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.

Sleepless in Seattle

004-5The other night I was awakened by a loud, booming sound. I wasn’t sure if it had been a gunshot, an explosion, or maybe a car crash on the street outside. I lie there, stock still in bed, my heart thudding in my chest, listening for further sounds that could clue me in on whether or not I was in any immediate danger. There’d been a number of shootings recently downtown, and I was imaging my parents having to clean out my apartment after I was taken out by a stray bullet. Imaging my mother wondering aloud at the possible purpose of the clear Fleshlight on my bedside nightstand. It’s always out, partly out of convenience, and partly because it’s too big to fit into the nightstand’s drawer. What can I say? I’m a single man who lives alone and is too ashamed to ever have someone visit his apartment. Anyway, compared to what’s actually inside the drawer, the owner of a mere Fleshlight would seem like a paragon of virtue.

I heard someone on the sidewalk outside say, “Hey buddy, are you okay?”

The response was just a loud moan emanating from much too close to my window for comfort.

I slipped out of bed with the lights still off and peeked outside through the narrow slit of a slightly raised blind. Beneath the unnaturally bright light of a security lamp, the reality of the situation revealed itself to me. A man, who had the appearance of a homeless man, had climbed over the chain link fence surrounding the parking lot of my building, and had fallen gracelessly onto the fiberglass roof of the carport outside my window.

He was now trapped in the parking garage, possibly injured from the fall. The police were there in no time, and for the next 45 minutes or more red lights flashed outside my window. I tried to listen to the muffled conversation of a police officer who was attempting to calm the homeless man who was now pacing back and forth in the parking garage like a trapped animal.

I went back to bed, but couldn’t sleep for a long time. At 5:00 am, two hours before my own alarm was set to go off, I could hear the alarm of my upstairs neighbor begin to chime. It went on and on until another neighbor banged on her wall, prompting her to turn down the volume of the alarm (though I could still hear it going for at least another hour). I spent the hour imagining dropping a grand piano on my neighbor’s head over and over. After that, falling back to sleep was impossible.

At this point in my life, it’s impossible for me to know whether I have some kind of sleep disorder, or if living in a city renders the recommended eight hours of snoozing a night an impossibility.

I grew up in the country, and during my formative years, we lived in a little house out in the woods. At night it was pitch black, and the only sounds I heard were the occasional barking of dogs, a distant train whistle, or the hum of cicadas in late summer.

As an adult, I’ve lived in a string of cities where sleeplessness is the only constant. I’ve been awaked by fist fights, marathon neighbor sex, yelling crackheads, sirens, bowling elephants, and terrible music. I’ve been awakened to the sound of a drag queen singing, “Sunday Kind of Love,” and to a gay couple arguing about the fact that one had left the other unconscious in a bar…to go to another bar.

During the daytime, I love living in the city. Mostly for the nearness and diversity of restaurants, but also for the art, the culture, the diversity of people and experiences. But at night, I can’t help wishing I lived in a little cabin in the middle of nowhere. Someplace quaint and quiet where crackheads fear to tread. I don’t know whether androids dream of electric sheep, but I dream of an entire night of uninterrupted sleep.