Aesop is barking for his breakfast. I just got back from the market with a few things. It was a little above freezing and cold. I saw a homeless man gathering empty bottles and cans for redemption at the same little store. He rode a bicycle, carrying four big black bags of containers. Why is it that every writing on my iPad turns into a moral teacher? It’s as though what Emerson said is true about all literature being moral. Now I sit on a couch still in my jacket, getting warm after my adventure. And speaking of moral, I should feed my dog and be his hero.
Got that done.
The cloudy winter sky stares down impassively on people as we pass each other on the streets, likewise indifferent to one another. We feed our pets but allow other people to starve, or at best scrounge for bottles to feed themselves. Instead of saying we, I ought to make it personal and say I. Because, it’s my guilty conscience prodding me, sitting comfortably at home while others have no home at all. Just the clothes on their backs, and a bicycle if they are lucky. I also wondered where he got his plastic bags if he didn’t buy them in a store. It’s too easy to dismiss the homeless by saying they only use their money to get drunk or high on drugs. More realistic to say, That could have been me.
As the afternoon drew upon three o’clock, I got the jonesing for a Coke so I checked the forecast which was clear of rainfall until five. Then I put on a light black jacket and took my chances. I got almost to Fremont when I turned for a look at the reddening trees and the sky full of huge muscular clouds. It drizzled on me a little bit although some blue sky still showed. I made it to the market without incident except to compliment Deb on her aquamarine dress, saying she always had a flair for picking flattering colors. The way home also was uneventful, but I observed the piles of leaves on Steve’s curbside. People are such islands to each other these days; I encountered nobody outdoors. I’d gotten myself settled back in the house with my phone in hand when the rain like hell broke loose. You know it’s raining hard if you see the rebounds bouncing up two feet from the ground. It kept doing this for ten minutes, finally slackening enough to let Aesop out to do his business. I reflected a little grimly that I had just missed the cloudburst; however, Oregon weather is capricious like that, and entirely unpredictable. By contrast, the interior of my house was very warm and cosy.
Two thirty five AM.
I guess I don’t have anything important to share when I resort to the weather to make a post. The reader feels like saying so what. But they say that no news is good news, and uneventful is better than unpleasant surprises. Sometimes it’s nice to appreciate the comforts of home and the security that we usually take for granted: imagine being a homeless person with no income, no education, and no hope. Homelessness could’ve happened to me with my addiction. My world was falling apart while I dreamed away on Cloud Nine, a fool’s paradise in a beer bottle cathedral. It makes me wonder what intervened to save me: could it have been myself, from a tiny inner voice that screamed for attention?
I just thought of Prof Wickes and almost cried. He was in his nineties when I met with him a few years ago at the Cafe Roma on campus… The main factor in my separation from the university is money. It’s probably a fluke that I ever went to college at all. So now I’m an educated lunatic, always looking over shoulder to better times, or hoping against hope for some opportunity to shine in the future. What can a pauper do with his time besides mark the shapes of the clouds outside his front window? And be happy he has a roof over his head.
Everything can change in an eye-blink. The line between housed and homeless is as easy as drug addiction. The life of comfort and security is underrated. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” So what? Who would rather live on the streets? There is poverty, and then there’s homelessness. “With diamonds and gold in hand / Will barter as the homeless burn / Someday will it be our turn?” It can happen to anybody and everybody. We complain when we see them organize with a car and raid the recycle bins around town, scrounging for change to support their habits. But every human being is our sister or brother, though I feel like a hypocrite saying it. This is the kind of message I used to hear in church. Somewhere along the way, it got lost or at least garbled with society as it currently is: greedy and materialistic. “What happened to this song we once knew so well?”
A guest preacher asked us, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is of course everyone.
A vapor trail in the east is pinked by the light of the rising sun. The moon is high in the west, an oblong smudge of white chalk. Crows on the wing to my right. Lisa has a story for us about her arrival at the store this morning. She says a homeless man by the storefront lit a fire in the can for cigarette butts and warned her not to come near. Fearing that the market would burn down, Lisa pulled out a taser and a phone and told him to put it out or she would call 911. This was the crazy start to her day. For me, it was only a matter of shopping for things to eat and drink today. It was colder, about 43 degrees, so I put on my old blue parka, a relic from student years.
The same parka saw the time when I learned about Indian religions and basic biology in old buildings along 13th Street. The geology building’s name was changed to Columbia Hall by that time, and class was held rather late in the afternoon because I remember it would get quite dark before we were done. The religion class happened in Chapman Hall in a smaller room on the second floor, across from the department office. Dr Kim really avalanched us with reading work so that I came away thinking social sciences were the hardest courses you could take. I fell way behind on my homework. Thankfully the final exam was objective and I bluffed through it. But the term paper took a lot of work. I wrote it on Jaina philosophy, though I was criticized for evading the religious practice element of the topic. He was a hard grader, like the professors of the old school.
Quarter of nine.
The little market opened an hour later today for the holiday. The radio played the Beastie Boys, rather incongruous for Easter morning. For the past few days I’ve felt lousy from a certain prescription drug, so now I’m stopping it. I gave Aesop some Gravy Train after his breakfast, which he didn’t like, but it was all they had at the store. After a while I guess I’ll read my Henry James again, although his attitude kind of annoys me. Everyone would probably love to live in the lap of luxury, but it’s an elusive thing even when you have it, and it so easily melts from your grasp. I feel more like Pip in Great Expectations than like a character in James. It was just a happy accident that I ever went to college, and the benefactor was my mother… My mother despised money and raised me to be oblivious to the fact of it. She sheltered me from the grimy reality of hard knocks, and as a consequence I’ve ended up on the sidewalk, but luckily with a place to live. I still dislike the sight of cash; it makes me think of alcohol… Yesterday morning I was in the car with Gloria coming back from the thrift store. As we passed under the highway we saw the camp of some homeless people: a few shopping carts and a string of junk that they considered worthy belongings. An hour later I’d be sitting reading a book of drawing room manners, never putting two and two together until now.
Five twenty five.
Since my visit with Misty yesterday morning, my brain finally made a connection and I did a little research on the homeless mentally ill. I realized also that my sister and her park ranger son were ignorant about the situation. Their attitudes are moralistic and damning of the homeless, not bothering to try to understand how and why people end up that way. They ascribe evil motives to their behavior as if they were “responsible” for their fates, but really, things just happen to people. It’s not a human problem, but rather a clinical problem, and religion has nothing to do with it. At least 25 percent of homeless people are severely mentally ill, and as many as 45 percent have any kind of mental illness… Now I recall my church’s incomprehension of mental illness when Katie passed away and we had her memorial service last fall: it was so embarrassing. And I was another schizophrenic person looking on, a witness to the whole thing. And then Pastor with his sermons on demonic possession and other crap! Americans need a wake up call to reality, and reality is certainly nothing spiritual. We need a revival of science in our culture before Dark Age America seals its own doom.
Quarter after eleven at night.
“Light one candle to watch for Messiah / Let the light banish darkness…” My mind is a jumble even though the night is quiet and golden. The world has far to go to be anything like perfect. If only it were as easy as buying the world a Coke and teaching it to sing in harmony. Around here, I still don’t see very many people of color. I wonder if they are happy with the current social climate. I’d like to get a chance to talk with some of them about their feelings. Years ago a young Mexican guy told me about a rock band in Mexico called Los Tiranos del Norte, and he said they were very good. I imagine they were indeed, with a name like that. I was working as seasonal help at a music store in the Gateway Mall, where I met a variety of different people in public. Once I ran into a mother and her young son who were Greek, with a swarthy complexion that could be mistaken for something else, but now I know better about Mediterranean people.
I don’t know; everything just feels so incomplete and out of joint, especially for so-called minorities and those who don’t have anything. And all we can offer them are a flag to wave and a cross to bear. I get tired of listening to my sister’s conservative opinions, especially when she spouts about the homeless, as if they were to blame for their plight. Worse, as if they chose to live that way. I find her attitude very uncharitable and unkind. A perfect world is one where people can be what they want to be, where they can use their natural gifts to share with everyone. I fear that perfection will be a long time coming, though I hope for the Golden Age to be restored and all of humankind fulfilled.
Gloaming of early morning outside my window. I feel rather good. Yesterday afternoon was a success for me, in that I got my point across to the other guys. I played my bass quite well, too. It probably sounded better to them than it did to me. The solo I took on “Bubble House” sucked. It was in G7, which is harder for me to solo over. But I really burned on “The Mincer,” in A7. If anything, I played too many notes… Aesop needs wet food again, and the store has just opened. At around eight o’clock I’ll go run my errand… I remember nearly crying (for the right reasons) when “Tom Sawyer” came on the PA in a certain waiting room. Rush did their songs with so much more intelligence than garden variety bands; with quality and taste, finesse and beauty. The other guys in my band aren’t very familiar with Rush, so I think I’ll make converts of them.
Seven thirty. I hear a birdsong outside my back door. The weather yesterday was insanely beautiful. Everybody got out of the house to do various activities.
Eight thirty. Melissa had a cold, but she sounds better today than yesterday morning. Camped across Maxwell Road from the store I saw a homeless man who kept himself company by talking to himself. It really annoys me when people say that homeless people choose to live that way, out of laziness or whatever. It’s the system that failed them, not the other way around. My park ranger nephew has some backward opinions, but luckily I don’t have to be around him… Some people are born without an aptitude that fits neatly into the job market. I’m one of them. There are no gainful jobs that allow for creativity and self expression in music or writing. People like me have to figure out another way or else fall through the cracks. Ayn Rand believed that the capitalist system could be manipulated to serve anyone who worked hard enough. I have serious doubts about that. Robert Pirsig said it doesn’t matter what work you do as long as you do it with quality. Again, I beg to disagree. And once again, in a perfect world… I envision a New Renaissance, a time when people can be what they want to be. Why is it that so many of us have a similar dream, yet the dream gets trampled by those with no imagination?
Two twenty. My taxi ride to the pharmacy went just fine, and I avoided the rain as it started on the way back. I got to see Shawn, who didn’t recognize me with the mask at first. Jeanine was at the register, but amazingly there was no copay for my Vraylar. The insurance company came through for me again, so the prescription that would cost $1400 out of pocket cost me $0. The parking lot for Bi Mart and Grocery Outlet was quite busy this afternoon. Todd, the cabbie, threaded his way meticulously through the traffic. The fare for the trip came to under $15. I might have looked like a spoiled brat riding in a taxi for the one mile to the pharmacy, but I simply put aside the feelings of guilt. People could eat their heart out.
Another time, I may take a ride Downtown to the environs of Fifth Street and knock about. I’d like to visit Smith Family Bookstore again; it’s been probably three years since the last time I saw it. And there might be a new shop or two on Fifth Street, though I doubt it, based on the state of the economy and the number of homeless people living in tents beneath the bridge between First and Fifth Streets. Truly it’s a grim sight as you drive by the Washington Jefferson Street Park. My dad and I used to travel through the Whitaker neighborhood to get to Downtown all the time twenty five years ago. And when I was working, I drove home on First Avenue every day; but I never saw anything like the poverty so blatantly obvious nowadays. The so-called invisible people make themselves known, and I don’t blame them. Thus, it would be futile to go Downtown seeking to make the past materialize out of a memory; it’d be a delusion or a wish fulfilling dream…
My sleep was troubled and fitful, perhaps due to what I’d been reading. I’m very sensitive to stories, whether in print or in movies… Now I wonder why so many musicians are fans of King Crimson. I find some of their lyrics dreadful, dealing with mental illness without much sympathy. What’s their point? I don’t listen to much music these days; I’m not sure why. I’m half inclined to go back to bed, because I still feel drowsy. Sometimes I think of those clowns who worked on my house a year ago, and how slipshod they were. Ultimately it was the Portland contractor who was blameworthy for the shoddy job they did. It can be depressing to think about now… I guess I’ll go to the store and see if they have any new inventory.
Nine o’clock. I went to the market and bought a Reuben, cottage cheese, and two Snapples. Vicki’s eyes were on the front door, where she could see a pair of homeless people just outside. I passed them on my way out. Some people believe the homeless choose to live that way, and they could get jobs if they tried. I’m not one of those people. When conditions are bad and times are tough, the incidence of homelessness goes up. This doesn’t substantiate the claims of narrow minded conservatives. Hard luck befalls a lot of people. I’ve been lucky, probably more lucky than clever… Some people care more about “numbers” than human beings. I’m certainly not one of them. All is not gold that glitters. Think of the worthless “rocks” in Voltaire’s El Dorado. Precious gemstones are scattered everywhere on the streets, but in a perfect world they have no value. For reasons of greed, Candide and his friends lose Paradise, packing off a bunch of colorful rocks to the real world. Call it idealism to make this observation. It remains true.