Monday, January 10, 2011

Going Going Gone

My spirit has begun to foul and all the trash bits have begun to annoy me. Picking them up, I think, "Does no one see this? Does no one see!?" Cigarette butts, cut up zip-ties, bits of string, bus tickets, tissues. Twice I have asked people to lower their voices, for the sake of the camp, for the sake of our neighbors, to which they retorted with even louder voices or walked off in a huff...while someone, somewhere, cocked and shot an air rifle.. kaPoW kaPoW! Now here's someone I could learn something from, the rifleman. Here is someone, I think, who knows about life in camp. It's a waste of time to even try to understand. Better to shake your head and walk away. Keep your mouth shut or take on a cargo of pain. Isn't that what he's saying?

And yet here I am, the new me, the neatnik, the loyalist, the pessimist, the aggravated one, roaming through camp with a critic's eye. What's this?! What's that? Out of order! Out of whack! Internalizing, scanning, scowling. Hmh? Where did this come from? I thought I'd looked in enough eyes? Thought I'd come to care about these people? Learned to sympathize with their situation? Or is it that I've looked in too many eyes? Is it that I've looked too long? Or that I've begun to bore right through and miss the point? Perhaps it's the weather and the headache and the sinus infection and the litany of rules and constraints and the constant smell of smoke and the dampness? Yes, the dampness. Perhaps it's all of these things doing the damage? An what comes after identification--oppression? Is the boat going down? Is it time to swim? Where is the shore? At first, one month ago, I looked on with curiosity. I thought, o what drama and o how silly. Now I look and think, enough already, please and phew! I thought I was skilled at evading it, but now the smoke is inescapable and making me sick.

New Year's Eve
I worked the 9-midnight security shift on New Year's Eve. Another holiday passes without ado. No ado. And the desk was steeped in smoke and chaos. What do I care? I walked through camp again and again. We had three securities because of the lost signup sheets. Happily, I was let out on a neighborhood sweep with the other woman on duty. A silent walk would have done me well, but she needed to talk so I listened as we walked down the dead end street. At the end of our tour, she told me about a dream she had where the trees held onto our stories. I asked the trees to keep us in mind, especially the one at the entrance. Remember this.

The Sleeping Altar
A firework or two in the distance. Inconsequential. I grabbed my bundle of sleeping bags and hauled them on my back to the church. It was freezing. Seattle Climate Date reports a low of 21F, 4 degrees colder than last night. I tiptoed around a man spread across the aisle and went up to the altar. I unrolled my bag by the wall at the far edge on the carpet. A floor has never been so comfortable. Or warm! I fell asleep immediately, but woke up to the same harsh story. Overhead lights. "You got half an hour to get up and get out!" It was a security calling us to wake. Not five minutes later came the second call and then individual calls, "You up? You up?" What happened to my half hour? Agh! I'm sleeping! It takes two minutes to get up and get out. Leave me be. I have a headache and two securities to pull after my meditation walk. Ok! Ok! I got up. I put my boots on and hauled my bags on my back. I exited the church and stuffed my bags in my ger and walked on out to my car. Got to get out.

1 January 2011
It was the dawning of something new and clear and orange, something I didn't have time for. It was New Year's Day and so early I saw the sun rise, but I didn't feel new. Nothing was new or beginning for me. I went away to sleep. I wasn't feeling good. I slept in a bed for three hours then cancelled the meditation walk. I knew four of five regulars were out of town. After two more hours of sleep, I dragged myself across town and back to Meadowbrook. I put on my security vest and walked around with my fingers in my neck, pushing on the nerve that calms the pain. I spent some time sitting low on the curb to avoid the cigarette smoke, but I had to keep moving if I was going to make it. I got up and walked around. I followed the gutters through the neighborhood on two perimeter sweeps. I had the feeling the neighbors getting into and out of cars were judging and pitying me. I was picking up bits of trash in a bright yellow security vest that marks me as a homeless camper. I felt I was being cast as a martyr.

The Siberian Bear
Richard the Russian, Richard the Bear, Richard the Siberian, in the fuzzy hat with the ear flaps--where does the hat ends and where does the beard begin--pleasant Richard who sits long and moves little and cannot maneuver without his walker, asked the donations coordinator if he could have the mat that came in with the new donations. "I'm tired of people nagging me when things come in." "I'm just asking. You won't get anything if you don't ask." "What happened to the last mat I gave you?" "It compressed to nothing and, you know, I had that accident. I threw up on it." "Well, you need to wipe that up." Now here is a guy who could benefit from a warm place to live with access to assistance, but they say he's where he wants to be, among friends who care about him, yet he's begging for a mattress from someone in the same situation. Dear Richard, You have altered my state completely. Up is down and down is up and I'm sorry the world is unkind and forgot you--forgot your farm and your cask of wine and the children clambering and the birds for your hair. You deserve better. I'm resigning my post in the hopes that one better than me might fill it. Sincerely, The Poet.

When I came back from my second perimeter sweep, Richard and Jarvis were hatching a plan. They'd seen I was sick and were working it out. The camp accountant informed them, "She owes two securities," and so they found someone to cover my second shift. Richard promised her $5, the going rate for a security and I found her in the community tent and gave her $6. I nearly made it to 3pm, but as I was restocking the paper in the honey buckets the scales tipped and the nausea hit and my mouth started to water. I threw up. I can think of nicer ways to spend New Year's Day. I went out, pulled off my security vest and said, "I'm leaving." Someone behind the desk shouted at me to read the letter on the bulletin board. Not now, I'm sick. My eyes were still watering. Roger asked if he could introduce me to some people on a tour. I looked at them all and said, "I'm sick." I had a difficult drive across town. When I got to Fremont I crawled into bed, took some Phenergan and slept and slept. By 4am, I was up and eating and feeling human again, then I slept some more.

January Marching
I was back in camp and breaking down camp on Sunday morning. I needed to be at Tether Gallery by noon to install my ger and cape and milk crate bed. I brought a foam roll for Richard to use as a mattress, probably not the best bed, but perhaps better than what he had. My head was still heavy with the memory of ache. The roof of my ger was covered with frost, the edges of my cape were frozen and it seemed everyone wanted something from me. Hear me! Hear me! But no one came to help. No wonder. I was emitting sparks and my mood was darkening still. I was losing the tether altogether. Then, as I was carrying my things to the car, Brian offered to help. He carried three loads to my car. That acted as a stabilizer and so I held on, but after my second trip to the car I came back to find half my bed gone. My stack of eight milk crates was now down to four-- swiped to make another bed. No...! I still needed my bed. I found the person who had them and asked for them back. He said he'd be with me in half an hour. But I needed my bed back now. I had a friend on the way to drive them to the gallery. I took my complaint to the EC who assisted me. I was now floating free from my tether. Yes I need some time away. Yes I was unwell. Yes I was going...

The Kites We Keep Alive
Take any sane, happy, well-adjusted individual (not saying I am), put them in a tent, in a parking lot, with 99 other individuals in Seattle, in the winter, and subject them to a litany of oppressive rules, they'd all go crazy, one by one. Some might look like me. Some might look like that woman over there. Others might look like him, or him. They'd all suffer emotionally and physically and mentally from the same disease--systems overload. Yes there's a next stage, but will I reach it? I don't know. At the next stage, you purchase an air-gun and learn to shoot it. You buy a permanent sealant and learn to glue your mouth shut. You buy a weighted hat for your head. You are fitted with a semi-permeable membrane to speed the internalizing process. What does it take to stay healthy in Tent City? Or is it impossible? Or is that the point? It isn't possible? You can't flip facts. I'll have to wait til the next level to know. I'll tell you when I get there.

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