.13.

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You know those moments that remind you that your life is nothing more than a slightly more boring version of the Matrix?

To the man riding his bright pink bicycle in the street. It was your average women’s cruiser bike with a basket and with fenders, and the whole, entire, complete thing had been spray painted a very confusingly dull shade of bright pink. In the course of a few days, I have seen him in several neighborhoods throughout the city and I have to consequently ask myself, as any sane person would, whether he is the spirit itself of the city.

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.12.

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VERDAGUER

To the two middle aged women sitting on the café at the foot of the Gracia hill sitting hunched over their two cups, talking and peeling oranges. As I walked by, I was hit in the face with the smell, the beautiful virus-like permeating wall of colors that happens when anyone near you so much as touches an orange. It was obvious they hadn’t bought them from the café (and even if they had, I prefer to think that they hadn’t and that they were generally not giving a toss about it). While the event itself was nothing more than two friends sitting over coffee sharing an orange, it gave me a vaguely proustian jolt. Once upon a time, I read a book that spoke very briefly about mediation (I think) and in which (perhaps) the author recalled when (maybe) his master  (if that is actually a thing in zen Buddhism) explained how eating an orange delighted all the senses (…except hearing…so never mind) and was the ultimate representation of the true and simple pleasures in life. I don’t even like oranges, I just eat them occasionally simply to not feel awkward at breakfast, to avoid scurvy, and as a substitute for cocaine. Whenever I do eat them, however, I enjoy the hell out of them.

.11.

2013, NOB HILL, San Francisco, California

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This is not a good piece.

I don’t like anything about it, really. It puts me in a terrible light while at the same time managing to be a really cheesy story about something that’s been told time and time again. But hey, it’s honest.

As I was walking up the comically steep, ninety-degree hill to my apartment while trying to step in time to what was reverberating from my headphones, thereby looking like I had learned how to walk the day before, I saw a very enormous dog. He was sitting on the sidewalk, and he was in the shadows, almost as though he had sought it out, in the same deliberate way that a cat would have avoided it. As I got closer, I noticed that that this dog had a person crouched behind him, who then acknowledged me with a tip of his head. This person was skinny, bearded, and was wearing a fishing hat that was shaped just wrong. He wore a  t-shirt, and oddly, a hoodie underneath it; I remember how strange this seemed at the time. By wearing his shirt over it, he had foregone access to the kangaroo-like pocket and hand warmer that comes tandem with a hoodie (very useful on San Francisco nights), and he would have been just as warm wearing them items the other way around, if not warmer. He must have just really wanted to show off his Joe’s Crab shack t-shirt that day.

If you’ve ever lived in any large city that has both an upper class and sources of heat on the street, you then know the extent to which you have to turn a blind eye to everyone who has lost everything, and learn to walk the fine line between empathy and nothing. The homeless problem and people’s reaction to it is a touchy subject in San Francisco. After working a few months in the idyllic utopia lovingly known as the Tenderloin, it had all become very calculated and deliberate for me. I noticed everyone, on some level because I couldn’t help but look, but I would also hope that I forced myself to be hyper aware of each face I saw on the street in order not to lose too much faith in myself. I did have to learn to, in a way, forget them, in order to not lose faith in…well…everything else.

In this particular case, I found that I couldn’t not pet this dog. Before I could even take off my headphones, in fact, he walked up to me and just leaned against my legs, like a battering ram covered with stuffed animals and ShamWows. The dog was so large that I almost fell over. Seemingly content with having pushed me over to the right a couple inches, it then stumbled back towards his person.

Almost without thinking, I started talking to said person, maybe because he hadn’t tried to talk to me first.

Here are some things I found out:
The person’s name was Bobby, and the dog’s name was Cody.
Bobby had had Cody since Cody was ten days old, and Cody was now eleven.
Bobby had made his slightly deformed fishing hat with his own two hands out of leather he found over the years and dental floss.
Bobby had been a “drifter” for 11 years. He explained that this was because he had also been a sniper in the military, and after trying for over a decade, he was just now able to get on disability.
Next week Bobby was moving into his first apartment (in eleven years, remember), by AT&T Park. I’ll give you my most eloquent description of Bobby’s soon to be new neighborhood: rich, richy, rich.
Bobby’s kids, who had been taken away from him ten years ago or so, were then going to come live with him, just in time for him to get to try to raise them as teenagers. He previously had raised them “on the road, also as drifters” as he put it. I carefully sidestepped the thought of my own childhood dreams of living in circus tents and in trains equipped with nothing but a bandana and a stick over my shoulder (just being honest here, guys). Realistically, that must have been terrible.
Anyways.
Bobby was only going to stay in this shiny new apartment for six months, because he and his “lady” were going to buy a bus and travel the country.

Cody, that I can only describe as being the muppet love child of Old Yeller and Air Bud, was wearing an American flag bandanna. He was wearing this bandanna as a testament to the fact that, although Bobby had needed (and not received) disability for eleven years, the government had regularly paid for Cody’s vet visits. The government had, at least, financially supported Cody, because Cody was a service dog. In fact, Cody had gradually taught HIMSELF to be a service dog, because Bobby got seizures. Bobby said it was ok, though, that the weed helped. Conveniently, weed also alleviated all that came with the stage four terminal stomach cancer and severe PTSD.

My reaction after hearing this is similar to what I am experiencing now as I write this sentence, and a fairly common one at that –  best described as a complete inability to decide whether to try to offer some hypocritical optimism/empathy with a tentative “I’m so sorry” or to acknowledge the ridiculous harshness of this man’s life with a simple “…damn.”

Realizing I was too stunned to do either and maybe needlessly worried that my reaction would come off as pity, I snapped into action and swiftly regressed into the comfortable territory of bad humor. I told Bobby he was the happiest man with PTSD I had ever met, and it was probably because of his awesome hat. Thankfully for me he graciously laughed, pulled out a bottle of cinnamon whiskey, and took a pull. We talked about the legalization of marijuana for a bit (after having lived ten years in Colorado, people who meet me tend to just to gravitate towards the subject).

I told him his life was awesome, and it sounded like in a couple days it was going to get even better, and then I went home. And here I am.

I gave him the three bucks I had.

It wasn’t at all enough, and I still wish I had had something more useful to give him.

If badly retold, I suppose all of this could seem like some guy’s story to get me, the girl prancing around San Francisco with a bike messenger bag and an iPhone, to give him money. I suppose the long list of Bobby factoids fits the bill for being delivered dispassionately as a monologue, and they could easily belong on a piece of cardboard followed by God Bless. But I did, and still do believe him. He was probably the happiest person I had met in weeks, and he didn’t ask me for a thing, but rather gracefully didn’t refuse the change I awkwardly handed him.

I’ve found a resolution to the conflict of my blindingly privileged naivety and the impossibly positive attitude of someone who I’ve just described as a cartoon character but who is very, very real. As with the little moments people forget to remember, this little stitch in reality was real and it was a cliché.

Maybe if I ever start writing again I’ll turn this into a story. I’ll give it a moral along the lines of  “stop bitching because there was this guy, once, outside my apartment, who was dying of stomach cancer, had seizures, suffered from PTSD, had been on the street for more than a decade, but was content to get to hang out with his kids, his dog, and to travel the country in a bus with his lady, (and I quote)  and ‘to eat the pot cookies she makes.’”

Too long? It could also be “dental floss is the best string to sew with,” if you prefer (‘cause it actually really is).

I’d probably just write him a really happy ending, though.

The End.

.10.

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GRACIA

To the well-dressed woman standing on the sidewalk looking up across the street and whistling. As I walked up behind her I followed her gaze to an enormous white Great Dane sitting in a bay window, looking back at her through net curtains. After a few seconds, the dog freaked out and started barking and growling and snarling. She smiled sheepishly at me as I walked by.

and

To this tiny poofy dog driving a really cool car that I’m not able to identify because I, however, am highly uncool (or I am at least not as cool as said tiny poofy dog).

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2012, BORGO DORA, Torino, Italy

What should have been the first post, and essentially the event that inspired this blog in the first place.

To the man standing on the corner of Via Vittorio Andreis, looking very much like he belonged in the blue-collar, non-italian neighborhood that I was visiting my sister in. It was cold, and grey, and the skies looked very soviet in Turin that day, and there was still some snow on the ground. As I looked out from the balcony, concealed in a shroud of my own cigarette smoke (delicious), I noticed said grown man hiding behind the wall, gleefully peering around the corner every so often. He bent down, made a snowball, tossed it up and down in his gloved hands (as one often does with fresh snowballs for no apparent reason), peered around the corner some more, and waited. I waited with him. Who was he waiting for? Was it a kid? Was it an adult? Was he really going to toss an inner city, grey and yellow snowball in this person’s face?

Time passed. No one came. He looked very slightly defeated as he tossed the snowball on the ground and walked away, and I was left wondering what the hell had almost happened.

That day, I was frozen like a banana on a stick and generally pretty unhappy before seeing these few minutes into this person’s life. There was nothing outwardly eye-catching about him, he was physically average, not particularly attractive nor ugly and I doubt we would have had very much to talk about had we ever had the opportunity to. We might not even have had a language in common.

There are some things that everyone does, that everyone appreciates, that everyone reacts to the same. This is regardless of culture, language, gender, religion, whether you think my blog is awesome and funny or not. The one thing that matters, though, is whether you think anyone is watching or not.

.8.

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DRASSANES

To the clown sitting on the metro platform at Drassanes, applying his stage makeup, using a mirror rested on his portable speaker. As the metro briefly stopped at the station, I poked Alina. Look, I said. There was a father and his two children sitting behind the clown. One of the little boys had climbed up on the stone bench behind the performer and was watching him put on face powder as if he were swallowing swords or juggling snakes. The clown was acutely aware of this, and kept catching the boy’s eye in the mirror. He’d smile, pull a face, reach his hand behind him to playfully shoo him away. The boy would excitedly back off, then slowly inch back forward.

I remember when I was a kid, I was walking down the street and holding my mom’s hand. I must have been about 5 or so. We walked by a nun, who, differently than many other kindly looking old Italian women, smiled at me as I walked by. I was so touched by this gesture at the time that I’ve always kept a warm place in my heart for nuns (you can tell I wasn’t raised catholic).

I wonder if this experience will always stick with this little boy. Ridding the world of its fear of clowns I suppose, one child at a time.

.7.

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PARAL-LEL

To the owner of the room filled wih books and birds on Carrer Tapioles in Barcelona, which was always closed but lit from inside when I walked by, and swelled with the mechanical sound of chirping. One morning, I passed by and there he was, grey haired and cardigan clad, speaking to an equally grandfatherly buddy of his.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I noticed you keep birds. What do you do?”

“Well,” he answered, “I keep birds.”

He let me inside while his friend watched with amusement, and showed me the walls lined with cages as one might line walls with books. “Do they have names?” I asked.

“Yes, greenfinches, robins..”

“No, no,” I interjected, “I mean like Jordi and Maria.”

“No,” he answered. “They’re only birds, and they’re not for sale. Goodbye, beautiful.”