Gratitude List 884

Here’s my second gratitude list from Saturday, after waking up from a morning nap.

1. I was tired and discouraged, then I remembered I could take a power nap at the church. Slept so heavily I didn’t know where I was when I woke, and was not nearly so discouraged on awakening, and no longer tired.

2. I prayed for the discouragement to be removed, and it was removed.

3. I prayed specifically for things to happen that would cancel out what happened to discourage me — and one of them has already happened.

shoelaces4. There was no way I could get the knot out of my left shoelace, which was a thin shoelace. Walking lacelessly toward the thrift shop was bringing back bad memories, and I really did not want to spend the $5 debit card limit just to get a 63 cent shoelace at the Salvation Army. Then, I found a dollar bill on the ground, so I didn’t have to. Also, the single shoelace they had (not the set) was a very thick 54″ shoelace, which was the perfect size. The prayer about the shoelace was answered, not fifteen minutes after I prayed it. Wow.

5. Also find it interesting synchronicity that I twice alluded to the “homeless shoelace problem” recently — in Talk 4 and in the Thursday post — and then, it happened. These things happen for a reason.

6. Heard an O.G. playing nice jazz standards and singing on a guitar outside the music store downtown. He told me the store had hired him, which was encouraging, since not everyone will hire an Old Guy. Exchanged contact info, felt warm inside. Loved his version of “Laura.”

7. Ran into Timbo at the café just before Writer’s Guild. Great guy, leaving for Michigan on Wednesday. He bought an “Abstractions” CD, which helps considerably.

8. Really great to reconnect with the people at the local Writer’s Guild.

9. Something tells me that the friendship between me & my daughter will be stronger than ever before.

10. God is Love.

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The Wilderness of the Sea

The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea.
As whirlwinds in the Negeb sweep on,
    it comes from the desert,
    from a terrible land.
A stern vision is told to me;
    the plunderer plunders,
    and the destroyer destroys.
Go up, O Elam,
    lay siege, O Media;
all the sighing she has caused
    I bring to an end.
Therefore my loins are filled with anguish;
    pangs have seized me,
    like the pangs of a woman in travail;
I am bowed down so that I cannot hear,
    I am dismayed so that I cannot see,
My mind reels, horror has appalled me;
    the twilight I longed for
    has been turned for me into trembling.
They prepare the table,
    they spread the rugs,
    they eat, they drink.
Arise, O princes,
    oil the shield!
For thus the Lord said to me:
“Go, set a watchman,
    let him announce what he sees.
When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs,
    riders on asses, riders on camels,
let him listen diligently,
    very diligently.”
Then he who saw cried:
“Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord,
    continually by day,
And at my post I am stationed
    whole nights.
And behold, here come riders,
    horsemen in pairs!”
And he answered,
    “Fallen, fallen is Babylon;
and all the images of her gods
    he has shattered to the ground.”

–Isaiah 21:1-9 RSV

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When You Gotta Go . . .

When I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had an awfully hard time getting myself to a bathroom on any kind of regular basis.

It wasn’t so bad when I only had to go No.1, as we used to call it.  I could usually find some kind of bush to duck behind, and the cleanup process wasn’t nearly so involved.  Also, the sense of stigma or shame attached to the act of having to pee outdoors wasn’t nearly so severe as the corresponding sense of shame involved in having to go No.2.

But I tell ya – when you gotta go, you gotta go.   There were times when I held it in for an hour and a half or more.  Only one thing was on my mind as I went from bathroom to bathroom, finding all of them locked, and getting the sense that whoever was in there wasn’t about to step out in the near future.

I’ll never forget how one day, I finally gave up, because I just couldn’t hold it any longer.  I found a fairly secluded path of greenery, and figured I could use the large leaves for toilet paper.

“Let’s make this quick,” I said to myself, looking from side to side.  Squatting, I did the deed as thoroughly as I could possibly manage in a fairly paranoid five-second interval.  Then I reached for the leaves.

At that exact moment, about twenty U.C.Berkeley co-eds came waltzing around the corner, smiling and chatting merrily amongst themselves.  You should have seen the look on their eyes when they saw what I was about.  (I’m sure the look on my own eyes was a sight to see, as well.)

All of these musings come in the wake of San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s recent comments that “homeless advocacy groups that receive funding from the city need to better educate the homeless to ‘clean up after themselves.'”  She went on to say: “there is more feces on the sidewalks than I’ve ever seen growing up here. That is a huge problem and we are not just talking about from dogs.”

sad truthWhile these comments may seem to many to be fairly sensible at face value, I would have to say — from the perspective of a person who spent several years swimming the quicksand of homelessness in the S.F.Bay Area — that the mayor’s insights are rather shallow.  While I personally never had to take a shit on the sidewalk, can you imagine the difficulty I would have had in “clean-up” if I had?   For one thing, what would I have used to clean up the feces?   Certainly not toilet paper.  If I’d had access to toilet paper, I’d have had access to one of the many locked bathrooms I wasn’t able to get into.  And that’s the very situation that would have driven me to have to take a dump outdoors in the first place.

Would I use my shirt?  Perhaps the only shirt I had?  Somebody else’s shirt?  A rag of some sort that I would have readily acquired — from where, exactly?  What about a dustpan?  Or a make shift dustpan, quickly constructed from — from what exactly?  

Let’s get real here, people.  We’re talking about homelessness.  The homeless person is at an incredible disadvantage compared to just about any other person in today’s society.  There were times when I was virtually immobilized for hours or even days because I couldn’t come up with a pair of shoelaces, and I basically had to sit still, penniless, until the money to buy them surfaced.  Under such conditions, in the time it would have taken me to come up with a viable device to wipe my shit off of the sidewalk, there could easily have been KRON news cameras covering the scene, further prompting the ludicrosity of such comments as Mayor Breed was so quick to make.

Anybody making a visit to downtown San Francisco will easily observe that the demand for usable bathromms exceeds the supply by a ratio of at least 100-1.  Rather than focus her energies on further demeaning the homeless and inferring that homeless rights advocates are not doing their job properly, why doesn’t the Mayor funnel some energies into adjusting the budget to include more portable toilets in the Financial District?

I would further submit it is not only homeless people who are affected by the appalling lack of public bathrooms in the Bay Area.  Tourists visiting San Francisco find that they too cannot readily relieve themselves in a dignified setting.  Do you think the average tourist, about to leave the City and possibly never be seen again, would have any qualms about shitting on the sidewalk if he or she absolutely needed to?  Why is it assumed that all this feces comes from homeless people?

Harry: Mabel, I can’t hold it any longer!  I’m going to shit in my pants!!

Mabel: Harry, just do it on the sidewalk, and let’s get out of here.  They’ll all assume it was a homeless person anyway. 

What all of this points to is the overall refusal of society to recognize that homeless people are not the problem — they are the result of the problem.   If statistics are correct and there are in fact only 7500 visible homeless people in San Francisco, how difficult would it be to budget in 7500 tiny houses, and encourage each homeless person to live indoors in privacy and dignity?  

Sure, not every homeless person would go for it.  But a lot of them would — I know I sure would have — and it would be a step in the right direction.  At least the homeless individual would be treated as a full human being whose needs and rights are being considered along with those of the rest of the human race — not like a pariah, an outcast, or a leper.

We really need to take that leap.  Homeless people, after all, are human beings, with basic needs and inalienable rights just like any other kind of human being. The sad thing is that homeless people are, as a general rule, not treated like people — they are treated like homeless people.  And what that translates to, ironically, is that they’re treated like shit.

If a person gets treated like a sub-human piece of feces for too long, then there’s a good chance they will begin to believe it.  And the next stage of the game is that they will start to act that way.   Remember that homeless people were not, as a general rule, born homeless.  None of us were born on drugs or drunk or severely mentally disabled.   If we became that way, it was largely the result of having to cope with the extreme conditions of street life, and of having to struggle for survival night after night, and year after year.  It was not the other way around.

So let’s start to treat everybody as equals, irrespective of their lot in life.  Let’s stop demonizing the things that we don’t understand, the things that threaten the microscopic little worlds in which we all tend to live by default.  At the very least, we ought to give mutual respect and understanding a try.   The results, after all,  could be phenomenal.   We might even gain our country back.  

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(Talks 2018) – Talk No. 4

Here’s the fourth talk in our Talks 2018 series of talks on the Homeless Experience. In this talk, I share my personal story of how I finally escaped twelve years of homelessness and for the past two years have effectively maintained a dignified place of residence in a favorable climate.  

Homeless No More

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Tuesday Tuneup 21

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Not this again!

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because I’m getting tired of hearing these first two questions.   

Q. Why are the questions tiring you?

A. Isn’t it obvious?  They’re the same every time.  No variety!  And besides, I’m running out of clever answers.

Q. Why do your answers have to be clever?

A. Because I need to entertain my readers.

Q. Why do you need to entertain your readers?

A. Because I’m an entertainer.  It’s what I do.  If I don’t entertain people, then I fail.

Q. And if you do entertain people?

A. Then I succeed.

Q. You equate success with entertainment?

A. If I’m in the entertainment business, I do.

Q. How long have you been in the entertainment business?

musical prodigyA. Since I was a little boy.

Q. You were an entertainer when you were a little boy?

A. Yes.  I was expected to entertain everybody.

Q. And if you didn’t?

A. Then they got bored.  They shrugged and frowned and said: “Oh boo!  You could do better than that!”  And then, they walked out.

Q. How did you feel when they walked out?

A. I felt — abandoned.  Abandoned — and worthless.

Q. And then what happened?

A. I cried.  I waited till they were all gone —  and when I was all alone, I burst into tears.  And if I couldn’t stop crying, I had to run and hide.

Q. Why?

A. So my dad wouldn’t find me.

Q. What would happen if he found you?

A. I’d be punished.

Q. Why?

A. Because a man wasn’t supposed to cry.  

Q. How did that make you feel?

A. Pressured.   Pressured to perform — to always be entertaining, in order to gain their interest, and their acceptance.  

Q. Do you mean to suggest that when you were little boy, you were judged on the basis of your performance?

A. Yes, I was. And guess what?

Q. What?

A. So are you.  You are being judged on the basis of your performance.  For even as I was judged, so do I judge others.

Q. How are you judging me?

A. I’ll tell you how! If you don’t come up with two new questions by Tuesday Tuneup 23, then you fail.   My judgment will be chiseled in stone.  There will be no forgiveness.  Only condemnation.  

Q. You mean – you’re going to do away with me??

A. You got it.

Q. But isn’t that a bit severe?

A. Well how do you expect me to react?   If you cease to entertain me, I have no further use for you.

Q. Are you saying you’re going to abandon me?

A. What else can I do?  Be with you till the ends of the earth?  Of course not!  I am going to leave you and forsake you.  For even as I have been abandoned, so do I abandon others.

Q. But – but – don’t you feel like you’re putting too much pressure on me?

A. Of course I do. Even as I have been pressured, so do I pressure others.

Q. What if I fail?

A. Then you’re gonna get a whoopin.’

Q. You’re not going to resort to — corporal punishment, are you?

A. I wish I could.

Q. Why can’t you?

A. Because all you are — is words.   Baseless words, without feeling or flesh.  And that’s how I felt when I was a kid.  My feelings didn’t matter.   My body, my flesh — didn’t matter.  The only thing that mattered — was that I entertain.   And if they didn’t clap for me when I played the piano, and if they didn’t laugh at my jokes in between songs, then I failed.  And if you don’t start entertaining me again, man —

The Questioner gulps.

Q. Then I fail?

A. You said it.

Q. But — what other two questions can I come up with?  

A. That’s for you to decide.  I’m not your Director.  I’m only your Creator.

Q. But – but – but what if — ???

A. No buts!   You have till Tuesday after next.   On Tuesday, August 21, 2018, I expect you to start off with a new pair of questions.   Do you hear me??

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 877

(1) 55F degrees and perfect running weather.

(2) I’ve got two strong legs and a good set of lungs, and I can still run after all these years.  Somehow I’ve managed to avoid the typical stress-related diseases of modern culture, and I suspect I’m alive for a reason.

(3) When people play strange games of control, power, or one-upsmanship with me, it helps to consider the source.   I need not live in their twisted paradigms, and I’m thankful for my God-given right not to dwell in their worlds.

(4) I found my lost sunglasses on the floor by the chair at a cafe, when I went there and sat in the same spot five days later.

(5) On Friday, I played at an Open Mike for the first time on an electronic piano they provided.  The crowd reaction was surprisingly strong, and a great singer whom I respect came up and hugged me.

pope-plays-piano-1(6) Somebody gave me a vintage 1920 Howard upright piano for free, just like the one my dad had.   It needs a tuning, which is a cost factor, but that will come in time.

(7) Had a wonderful time playing piano at a housewarming party on Saturday.  I’m starting to feel like a member of the community here, with a positive contribution to make.

(8) Yesterday I finished a great book called Blessed are the Weird, and had a wonderful email exchange with its author, Jacob Nordby.

(9) Was able to borrow a Casio electronic piano from a guy at my church.   Now I can busk at the Farmer’s Market, and maybe sell some of my CD’s. 

(10) I really like my church, and I love the little one-bedroom apartment where I live with the love of my life.  When I am tormented by the envies of those who are miserable, or jealous of those who can afford what I can’t, I need to remember that money doesn’t buy happiness, and that all good gifts come from heaven above.   Thankful that my God is a God of Love, and that I don’t have to be perfect to earn that love.  He loves me because He is Love and is capable of showing it, and He teaches me how to show it, when otherwise I could not.   God is Love and Love is God.  Here’s to the God of Love.

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