother, and that aint Sicilian pizza. Maybe some faggoty foodies, but not to me it aint.

I had a pretty good pie at Otto’s not long back, but also, I don’t want mashed potatoes on my pizza, you know what I mean? I don’t want to pay $20 for a pizza. I’ll tell you the best places to get pizza. There’s Profenno’s, Stavros, and there’s Pizza Time. Pizza Time is pricey. In Philly, you can get 2 or 3 pie for the cost of one pie from Pizza Time, but it’s really good.

Me? I am going to head back home to smoke some weed. If I stay out, if I keep drinking, I might get into a fight. I don’t want to fightI’m not a fighterbut if provoked, I’m a down and dirty ghetto nigger ready to kill. But yeah, here’s my card. I’ve got a bunch of plants going and I’m notyou knowthe kind of guy who charges money for his weed if you know what I’m saying. You’re sure you don’t know any jokes?


I like that you’re doing this. No, I love it. Do I have anything I want to figure out? Why is there religion? I like that! I like that! Yes, man, I like that.

I go to boat building school, so I like working with my hands. I like talking about things. We spend so much time on phones and forget how to figure things out with each other. We forget how our hands work. I love that you’re doing this.

We’re frightened animals in need of a story. I like that, man! Have a good night.


Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.