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This is a continuation of my series of personal observations about my native country on its golden jubilee. For items 1-16, please see part 1.

17. Nobody deploys the witty put-down quite like Wafi and Safi boys (and girls). You know it by many names: “the dozens,” “snaps,” “cracks,” “yo mama jokes,” and such. The tradition of non-violent contests of wits through rapid-fire mutual insults is well know anywhere Black culture has left a mark. But in my travels I don’t think I’ve met any group that dishes it out quite as expertly as folks from the Niger delta towns of Warri and Sapele (AKA Wafi and Safi), rendered in the particularly extravagant brand of Pidgin English for which that region is famous. I myself still bear the scars from some such encounters. And if you are trying to get cozy with a girl from that region, you had better come correct, or you might not survive the resulting put-down.

A man stands motionless on a street corner in single-digit morning temperatures.

He’s holding a sign that simultaneously calls the mayor of Chicago a dictator while demanding a certain FBI agent to stop raping his wife.

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The top portion of the sign reads: “FBI Agent Chris Saviano, Stop Raping My Wife!”

And the first thing you think when you read it is: “Jesus Christ! Somebody help this poor guy whose wife is God-knows-where getting raped by this FBI agent!”

And then the next day you see him, dressed as before, in the same spot holding the same signs, you think: “Fuck! It’s still happening? How is this still happening? That FBI guy should be fired and thrown in prison by now! And yeah, you know, that Mayor Daley is totally a dictator when you get down to it.”

But it’s on the third morning upon seeing him on the same corner with the same signs, you think: “Yikes. How long has this dude been out here doing this?”

You think about him – Farhad Khoiee-Abassi – and about the day he walked into a Kinko’s or a Fast Signs where he had to explain to whoever was behind the counter that he wanted these exact signs made. And you imagine how he had to explain that he really wanted the word “Raping” to be in red and a bit slanted, and how he wanted both the T’s in “Dictator” to be in capitals. He maybe said, “Oh, and let’s totally underline the word ‘DicTaTor’ and make the word ’stop’ into a stop sign. Can you guys make a stop sign? Yeah? Yeah.”

Oh, and on that third morning you totally start to think he’s schizophrenic.

I’ve worked down in the Loop on the corner of Clark and Randolph for over a year now, and Farhad Khoiee-Abassi has been there almost every morning.

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Holding those signs.

Staring straight ahead.

Oblivious to the whispers and the shaking heads.

If it’s cold, he’s bundled up in ski pants and jacket, hat, gloves.

If it’s not cold, wearing a full on suit.

The story, or so say the peoples on the ‘net, is that he has been in a long-fought legal battle with his ex-wife.

Custody rights.

Protection orders.

He’s self-representing himself after his lawyer quit.

He’s mocking the legal and political systems, standing out there day after day after day trying to bring awareness to his cause.

He’s been reported to have been seen in DC and New York City with his signs, always keeping the rape one, but substituting the Mayor Daley sing for another that says “Alberto Gonzales – Outlaw! Trial!”

Exclamation points.

He’s been doing this for years now.

It’s a pretty sad sight.

But the saddest thing to me is that he’s not really helping his cause out there.

He doesn’t acknowledge those reading his signs.

He doesn’t try to retell his story, doesn’t retell whatever drama has driven him to this.

He doesn’t ask for donations or pity.

Doesn’t verbalize his need for help.

Doesn’t seem to have any other agenda than to stand there, every morning, with those signs.

So, as it appears, Khoiee-Abassi gets up every morning headed for the Loop like so many other Chicagoans.

He eats his breakfast, drinks his coffee, watches some ESPN or a little TODAY show action while he ties his shoelaces, he flosses, makes sure the cats have food, and then he heads out the door with his briefcase.

Just like me.

Just like you.

Just another day at the office.

But instead of a laptop or some manila folders, Khoiee-Abassi’s briefcase holds a collapsible pole and some crazy-ass signs.

And like you or me, he’s out there doing his thing, speaking as little as possible to those around him, careful not to touch anyone, careful not to be touched.

I suppose there’s nothing wrong with this.

Free speech, and all that.

He’s got his agenda.

Like you and I have ours.

But.

My.

Curiosity.

Won’t.

Subside.

Now my original plan, when I finally decided that I was going to approach him, was to hand him an envelope containing a letter about how I’d like to sit down and hear his story. Get an article out of him so that he could finally explain himself. An interview for the Chicago Reader, maybe.

My girlfriend said that was a terrible idea, and after visions of him barking in tongues in my face in front of hundreds of commuters, or another one where he tries to impale me with his collapsible pole but it keeps, well collapsing against my sternum, I reluctantly agreed with her.

Then I thought I would maybe just start off by saying “Good morning” or “‘Mornin’” or “Cold one, eh?” for a week or so, breaking down the barrier until we had a real conversation. Then a coffee sit-down. Then I could get his side of this story that unfolds before so many Chicagoans every morning.

But that was so hard to do, seeing as how he stands right across the street from my building where coworkers I know and don’t know stream past every second. I thought that being seen regularly conversing with this guy by higher-ups would be awkward and detrimental to my ladder climbing.

But.

My.

Curiosity.

All winter I almost made my move, approaching and second-guessing.

Totally pussing out, over and over.

And then on a February morning that couldn’t have been over 10 degrees, I mentally lowered my balls from my warm abdomen, and I spoke to Khoiee-Abassi.

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I approached from behind.

He stared straight ahead, focusing on nothing.

“Excuse me,” I said, also facing straight ahead, but now right next to him. “So, I work across the street.”

He says nothing.

I steal a glance and he doesn’t even blink as I say: “Yeah. I see you out here all the time and I was wondering if you would like some coffee.”

Nothing.

“Or maybe some hot water,” I said.

Then there was a quick blink, but not the kind of blink that said: “Yes, stranger. I would love a cup of hot water as I can’t feel my extremities. Thank you. You are very kind. I want to tell you all my secrets.”

Rather, it was more of a blink that said: “My eyes are dry and so I choose to refresh them with a blink.”

Nothing more.

The lights changed, people swarmed the street from both sides.

Crushed, I walked into my building without looking back.

I wonder how FBI Agent Chris Saviano, the supposed raper, handles his name being out there on the corner of Randolph and Clark.

If there even is an agent by this name, honestly.

I read that in open court, Farhad Khoiee-Abassi’s wife admitted that she has never even heard of a man with this name.

Which makes this man’s stand all the stranger.

He’s out there right now.

I just saw him.

Holding those signs.

Not saying a thing.

Dressed the same as yesterday.

And I will try leave him alone.

But, I gotta say, it sure seems more than crazy to stand out there in the freezing morning wind and not take a man up on a cup of hot water.

After all, you have to take care of yourself so that you can make it to work the next day.