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.