Homeless/Spring

Before work the other day, I walked to the grocery store to buy a breakfast sandwich. I noticed that for the first time since the riots last year the plywood had been taken down from the store windows. The Urban Outfitters that had been next door for as long as I’d been in Seattle is gone now, and in its place a salon and spa is being built. I was noticing the mural on the walls in swirling, pastel rainbow hues, and was only peripherally aware of the homeless man walking toward me.

I heard him before I saw him, yelling incoherently, and skirted around to the edge of the sidewalk to give him a wide berth. Apparently not wide enough, because he veered toward me and shoved me against the brick wall of the grocery store. I walked quickly inside the store, pulling my jacket more tightly around me for comfort.

“Are you okay?” The security guard asked me. He’d witnessed the whole thing.

“Yes.” I said, and kept walking before he could engage me in further conversation. I wasn’t hurt, just startled. I was already running late, and was afraid of some kind of conversation that would cause me further delay.

The security guard moved past me, out the door, his phone in his hand, shouting after the homeless man who had already shambled up the street by then.

They were out of the kind of breakfast sandwich I’d wanted, with sausage, egg and cheese, so I got an omelet with Swiss on a croissant instead.

I grew up in a small rural town in Texas with only a few hundred people, none of them homeless. So it was a shock when I first moved to a city and realized how widespread homelessness is. And how seemingly unwilling cities are to solve this problem. Back then I still made eye contact with people, and if they asked for change I gave it to them and didn’t just walk quickly past, ignoring them.

One evening, not long after I’d first moved to Seattle, I was walking back home from having eaten out, and a homeless man asked for my leftovers. We were on Pike St, the purple and blue neon signs of night clubs casting carnival spotlights, as throngs of skinny-jeaned hipsters walked from bar to bar. I handed him the white, cardboard box of leftovers without thinking.

The homeless man opened the box, and as soon as I saw his look of confused disgust, I realized the mistake I’d made.

“What is this?” He’d asked.

“Tofu and vegetables.” I’d said, embarrassed.

The homeless man turned the box upside down and let the food splatter to the concrete at our feet.

I made an audible gasp. I was poor, myself, and that food was going to be my lunch the next day. If he hadn’t wanted it, he could have given it back, I thought.

After that my compassion toward the homeless was diminished somewhat. I learned to not make eye contact. To not pause. To walk quickly with purpose. Then I catch myself and feel guilty about my own heartlessness. A lost job, a large hospital bill, the lack of a parental safety net, and I could just as easily be out there myself. But as badly as I feel, my change remains in my pockets, and my leftovers remain firmly in hand.

Last week it was sunny and warm. I took long walks in the evenings after work in shorts, down residential streets overgrown with flowers and green plants. The sidewalks were littered with the pink petals of cherry blossoms. Looking downhill, you could see sailboats on the lake, fluttering white sails trailing a shimmering gold wake.

Young men jogged by, their chests glistening with sweat and heaving with the heavy breath of exercise. I smiled beneath my Dr. Who face mask. The pleasures of spring. More from nostalgia than any kind of lasciviousness. Everyone looks so young to me. If someone is under 35 it’s impossible for me to see them as an object of desire.

Last Saturday I had dinner with Sassy Bear. We were going to grab some burgers, but the burger place wasn’t doing indoor dining yet, so we had Thai. His hair was orange that week. A blue haired girl complimented him as she walked past and returned the sentiment. We scanned a barcode with our phones in order to see the menu.

I had pork belly with basil, and a runny fried egg adorned my sticky mound of jasmine rice. We talked about books and movies and our jobs. My job has been especially busy this past year, a stressor tempered only by the fact that I mostly do it from home these days.

Aside from this little divergence, I’ve mostly continued my anti-social, isolated existence. I’ve had the first dose of my Pfizer vaccine though, so I’m hoping that by later this year, we’ll have veered slightly closer toward what used to pass for normalcy. That said, I think the days of dance clubs, and crowded bars are now behind me.

After a week of sunshine, the sky has turned gray and it’s cold and rainy again. I don’t mind the backsliding. The dreary weather and the rain is the main reason I moved to Seattle in the first place. Still, it’s reassuring to see promises of spring, and the hope for better, brighter days ahead.

Disconnected

I deleted FaceBook on a whim.

Later, when asked by a friend about my sudden disappearance, I’d vaguely alluded to concerns about privacy or the way users’ information is shared. To be fair, I had seen a pretty disturbing documentary on Netflix about this very thing. But if that played any role in my decision to delete my account, it was only a small one. Let’s face it, there are pics of me in my underwear on my Instagram. How concerned about privacy can I actually be?

The truth is, I found myself becoming more and more annoyed with my so-called “friends.” Back in it’s nascent stages ten years ago, when we’d all collectively left MySpace for the newer, cleaner site, it was mostly pictures and updates from my friends about their lives. Since I’d moved around so much in my twenties, I thought it was a great way for me to stay in touch with my friends from out of state who I could no longer spend time with IRL.

Fast forward a decade, and most of my actual friends had either deleted FaceBook already, or rarely posted anything. Those that remained were mostly people I’d worked with, minor acquaintances, and people that I’d never met at all. My dad and my aunts were on FaceBook. I was getting friend requests from cousins that I hadn’t seen in twenty years, and from people who hadn’t liked me in high school.

Scrolling through posts had become a daily ritual. I was in the habit of waking up in the morning, reaching for my phone and thumbing through bland memes, snarky observations, and far more political commentary than I could stomach. I was quietly horrified by the weekly alerts from my phone letting me know by what percentage my screen time had gone up from the previous week. I spent hours a day sifting through posts from people who I largely didn’t know or care about. I looked at it on and off throughout my work day, in the evenings on the couch, and in my bed before I went to sleep.

I’d become dependent on “likes” for validation. If a post didn’t receive many, I’d delete it in shame. But that was the draw of FaceBook. It was a reality you could curate. The selfies I posted were all flattering. (The ones I was tagged in never were). I posted pictures of meals and cocktails in nice restaurants, and never the fast food at home alone in front of the TV. In FaceBook reality I was surrounded by smiling friends, vacationing in lovely cities, and my jokes always landed.

In the month or so after it was gone, only three friends messaged me to ask about it. For a while I’d still find my finger searching for the app when I opened my phone. There were times when a funny observation would occur to me, and I’d reach for it, and remember it was gone, along with my perpetual affirming audience.

I texted C and said, “I deleted FaceBook, and now I don’t have any friends.”

He responded, “Those friends were an illusion.”

And he was right.

After a while I realized that I suddenly had more time. I was paying more attention to my real life instead of trying to nurture a persona. I was more present, and I felt better. I wasn’t comparing myself to others as much, or feeling some nagging longing for a more real and substantive connection.

Now if I could just ween myself off of Reddit, I might actually have time to work on my supposed novel.