Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Biggest Problem for the Homeless is the Homeless

The homeless issue is a tough one for me. Once you meet and become friends with people who are or have been homeless, and once you have been on the brink of it, you tend to have a more tolerant perspective. I own that perspective.

What I thought was a done deal is in the news once again. I received the following letter from a neighbor via email, and though I empathize with their concerns I can't get on board their train.


"To ALL Residents:

As you may know, the City had temporarlly approved the opening of the former Fire Station #39 as a homeless shelter this last spring. This site sits adjacent to the new Fire Station and is close to Senior housing, library, residential apartments, and retail stores. The permit for Project Share/Wheel, which runs other Tent Cities through Seattle, ran out in May and the current building is empty, however there are plans afoot to re-open it as semi-permanent shelter.

Seattle area churches, led by leaders from Seattle Mennonite Church, have been quietly campaigning to get this site open permanently. They have faced little opposition in their efforts, however, this project is NOT A DONE DEAL. The City wants to hear from Lake City residents. and is holding Community Meeting on July 13th to get your input.

We have since learned that this site would be opened as a homeless shelter for approx. 100 people for 2-3 years at a cost of around $2 million dollars. The building then would be demolished. At the same time, the City of Seattle is cutting their police budget by $2 million. There are several reasons why this location doesn't make sense, whether PERMANENT or TEMPORARY.

Lake City seems to get the 'lion's share' of social services and homeless resources. Some of these are essential to low income and struggling individuals. McDermott House houses 75 homeless/chemically dependant veterans and others with chemcal additions. Seattle Mennonite church runs a soup kitchen/day lockers for the homeless. The VA's office of Community Outpatient Services is also quartered here. At the same time, we witness daily the repurcussions of having too many homeless resources concnetrated into 1 area--dirty/trash-littered sidewalks, human waste in storefront doorways, panhandlers, and people loitering the streets. This turns patrons away from businesses that are struggling to survive in an already challenging economy. While not unsympathetic to the plight of the homeless, some of these individuals appear to be the 'bottom of the barrel' in terms of not wanting to get off the streets or into treatment. They just want to do their thing and not be disburbed.

Apart from these reasons, there's also the question of zoning and safety--Fire stations normally house anywhere from 8-12 people. How can this building safely accommodate 100? Some of the churches that are campaigning for this shelter are not in the neighborhood, so the problem is 'out of sight, out of mind' for them, but is placed squarely right on to the residents and businesses that call Lake City home. When the 3 year term for vacating/demolishing this shelter is up, who's to say these churches won't lobby to keep it open? When someone is turned away or booted out of the shelter for bad behavior, where will they go? THE STREETS OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD, that's where!

No other neighbohrood in Seattle has been asked to host a 3 year homeless shelter. This plan should be scrapped. It's the wrong plan, at the wrong time, and in the wrong place. There's other ways to address the needs of the homeless and balance the desires of the Community.

Please plan atttending this meeting with City officals and tell them enough is enough! The meeting will be held Wednesday, July 13th from 6PM - 8PM at the Lake City Community Center, 12531 28th Avenue NE (just north of the Lake City Library). If you can't attend the meeting, please consder signing the petition in the Luminaire lobby! We will present signed petitions to Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods.

Thanks for your consideration,
[names withheld]"


This is not only prejudicial, it points to its own inadequacies. No "other ideas" are listed because this isn't the type of problem that has a clean solution. We don't have any other way of housing people who don't have the means to pay rent. What we do have is a big, empty building that is serving no other purpose, and $2,000,000 isn't a lot of money to shelter and tend to 100 people for that amount of time.

The police funding woes are a separate issue and I'm having no luck finding a correlation. That doesn't mean there isn't one, nor does it mean they aren't pulled from completely different funding sources. I'll keep looking.

Meanwhile, the homeless are the least of our worries in this neighborhood. It's the guys selling drugs to the homeless then beating them up, stealing things, breaking into cars and robbing convenience stores with axes (see previous post link) that we need to address. These individuals are not homeless.

I'd like to hear some of the author's "ideas" that he didn't include, and perhaps offer to do some proofreading for him, so I think I'll audit the meeting with my snarky hat on.


Blog post from a different party with a comment from our mayor:

The owner of the convenience store on my street was robbed by a man with an ox. She must’ve meant axe. Oxen are notoriously hard to conceal.

Please click the title of this post and head over to my other blog for the full story behind the headline...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sticks and Shadows

It's been six months since the condemned, rotting house was torn down and the rusted Ford station wagon was hauled off with promise of an apartment complex. The site is once again abandoned.

While the house stood, it was shelter for addicts and rodents. Sam-dog would root plastic packets out from under the overgrown shrubs. I'd look around and quickly kick them back.

Now it's nothing but sticks and shadows, dirt and orange survey tape. At least the grass refuses to stay dead.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Neighborhood Watch 2011

Not one to enjoy a May Pole, I dutifully followed Sam-dog as he circled a telephone pole in search of a good pee spot, and chanced upon a sign.

It warns that the adjacent property is being monitored by police, which was true. I've seen many a squad car parked slightly to the north with their lights off. They'd hang out for several minutes, taking notes and sipping coffee. After a few minutes they'd swing around the block and re-park.

The building in question is a spider-infested, rotting mess. Most of it is obscured by trees, but there is a small patch of cleared gravel where "unauthorized assembly" took place. It's private property and this is a free country, but apparently there is still such thing as "unauthorized assembly".

The assemblers were a group of men and boys from Ethiopia who would flag down cars for the dealers inside. They'd lean into the cars and some sort of exchange would take place, and the cars would leave without bothering to park and pretend they were visiting. The Ethiopians were the Wal-mart greeters of the drug trade, and at first they did their job with broad grins and polite waving. Whenever I'd pass by they'd always have a smile for me. Eventually they stopped smiling and took on a tough exterior as gang life wore them down.

A neighbor friend of mine had befriended one of the men before he'd been swayed. They would have lively, heavily accented conversations about literature and art, he dressed in a snappy sweater vest with shined shoes and a laptop bag. When that changed, my friend voiced her dismay.

"Don't hang out with gangs, Amare!" she'd instruct. "They are bad news." He would nod agreement, pull up his over-sized jeans, pretend to tuck in his flashy sports jersey and change the subject.

Around the corner from the gravel there are a few dark doorways where the dealers worked. The doors were always open, and from time to time a pit bull or two would pop out to see what Sam and I were up to. The dealers were all of Hispanic descent. I'm not sure what country, but there is a large Mexican population out here so that makes the most sense.

The dealers were rough. They'd yell at each other and push other neighborhood dealers around, and these scuffles could be heard from half a block away. They'd head into the middle of the street, block traffic and carry on with their pit bulls by their sides. The squad car on duty would blip its siren, flash its lights and make arrests when needed.

I haven't seen any of the Ethiopians or their bosses around in the last few days. Though I'm certain the faded "Neighborhood Watch" sign didn't help, the constant harassment of police must have. The entire building is for lease. Eventually the owner will figure out that the "gang activity" warning is discouraging new renters and remove it, and it will be business as usual.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


She has every type of piercing imaginable, and that's just the ones she can show off in public. No need to know what's going on under her clothing. Much as I enjoy my own painful tatts and grown over multiple piercings, there is a point where it becomes pure self-destruction. I couldn't quite go there, even back when I loathed myself.

As the mutt and I were walking along, she was shadowing us from across the street. She does that. She fixates and follows until something distracts her.

Then, for reasons only the chicken knows, she crossed the road and was nearly obliterated by a truck going around 900 miles per hour. It took her a full minute to digest the perilous situation and come up with an appropriate comment.

"He was driving really fast."

"No shit," I replied.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Steep Decline, Straight-Up Report

This post is straight forward reporting on my part, as was the last. I'm observing the rapid decline of my surroundings, and my blog is becoming my outlet. The scenarios are now commonplace, and with the approach of summer things aren't going to get better. Warm weather brings the desperation, struggle and fear out of hiding. It brings out the stench of dumpsters and the anger of dogs. It is not welcome.


There were three fights near my home around 7:00 p.m. last evening. Police were called to each scene. I was walking home from a park and heard the sirens, then saw the cars, then heard the sirens stop. I knew I'd hear them stop near my home. They always do, even though Seattle is a big city.

A neighbor friend told me a distant relative of hers had been involved in one fight. He was beaten severely by four or five men right outside the Mexican restaurant next door, and is in the hospital. He was drunk, and probably trying to buy drugs. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong move.

When police asked if anyone had seen how it started (it started inside the restaurant) they all said 'no'. By the way they dress, it's likely they are members of various Crips factions. I haven't asked them directly.

Several of the assailants ran, and the cops didn't give chase. Another fight broke out within minutes on the street in back of mine. Then another a couple of blocks over. No weapons were found in any of the scenes and therefore there were no arrests.

My friend had been called to the first scene by another friend, and tried to intervene on her relative's behalf. She was told by yet another friend that she could have been killed because, "These guys have guns."

Late last night while taking Sam-dog out for his last piddle before bed, there were signs of a big drug deal on the corner north of my home. Men came from all directions and met out in the open. They passed something back and forth while shaking hands, and all involved dug in their pockets the whole time. The group then split up. $100,000 cars cruised the streets and slowed down next to those on foot. Were they watching to make sure no one decided to run with the money and the drugs? An ex of mine, years before we'd met, had been shot in such a deal.

I wasn't able to fully drain the dog before I realized two of them were watching me. One started coming my way, so I quickly went inside. Sam peed on the carpet in the middle of the night.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Banker's Hours

On Sam-dog's first walk of the day I overheard a fight between a man and a woman coming from behind the bank. "Bitch! Get the fuck out there! Fucking stupid!"

A woman dressed in a sweet pink sweater, nice heels and perfectly tailored black pants stumbled out of a gate. She wasn't crying. She didn't look frightened. She ignored traffic, held a bill in one hand and snorted something from the other.

Around 2:00 p.m. I took Sam for a quick jaunt and was confronted by a few drunks standing on the bank's lawn. "Lady! We want to say hi to your damned dog! Come'ere!" I waved and held my hand to my ear as if I couldn't hear them. After a couple more tries they gave up and dipped into their crumpled paper bags.

This evening, a boy about seven years old was running around the lawn while his mother went inside the bank. He was a hundred feet away behind a tree before she came out. She looked confused, so I pointed toward him and she stumbled off without thanks.

Sitting on the lawn was a group of boys maybe 17 or 18. They had tidy haircuts, were slightly plump and pink in the cheeks, and squinted into the lowering sun. A man with braids to his waist was leaning over them, standing perfectly still, silent. One by one, the boys got up and went to the cash machine. When each would return, they would plop back down. I crossed the street, looked back, and the man was gone.

On my return the man with the braids had another man pushed up against a wall in the bank's entryway. Again, he wasn't saying a word. Sam sniffed at his pant leg as we walked past.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mamas, Take Your Meds

"I don't really like kids, but he has one so I have to cope. They are all vessels of energy and must be respected for that alone, but I don't like kids."

A few seconds prior to the start of this promising conversation, a car had flown past at such a high rate of speed that the gust it created blew Sam-dog's ears back. Then sirens, and the young, adorable police officer I see nearly every day nudged the demon over to the side of the road. He likes to gun the 'bwip bwip' siren even after he's stopped, and gets a little grin on his face before going into professional mode.

Instead of turning tail and heading home, I decided to keep to same direction. There was something out of the ordinary and utterly irresistible going on. A tall couple dressed in goth gear, the man nearly in tears, was standing about half a block north of the scene.

"What's up?" I asked.

"My ex refuses to honor our custody arrangement," said the man. "Her boyfriend beat me up yesterday for asking why, and my kid saw the whole thing."

His long, stringy hair was concealing most of the damage. He moved it aside for me so I could see the half dozen or so faint bruises. The mother's boyfriend was driving the get-away car, trying to leave the neighborhood without handing the child over to the forlorn father, and the father and his girlfriend were awaiting their turn with Officer Adorable.

"It was not at all good," added his girlfriend. "I don't like kids but it was not good."

I looked to the boyfriend for some sort of logical explanation, but all he did was smile in her direction. It was a smile of pity, worry, acceptance, grief and love. Thankfully, he'd begun to describe details of the nasty situation before my facial expression cemented into dumbfounded.

I asked if his ex was by any chance bipolar. It was out before I could stop it.

To my relief, he didn't appear at all offended by the question. He said, "Yes. She's very sick." I shared my story of my most recent ex and his battle with a bipolar baby-mama, and that's why I'd asked. The girlfriend bristled.

"I am bipolar. I have it under control. I am good with it." Her speech was halting, her movements were disjointed, she couldn't hold eye contact and it all started to make sense. I'd guess there was some autism up in that head of hers, too. Always one to over share, I told her I suffer from depression, but take my meds. My ex's ex did not, and drank, and without hesitation had decided to relinquish custody of their three children because she "...couldn't deal."

The girlfriend agreed this was unimaginable, then said, "I don't like kids." No matter how many times she said it, her boyfriend continued to smile his gentle smile and fumble with his stringy hair to cover his bruises. "They are good but not for me. I never want kids. He has one, though." Was that shame in his eyes?

Officer Adorable let the speeding baby-mama-boyfriend go, and U-turned toward us. I said, "Okay. Looks like he needs to talk to you. I hope things get resolved."

"Thank you for caring. You are nice," said the girlfriend. "You are nice," she said again. It started to rain, and she batted at the drops like they were a swarm of gnats.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Year We Had No Easter Tree

When I was around nine, my parents decided to attend services at a variety of churches and dabbled in an even wider variety of faiths. We checked out Christianity, Catholicism (distinguish from Christianity), Judaism, Buddhism, Native American beliefs and so on; but the one that got stuck in my mind? Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It stuck because I was a kid and holidays were awesome, and Jehova’s Witnesses don’t celebrate much. A week before Easter we went to their version of mass. It was so boring I thought I might die. It was so lengthy even my parents started to fidget. Never mind my five-year-old brother crawling under our bench.

God seemingly took a back seat. The Bible and its teachings were all that mattered and Jesus rarely entered the room. Easter and Passover were mentioned as examples of ritualistic traditions that shouldn’t be acknowledged, and on and on it went.

After an hour we were allowed to leave, and we went about our agnostic lives except for the dreams. Those awful dreams.

I dreamed there was an Easter tree in our living room. It was fully flocked in whitish pink and wrapped in spun glass known as angel hair. Hiding in the branches were eggs and candies, and I wanted at that thing so bad!

“No,” said my mother, who then called to my father to help her throw it away. “We are Jehovah’s Witnesses and we don’t celebrate Easter.”

How unfair. Poor other Jehovah’s Witness kids, and their pragmatic parents, who were so deprived of the joy’s of holidays. It didn’t occur to me that there is something beyond the trappings. For many it is the essence of their beings. The external is trivial, gifts are unnecessary, indulgence isn’t divine and as long as you’re a good person of some sort that’s all that matters.

I pinched myself awake Easter morning and ran for the living room. There was a note on the hallway wall telling me to go to the front door, and taped to the door was another note: “Open slowly.”

There it was. A huge basket filled with eggs, Peeps, fake grass, cards for my brother and I and one massive chocolate bunny. Hooray for heathenism!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gentrify This

There's a new trend in city maintenance: red bark. I don't understand it. It's ugly, it gets everywhere and my dog won't poop on it. I live in an urban world, and those little patches of dirt with trees that poke up from the sidewalks at even intervals are what we urbanites--and our dogs--rely upon for the task.

I can't get too peeved, though. The city is trying to make my neighborhood all nice and pretty so the criminal element will go somewhere else, like the suburbs. I'm all in favor of that. If I lived in the suburbs, well, I wouldn't live in the suburbs. I have friends who grew up in suburbs, and trust me. They are wholly unprepared for a visit.

Who is doing some of the work? Convicts. I'm delighted by this. I wonder if some have been sent back to the same places they were popped to make amends with the locals? In fact, the XXX "Theatre" has a nice, new facade with potted plants surrounded by red bark. If you've been exposed to such a place (pardon the pun), you know what happens when a client ignores the code of conduct. I envision registered sex offenders delicately patting red bark around geraniums, right under a window display with a scantily clad mannequin in a suggestive pose.

The other thing they're doing in an attempt to cut down on the lurking about is to add a lower deck of lights to every street light. This is being done by qualified professionals--I hope. Not that being a convict rules out the 'lineman for the county' skill set, but there might be some liability issues.

These lower lights stay on all night, unlike the higher street lights, and have already had the noticeable effect of not digging the homeless population out of their sleeping quarters. Can't hide in a dark doorway if it isn't dark, right? It's harder for them to relieve themselves without an audience, is all. Urine pooled on a bus stop bench is one thing, but inadvertently catching a glimpse of the urinator in the act is an experience I hope never to repeat.

Bright lights shining away, the dealers and prostitutes busily do what they need to do between the hours of 3:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. as always. The drunken fights outside the bars still happen, as inebriated individuals have no sense of their surroundings. The more gang-inclined young men stand like peacocks under the new lighting, perhaps hoping their gold jewelry will glint all the more. That's what I'd do.

The good result is that I feel less likely to be mugged or attacked as I pass near patches of red bark and stare into the bright bulbs. It might be a false sense of security, but I'm thoroughly conditioned. It's in literature and folklore that light and clean is good, and dark and dirty is bad.

It's also impossible to grow up in a larger city without being taught a few survival skills that include light vs. dark training. I've learned from friends, enemies, experts, parents, teachers and my own encounters with the dark side. Stay clear of alleys and doorways, walk with a purpose, hold your purse tight and your chastity tighter!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Plight of the Intersexed

The word "hermaphrodite" has an insulting connotation. Though using it would have given my title a lively rhyme, I refrained, and in the process I learned a new word: intersex.

Sam-dog was up to some mischief with a budding daffodil. He chewed the leaves and I snapped, "Leave it." He stomped all over it and I pulled his leash a little tighter. Then, as a final insult, he drenched the poor thing in pee. While all this was going on, I was sneaking glances at a couple coming up the street.

One was tall, slim and attractive, and the other was quite a bit shorter and more on the pretty side. My temptation was to peg them as a lesbian couple, but something was holding me back. They chuckled over something one or the other said, and Tall bopped Short on the head in a teasing gesture.

They were now within my limited hearing range, and Tall said to Short, "I was born with both male and female genitals."

Short said, "Me, too!"

"No way," I mumbled to Sam. "Right here, right now they are discovering each other?" Sam wagged his tail.

Tall then said, "I knew I liked you for some reason. How cool. I was raised as a girl, but I feel more boyish so I'm going with that for now." Short smiled and said, "I feel more girl, but not always. You get it." They fist bumped with joy and changed the subject to video games.

They seemed completely unfazed by my presence, and that gave me a moment of joy. The world and all its humans still has trouble accepting intersex individuals, so for these two to speak so freely in front of an audience... and they chose the right audience because I was nothing but happy for them... and a little relieved.

It's not a comfortable thought for anyone who doesn't have the condition (Condition? Genetic make-up? Gift? Curse? I'm lost in semantics, here.) to think that a penis and vagina--in all different stages of development--could exist in one pelvic region. We think of the classic breeding pair, with an innie and outie and eggs and sperm and that's how we're, well, conditioned.

While their voices were going out of range, I was thinking of worms. It still takes two of them to breed, but they have both parts, those crazy, lucky worms. In the worm world it's perfectly natural, so why not in the world of humans? Why the heck not?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Keep It Stupid, Simple

Eloquent, concise, informative, easy-to-read signage is hard to find. Sam-dog and I came upon this during an exploratory walk. We were getting bored of the usual routes, and decided to squeeze down an overgrown alley behind an aborted construction project. Now we know exactly where to go when we need...

...a good laugh.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

First Name Basis

"What's your name, sweetheart? You're out late. Sorry we was doing something wrong there. You forgive, right?"

As she spoke I fixated on her two absentee teeth, and the gold crowns on the shards next to the gap. Her gums black with decay.

"Wendina. And no worries. I could care less what you two were up to. What's your name?"

"My name is Kelly. Pleased to meet you. You're cool, and you have pretty teeth."

I wanted to pay her the same compliment, but a little white lie would have ticked her off. She's smart--brilliant, even--and she was so flamed on crack she was pacing and flailing. To top it off, she's the same prostitute who threatened to beat the shit out of me a few months back.

There was a brief moment of recognition before we continued. Without acknowledging, we forgave each other for the messy incident, the menacing, and the frantic call to 911. Bygones.

"Thanks. I'm about to lose the same two you're missing." The direct approach. Find common ground, Wendina. Find it fast, because there won't be another opportunity quite like this.

"That's a fucking drag. The only good thing about that is they give you those Vicadins after they yank. They're not my favorite, though. I'm on some great pills, I tell you. What kinna pills you like?"

"Sleeping pills. They aren't what got me in trouble, but they're a big problem."

"That why you up so late? Can't sleep? Man, I love to sleep. I could crash right here and now if it weren't for that other stuff. Hey, I could be your AA sponsor. That'd be funny as hell!"

I stepped a bit closer to her and tapped her arm as we shared a good laugh. My instincts were dead on. Next thing I knew, she was listening to me ramble about my lifelong battle with insomnia, consoling me and telling me her woes.

Her smaller friend leaped out from behind the trunk of the tree we were under and offered to make a phone call. She wanted to hook me up with whatever I needed. Damnit if I didn't consider it for more than a few seconds before I declined.

"No, I can't go there, but you're an angel for offering."

"He could be on his way. Let me know."

"I will." She went back to hiding behind the tree.

Kelly and I then proceeded to have a rousing discussion about drugs, teeth and the fact that the two don't go together. Addicts are drawn to each other. There's an instant affinity regardless of lifestyle, history or differences in personality; and we always have bad teeth. It never fails.

"Go inside and get some rest, hon," said Kelly. She gave me the nicest toothless smile I'll ever get.

"I'll try my best."

"Before you leave, what's your dog's name, anyway?"


"Sam. That's a perfect name for him. Goodnight, Wendina and Sam."

"Goodnight, Kelly."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hard Candy Fish

When my brother was just four years old, it was clear he had a gift for artistic expression. He'd draw these hilarious faces with lopsided eyes and spindly strands of hair, as do many children, but his showed that he was observing more than appearance and overt emotion. His doodles had their own personalities.

By the time he was in the fourth grade, teachers were noticing his quirky style. He was entered into a local fair that gave prizes for arts, crafts and other accomplishments. His entry was a tall, detailed clay vase. He'd cut out a couple dozen fish, glazed them in watery hues, pieced them together with deliberate holes here and there and fired the thing up in a kiln. A fish vase that, ironically, could hold no water. It won first place... and was promptly stolen. Stolen! Talk about a letdown. Then again, if it was worth stealing it must have been pretty darned special.

There is still that carefree confidence and careful observance in each of his works. His medium is acrylic paint. Years ago he taught himself to work with acrylics almost as if they were oils, but he likes the challenge of the faster drying time and the stability and glow of the finished pieces. Humor and depth, light and shadow, color and line, stories within stories.

He calls this one "Hard Candy Fish"; as dichotomous as the vase.

by Bryan Ubaghs
acrylics on deep-edge panel--no need for framing
Go to comment on this post or tweet me @girlweena for more information.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

License to Dial

A large group of addicts and dealers had gathered on the lawn in front of the bank, openly selling and buying, ignoring their audience unless someone strayed too close. Then they would harass and cajole until the hapless pedestrian backed away in fear. They were drunk, and therefore oblivious their locale, which happens to be one of the busiest corners in North Seattle.

It was before 1:00 p.m. on a Saturday and the bank was still open. I could see the manager and a couple of tellers pressed up against the windows with their cell phones to their ears. I had mine ready just in case, with my trusty but uselessly small canine as back-up.

When the squad car appeared the bank employees hung up in unison, and we watched the loiterers scatter. One guy was cornered by an officer and began to make excuses for his very existence at the top of his lungs. An escapee exaggerated his relief by exclaiming, "Phew! Close one. Phew!" and ducked into the pub, while I showed my relief by high-tailing it home.


"Wish you could hear what I'm thinking, bitch." She and I had just passed each other in the alley, and she hadn't returned my smile--given her stumbling condition, a sign of trouble. I had a pretty good idea what she was thinking. She probably wanted me out of her territory, as would any angry, hungry, terrified dog. "Speaking of bitches..." I wanted to say, but I don't have a death wish.

Now 10 feet behind me, I could feel her glare. Instinctively, I didn't turn around to see if she was still there until I was nearing the street. Then she was gone. I'd won! I felt tough, invincible and large in charge except for the fact that my hand was in my purse, sweatily gripping my cell phone like a loaded gun.


"911, what are you reporting?"

"Yeah, there's a fight in progress. Again." I tried not to sound too apathetic as I watched the man and woman hit each other and throw things at each other while their falling down drunk friends tried to intervene. I dutifully answered questions and provided descriptions using the photo I'd taken. "Looks like a bunch of packages of something white in their trunk. Probably drugs, knowing what goes on around here." *sigh*

"Mmm hmm. Could be. Are you safe?"

"Yes. I'm on the fourth floor of a condo. Some of my neighbors are calling, too. They're safe."

"I can see the other calls coming in. We're dispatching a car, now."

"Thanks." *sigh*

While I'd been on the phone, my neighbor two floors down had had the same conversation with another operator. Her boyfriend had joined her out on the deck, phone in hand. Above and to the left of me, another neighbor on another call, and there were other phones being dialed up and down the street.

By the time the police arrived, we'd watched as the antagonists had driven away with their trunk still open. Officers interviewed inebriated witnesses, quelled tempers and began inspecting the baggies. I went back to the couch.

Later that evening I found a stash of similar baggies behind a bush. They contained tiny white gym socks, breast pumps and bibs. Probably not worth a call to 911, but you just never know around here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Pond

Termites in the walls, icky silverfish in the shower and spiders in the kitchen. Two kids, oblivious to it all, went barreling out the door of grandma's ocean cabin and down the rotting, wormy steps to the back woods. There they discovered The Pond during a mission to get as lost as possible before they were called to dinner.

They'd slept well, after a day of glorious sand, sun and waves. Grandma's falling down, white and red creation of boards and nails was the best thing that ever happened, ever in the history of the universe. They were at ease. Nothing bad ever happened when they were there, except that one time when the antique toaster burned two slices of cinnamon-raisin bread. Everything about that place was so different from their home in Seattle, with the notable exception of the spiders.

The Seattle house had a creepy basement and the furniture couldn't withstand messes. The dog was stuck in the yard, not chasing down birds on a mile of slimy, seaweedy sand. There was gardening and mowing and vacuuming to be done. Such cruelties! At the cabin, a single sweep of a broom sent whatever was on the floor right out into the tall reeds to be eaten by whatever lives in tall reeds.

The Pond was a monumental discovery. It was hidden from the town by overgrown blackberry brambles and fallen trees. It's green algae surface broke in places to trace where ducks had been, and the lily pads were huge. Three generations of frogs could make a home of just one.

Between The Pond and the hills were massive, old growth trees. Many were toppled and being nursed upon by newer varieties. "Nature is always changing," said mom or dad.

After a few minutes of observation, the boy and girl decided The Pond was inaccessible and unnavigable. It was too deep, and the clouds of mosquitoes were like force fields, keeping out the enemy that was Them. But it was stare-worthy, and so they stared for hours until mom's loudest voice broke over the top of the frog chirps. "Dinner!!!"

Should they tell mom and dad about The Pond? Oh, why not. They probably wouldn't believe it, and so the boy and girl simultaneously delivered the exciting news, knowing they could still have their secret but without the guilty feeling of having to sneak.

"Yes, we know about The Pond," said mom or dad. "It's going to be all filled in with dirt to build new, expensive cabins that aren't falling down like this one. Kind of a shame, really, but this land will be worth more in case grandma needs to sell it."

Okay, THAT was the worst thing that ever happened at grandma's cabin.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

By Appointment Only

I've met this kid several times while out walking Sam, and he's a real cute boy in a teen idol kind of way. His approach to me has always been way too friendly for someone his age, kind of like witnessing a very precocious child star being interviewed by Barbara Walters. Engaging. Polite. Funny. Fidgety.

He doesn't appear to be old enough for high school. I'm guessing he's 13 or 14. Always a skinny guy, he hit a growth spurt last year that shot him up at least six inches and his fat stores all went toward that project. When I saw him a couple of months ago he was very, very thin. Now he's even thinner, but not much taller.

Sam and I were coming off of a dicey encounter with a pit bull and I just wanted to get home. The wind and rain, some other dog's shit on my shoe and people in general were pissing me off. As my grumpiness was reaching crescendo a backfiring, gold, 1980s sedan pulled up next to me and one of the back doors opened. Out flew my young acquaintance, buttoning his pants that were now too short and wide for him and closing his filthy, hooded coat tightly around his body. He stumbled a bit, stopped, checked his zipper and turned to the side to watch the car speed away.

He saw me, but he didn't make eye contact. Instead he headed for a dark doorway, still clutching his coat; stopping, bending over, struggling to walk. He looked sick, in pain and riddled with shame.

To have a meet and greet with a kid like that, you sometimes have to make an appointment. Child exploitation stays far underground, as it's more in line with sexual slavery than street prostitution and call-girls. You have to really want it bad to find it.

My state (Washington) is working to change the laws and send kids like him to safe havens, where they would receive proper medical care, drug rehab and counseling. Currently, the safest places for these victims are juvenile detention centers, foster families and adult mental health facilities. But none of these options can teach life skills to a child who doesn't even know he's still a child.

Further reading on this topic:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Domestic Row

Recently there has been a regime change, and not just in the Middle East. The block south of mine has shown some signs of improvement. Perhaps it's partly due to the cold weather, but I think it's something bigger than that. By all appearances, the man who used to control the neighborhood has succumbed to his own demons.

If you can't keep track of your crew, you can't lead. Impairment in any form--physical disability, drug addiction, mental illness, poverty, distraction--can cost a leader his job. One thing has remained, and it's more unpredictable and dangerous than any gang-related skirmish. He fights with his lady.

Law enforcement hates domestic fights. I have a cousin who patrols a neighboring city, and whenever he's called out on a "domestic" he braces himself for the worst. If a fight happens because of a deal gone bad or crew member getting out of line, the presence of police is usually enough to halt the would-be assailants. A fight born of deep emotion, betrayal, fading love or abuse of a loved one doesn't stop just because of an audience; even if that audience is armed. Tension rises in my cousin's voice when he relays stories of men dragging women into the street by their hair. Or a wife brandishing a knife and taking stabs at her controlling husband. Or a woman prepared to shoot her boyfriend because he won't pay back money he owes her.

What fuels the fights between my neighbor and his better half I cannot say, but there's certainly plenty to fight about. The last few times the police have been called in, they were able to enter the apartment complex where Mr. Ex-Pimp and his little band of crack addicts reside. With some effort they were able to quash the domestic, and once inside they could confiscate drugs and dealers. Impairment of emotion left that door wide open.

Now that Mr. Ex-Pimp has lost his edge, a newer, showier brand of boss has stepped in and kept the various mini-gangs in line. Fights involve shouting matches, posturing, puffery. When the volume hits a certain level, Mr. Yellow Hummer and Mr. Vintage White Jag appear out of nowhere, and the shouting stops. After all, noise makes us all aware of the problem, and noise is usually what causes us upstanding citizens to call cops; and cops are bad for business. Simple as that.

The prostitution has slowed due to the cold weather, but it's possible it won't come back this spring. That's not the focus of the new regime, as keeping a bunch of beaten, bedragled girls in line and doped up is a lot of work for not much payout. The ego of the old guard liked the feeling of power that came with controlling women. The new guys are more likely to become clients.

One trend I noticed even months ago was the one-on-one pimp/prostitute combo pack. A couple, desperate for drug money, supports itself via the girl turning tricks. There is no way to keep a woman safe if you don't have a reputation as a badass, and addicts aren't badasses. They're impaired. It becomes a domestic problem, and one that I imagine is difficult to track and control.

Love in the world of drugs: It's a beautiful thing.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Cane Man

He has a heavy limp that borders on hobbling. The leg with the least damage is the understudy to his cane, but he tries not to overburden any of his limbs with his full body weight, lest he do more damage or lose balance. It's painful to watch him walk, but walk he must. His heart and doctor demand it.

The other day my doctor asked me if I was getting any exercise for my heart. "Yes. I have a dog, now. He has three jobs; he forces me to move no matter how much pain I'm in, keeps me company and gets me outside for a little human contact. Better than a gym membership."

This soft spoken, slender, calm, Indian man--who so utterly lacks pomposity that he won't even post his degrees on his office wall--gave me a look of skepticism that would shrivel a grape into a raisin in an instant. Though I've done nothing outright careless, I can easily consume half a pound of sugar in a week. I walk a mile or two a day, but to give my doc credit it isn't exactly aerobic. He further showed his lack of faith in me by scheduling glucose and cholesterol tests.

The man with the cane has an unruly, frisky and overly sociable collie puppy. Whenever our dogs spot each other, they both get wound up into a state of glee one usually only sees in game show contestants. It's a struggle for both of us sore and/or disabled humans to keep our footing. I have arthritis in my lower back and hips (my "buttritis"), but I'm still slightly less likely to fall and break something so I always offer to hold both dogs until the jubilation fades to that of lottery winners.

Yesterday the man with the cane said, "Eh. I just need to get him some training. He'll pull me right over if I don't. Meantime, I don't want him hurting you." I learned his cane is the result of a knee injury sustained while he was in boot camp, that wasn't tended to properly. His pension is small, but thankfully supplemented by disability insurance.

He thinks the breeder who sold him his dog lied about the pedigree, and lied about giving proper shots and medications to their sale pups before foisting them on new owners. He had to start all over with rabies, kennel cough, etc. and found out later his puppy had worms. By the time he knew the extent of the expense, he was deeply in love with the dog. There was no going back.

I learned he despises people who aren't nice to cashiers at grocery stores. He doesn't like onions. Some day he hopes to start his own business, doing what? He doesn't know. And his rent is too darned high.

This was all disclosed to me after I'd suggested we walk along together to see if that would calm the dogs, and it did! A miracle. We almost made some serious headway before a third dog bounded into view. We quickly decided to part ways or risk being knocked over and trampled to death by a hairy, wiggly, slobbering mass of joy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Generation Gap Meets Cultural Divide

They live upstairs. I think they're Persian, but I haven't asked. They pile into their Ford Focus five times a day and head to the mosque up the hill, to return about 30 minutes later and complete the ritual by backing into their parking space. Under normal circumstance, the driving right falls to the youngest female, who appears to be in her late 20s. I refer to this custom as, "She with good reaction time and spacial relations shall grip the wheel."

Unfortunately--or fortunately, for her--she is forever 8.9 months pregnant and can barely fit in the front passenger seat without crushing her child to be. As her mother is of some sort of higher rank, and as her brother and husband are male and therefore must be served, grandma drives.

The security garage door opens with a groan. I'm out of my car and waiting for the elevator with bags of groceries, cat food, litter and a fidgeting dog, but when I see their vehicle round the corner I decide to hold the i-n-f-u-r-i-a-tingly slow device for them. Pregnant women and long waits don't mix.

Grandma guns it, slams on the breaks, guns it again and heads into their parking space at around 10 miles an hour and at a jaunty angle. The car that parks next to theirs is a late model, deep red, positively lickable Mercedes, gifted to a brother and sister from wealthy Indonesia by their wealthy-beyond-measure father. Tension fills the air. Grandma slams the breaks just in time, and all passengers lurch forward and back.

The passenger door opens and the daughter looks at the painted line between spaces, sees that it isn't where it should be, rolls her eyes, gestures toward her grandmother and says, "Go ahead. This is going to take a while."

In this moment, my universe shifts. The contents of that car becomes a story steeped in tradition, yet firmly seated in the modern world. Sarcasm: the great equalizer, transcending religious and political opposites. I've found a friend!

Their nomadic roots mean carrying family wealth on the highest ranked female (or so my slim research reveals). When I catch a glimpse of the middle mother, I see what appear to be rhinestones and sequins. My second glimpse tells me that her head and neck are draped in real gold and diamonds. Hundreds of diamonds. There must be two million dollars peeking out from her plain chador--the headscarf that allows a woman's face to show while still covering her neck, hair and shoulders.

She is regal, indeed. She sits up straight and strong and emotionless in the middle of the back seat. To her right is her son. I estimate his age at 20. He opens his door to proofread his sister's assessment that the car is nowhere near where it should be. He is disgusted, as is daughter's husband all the way on the left, and barks an order at his grandmother to try again.

The doors slam shut. I pick up my groceries and pull Sam into the elevator. I'm looking forward to my vertical pilgrimage through Russia (second floor), China (third floor) and Algeria (down the hall) before finally making it home.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Taking Stalk

My most persistent stalker worked the press at a small publishing house. I was a copywriter, proofreader and eventually low-end manager in a related department. Part of my job was to do press checks, which put me in daily contact with the guys who ran the massive, dangerous, noisy machine 24/7 if necessary.

After three years, the job had the best of me. Underpaid, exhausted, sick and angry, I quit in a fairly dramatic show of defiance. Anything that reminded me of that job made my stomach ache, even the arrival of my last paycheck. My doctor diagnosed an ulcer and put me on muscle relaxants and painkillers for two weeks--protocol back then. The combination didn't allow for much waking time.

Before quitting, I'd started receiving anonymous odds and ends in the mail. One package contained a mixed tape of songs by everyone from Bowie to a few local bands. Another was a post card of an image of the Space Needle, with "You Are Near Here" and an arrow drawn in red ink. The Needle, as we call it, was within walking distance. There were a couple of short letters, an envelope full of heart-shaped confetti and nothing contained a return address or signature. I was curious and vaguely flattered.

My two-week coma was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. It stopped. It rang again. Over and over and over. I'd asked my roommate to keep the ringer off, but in fairness she was missing tons of calls from her insecure boyfriend. Everything went to a physical answering machine back then but some callers, like roomy's boyfriend, weren't comfortable leaving messages.

When it rang again, I stumbled over and picked up the receiver, thinking it was going to be Jay, and wouldn't it be nice if he could leave a message with a live body while Tammy was in the shower? "Hello?"

"Hello, Wendina." The voice was thick with an accent, so it came out more as, "Hallo, Fendina." It sounded familiar, but it wasn't Jay. The drugs didn't allow me to add a face.

I listened, and waited for more clues, and finally it hit me. I'd spoken to him only once before, down by the noisy press, where we usually used hand signals to communicate. I'd asked him where his manager Mark was, a man I was dating at the time. It was a work-related request, in as much as it could be. The conversation took all of five seconds.

Part way into the call, he asked me out. I told him, "I'm still dating your boss here and there, so I really can't. When I'm feeling better I'm going to hit the town and celebrate quitting that job. Want to come along? I know some really fun people." He sounded disappointed, but agreed it might be nice to meet some potential friends.

When I hung up I saw the message light flashing frantically. That happened when there was no more room on the tiny cassette. My roommate appeared from the bathroom, swaddled in towels, to let me know I'd received dozens of calls from "Some foreign guy."

Tammy and I stood together while I listened to the first 10 minutes of the tape. It was him saying a friendly hello. Then him sounding worried. Then him pleading for me to answer.

As the tone of his voice morphed into anger, the phone rang again. Tammy and I stood together and listened as he left another message, about how he needs to see me right away. He said he would tell his boss about us so I wouldn't have to break up with Mark, myself. Awkward.

He hung up, and the phone rang again, and again it filtered through the machine. "Why won't you answer? I know you're there! You can't treat me like this!"

The next time he called I answered, and told him I'd tried to be nice but at that point I needed him to stop calling and mailing things. At first he tried to deny he was my mailbox stalker, but then admitted to it. He said, "No more. Gootbuy" and hung up, and I thought that would be the last of him.

He was from Hungary. He was short, slight and boyish. Because of these attributes, a close friend started calling him Little Hungarian Problem. My Little Hungarian Problem drove up and down my street. He called and hung up when I answered. I knew it was him, even in silence. When I found a new job he called me there, breathing, and I told him never to do that again.

Months went by, and then I noticed him following me home from work to my new apartment. I walked to and from, so to follow me he had to either slow to a walking pace or circle around. I ran up to someone's porch pretended to knock. I turned to see him drive away. When I arrived home the phone was ringing and it was him. He'd convinced the operator, via his accent, to give him my blocked number. "Hallo. Iss Fendina there?"

"No one here by that name," I replied, trying to keep my voice friendly and neutral.

"Hh'okay. Bye."

Six months later I was in a play, and he'd somehow found our rehearsal space and leaned against a doorway and stared at me. He delivered packages for a small courier company, so it was possible he'd found me by accident while doing his duty. Maybe. I acted as if I didn't know him, while carefully gesturing to my friends that there was a potential problem. Everyone started to stare back on my behalf. He grew self-conscious and my Little Hungarian Problem left the doorway.

I never saw him again physically, though I received a few postcards in his handwriting. And a few phone calls. They only stopped when I moved yet again and took on a fourth or fifth phone number. When I'd called the police, they told me that was my only recourse unless he became violent. Stalking behavior wasn't enough for protection or a restraining order, though the officer I spoke with was definitely concerned. I complied, paid another first and last month's rent and deposit and hauled my belongings across town, because I didn't know what else to do.

Stalkers are frightening. They are maddening. They are selfish and they are rude. But most of all, stalkers are a damned inconvenience.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rolling with a Recidivist

"Yo, you got the time?"

"Who says 'yo' anymore?" I thought, but instead looked at my iPhone and said, "7:02." He stared at my phone, then my purse, then my face.

"Oh, yeah yeah game's still on, I hope. First Seahawks I seen since I out. This last time I sprung, anyways." He caught up and started walking alongside me. Sammy didn't miss a beat, and kept on sniffing the broken sidewalk like it was paved with dog treats.

To myself again, "Who says 'sprung' anymore?" And then I continued, to myself, but almost out loud, "You have my undivided attention..."

"You mean from prison?" I indelicately inquired.

"Yeah, I been in and out for eight years, going on. They put me in for hittin' a guy. I get out, I hit a guy. It's what I do."

Well, isn't this a treat? A gang escort, right through the heart of his own territory. He asked me if I lived in the area, and when I said I did his posture relaxed.

"Oh. Yeah. Well I be in fights with a CO. You know what that is? It's a corrections officer, and they muthafuckahs. They hit on you an' pick fights an' when you retaliate? After they let you out of the joint they find you the next day and they put you back in for hittin' on a cop. Fuckas set me up," he explained.

At this point I thought he might need a little encouragement, so I told him I knew how bad it could get because I'd met people who had done hard time when I was in rehab. "Rehab isn't fun, but it isn't prison," I added, and I looked to him for a response.

"Rehab suck, prison suck harder but, yo, rehab suck."

I told him I knew intake could be the worst part of jail or prison, with all the searches and being tossed in with yet another group who might not be so welcoming. Too bad he'd endured it so many times. He gently tapped my arm in a familiar gesture. I'd gained a little trust, for the time being.

"So I hit a guy again, but I ain't been caught this time. He ain't said nothin' because he know he deserve it. He know it was comin'. What time you say it was, again? Can't wait for that game!" A broad grin took over his face.

No doubt he was an enforcer for his dealer. He was the muscle. Though he looked a mess, with his prison acne and torn coat, he was fairly broad in stature. Not exactly the kind of person you'd want to pass in a dark alley, and his halting motions and rapid head movement made me think he was in mild withdrawals--a dangerous condition for both him and anyone near him.

We came to the main intersection, and here he turned to a white cohort and waved. Then he suddenly shifted his gait, and limped toward a fellow black. He waived me off with a nod. I said, "See ya."

He wouldn't be seen with me. Me. A white, soccer mom-looking woman with what appeared to be some sort of designer dog in a little ski jacket. I suppose that could taint his credibility a bit.