Traffic light turns green. By the time I blink it is red again. The walk-don’t-walk halts all progress, eyes scan the horizon for threats or observers. I can’t write while I am scared of who might be watching.
The cops broke up the party in the streets, the tents and the makeshift community. You could not walk past without being driven into the road and the traffic, since it had spread into a large encampment. The last two nights were loud and violent. Brawls and tasers, cries and shouts. I wonder if the Heavens look down on us and are glad for their lofty elevation from our mundane brutality?
There are Pigs and plastics everywhere. Protest turds scattered and smeared across the sidewalks, black bags of shit dumped liberally. This is not compassion. This is not working. The trick would be to give people a community they could invest in – their time and their skills and their hard work. A tent community, or shack city with gardens to tend. Give people something to be proud of. Something to nurture and build. I think people tend naturally to want to work, to be of use, but this, this disease and despair is a symptom of giving up. It doesn’t affect those who live in rich areas – their streets remain stubbornly tent free, their sidewalks mostly free of shit and needles. They live in a bubble while they preach compassion but don’t have to live it.
Every time I leave my room I am intimidated and terrified. This part of town has been allowed to go to literal shit, and as long as the shit is contained here, up in the mansions on the hills where the fog doesn’t collect, they are having galas and preaching live and let live as long as the ugliness and danger does not live next door to them. I don’t even mind ugly so long as it isn’t accompanied by physical danger.
Cars fly past aggressively trying to get through this part of town. I bet all of them have locked doors to stop carjackings. If this city wasn’t failing, they shouldn’t need to be scared.
There are entire stories in the discarded objects from the morning’s rousting. 8 foot of clear cellophane. Extra wide. It adorns a tree. I wonder who sells such thick and wide saran wrap. A few more words have joined the graffiti. I can’t read them, the tree is in the way, I think it is probably better this way.
No party. No fights. No stars. No lights. Opposite a purple glow comes from the window of the man who stares sometimes. I suspect he is in there writing ” Bright white light from the window of the woman who stares.” We eye each other nervously before we both pull the shades and retreat.
I assign him a name and a number, and wonder about personality. Joe, aged 56, lives alone on the first floor of the extreme left of a hundred year old building in SF’s grittier part of town. He likes police procedurals which he watches on Netflix, and has a cat called Gerald who is a bastard with his claws and likes no one – especially not Joe. His hobbies include staring out of windows and growing cacti. I say goodnight to Joe but he seems scared and a little disconcerted. I don’t know why he is so nervous, it is not like I am sketching and have no interest in star signs. I don’t even drink Chianti and have given up meat, Clarisse.
A man picks up a mask from the ground. It must have fallen from his pocket. Dammit man, I think, leave it! Floor is lava, or at least dysentery and cholera! It’s gone! The man brushes it off and installs it on his face after giving it a little blow. Yeah, that’s gonna work. Joe is still watching, I fancy I can see a faint disgust work across his face, it doesn’t last. Joe has clearly been here longer than I have. Joe has seen it all already.
A man expertly enters the neighboring apartments. They are smaller than Joe’s, scuzzier, grimier. He opens the metal grille with one hand, looks around, pushes it open then kicks it shut behind him. Safely in between doors, he opens the inner sanctum, quickly, slams it shut and hurries up the stairs. He does this all fast and deliberate in the practiced ballet of a man who knows what he needs to do to stay alive.
There is no safety here. Safety is something you can buy. A construct peddled by politicians and preachers. There is no paxes, Safe, can’t touch me in this part of town. There is no sanctuary in this city unless you buy it. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I am deeply grateful for the amnesty provided which allows me to escape from being killed by my husband, and to stay with my son. I just wish that every time I leave the house it wasn’t a new fight for safety and continued existence, which is being constantly tested and threatened by people I have no ties to and no links with. I desperately need safe and sound. I am tired of surviving of fighting, of trying.
The crows outside my window perch on the flags and street signs. They appear to be a direct manifestation of the city and it’s unique identity and soul. Inquisitive, feisty, sleek and active, hustling here and there for food and dominance, dropping gorgeous blue black feathers onto the dirty streets. Man this city isn’t the feather, it’s the whole damn bird and I love it and fear it in equal measure.
The reflection of the flowers in the room shines in my window. Joe’s gone. There is nothing to be done, at least not tonight as the lights turn green once again.