Circumstance and Opportunity

By Ronald McKinley

There is a bike parked just left of the multi-use utility pole on the corner of cold and homeless. We mill about; I mean “we”, not French for more sex. It’s cold, my hands barely work. I am writing with a pen. I prefer a lead pen. I make mistakes.

Just right of me is a man pacing. He is wrapped in a red and blue plaid blanket, the red like a freeway system intersecting at four points on a two dimensional surface. His hair is very curly framing his bearded face in a halo of thick curls. He, we are both homeless.

I will call him Laughter, that’s what he’s like.  Laughter only sleeps in the daytime, he feels safe. Sometimes I don’t see him for days. I asked him once where he went, he said he just walked. He was afraid of the police; he would leave if we just talked about the police.

The police cruise looking for drinking. Most people I see drink. I get offered beer a lot. I am not much of a drinker. Most homeless can’t afford to buy drugs most the time. The housed come to the beach looking to cop, this is how the drug trade is kept alive.

There is another man looking for snipes, cigarette butts, he opens them and puts them in a large plastic bag. Snipes walks back and forth across the street of Cold and Homeless.

He talks to himself: a full conversation. If you engage him, he will stop and talk to you, then he will return to his other conversation.

There are very few women out now it is 6:20 am. I have been here in this line since 4:52 am. This morning it is a brisk 37 degrees Fahrenheit.

A man, very slight, just walked up looking for services. He is wearing a white dress shirt and a black t-shirt under it. He was shaking and trembling from the cold. I offered him another t-shirt. He was about to leave. We, some people in the line for services, talked him out of leavening. I looked for something for him to wear. Laughter offered me the plaid blanket for him to wear. I told him to warm it with his breath. The cold and shaking man balled himself into the fetal S and I covered him with blanket. Being human means being humane.  My own little time-space entangled moment defines me and keeps me sane.

I do if only for this fragmented moment, there I am. Whoa! What a concept, each moment planned or unplanned should be lived. Don’t live for the moment, but live the moment.

We are separated by circumstance and a little wealth. Why does kindness require a permit and a surcharge?

If this is reality, make mine virtual. I could pause it, reformat it, get an update.

The man I gave the t-shirt to left, maybe he needed a new operating system. Maybe we all need a new operating system. Mine keeps restarting every time it seems I am getting somewhere.

I am houseless so I am suspect. I am lazy, dirty, drug user. The worst thing that can be done to a human being is to create situations where they have nothing to lose. No vested interest in country, community, humanity, self. The police heap their frustrations and the waste of their warped perceptions on people who want to just exist. “If you cut me, do I not bleed.” I need a transfusion. I need some respect. Everything on the planet belongs on the planet. Man-made things are an exception. No matter what the ad says, your car does not have more right to exist than me.

On a daily basis I dodge cars and SUV’s of distracted, bored people. People who seem to think, to me, that I should be here, there, anywhere. They look at but don’t see me. Some pretend I am not there, shifting their gaze to avert taking in my image. Some skid to stop at corners while texting, talking on their various devices. Engaging in the vice of the moment.

Not all my bad experiences are from the housed. There is a lot of violence in the streets. Some of the people need help. Some of these people should not be sleeping outside, left to fend for themselves. The war on the homeless makes everything worst. Yes, we are under siege. The constant pressure to find food and shelter while looking out for the haters and the police takes its toll. Fear of lower property values is enough to suspend civil rights. It seems to be a crime to be homeless. We are always judged by the most vocal and fanatical.

The middle class is all but gone. The wealth has been redistributed upward. The most valued service of the Government School, Postal, Prison, and Armed Forces is being privatized. Are you so far from homelessness? I thought I was.

Written winter 2009, when I was house-less