Saturday, December 25, 2010

Welcome to the Hood, Wisconsin!

Coming back from walking my dog today--Christmas Day, juggling a Starbucks latte and a bag of pastries--I noticed a car had been broken into. There was a duffel bag in the back seat, unzipped, that kind of looked like a golf bag. That's a little too much temptation for some of the junkies around here, so I before I saw the plates I knew the owner didn't live nearby.

I'm a concerned citizen in a rapidly declining, gang-infested neighborhood, so I stopped to ask a few neighbors if they had guests (no), then made a call to the po po to do a little snitchin'. Here's the conversation:

"Non-emergency services!" said a chipper female who sounded like smiley emoticons were floating out of her mouth. No further prompting for me to speak, so I tentatively started in.

"Uh, I'd like to report a car that has had its rear, driver's side window broken into. Wisconsin plates. I'm not the unfortunate tourist owner."

"If you're not the owner, there's nothing we can do but wait for them to call in!" I pictured her in an elf costume with a jar of candy canes on her desk.

"Seriously? You can't run a trace and get their number?"

"No, they will have to call, especially if they are from out of state!"

"And if I try to call Wisconsin State Patrol and see if they can help?"

"They won't be able to give you any information for security reasons!"

("The ship has sailed on security, lady," I wanted to say, but didn't.) "Okay, well. Uh. May I give you their license plate number?"

"Sure!" She chirped. Has this woman ever had a bad day?

"It's 4**-***. I'd also like to give you the intersection where it's parked." I waited through 30 seconds of silence, half expecting to hear hold music in the form of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters' jazzy rendition of "Jingle Bells".

"Go ahead!"

"*****-**st Ave. N.E. Gang territory, as you can no doubt see, so please add this to all the other stuff that goes on around here."

"Oh... Yes... Seattle, Lake City area... Okay... I'll definitely do that!"

I thanked her and hung up quickly, in case she was tempted to breach protocol and wish me a Merry Christmas. It was like talking to a cruise director; useless, but pleasant nonetheless.

:)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Lips"

There's a new prostitute in this part of town, and I've nicknamed her "Lips". She has a pimp boyfriend, a crack habit and a boyish wardrobe. These are all standard issue. What isn't standard issue is her hairlip, more politely known as a cleft lip, that often accompanies a cleft palate.

When I arrived back home from attempting to get my dingbat dog to take a turd in the rain (he wouldn't), I did a little research and found out how little I knew about the condition. It's fairly common, for instance, and can range from imperceptible to nearly cutting someone's face in half. Clefts can occur in other gaps in the skull bones, and can be life threatening for reasons other than extreme difficulty with eating or breathing. Cleft lips and palates aren't necessarily related to any mental debility such as mental retardation or Down's Syndrome. That I knew, but I didn't know it was a dominant trait.

"Lips" probably knows all that, and then some. She's no doubt a high ranking member of the low self-esteem club because of her condition. It looks like someone, at some point in her life, cared enough to give her the gift of surgery, but they forgot to add finesse. It was easy to spot the deep fissure between her mouth and nose from half a block away.

I did my best not to stare, instead choosing to focus on her companion. She's rather short, and he was only a few inches taller. I'm 5'6" and I could have easily held my arms out to the side and completely cleared both their heads. He looked like an angry, sweaty stump who'd seen more than his fair share. It was impossible to tell his age by his crack-ravaged face. 18? He had "Lips" firmly by her left hand, and was pretty much dragging her down the sidewalk. In her right hand was a black plastic bag.

Black plastic bags are what dealers in this area use to exchange money for drugs, and boyfriends often make their girlfriends do the carrying. If no girlfriend is available, the younger of any two people is burdened with the baggy--sacrificial lambs in case the cops decide to check out the situation.

Someone was once quoted as saying that the most stressful job in existence is that of waitstaff. I'm pretty sure they never bothered to interview a prostitute with a cleft lip, as it has to enter into every negotiation she or her boyfriend makes. It's right there in the room during every transaction. Whatever vile thing a trick could possibly request of "Lips", she's no doubt had to do it to some sort of twisted narrative about her defective money-maker.

I made myself look at her again, hoping my expression was warm and pleasant not, "Oh, holy shit! How do you chew?" She blinked ever so slightly and attempted to return my smile, while Sam-dog eagerly sniffed her leg and ignored her boyfriend, entirely.

Thank you, genetics, for gifting me my slightly crooked smile. You'll never again hear me complain about it. Ever.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fat Is Funny? Ha Ha!

I awoke this morning to find that I'd been pulled into a controversy that had absolutely nothing to do with anything I'd said. I was unfollowed (even blocked) on Twitter by some people I really like, because I was placed on some sort of McCarthy-esque black list by someone I didn't have as a follower or followee.

An hour into the day, I discovered I was one of dozens of people who placed a simple little star next to a tweet about rape to acknowledge its humor and shock value. Here's that moment that's hard to both write and read for everyone: I've been raped.

Twice. I was molested but not ever penetrated as a child, so in fact, I lost my virginity to that first rapist. There's nothing funny about that reality, and the thought that those types of crimes even still exist is always a great disappointment. It's hard to have faith in humanity with all that selfish, psychotic stagnation going on, isn't it?

Later this morning I attended a funeral, which oddly enough allowed me to take a breather, and put things in perspective. Kind of. Double saddened, I came home and did something to make other people happy, which is typical of survivors of sex crimes, and took the star off the tweet.

Censorship has it's place. Child pornography is the most notable example of good censorship. Jokes about child pornography? Humor exists to shake things up, call things out and point out absurdities. I even wrote a blog post on it some months ago after a similar situation (All Things Domestic).

But what of fat jokes, ugly jokes, jokes about things people can't help? Those are far more offensive to me than any rape joke ever will be. In a rape joke, I repeat myself, the perpetrator is the one being made fun of, even if it's subtle. However, I've read some extremely cruel fat jokes, even in the last hour. What about horror films? Torture porn? Animal cruelty? I see jokes about that stuff all the time. Maybe they're not my cup of tea, but at least they more resemble the "make fun of the perp" variety, so it's easier to let them go than a snide remark about someone's acne.

As my penance for unstarring her tweet, I began following the woman who made the joke. I'm glad I did, because it turns out she's coming from the exact same place I thought she was. I only hope she'll share her blog with me some day, because it sounds enlightening.

After that, I connected with my black-lister, and she turned out to be a nice person. Very sweet. She apologized for what she'd done in light of what I told her about myself. It was easy to forgive each other, and she has a naughty little sense of humor, besides. I was looking forward to what she had to say about her life.

We followed each other and then, to my utter dismay, she quit Twitter.

A year ago I'd have dismissed all of the above and said, "Who cares! It's just Twitter!" Boy, was I wrong. It's starting to feel like a school yard, work place, place of worship or any other grand societal experiment. I now know to expect good and bad things from it, they will shape me going forward, and if you can't take the bad with the good? Unfollow me now!

*restars tweet*

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Man Who Hollahs "Hey!"

"Hey!"

From the street below my window I hear, "Hey! Hey! Hey hey!" At first it was loud, but it's fading into the distance. Phew.

That's all he says, while moving in groovy yet agitated circles. Pedestrians give him a wide berth, and don't make eye contact unless it's by accident. "Hey!" he'll say, abruptly pivoting to face them. He slides and glides like a Soul Train dancer.

I estimate his height to be around 6'5", and his weight at around 160. He's very dark skinned, wears a knit cap over his close-cropped knots of hair and his eyes reach out at you as if to grab you and pull you into his skull.

"Hey! Hey!" When I'm on the street, I give him a wide berth and do my best to avoid eye contact.

He's one of several overt schizophrenics wandering the city, unattended, unmedicated and under fed. There is no real way to keep them under control without violating their civil rights, and so we wait until something bad happens and then we jail or hospitalize them. Then comes a court order to medicate, and the long process of convincing someone in another reality to take their pills no matter how god awful the side effects.

One hallmark of the disease is self-isolation. They are alone in their world, often in darkness, yelling at passing shadows. "Where are you going? Get in here and keep me company, damn you! Help me!"

"Hey!" Here he comes again.

"Crap, that's annoying," I say to no one in particular, as I glide across the room and close the window.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Slowmo Slim Jim

It was like watching someone play Grand Theft Auto in slow motion. He poked and jabbed around the driver's side window with a flattened beer can, muttering, cursing and teetering. He knocked at the frame and tried the door handle several times before noticing me. "Can't find my keys. Heh heh." I smiled and let my dog sniff a nearby tree a bit longer. After another reassuring "Heh heh," he resumed.

The car is an icy blue Jaguar that is always parked in front of a retirement home, on what is rapidly turning into the worst street in the area. It stands out like a diamond in a coal mine. Construction on an extension of the retirement home has slowed because of cold weather, leaving the site abandoned for days at a time. Expensive equipment was stolen, so stadium lighting guards the replacements at night. The tempting Jag bathes in this light.

I passed up and down the street, under the guise of searching for a poop spot for doggy, to further assess the situation. Do I call the police? Do I confront? Is it his car? I chuckled at the thought of him being charged with a DUI, but without the D part. A group of teens walked by and offered insight.

"Hey, dude! You need help stealing that car? Ha ha ha! Dumbass!"

The last time I locked my keys in my car, the guy who helped me left his slim jim on the hood. Without knowing his name there was no way to find him and return it, so I still have this hard-to-get, notched, metal bar somewhere in the mess inside my trunk. It's illegal for anyone but a locksmith or tow company to own one in this state, and ownership requires character assessment. My good Samaritan helped a white female with a worn Nissan, who in turn had to decide whether or not to help a black man poking at a mint condition Jag.

He was joined by a coherent, younger man who began aggressively abusing the window frame with a coat hanger. I decided they were trying to steal the car, because no proper owner of such a beautiful object would allow such cruelty to take place. The young man gave me a look that let me know he wouldn't tolerate an audience so I went on my way, hoping I wouldn't hear the sound of a sweet, purring Jaguar engine as it comes to life.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Right to Heat

Seattle has a well-known, moving target of a homeless shelter called Nickelsville. It was sarcastically named after our former Mayor, who attempted to drive our homeless population out of the city by arresting the residents of a large cluster of tents. Ultimately the shelter was ordered to relocate every few months lieu of continuing this practice. If Hooverville comes to mind, well, you are historically correct and also an old fart like me.

Nickelsville is currently located in an abandoned fire station about four blocks from my place. There is a food bank within comfortable walking distance, and this happens to be my dog's most favored evening poop route. The food bank is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On those days, Sam and I are now joined by what can only be described as a pilgrimage of cackling drunks, limping disabled veterans and schizophrenic twenty-somethings, all headed toward their bi-weekly ration of stale hamburger buns and canned turnips.

There are those who think that beggars can't be choosers. But canned turnips?

Anyway, If you follow my blog you know that my neighborhood isn't exactly Beverly Hills. It's kind of a mixed bag. Some of my building mates have cars worth more than my 343 square foot condo. Some are barely hanging onto what they have, and steal what they don't have. It is, however, surrounded by large clusters of single family dwellings with landscaping, a Subaru in the driveway, a Grand Cherokee in the garage and an alarm system to keep out the riffraff.

Much of our canned-turnip-donating middle class votes liberal because they believe it's the right thing to do, so you'd think they would be open minded about a homeless shelter. You'd be wrong. In fact, there has been a surprising outcry against the current location of Nickelsville. Last week I read some op-ed pieces and responses to news blogs, by people who think their children are in danger from the influx of homeless. From my perspective somewhere between poor and middle class, I see fewer homeless people on the street than ever. They are spending most of the time inside. Wednesdays and Saturdays are the exceptions, and most are too busy trying to get to the food bank to bother terrorizing kids. You'd think opponents would have noticed the "improvement", but obviously not.

"Why don't they get jobs? They're just lazy drunks." The factors that go into making someone homeless are many and varied. It usually isn't one thing or another, but a series of events, that finally forces someone out their front door for the last time. To me this shows a strong will to live wherever they can. Let's face it, the other option is suicide. Survival is a full-time job for everyone.

This past week nighttime temperatures dipped into the low teens. Seattle rarely sees temperatures so low that exposure can be fatal within hours. Realizing what they were railing against, even the most public opponents of Nickelsville kept to themselves. Maybe a few of them learned that those "lazy drunks" don't deserve to freeze to death no matter why they're homeless.

Shelters exist to protect from the unexpected, not the expected.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Oppositeville

I'm not going to sugar coat this. Living in a multicultural environment has its hilarious moments. Whenever a new group of people introduces itself into an established society, there is the inevitable confusion. The adjustment period can last from mere days, to several years, to a lifetime, and the gaffs follow a prescribed pattern.

Exhibit A, The Recycling Bins: The rules about garbage and recycling are confusing for everyone at first, but as a native English speaker, I have the advantage of being able to follow detailed instruction. I also read what we natives refer to as "forward". Many Asian languages do not read "forward", so any positives become negatives. If someone in my building notices that there is garbage in the recycling and vice versa, they post a sign. Within days, the problem grows worse. A second sign goes up with highlighter, exclamation points and underscoring, "Do NOT NOT NOT put garbage in the recycling!!!" Unless they are walked into the trash room with a bag of garbage in one hand and a bag of bottles in the other--and their arms are guided like a tennis lesson--progress is slow.

Exhibit B, The Elevator: Let's pretend that a group of us U.S. citizens decide to move to Africa. Our plane touches down next to a large village, where we are greeted warmly, offered the local fermented beverage and introduced to our new mode of transport--a camel. Now what? How do we mount it, how do we make it move, and how on earth do we prevent a mortal kicking injury? Meanwhile, our friendly townsmen are laughing heartily as we stand there, staring at the smelly beast and wishing for home. Help!

Elevators are baffling to those who have never even seen a multistory building. One of my new neighbors from the deepest depths of the Ivory Coast stepped onto the elevator for the first time the other day, and with what I'm sure was a great deal of trepidation, let the door close behind him. And there he was, this brave man who has probably been witness to the most awful of human atrocities, stymied by 100-year-old technology. The elevator didn't move, the door wouldn't open. Help!

It seems every culture knows that red is an emergency color, so he did what any of us would do: he pressed the red button. A human being on an elevator that won't move is considered a life threatening situation, so shortly thereafter a fire truck pulled up and I happened to be the one to let the first responders in the front door. We pressed the "up" button and the elevator arrived, empty and ready for use. Sneaking quietly up the stairs, my African neighbor made himself as small as he could and vanished in a puff of humiliation.

Exhibit C, Courtesy: This same fellow is the most gentlemanly of gentlemen. If you recall the movie "Coming to America" with Eddie Murphy, you'll know what I mean when I say that his accent and volume are rather, well, loud and ingratiating. He's not used to women doing him a kindness but he's nonetheless grateful, so when holding a door open for him I'm greeted with, "THANK YOU SO MUCH! I'M SORRY SO MUCH!" You're welcome so much, my friend.

Many Asian cultures don't have such niceties. I've been glared at for holding open doors, trying to help with directions or even smiling. They're not being rude, it's simply the way things are. At first I was hurt, but I now know to expect it until the adjustment period is over. Once that period is over, they give small gifts of food, or pirated movies arrive in my email inbox, and I know I've been accepted into the fold.

I also fully expect that they are going to hate my dog on sight, and overtly cringe away from him even when he's nowhere near. One woman will sometimes allow Sam to greet her child, while other times she'll shake her head and say, "No no no no no," rapid-fire, and whip the stroller around a corner with the g-force of 10 rockets. I can almost see her daughter's cheeks flap.

Is there a lesson in acceptance and understanding to be learned from all this? Maybe, but mostly what it's good for is a shared laugh.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How a Local Business Celebrated Veteran's Day

I pass this "theatre" daily, during my dog walking adventures. It's conveniently located near a pawn shop, a mini-mart that stocks mostly beer and a VA hospital. There are odd inlets and alleyways where the homeless and junkies can get a little privacy
while they sleep,
poop, or battle
a needle.
One
stop
shopping.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I'm a Model

"You're tall and skinny. I've enrolled you in a modeling class."

Those are the words that every girl openly longs to hear, but in my case it was my mother's way of letting me know I needed to earn my keep. At age 11 there aren't many ways for a tall, skinny girl to make herself useful, but to stand around looking tall and skinny. It was my call to arms, my 'ask not what my mother can do for me, but what I can do for my mother,' my manifest destiny. I was her last, best hope for the good life and she was willing to pimp me out.

She was very attractive, as was my father. My brother's looks hadn't taken any kind of shape, but still my mother once looked at the two of us standing together and asked, "How could two such good looking people have two such funny looking kids?" She laughed to indicate it was meant as a joke, and apologized when she saw what was probably a look of horror on my face. My brother barely noticed, and continued on his beggarly quest for a McDonald's Happy Meal and a toy gun. "No," she replied. "We don't have the money for that."

My instructor was a homely yet photogenic, shapeless woman, who had taken up teaching because she was getting too long in the tooth to scare up work. Her teaching method was thus: She would place a book on our heads, and push us down a make-shift catwalk, then tell us what we did wrong. I'd been in ballet classes most of my young life, so I had a grace of movement that most of the less symmetry challenged girls lacked. This didn't make up for my lack of self worth in every other aspect, and this woman read me like, well, like a book.

And so she decided to make me the star of our final modeling exam, and fit me into an ugly, floral dress that made me look like a bouquet of Forget-me-nots on white stalks. The featured model always goes last, and is the one who--in a real show--gets to act all nicey nicey with the designer. Unless J.C. Penney himself put that monstrosity together, I doubt anyone did much designing. I wasn't happy about the dress nor the attention, but I was flattered, and did my absolute best. I managed to complete my pass without tripping, doing a perfect model's turn at the end of the runway and ducking backstage before I peed myself. There was a tiny bit of applause from somewhere near where my family sat.

Once classes were complete, our instructor submitted our photos to various agencies around town. My photos didn't pass the test, which was just as well. I may have looked 16 but I was far too young to launch a career, certainly not in an industry marred by hypersexuality, drug abuse and potential encounters with Andy Warhol. The same could be said for a dancer's life. I'd dodged four bullets, the third being acting and the fourth, musician. Phew!

My mother continued to encourage me to model, act, dance and sing but I ultimately let her vicarious aspirations of wealth and fame go down the drain by ending my growth spurt at a non-lofty 5'6". Then came several dozen pounds and acne, and a star was unborn.

Some years later I asked her why she would put a shy, terrified girl through such an ordeal, even if it meant we would all live in comfort. Why such a looks-based industry when I had other qualities to lean on? I was a good student, had a natural ability to write, paint and invent, and even excelled in math. So why modeling?

"To build your self confidence, of course." To her, it made perfect sense.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dear Officer Turner:

The following is a letter I wrote to the Crime Stop liaison for my district, describing an incident that just occurred. Those of you who have followed me on Twitter for longer than a few weeks, or who have read my blog, will be familiar with my humorous and understanding side of what I witness every day. What happened this evening might change all that. I'll edit this down and print copies to give to the moronic manager of my building (who claims not to notice anything--the asshole), as well as the Chief of Police and the Mayor's office.

***

"Dear Officer Turner:

My street is a popular location for drugs, prostitution and gang activity. There is a bar that appears to be a front for drugs, as well as some suspected apartment buildings and intersections. A criminal element is obvious to anyone who has to be outside at regular intervals. I have a dog, so I’m out several times a day.

When I was returning from a dog walk this evening, I saw a fight start. Several men and one woman were involved, and one of the men was on the ground. A few brave souls came out of their businesses and started to yell at and approach them, but the fight was escalating so they stayed back. It appeared to be getting quite violent.

Because I was concerned for everyone's safety and was so close to the fight, myself, I called 911. I told the fighters I was on the phone to hopefully get them off their victim so he wouldn't get seriously injured, and a couple of them came toward me while the others continued to hit at their victim. I thought the news that I had called 911 would make them stop, but they didn’t. They kept trying to intimidate me by moving forward and staring directly at me. At the same time, when their original victim tried to run they would block him.

I was panicked. I finally started yelling at the 911 operator and stomping my feet at my would-be assailants like you would at a rabid dog. They stopped, stood ground, then the woman approached. She probably would have attacked (I've witnessed her anger, before), but one of the men grabbed her, lunged toward me in a threatening manner, then turned and then they all scattered. Most were on foot, and two got into a beat-up red truck and drove away so fast they almost hit several cars.

These people see me all the time. They know me, they especially know my dog, and now they know I’m willing to call for help instead of pretending I didn't see anything. The 911 operator asked if they were still in the area, but they were dispersing and hiding. She said that in that case, there was NOTHING THE POLICE COULD DO, and she canceled the request for a car to come to my aid. She kept asking if I had seen a weapon. I had not, but felt that a man's life being at stake was reason enough to send help. I've seen two fights like that in the past, and both of the other victims ended up almost dying.

This whole scenario is unacceptable. I feel like I’m now in danger, and all to protect someone who is just as likely to hurt me as help me—the guy on the ground. Though I empathize with the plight of addicts and prostitutes--even kids who are coerced into joining gangs--I do not empathize with violence, bullying and displays of dominance.

By the way, these are not kids or teens. They are adults in their 20s and 30s, mostly African American. The woman is either white or Hispanic, and one of the men is white. Making matters worse, there is a growing at-risk homeless population, some of whom have been the victims of the younger suspected gang members.

Please encourage 911 dispatchers to err on the side of caution, and let them know that a squad car is always necessary in this location. Even if the situation isn’t as immediate there are constant scuffles, and a more dangerous group of users and dealers is taking over. I haven’t seen as many regular patrols, lately, and it feels like police have given up.

I appreciate any help you can give, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions.

Sincerely,

[chick who's scared for her mother fucking life]"

***

Normally I'd feel bad for what I'm about to write, but like I said, tonight I can't be nice. If harsh language and talk of violent sexual acts is upsetting to you, then don't read any further.

The woman I wrote of is in a gang, and might even be the head. Being up top in a gang takes the kind of brutality only a sociopath can muster, and female gangs are the worst because they have the most to prove.

Her looks are distinctive. She is thin but very strongly built and has a face like a piece of sandpaper. White or Hispanic(Latina). Her hair is over-dyed to a bluish black. I would recognize her 20 years from now, even before tonight's incident.

She is filled with hatred, and will take that out on anyone she can. She's yelled and postured at me on a number of occasions for merely glancing in her direction. One of her favorite past-times is to make sexual advances on women who don't speak English, then threaten violence because the women "dissed her". I've helped a couple of women escape her bullying by pretending I knew them and hurrying them along.

She's disgusting, and I don't care how many times her father sodomized her or her mother pimped her out. I don't care how many of her johns have tortured her with cigarettes or forced her into porn. My life hasn't been as bad as hers, but it hasn't been great, either. So she needs to suck it up, big time, or I'll be thrilled to help treat her to her next prison rape experience.

Sorry.

Time to take my frighted dog to my semi-secure garage, and let him piss on some tires. It's getting late, and I'm not quite ready to take my bravado to the streets.

Sincerely,

The Snitch

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Indirect Route

Being hotly pursued on a dating website is nothing new, but this guy was persistent. It takes me several weeks to agree to a date. I need to suss out the situation, decide if my suitor is safe, if they have controlling personalities, or riddled with bitterness. Thankfully, most people are transparent enough that a quick review of their emails tells their story. His did not.

After the first date we were a reluctant couple. We were giddy but still guarded, and intense but we couldn't verbalize our feelings. He was recently divorced, had slept around considerably and was still being obsessively texted by two or three girls. I was involved with a couple of other men. He was nine years my junior, and was in the habit of bedding down girls half his age. "Self-proclaimed bondage sluts with daddy issues," he confessed.

He claimed he met them in all different places and ways--some online, one at a mini-mart, two were friends of friends of friends of someone else... too many to be a coincidence. I asked him if not getting that sort of thing in bed with me was going to be a problem, and he responded, "I'm not into tying up and torturing, but they wanted it so I did it." He was offended that I would even dare ask such a question, and he pinched me very hard under the guise of teasing. I told him to knock it off or leave, and that he was only confirming my suspicions. He left and didn't call for several days.

When he did call, he attempted nonchalance, then asked if he could come over. I told him he could as long as we practiced some mutual respect. We then entered into a phase of general calm, enjoying each others' company and keeping the sniping to a minimum. He would reprimand me if I cut him off in conversation, but I didn't ever bother to point out that he only talked about himself. Endlessly. I decided to pick my battles and adjust, and would wait until he was even boring himself before stepping in.

Then came the big blowup. We were supposed to attend a party together but he was called away to help his ex with an emergency she could have handled. Because he was afraid of her and her power to take away his children, he usually jumped when she said jump. He kept telling me he'd be done "any minute" so I kept waiting, until I finally called the hostess and told her I was going to try and make it on my own. "Oh. It's over, already." I'd missed her daughter's birthday celebration entirely. 'Hurry up and wait' at its finest.

When he finally arrived I tried to explain to him why I was upset. He had a bad habit of assuming I knew better than to question his actions, so he sat there. Saying nothing. Until I burst.

"I understand she has you by the balls, but this is happening way too often. She's acting like a child and you're playing into it, and you'll have to figure out some way to explain all this to me because I'm not getting it. I don't read minds, I read people, and I get why you're afraid. The details are what are escaping me. I'm sorry I'm mad. It's a gut reaction to a frustrating situation, and it's not just frustrating for YOU! What does she have on you?"

He felt like he deserved respect no matter what his actions. I felt like that was absurd. It's my belief that respect is earned, day to day, one action at a time. We went to bed angry.

The next morning we fell into an old habit of morning sex, but at one point he pulled my hair and pretty much forced me to do something I didn't want to do. He wasn't staying hard, and maybe that was his solution. When I told him that was never okay with me and asked if we could try again, he yelled, "Don't start something you can't fucking finish!" I realized, to my horror, that he'd said that once before. He'd taken out his inability to perform on the one person who was trying to love and understand him.

While we were apart for the next few weeks... I went on a date with a man I'd met before, with a completely different set of problems. For now, let it suffice that seeing him made me think my "current" situation wasn't so bad. I made a phone call. I needed to know my ex-not-ex understood how frightening his behavior had been and maybe we could AGAIN start respecting each other.

But I didn't respect him. I couldn't and I wasn't even aware of it until it was all I could think about. And the more he spoke about his life, the less I understood this strange, cold man. I realized he didn't love his kids for who the were, but because they were his creations and reflections of his virility. How sad. A manic mother and a cold father. I wanted to kidnap them and take them away from the madness, and I hadn't even met them.

***

His main source of income I'll keep to myself. Well, it's probably best to keep his other two jobs out of this, too. What I will say is that over 10 years before we met he was part of a drug dealing ring. He was the money guy.

For those who don't know, volume dealers rarely touch the drugs, the money and the gun at the same time. Never the money and drugs, as that's a dead giveaway to law enforcement. Part of the busines is collections--yes, coercion, threats and physical harm fall under that umbrella. Should the muscle be unable or unwilling, someone needs to step up, and on at least one occasion he stepped up, beat the hell out of someone, was arrested but never convicted. There were other arrests without convictions for various other deeds.

So now we have bondage, abuse, illegal activity, dangerous hobbies (included in one of his other jobs), a punishment mentality toward me and others, and all manner of other frightening behaviors. Naturally he was abused as a child, and he came out of that with the attitude that if he could survive the pain, so could everyone else. It didn't bother him one tiny bit to watch someone else suffer. My reaction to childhood trauma was to feel too much, and that's where we clashed the loudest.

We began to drift apart. His ex-wife's behavior was growing increasingly bipolar and manipulative, so it was difficult for him to find time away from his kids. At that point, we'd been together for almost 10 months. I asked about meeting them and he said, "Yes. That would be nice." I asked for details on how we could make that easy on them and the ex. He didn't offer much. After that he didn't call much, either. He'd been calling every day up to that point. When I asked him about that, he claimed to not remember the daily calls. I found that odd, but then again, he forgot lots of things. Stress, perhaps.

A month into this relatively distant period, he called to let me know his ex had given over complete control of the children. She'd been a neglectful, inconsistent, addicted mother as it was, but I'd never known anyone who would do such a thing. He couldn't believe his luck, that she would just back down and let him move forward with them, hire sitters to get more of a social life, see me more often, have more fun time with his kids, etc. Things seemed like they might be improving.

One of the last times we spoke, he called with some disturbing news. To him it was merely odd, but it cemented everything I'd ever wondered about. He underwent frequent background checks for his job, and there had never been a problem. It was almost as if his arrest record was sealed. It was almost as if he had had help with the sealing of it, and what came next made me think that maybe his ex had let some sort of cat out of the bag. She'd met him when he was involved with drugs, because she was a client living in the same crack house his boss controlled. She knew everything.

He had innocently applied to volunteer for a cause I won't disclose, and part of acceptance was a background check. Up popped several things. It was, I suspect, the beginning of his undoing. His primary job wasn't doing well, and his other more nefarious activities weren't reliable. The stress he must have been under, well, I can't imagine. And now this. Did his ex cause this out of bipolar vengeance? Did someone protecting him decide to suddenly stop?

It dawned on me that maybe I should be a little more concerned about my safety. Not that I thought he'd try anything with me again, perhaps misguidedly. His frustration with not being dominant over someone was obvious. His ex may have had him by the balls at that point, but she had been the sub in their marriage.

No, my concern grew as I started to realize that some of his business dealings could get him killed. He sold a certain product to a certain group of people who, well, let's just say they are capable of making the biggest bad-ass cry like a baby. After he would meet with them, he'd visit me because I was close by their favorite restaurant. Months later I thought, "Oh, shit. I hope he took an indirect route, because I never want people like that to know where I live."

This charming crew of career criminals are also rumored to be in the sex trade. Specifically, they are allegedly involved in the peddling of sex slaves, bondage films and torture pornography. If what I was thinking was accurate, it was through them that he kept meeting bondage sluts. He had stories for how he met each one, but that didn't mean they were true.

I'll never know how things ended up for him. A few days went by, then he called and asked if he could come over on his lunch break. We sat in silence. My head was resting on his shoulder, swimming in conjecture, dying to ask what was really going on and drowning in sadness. He left me with a kiss on the forehead, then felt like it was coming from a desperately frightened man.

I called about a week later and got voicemail, and left a message offering friendship if he ever needed it. It was a difficult holiday after that, because what got me through the bulk of the relationship was my vision of the future for us and his kids. They were still very young and needed a mom, and I wanted to be one; and it was, as it turns out, most likely my last chance to be one.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Man with Two Eyes

When I see someone with a ghastly face, I try to count the recognizable features as quickly as I can. In his case, he has two eyes, right where they should be, but that's about it.

It appears he's had his jaw removed due to cancer. His cheeks are lopsided, with one much larger than the other. Part of one of his ears is missing. Maybe it's a ghoulish birth defect or the result of an injury, but the pattern of scars along his jawline make me think otherwise.

I've never seen him without a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He can't even make the three-block walk from his house to his favorite bar without a sip and a smoke. God, who could blame him? I go into depression from so much as a pimple. He must look at people with severe skin diseases or cystic acne with envy. He probably hasn't had to listen to some teenager wail about how zits have ruined their social life in ages, because what he has going on pretty much trumps all that.

He's also addicted to prostitutes. They've seen it all, but I doubt they can look at him while they "work". Then again, they probably don't look at any of their johns too closely, for fear they might accidentally make eye contact. A revolting, shame-inducing job isn't going to change just because a client is attractive.

My one and only conversation with him was mostly about alcoholism and addiction. We were walking the same direction, and ended up chatting for several blocks until he reached his bar and I reached my home. By the end of the walk we decided that, on rare occasion, it's okay to be an addict. Sometimes it just doesn't matter. He knows he's one of the few, and I know I'm not.

No worries, new friend. No one blames you for hastening your own end, even those who would blame you for your face.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Survival of the Least Fit

On nearly every street in my part of this paved jungle there has recently been erected a "Block Watch" sign. These signs have a disquieting effect on me, because they're reminiscent of the ultimate keep out signs: heads on stakes.

If you happen upon one of these signs, what might your reaction be? I've seen whole groups of people turn and walk the other way, looking behind them at some indefinable threat. If you don't know what to fear, it's only natural to fear everything. Signs like this give criminals ultimate power and turn the concept of survival of the fittest on it's ear.

One evening, while walking Sam-dog past an array of ignored signs, I saw a small band of my perkiest, most hope-filled neighbors sipping cider and nibbling on junk food in the middle of the street. Traffic cones laced with yellow tape barred cars from picking them off, one by one. They were "taking back the streets" by encouraging each other to stay safe, make that 911 call if needed and make this a family oriented neighborhood once again. Be a hero. Squash evil. Assert yourself, even if it means blocking traffic and eating your weight in potato chips.

A hundred yards away stood a prostitute, busily flashing her boobs at potential customers. I imagined some of the same brave men at the block watch party furtively pulling her into their cars. I ducked around a corner so no one could see me laugh.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mr. Methadone Head

It's impossible to go more than five feet around here without rubbing elbows with desperation and depravity. There is a methadone clinic, several regular AA meeting spots, a couple of make-shift shelters, a popular food bank, homeless vets waiting outside the VA hospital and two bars--populated by prostitutes--that tolerate crack and heroin distribution. Poverty and violence are part of daily life. Someone is being torn apart by the excruciating pain and anxiety of withdrawals, hiding in a doorway in hopes that no one sees them cry. Someone else is hiding a gun. Most of my neighbors try not to notice, but I can't help myself.

Yes, it's true, I meet people more easily than most. If you start talking to me, I'll jump right in despite myself. The majority of the planet doesn't want to see or talk to the addicted or homeless, but there I am, yapping away. It's difficult to listen to some of these people talk. It exposes another world; one of hurt, fear, pain, hunger, abuse and cruelty that's frightening and baffling. Sadly, this means most of my neighbors will probably never meet Mr. Methadone Head.

I know his real name. It's a fine, solid name, given to him in infancy by a mom who loved him on sight. He's a nice, normal guy. Okay, he's a nice, normal guy with a serious addiction to methadone (to replace prescription painkillers) and methamphetamine (to stay awake).

His body and mind have likely sustained permanent damage from these two drugs. He can't remember my name to save his life. He knows he's lost name retention, and looks a bit uncomfortable when he has to ask again. He repeats my name over and over in the hopes that it will stick, while busily scratching one of the many open sores on his arms. He quotes John Lennon and Janice Joplin, but can't remember the source.

This morning we had our longest conversation, yet, and I learned that some of the kids in the local make-shift gang beat up a homeless guy who has a fine, solid name of his own. "They beat him up, and then they peed on him. You know the guy? He has one of those diseases that's one of the really bad ones, too. So he can't even walk." He meant muscular dystrophy.

"Then they kicked him out of the hospital after an hour. Sent him back here with blood still on his face. All over this side, especially," and he traced an area on his cheek and chin.

Mr. Methadone Head digressed to the topic of the methadone clinic. "'People say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing.' You know, W...W...Wanina..da? Did I get it? I do my thing and get out. Dealers hang out there, too. Mean fuckers. And those kids that hurt that guy, or maybe similar. They act tough. It's fucked there. Those people steal shit. I do my thing and get out."

It's good to know that even Mr. Methadone Head has standards.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Arachnopho...aaah!

This photo was difficult for me to take. It was difficult to line up the shot. It was difficult because there were onlookers, causing a bit of distraction. It was difficult because my dog kept pulling at his leash. Once uploaded, it was difficult to adjust the exposure, crop, align, highlight and refine.

But the main reason this photo was difficult for me to take, is that I was trying to stay conscious the whole time.


(Click to enlarge, but only if you really want to.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Natural Born Atheist

The vast majority of the human race looks to spirits, deities, rituals, interconnectedness, afterlife, reincarnation, positivism, affirmations, signs, symbols, psychic forces and/or miracles to explain life, death and existence. There are a few of us who are incapable of all of the above. We can't care what happens after we die. We can't wonder why we exist. We're not lapsed. We're not angry. We don't judge others for their beliefs, we simply don't have the capacity. Good and evil become empathy and lack thereof. Prayer resulting in change or cure becomes delightful coincidence. The Golden Rule stays as it is written.

Peace be with you,

The Sarcastivist
(shared from my other blog)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alley Kitten

Alleys have been a passion of mine since before I can remember. The bigger the city, the more intriguing the goings on in these places where we think no one looks. Cars we're proud of grace streets, but rusted heaps gather spiders and stray cats behind houses and apartments. Sitting out on the front deck for a cigarette and cup of coffee involves at minimum a robe, at best a full ensemble. A deck overlooking an alley requires only the scantest of boxer briefs. In an alley, children wail or play with abandon.

Near the turn of the last century, many brick buildings went up to house and provide working space for thousands of new Seattle residents. The architectural details rival anything in Europe, especially in what we call Pioneer Square. I've spent many minutes, day and night, trudging down these rat-infested passages, sometimes waiting for a drunk friend to finish stealing kisses with a bartender on break, while I look up at winding iron staircases that lead to nowhere and wish I could go there. Boredom with the wait starts up a staring contest with a relief carving of some or another city founder. By day there are always delivery trucks struggling over intricately patterned cobblestones and flowery, iron grates. The rats are politely hiding.

By contrast, alleys in newer parts of this city are all but neglected. No paving or stone, or any other attempt at aesthetic improvement, distracts from the filth and smell. This is where I indulge in pure voyeurism. This is where people hide from police, steal from their neighbors, stash broken toilets, cry their eyes out or find a working vein for some freshly cooked heroin.

What we do on the street we want to be everyone's business. Nothing we do in alleys counts as part of who we are--even something as innocent and productive as taking out the trash.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

All Things Domestic

I made a statement on Twitter today, 9/11/10, that to my amazement lost me no followers. I fully expected to hear splashing noises as followers jumped ship, while reading various interpretations into what I'd said.

"Acts of terrorism occur every day in this country. I shall honor any and all victims, regardless of how they were terrorized."

No one asked what I meant by that. No one commented, blocked, agreed or called me unpatriotic (pisses me off when I'm accused of that). No one asked if I meant Timothy McVeigh or even the Columbine shooters; though, h-e-l-l-o. Maybe I'm losing my edge, or maybe--hopefully--it has caused some quiet contemplation. Maybe everyone is out drinking, mourning, working or trying to get laid--bless their hearts--and not letting today get them down. As it should be.

Hold on tight, because here it comes: I was referring to rape, child molestation and spousal abuse. These are deliberate acts that target groups or individuals, striking fear in their hearts and letting them know that they will never be safe. In other words, terrorism.

A fellow tweeter tweetingly asked if rapists carry lube, and she was unfollowed by a good number of people almost immediately. What some were offended by, I took as stark social commentary. In fact, I was so impressed by her comment that I've spent a good deal of time quietly pondering. I've always felt that rape isn't discussed enough, even in a humorous way. Why not?

Child molestation and spousal abuse are finally becoming part of mainstream conversation. Every time someone thinks of molesting a child or smackin' the misses, they maybe pause first and say to themselves, "Society thinks that what I'm about to do is abnormal to the point of being laughable. I'm a national joke," or, "I'm a wife-beater, and I don't mean the white tank top. I'm a total jerk." At least I hope so.

Now let's do the same thing with rape, shall we? "RAPE! Ha ha! I'm a weak, spineless, angry man (occasionally woman) who gets all fussy-wussy sometimes because my mama scared me. I'm a complete loser."

Part of the reason this she-maverick lost followers, she snarked in a followup tweet, was because of the mere use of the word "rape". At first I assumed it was re-traumatized victims jumping ship. Then I thought about it again. I tweeted to ask her if she was unfollowed by rapists or K-Y, but she hasn't gotten back to me yet.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Taste of Ethiopia and Lottery Tickets

Bodegas are, if you live in a city that has them, about the best little shops on earth. If you are from the suburbs or rural places, you'd have to visit a truck stop to find the next best thing.Except at truck stops you don't have the diversity factor. Bodegas are rarely owned by people who hail from the United States, and they are located in inner city neighborhoods that often have high crime and poverty rates. No matter the nationality of the owner, I call them all "bodegas". It's just easier than trying to remember how to say "weird little shop" in 10 languages.

Their merchandise is comprised of random samplings of essential and nonessential items. All products are usually toward the front of shelves in perfect geometry so as to fool the eye into thinking there are more than, say, four boxes of Cornflakes. Individual rolls of toilet paper, sewing kits and candy bars occupy the same section. Alcohol takes up most of the wall space, followed closely by cigarettes, and lottery tickets are available at the front counter.

Those are the commonalities. What I love about a true bodega is the stuff for sale from the owner's country of origin. Across the street from me is a shop owned by a woman from Ethiopia. She moved here as a young child, so her English is better than mine most days. When I request a lottery ticket, she always recites the same caveat: "If you win, you must buy this place so I can get the hell out of here. Maybe Paris." Her half sister, on the other hand, barely speaks a word of English.

My last visit, I had to circle past a group of addicts and dealers trying to steal beer to do my browsing. After they begrudgingly bought the beer with coins, I arrived at the counter with an armload of what I thought might be tea, a plastic pack of what looked like mustard seeds, an interesting melange of spices and a Butterfinger. I have a pretty good handle on what a Butterfinger is, but I needed clarification on the other three.

The non-English-speaking sister was on duty. After a few attempts at communication, much improvised sign language and a gestured request for a lottery ticket I bought all four. Everything cost $1.99.

Much to my delight, what I thought might be tea is, and it's amazing. It's smokey and strong, and goes beautifully with a little honey and some milk. The mustard seeds (?) I've yet to put to use. They are irregularly shaped, and smell faintly of red peppercorns. The spices must be for making chai. I've harvested out the cardamom seeds for baking. The Butterfinger is long gone.

My next adventure is to visit the Algerian bodega for some goat jerky and bobby pins. Then to the Korean one for some canned hearts of palm and a second bag of multicolored tapioca beads. Why? Because they're there.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Original Sex Tape

The lure of a nightclub bouncer. The danger of a drug dealer. The beautiful face and broad shoulders. It was all too much for a 20-year-old girl to resist. I didn't so much throw myself at him, but show up at the club where he worked with such regularity that he was eventually obligated to ask my name out of politeness. After that it was, "Evening, Wendina." He never once carded me, which I took as a sign of mutual interest.

"Who's with?" I'd gesture at my group of friends, hoping he didn't find one of them attractive and learn their name.

After I celebrated my 21st birthday at the club, and was legit at last, he asked me out. In the first minute of the first date it became clear why he was single. He was beautiful, strange and dark, but he was probably the most boring human being I'd ever met. The strong, silent type is great when you see one in a movie and there are more animated people on screen to provide entertainment, but in person it's damned dull.

On what passed for dates he would entertain me by working his side job of repairing clock radios, and never spoke more than two words at a time. Half way through date one he hit me with a question to indicate he remembered I was there.

"What's this?" he asked, holding up a small glass tube with metal ends.

"That looks like a diode or something," I replied.

"Wow. Impressive."

"Yes, I'm the son my father always wanted."

He rose an approving eyebrow, then went back to work. All I wanted to do was have sex, but there I was, hanging out in a repair shop. If I wanted that sort of evening I'd have dated my father.

Despite his numbing reticence, I fell madly in love with him. A challenge is a challenge, and instinctively I knew that if I went for someone accessible I'd either be locked into a relationship out of guilt or left by someone I actually respected. That he had no personality was assurance that he -probably- wasn't being pursued by too many other women, but it left me with very few clues about who he really was or what he was up to when I wasn't loitering in his shop.

A fierce cocaine addiction left him with a ruptured sinus and erectile dysfunction. In my youth and innocence I didn't know he used until he pulled a plate thick with powder out of a drawer and snorted it through his mouth.

"Nose," he said. "Can't."

When I was 14 I knew a girl a who'd had her nose rebuilt because of an addiction to nose spray. She eventually admitted she did nose spray to clear the way for cocaine. Seven years down the road I was still innocent of the powers of addiction. I could take or leave cocaine, even though he'd blow his leftover freebase smoke into my mouth in an effort to get me hooked. Possible loss of a body part? Unfathomable.

As for the erectile dysfunction, that was the other reason why I assumed women weren't knocking down his door. He spoke of it in a very matter-of-fact way, and said his pot habit was also to blame. He claimed he smoked pot to keep his sperm count down, as even a vasectomy couldn't even keep his swimmers corralled.

Thus, I became the sole subject of a little bit of VCR history. We did what couples began to do in the early '80s, and made a mid-'80s sex tape. It was of only me, doing "stuff", and he was never in the frame. Thankfully neither was my face, but it didn't go far in concealing my identity. As the stars always say, it wasn't supposed to go beyond our eyes. Such sentiments don't apply when one of the parties involved is on a drug that takes away common decency. He showed it to several of his friends one night when I wasn't there, and my first clue? His friends called, and all they said was, "I'd like to be next."

I didn't have the full scenario until I went to his house a few days later and there was a skinny, wired woman sitting on his couch. She introduced herself and told me she liked the video. When I stood there silent she realized I didn't know specifics about the movie night she'd attended. She said, "I'm so sorry. You didn't give him permission, did you? He also gave out your phone number."

She then took me on a tour of his home, showing me what was packed in all the boxes in his bedroom I never bothered to look in. They were filled with porn, a collection of bras, electronic parts and countless photos of what appeared to be women in various states of undress, completely unaware they were being photographed. His name was Thomas, so it stood to reason.

When the tour was complete, I drove right home and called a guy I'd met at work. He'd been asking me out for months. I accepted a date for that very night, and he and I were somewhat together for the next few months.

Thomas wasn't completely out of my life, but after that day I didn't look at him as a human, let alone a boyfriend. I used him for what sex he could deliver. He had no idea why I'd lost my reverence, and would do whatever he was capable of to keep me around.

I eventually found out he'd been dating dozens of other women while with me, most of them drug clients hoping for a freebee. One day he showed me the million dollar marijuana grow-op in a dugout under his basement. I realized right then that I'd been sitting on a powder keg, literally about to explode. He'd been siphoning electricity from various neighbors to grow his weed, trying his hand at making meth, selling blow to anyone who'd ask and putting everyone who set foot on his property at risk of felony arrest. He'd also knowingly risked giving me AIDS.

After about a year of ignoring his phone calls, he gave up and I barely gave him a second thought. Some months after his last call I ran into him on the street, and he grinningly asked me if I'd like to have children with him.

"I'm off the coke and my vasectomy is officially reversing itself, and the woman I'm with isn't healthy enough to have kids. You're the healthiest woman I've ever dated, so, um..."

He'd developed a pot belly when his appetite returned, and he looked jaundiced as though alcohol had become his new drug of choice. Much of his hair had fallen out, and he smelled like oily skin. It was odd to see him smile.

I said, "No, thanks, but thanks. Take care," and took the long way around the block back to my new apartment so his peeping eyes didn't know where to find me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Haff Connection

Across from a health club and behind a used car dealership, a rusting motor home sits in all its glory. Much of the exterior is warped and brown, and looks as though it might be stripped away with the next wisp of air. The windows are lined with scraps of cardboard. The tires are so flat the rims are dug several inches into the gravel. The gas cap is missing, not that it matters. At $3.15 a gallon we are all hard-pressed to move our cars one block, let alone move a house.

Unfortunately for him, the current occupant has been asked to do exactly that by the end of the day. He must somehow move his home one block to the east, behind the health club, and each day from here on out he will be asked to move again.

A lengthy conversation with this feisty old Russian gentleman, Mr. E.--a proud Communist spy who stubbornly wears his hat and wool sweater in 80-degree weather "just like at home"--revealed that he is not the owner of this eyesore among eyesores. It is owned by a methadone addict who rented it out for the month to pay for a few hits of the good stuff. Mr. E. does not approve of this habit, nor does he appreciate that his landlord is too sleepy to answer his phone. He didn't anticipate that an addict would vanish after two days. Imagine that.

The police are the true instigators of this "international incident". They are the "evil-doers" who would have this "poor old immigrant" relocate without the aid of the ignition keys, money, permits and fuel. Mr. E. feels persecuted and deprived like he was during the Cold War. Who am I to argue? I was either an ovum, a child or downright oblivious during the entire length of that tiff among nations; though I do recall it was hard for Soviet citizens to find toilet paper.

At any rate, my new confidant declared war against the police. Puffing his 5'2" frame into a perfect, woolen sphere, he whispered, "I haff connection. Zay vill hchchchelp to fix dis prohblem wiff dee police."

I can't wait to watch this tense conflict unfold as this short, round, dangerous man is slowly driven back to his motherland one block at a time. Meanwhile, I think I'm out of toilet paper.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Pleasantries with a Bum

"I'm sorry, ma'am. He didn't make it."

Those were the words spoken to me by a police officer, yesterday, about a homeless man who lived on my street. Before I was close enough to see anything, I already knew what had happened. A small, curious crowd had gathered on a grassy area where he drank during the day, and police were busily shooing and interviewing.

I took a photo of him a little over a month ago and posted it to this blog (see previous). He didn't know he was the subject of my prying iPhone, as he was fast asleep next to what was his make-shift toilet. I didn't include his face. No matter what our circumstances we all cling to a certain amount of pride, and invading someone's privacy is still possible in a public place.

Whenever I'd walk past him with my dog in tow, we'd exchange a few garbled pleasantries. Alcohol had stolen most of his ability to speak. Wheelchair-bound with Parkinson's, bending to pet Sam was a difficult task for him--but he always tried.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mystical Garbage



Mid-July is hitting without hesitation. The heat is bouncing off buildings and amplifying itself. The pavement is bleached, the plants are scarred, the people are stripped and burnt, and the shadows are steaming furiously--and it stinks out here. I'm dragging Sam-dog up some steps away from a couple of Rottweilers, and I nearly trip over an empty can of Krunk Whatever and some Cheeze Yucks stuck to tree sap.

As if I've never been here before, I'm now noticing that every few feet there is a small pile of fast food and sugary drink byproduct, clearly given a further once-over by scavengers. Candy wrappers are ripped by raccoons, french fries pecked by crows, morsels of dog shit are barely visible under a thick coat of flies. Cigarette butts show signs of being resmoked by the dozens and are mounded into noxious, yellow pyramids. Camels, of course.

There are a lot of dumpsters in this part of town, thanks to the many apartments and condos. Multi-dwelling buildings are good for that sort of thing. One need walk but a step or two to lift a lid and drop in whatever debris doesn't contain nutritive value, but, no. Everyone is busily building their shrines to obesity, lung cancer and tooth decay as though there are native urban gods in need of offerings.

Enough of this obnoxious heat. I think I'll go get myself some iced tea. That hit the spot. I wonder which god would like the empty bottle?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Corner

I was almost picked up for solicitation the other day. Apparently standing in a group of prostitutes and drug dealers when the police roll up, while they pet your pooch (literally my dog), is ill-advised. Several police cars showed up all at once, sirens and lights, billy clubs, guns, etc. I must have looked positively terrified, which is probably why they let me wander off in a daze without saying, “Hey. Where the hell do you think you’re going?” No one else in the group batted an eye. Seasoned vets. Just another day on the corner.

Obviously I’d prefer it if the neighborhood stock brokers, bank tellers and store owners were the only ones to show an interest in Sam-dog, but I have to live with the other element, too. Discriminating against them would only make me stand out and possibly invite conflict. Who am I to judge, on disability and facing discrimination of my own each and every day in small ways?

Then there was the one hooker who thanked me for letting her pet Sam. Nothing could have been more effective at letting me know, once and for all, that we are all created equal but only on paper.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Poetry for People Who Hate Poetry

For Quick Sale

this
mer-
chan-
dise
has
been
re-
duced
to
tears.






Regrade

The constructive crane-neck
Of brontosaurus
Came before us
To nuzzle a weighty head
Into a lake bottom.
The slam-walk and ram-top
Of triceratops
Leveled levees of the past.
The final thrash
Of tyrannosaurus rex
Wrecked an acreage
Not in defiance of nature
But in compliance with stature.
We who lack such strength
Make up for it in steel.





The Unfriendly Takeover

...almost forgetting
the sting for the prickling
of tiny steps

tripping over hairs
and dodging moles

insipid trolls
of the animal kingdom

striving up the food
chain link by swarming
crawling link

beasts without
burden being
light as air

the burdened ones to
be their daily giant-fare

as they grow
with poverty
and breed in filth

in a world shrinking
from its insect wealth

Friday, July 9, 2010

About the Photo

She was positively stunning, with perfect brown skin and a hot yellow dress that showed every flaw as if it were an asset. By her feet was a drained energy drink bottle stuffed with the crack she earned standing in just that spot before someone took her away earlier. She was so fucking young and obviously frightened, watching her wrangler amble down the street. Clean, neat, polished and in her thrift store free bin finery, I was ready to adopt her on the spot.

I wanted to run up to her and say, "Are you, ya know, selling, um... anyway, you're way too pretty to be a street girl. You'll be scarred and chewed up within a week's time. Come live with your weird new white mom in her 434 square feet of pure luxury. There's one toilet that usually flushes. The couch has dog pee on it, but you're welcome to sleep there any time. Oh, hell, take the bed! Are you hungry? No? Still high? My bad."


After I snuck the shot while pretending to be texting, I smiled and said, "Hi." It came out a little too cheery and forced, but she didn't seem to notice and treated me to a return smile that I hope to see again some day.

My Rehab Boyfriend Had Fourteen Heads

For the rest of this to make a lick of sense, I'd better get something out of the way. A few years ago I went to rehab for an oxycodone addiction. It was as miserable as the eight-month addiction had been, and at some point in the future I'll no doubt ramble on about all that; but this story starts the day I was released back into the wild.

I hadn't slept in a month, as that's what usually happens when you're coming off something that makes you sleepy. Averaging an hour a night, if that, sleep deprivation psychosis had set in early on in my treatment, and at one point I assumed I loved every man in there. That prettily-named condition known as the Pink Cloud, when you're past withdrawals and on the best natural high ever, was on me like white on rice. So it was only natural that I continued my giddy crush on the fellow who asked me to join him at a Cocaine Anon meeting my first free night. A date, of sorts. We'll call that fellow R.B. because those are his real initials.

R.B. had been out for over a week, and had already started and ended a relationship with another woman from treatment. Unbeknownst to me at the time, they had thoroughly relapsed in each others' arms. I didn't mind being his second attempt, mostly because I was blinded by the prospect of sex for the first time in ages. Pink Clouds make your hormones swirl around your nether regions like you're 18 again.

From the very beginning, I knew why the other woman had left him. When he drank he turned into someone I'd only seen for a fleeting second while still in rehab: a complete monster. He had a swagger about him that sober he didn't possess, and though I was drawn to it it also made me nervous. I preferred the shy, unassuming person I knew from our shared counseling sessions.

I've been around addicts my entire life, but R.B. was in the major leagues and took me off guard. The man could put away more booze than anyone I've seen on Intervention. His drinking made him extremely verbally cruel from the get go. Shockingly so. He knew my weak spots and targeted them in a way only a shrewish mother could. He would compliment me to get me into a trusting state. With defenses and usually clothing stripped away, he would say something so crass it would stun me to silence.

"I got a much better blowjob from a chick half your age, recently," he'd say, while I was still on my knees. It was always about my lack of sexual prowess or my slim but over 40 body, and the anger in his voice made it feel like he was attacking me physically. I'm not proud to say, I threw something at him on more than one occasion. "Jesus, woman! That hit me right between the eyes!" Out came the white trash woman's anthem, "Yeah? Well that's where I fucking aimed, you son-of-a-bitch!"

I tolerated some of his abuse because--speaking of bitches--his mother had provided him such a horrific childhood it paled in comparison to my merely fucked up one, and added torture to his father's beatings. In fact, in a contest to determine the worst of the worst, I think his childhood would come in second behind a girl I knew who's mother shot her up and pimped her out before she even grew breasts. That kind of childhood doesn't nurture happiness no matter how much therapy you can afford.

His mother would teach him by demonstration. If he was curious about the burners on the stove, she'd hold his hand so close it would be red for days. Not so close as to show actual ring marks, because she was smart like that. If he got out of the car and braced himself on the door frame to keep from falling while his little legs reached for the ground, she'd show him how dangerous it was by slamming his hand in the door and leaving him there for a few minutes, taking special care not to break any actual bones. Something about hands must have set that woman off.

One night I went to his house to make sure he was still alive. He'd been drinking more heavily than usual, until he ran out of money for the red swill he downed by the gallon and started into severe withdrawals. By the time I got there he was in a completely dissociative state. He was behaving like a four-year-old boy. When he waddled toward me with a pie-eyed, innocent expression on his normally wry face and said, "See? I got my pee pee hard for you just the way you like it," in the sweetest voice I'd ever heard, I knew there had also been sexual abuse.

I of course said, "No. You're drunk," and out came a completely different monster than the one I'd already met. This one said, "You fucking bitch. You beg me for sex, and when you're about to get some you say you don't want it." He was suddenly eight feet tall, an inch away, his eyes going from light brown to deep black like they held ugly secrets... mangled bodies buried in the back yard... someone currently captive in his dungeon, screaming like a disposable girl in a torture porn. To my great relief he stormed off disgustedly to his actual basement, and flipped on the immense, wide-screen TV.

His behavior was never what you would call normal, but this was something else altogether. I'd noticed prior to this that he had trigger words. These words would send him off into a conversation that was not the same friendly one we'd just been having. He would hear the word "stupid" and assume I was directing it at him. "That's a stupid show, isn't it? Ha ha!" Paff. He was defensive, angry and bullying the very next second. When questioned he'd insist that I was the one who couldn't remember how the conversation started. The worse the trigger, the more abrupt the change. "My -mother- gave me this -stupid- blouse for -Christmas-," would incite fury and a barrage of insults usually reserved for shirking prostitutes.

Sometimes it would be a sound that did it, like clipping fingernails. "I told you never to do that again!" he screamed the first time I did it in front of him. He'd done it in front of me many times, so I thought it was going to be received with indifference.

Me being me, I had to make a game of this phenomenon. That's how I survive most everything. I gain control over situations with humor, or by exercising my insatiable curiosity about human behavior. I'd entertain myself by repeating his trigger words or sounds later on to see if I got the same reactions, and low and behold I did. In retrospect it was probably dangerous, but everything started to make a strange kind of sense. If his friendly personality was weak, the mean one that came to replace it was strong. The weaker, the stronger, and what's weaker than a child or stronger than a serial killer?

I waited upstairs until I knew it was safe, because I'd overheard him laughing at the TV. He referred to the show he was watching as a "stupid show" and since I had all the behavioristic data I could handle for one night, I didn't echo the statement but merely grinned.

Minutes later he bounded up the stairs and headed to the back porch to smoke. That night he must have smoked 30 cigarettes, making at least 15 visits to the chill of February. He'd bring a book out with him, and after a while I'd pop up to make sure he hadn't had a seizure on my watch.

He read sci-fi fantasy novels a thousand pages thick, clearly written by and for high IQ software geeks. He had a PhD in Computer Science, and in his sober days he'd helped design Amazon's search engine. He boasted an IQ of 175. No authors' bloated, alternative mathematical construct nor inclusion of chaos theory in a fight scene gave him pause. When interrupted he'd look as frenzied as a mad scientist, then shift to merrily sipping Gatorade and babbling about which flavors he liked best.

The last time I ventured outside that night and before I could see him around the corner, I thought I heard him having a conversation with a young boy. I figured the boy who belonged to the ex-stripper across the street had wandered over at 2:00 a.m., which had happened before. Nope. R.B. was alone.

He was talking to himself, or more he was carrying both sides of a conversation between a gruff older man and a nervous child. Before he acknowledged me he finished, turned my way and said in a completely neutral tone, "I have at least fourteen different personalities, like having 14 heads, you know."

After another pleasant conversation about Gatorade flavors, I headed to bed around 3:00 a.m., too exhausted to drive home. I lay there for hours before finally drifting off just at sunrise. Mere minutes later he woke me to tell me the sky was on fire, and asked why I wasn't helping him call the news to report that the aliens had landed.

Thus motivated, I got in my car and didn't see him again for five months, when we met to exchange belongings. We had a few phone conversations that felt almost like friendship, that is until he called drunk to tell me I'd been "...replaced by a 20-year-old girl who is better in bed, but needs to be because she stutters and has an ugly face."

Thinking it was for her sake, I broke down and cried.