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Archive for the ‘street people profile’ Category

Language is a Virus of Postal Stickers

Not much happens, then suddenly something does.

A woman appeared at the desk, a real in-person patron.  She was a tallish white woman wearing so many toy necklaces so that she looked bundled in a plastic, multicolored scarf.  She had on a brown leather flight jacket and a large floppy cowboy hat, the cloth kind.

I guess she is a regular, who lives in an explicitly more interesting and dangerous reality than the rest of us. All her questions and concerns are animal focused.

I was told, later, that, in the past, she has researched racoons.  Why? because a friend of hers had purchased a bed which was awfully infested by racoons. From her report, they lived on the underside of the mattress and clawed at her friend all during the night. She thought they might be trying to get out that way.

She started talking very loudly to the librarian at the desk, “Do you keep books on animals here?  Well, really animals and insects.  Well, really, insects.  I know.  I have used them here before.  Maybe (pointing down the stacks) somewhere down there.  I just need to know where they are kept.  Then I can use them.”

Librarian: Well, we do have some, but not as….

Woman: My roommate was bitten by a scorpion.  And I know I have used the animal books here before.  I just need to know like what a

scorpion bite looks like and how to treat it.  Because my roommate was bitten or is it stung?  Anyway, I need the books on the insects.  Scorpions are insects, right. (SIGHS LOUDLY) I dunno.

Librarian: The books on animal bites and that sort…

Woman: Scorpions.  I guess they are animals.  Maybe, more insects.  My social worker told me to get the information.  He had been bitten too.  They are everywhere this time of year.  How long does it take for the eggs to hatch after it bites you?

Librarian: Eggs?

Woman: Even my social worker had been bitten.  I watched him pull two eggs right out of his chest.  (starts to walk down toward the books) So maybe I can just look at some books and figure it out, since no one here… (stops dead, spins around and returns to the desk)  You did say the insect books where down there?  I do not want to get lost, no one knows I am here.  I did not tell anyone I was coming straight here.  Plus they were busy with the eggs. (SIGHS)

She did read some books.  Or at least left some scattered around the table she sat at for a few hours.  None of them were about scorpions.

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It was raining, so when Scoobie doubled back to look at a flyer taped to the street sign pole, Byrd hunched under the sandwich store awning. His hands in his pockets made his whole coat shake.

“Lookit here, now, ” Scoobie coughed without covering his mouth. Then he spit on the sidewalk before continuing. He moved his burned finger along with the words as he read the flyer to Byrd:

MISSING DOG

PICKLES ran away from yard on Saturday.

7 year old wire haired Dashaund

Timid but answers to his name

$500 Dollar Reward if found

“And then see here, they wrote Ree-ward – one, two, three, fo’  more times in the corners. See?!!”

Byrd just looked down at the soaked cigarette butt. Had he been able to focus that far from his face, he could have considered the way the tobacco flakes shone through the translucent white paper. Or counted the little silver gun powder rings, who’s color was, suddenly, more defined – almost in raised metallic relief.  But really, all Byrd thought about was the vomit knot tied around his midsection. That sick which threatened to double him over in pain.

“See here now, Byrd, we is going to find us self’s a little poochie,” Scoobie confidently plotted. He wiped his fingers across his drooping eyes, Byrd often saw that white boy pull his eyeballs straight out of his head that way. No matter how fucked up they were, Scoobie always got them back in by the time they come down.

“Now, what now?”

“Damn ole man, listen up! This ‘ere sign dunn tole us how we’s gonna make sum bayank.”

“Hows that?”

“REEEEEEE WARD! Damn you ain’t pay attention to shit, do ya?”

Byrd laughed, but mostly at the way Scoobie tilted back and forth on his heels as he shouted.

“How easy is it to find us a little lost dog? Easy,” Scoobie said, “Gawdamn we see us doggies damn near everywheres we go, donwe, Byrd?”

“Perhaps. But how many of them is this here lost dog? Not a single one so far.”

“Sheet is you a pessamiss,” Scoobie shook his head and nearly took a nose dive into the sidewalk.

They had started walking again. “I do not know, Scoob. Even if we see this dang little fella, how we catch ’em? I mean them little dogs move fast. My auntie had a little shitzoo that could book it. Once it got moving nothing was faster. Not even a kid on a bike.”

“Kid on a bike?” Scoobie picked at a scab on his ear, “What the fuck you talking about?”

Byrd stared at his young campaion. Scoobie’s attention was twitchy and errant but strangely focused – like someone manically channel surfing the same four channels. Scoobie claimed Attention Decifit Disorder. Byrd just thought Scoobie was an asshole.

“Nevermind.”

They walked a few more blocks in silence. Or at least without speaking. Neither of them were ever silent. These two were like a small marching band playing groaning experimental tunes made from deep chest hacking coughs, snot-pulling snorts, and other escaped low level bodily gasses.

Sometimes the hills are too steep.

Out of habit, they followed a set path toward their regular dealer’s block. Some days he would be outside, somewhere. Other days, like when it was pissing rain, he would be wrapped in an “Indian blanket” on his porch or holed up in that car that never moved from in front of his place. They’d tap on the steamed up windows, hoping he’d roll it down low enough to hand out the little bag of drugs.

Scoobie started spending the money. He subtracted sums. He added others. His strange monologue was impossible to follow as the money doubled, tripled and then shrunk, depending on what he planned on buying.

“Enough smack for a year? Not possible. A month, set them up good. Maybe rent a room to get out of the rain. How about getting some new shoes.” On and on and on. Byrd did not listen.

“Scoobie, shouldn’t we find this damn mutt before you go off spending money you ain’t even earned yet?”

Scoobie stopped dead. He looked up and down the old man, “Damn Byrd. How hard is it gonna be finding this damn lost dog? Easy. So easy, its like we already done it.”

“Except we haven’t,” Byrd rubbed his eye as rain dripped from his eyebrow.

“Except we will.”

They stood looking at each other for a few more minutes before they walked on.

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I planned on composing a long diatribe about the Occupy Wall Street – my thoughts on the protest, the press coverage, all the while bashing the nail of poverty and homelessness with a large Whack-A-Mole style mallet. But this morning, while dog walking in the dark and collecting my thoughts; I started to think that just bashing away with that padded carnival hammer would lead to a lot missed or unsubtle points. More importantly, though, I risked the possibility a few wild ricochets would bounce up to smack me in the nose. And I cannot afford to have that big thing smacked.

So instead of that, you get this: A few weeks ago, when Mindy Fisher was in town, we were waiting to cross Geary at Laguna. Standing next to his duffle bag, dressed in a slightly dirty white sweater, a purple shirt and a bold red tie, was a man holding up a small cardboard, professional looking protest sign. I had seen him a few times before this. He always stood right by the 39 bus stop – kind of moving between the garbage can and the tree, depending on the flow of traffic, strangely moving closer to the moving cars than the ones stopped at a red light.

The first time I saw him, maybe a month before, he was wearing a loose fitting gray suit. And the sign was just a piece of notebook paper. As I approached, I could read the side facing me – USA OUT OF LIBYA! It was written in furiously applied scribbly ink pen. The other side was a dense and illegible treatise on something. The words flowed over crudely drawn illustrations.

As he held this paper up for the world to see, it curled over and buckled in the slightest breeze. But his commitment was unflagging. The ineffectual communication of his message was overshadowed by his intense desire to share it.

 About a week later he was back on the corner. Only this time, his notebook sign was stuffed into a plastic binder sheet protector. Plus his message was now neatly printed in bold black magick marker. Or at least the USA OUT OF LIBYA! was, while the other side of complicated exposition was still a jumble of arrows, crude figures, and wild text. The poly sheet cover added some rigidity which helped in the curling and buckling.

This solitary protester looked slightly off, his hair a nest of greasy curls, while his clothes, where ill fitting but mostly clean. But there was something vague about him, fuzzy around the edges, and the way his eyes never focused gave him that ‘possibly coming off his meds’ look.

So when Mindy and I passed him on our way across the street, I was delighted to see that his protest had entered a new phase. He held up a legal size, typeset, multicolor poster. It was even attached to a small stick, so he no longer had to delicately worry about holding the edges so as not to obstruct the sign.

The USA OUT OF LIBYA had morphed into a clearer delineation – CIA OUT OF LIBYA. A clarification necessitated by the fact that the USA was never IN Libya. At least not in the way the sign implied. Plus the real crux of this gentleman’s protest rationale was finally revealed by the readability of the reverse side.

Printed in large block letters and illustrations of people that looked to have just jumped off a Slow PED-XING sign, the message was clear. See that black satellite up above the human figure. Now follow the very brightly colored red lightning strikes aimed at the man’s limbs. See how the rays seep in and animate the man’s body so he can no longer control his movements. This process of space puppetry explained the Libyan protests. These rebels were not really unhappy, they were being manipulated by the CIA space satellites to attack and overthrow their government.

The simplicity of the illustrations, along with the lucidity of the explanation, made me smile. I commented to Mindy that I am sure that some public librarian, somewhere, helped him make that sign. 

I think this is a great illustration of how I see the Occupy Wall Street protests. I would hope the next time I see this guy on the corner, his message has adapted to the new situation on the ground – namely the overthrow of the Libyan regime. I mean, I hope he does not give up that easy.

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<—- MAN DOWN!

Today is trash day. Or one of the trash days. I am positive now, after seeing it happen everywhere in the City, that the blue plastic trash bins for bottles and cans and cardboard recyclables, were actually designated for the Bottle And Can Collectors.

The Bottle And Can Collectors are a whole subset of street people. They push, pull, or carry swinging from shoulder sticks, their bags of recyclables. They wear tight rubber surgical gloves or the canvas skin of gardening gloves. But always with gloves protecting their fingers, as they shove their arms deep into the recesses of the blue containers. Lifting out the various glass/plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Tossing them into piles, before bending over like a novelty lawn ornaments, to rattle and clink their finds into separate and appropriate bags.

The Bottle And Can Collectors are urban archeologists of refuse. Shifting through the settled layers of discarded items to carefully extract a few shimmering objects of unassailable worth. Their task is unending. There is one lady, probably in her mid-sixties, who I seem to see everywhere. While I rarely see her digging through the blue trash cans, which are almost taller than she is, I do seem to see her shifting through her treasures, at least once a day. Usually huddled a few concrete feet from the curb of an intersection corner or, maybe, in front of her spread about brown paper bags, in a chain link nook or cranny. She wears layers upon layers of sweaters, sweatshirts, and pull over smocks. On her head is a dirty light colored hat, its wide brim like that of a beekeeper’s with the mesh netting sliced off. She is always bent over near an overloaded push cart, improbably still upright, and wrapped in black trash bags.

It seems to me that these blue recycle bins exist, exclusively, for the Bottle And Can Collectors. Presorting, for them, those items that can be collected and exchanged for money. The purpose seems two fold –

First, the designated bins prevent, or at least minimize, the sprawl of non-recyclable rubbish that would be strewn about as the Bottle & Can Collectors rooted through the regular garbage, to get at their source of income. In practicality, the separate bins keep the City a tad bit cleaner.

Secondly, the recyclables are actually recycled. By tacitly allowing, even encouraging, this sort of collection, the bottles and cans of San Francisco are taken care of effectively and cheaply. The few dollars that the Bottle And Can Collectors earn everyday is near third world exploitation level pay. But they seem intent upon their task, either driven by compulsive necessity or alcoholic desire.

It, also, occurs to me that being homeless, or some other variation of street living, seems to be A LOT of work. Along with what must be hours upon hours of sheer boredom, the long hours for a few dollars, hardly seems worth it. I mean if you run an hour by hour cost analysis, adding up time spent against hourly income, I doubt it works out to anything close to minimum wage. But then, I guess work in America is something of an overall scam, itself. So who knows. Maybe they have the right idea.

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