I wrote this piece somewhat spontaneously last year, when the novelty of living indoors still amazed me. Somebody recently suggested I submit it to three San Francisco Bay Area periodicals that deal with such themes. I just received the address of the publisher of one such periodical from an East Bay minister and activist whom I hope will let me use her name. So I’m in the process of submitting it, there and elsewhere. Let me know what you think.
I’m sure you guys are going to think I’m just the junkie from hell, but after not being able to sleep the entire night, I finally reached down into the drawer and tugged the last possible two hits off of a roach that had been sitting in the ashtray for God knows how long. I had a makeshift clip on it made out of cardboard, and I would venture to guess I smoked more cardboard than paper and weed combined. But I did sense the weed, at least in the first hit, so we’ll see if anything happens, and if I can get to sleep after this.
When I got a wiff of the weed, I suddenly had a flash glimpse of it being just about this time in Berkeley on a Saturday morning. I would have packed up my bedroll and stashed it neatly at the illegal spot where I slept every night on U.C. campus, then walked down Oxford Way till I got to University, turned right on University downhill toward the Marina, checked by Ace Hardware to see if Hunter and Tweaker John were awake yet, and if so, headed down with Hunter toward McDonald’s, where he & I would have gotten stoned in the entrance way to the bike shop next door. Maybe Bertha would have been with us, maybe someone else. But we would have gotten stoned before going inside for a Senior Cup, and if we were flushed, a Big Breakfast.
Hunter always had this weed he called the “bombarooski” in that weird language he was always speaking – the language in which I was “Poparooni” and sometimes even “Pepperoni.” He would have laid his whole street philosophy on me, about how each and every one of us had a role to fulfill in the Berkeley street community, all of it centered around a kind of crazy micro-economics, where everything mattered down to the very penny, and it was all about buy and sell. He’d hop on his bike after that and begin his “hustle,” while I would go sit at my Spot out in front of the Mini-Target, and stare like a puppy dog into the eyes of all passing female citizens until one of them took enough pity on me to put some change in my cup, or maybe a sandwich.
Life was somehow easier then, and yet much, much harder. It was easier in that I was my own boss and I didn’t have to answer to anybody. It was harder in that everybody else was their own boss, too, and we didn’t all play by the same rules. I would cringe whenever Andrew the thug came walking down the sidewalk, even though I must admit he was always nice to me, three years worth of nice to me after hitting me on the head with that there gun that time.
It’s almost uncanny how opposite of a world it is that I live in today. I brought almost nothing I did in Berkeley with me to do here in Moscow. And I’m doing things in Moscow I never got to do in Berkeley. I hang around professors and people whose first thought is that I must myself be a professor. I’m even considering applying for an adjunct professor position in the Creative Writing division of the English department – a full-time $48,000 gig. I’m balking, but why? They said to submit a twenty-page sample. I almost want to submit twenty-pages out of Part Four of Anthology for Anathema, just to see if it would work in my advantage to admit that I was homeless not six months ago, and yet here I show up smelling like a rose.
I guess what it is is, I’m not ready for a full-time job yet. I’d actually be afraid that they would hire me. What’s eerie, though, is that it’s the only job listed right now that I could actually walk to, and I still don’t have a car.
Life is incredibly different than it was down in B-Town by the Bay. You don’t see any panhandlers in Moscow, you don’t hear anybody on the hustle asking you for spare change or a cigarette. I remember the first time Seneca reached out her hand behind the counter at the One World Cafe and said, “What’s your name, by the way?” I had to duck into the bathroom to cry. I had only been in Moscow two or three weeks, and I could not believe that a barista in a cafe would actually care what my name was. It was too good to be true that I was actually not being viewed as a worthless piece of shit everywhere I went.
What people don’t seem to know about homelessness unless they’ve actually put in some really serious homeless time themselves is that the worst thing about being homeless is not having to endure the elements, or the lack of indoor conveniences like a space heater, shower, sink, or (of course) bed in which to sleep, or the lack of ready access to food or other basic needs, or difficulty maintaining personal hygeine, or any of that stuff. The worst thing about being homeless is the way that you are treated.
Homeless people in general don’t want pity or even compassion half the time. It seems like half the people pity homeless people and the other half pass judgment. All we really wanted down there, any of us, was to be treated with normal human respect and dignity, and treated as equals, not as inferiors. We wanted to be listened to, we wanted our voices heard. But people in general wouldn’t listen to us. They sure talked to us, and after a while we had heard it all.
Communication is a two way street. People in this country, especially in the upper classes, need to start listening to what poor people, disabled people, and homeless people have to say. They need to realize that these people are human, that they have valuable life experience, and that their experience is worth listening to, and learning about, and understanding.
When that happens, there will really be change in this country. We’ll start building bridges again, instead of burning them. With email and voice mail and social media abounding, with deletes and ignores and blocks aplenty, it has never been easier to burn a bridge in the history of this nation. And what has that done but caused the national morale to reach an all-time low? We need at some point to realize that to “make America great again,” we need to start talking to each other, hearing each other out, making an effort to understand each other’s perspectives before we just ditch them like they’re all a bunch of losers.
Homeless people, believe me, are anything but losers. Quite the opposite is the case. Homeless people are the winners. They’re winning life, day by day, against all odds. What do we win by treating them as sub-human creatures? Not a thing. What would we gain by hearing them out? Or even by sharing in their experience?
We might just gain our country back.
6:45 a.m. – 2016-12-10
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