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


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.

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.


[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.


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.


The Snitch