I met Hecate on Polk today. She was dragging a metal-framed cart, that was missing the canvas, and a small dog whose leash trailed on the ground and appeared to be following her around. She denied all knowledge of him, yet kept feeding him morsels from the depths of her jacket pockets. “He ain’t mine. I don’t even like ‘im!” she muttered ominously. The dog sat beaming up at her, head cocked to one side, waiting for the next treat to make its way to his fuzzy bearded little muzzle. A mutt for sure. One of those scruffy creatures that this town seems to love. Sacramento is pitbull city, Stockton seemed to love huskies. Way too many wild looking wolf-dogs on the Oregon coast, intermingled with heelers. San Francisco is fuzzy-scruffy-mutt-of-dubious-heritage-ville, for better or worse, that is just the way it is.
“You have nice eyes,” she declared.
“Thanks. They are all mine. You can’t have ’em!” I joked back. She didn’t laugh. I blinked behind my glasses, wondering what she wanted. She had stopped me with a smile and a hand outstretched and presented me with the question, “hey doll. Where’s Sutter?” I swung myself around. As much as I hate to admit it, as much as it causes embarrassment and not only a few questions about how I ever made it across America and back again, I have no sense of direction. I get lost going to the hardware store. I am all turned around after moving from the Shelter, and it is a sadly undeniable fact of life that I am destined always to take the long way round.
I looked up the road. Sutter is further into the ‘Loin. “Which block of Sutter?” I asked, pulling out my phone, and fiddling with the settings trying to get google maps to show. The internet was down. I had no idea what I was doing.
“I don’t know. Just Sutter. I need to get to Sutter.” Hecate’s hair hung long and steel grey and greasy, her eyes carried more luggage than her makeshift cart. She smelt strongly of beer. One rainbow fingerless glove on her left hand, a black glove and wrist support on her right. A pair of men’s baggy combat pants, at least five sizes too big for her thin frame, a similarly oversized dark blue raincoat, torn not at the shoulder, but missing all its buttons and with a large rip up the back. Wrapped in rags and torn newspaper stuffed into her leaking boots, small and bird-like, picking her way down the road. She didn’t want to go to Sutter. She wanted to go somewhere better.
Perhaps she had heard that there was some dope on Sutter, or a free bottle, or someone who might listen, or somewhere she might stay. There was a man a little way back up Polk, he had barricaded himself into a doorway, built walls out of boxes and trash, plastic wrappers and bags, empty bottles and a large retail clothes rail, missing the clothes. He had no need of Sutter. He had made his stand right there on Polk. Polk was his hill to die on: he was going no further. He had found his doorway. The human urge to make a cave, to hide, to shut doors, to obtain privacy and shelter and safety does not go away. It cannot be destroyed easily. The route into not caring for safety, to giving up and allowing total vulnerability is paved with empty 5ths, plastic bumwine bottles, other people’s prescription bottles stuffed with cotton and dreams, a million glassine bags, and forgotten promises.
Billy sleeps with his trailer door open, his windows open and the keys in the ignition. He tells me he wants someone to kill him. I believe him. There is nothing I can do to stop any of it at all, however much I want to. There are only so many times you can call for welfare checks, talk to hospitals and doctors and try and make people who can do something care to do so.
“I am not sure how many blocks down Sutter is, but it can’t be more than a few from here. It is definitely thataway.” I pointed her towards the inner parts of the ‘Loin. The dog sniffed my kicks. I reached into my bag, and came up with a buck. What did Dylan sing? “Let me eat when I’m hungry, let me drink when I’m dry. Mmm Dollar when I’m hard up. Religion when I die.” I’ve been a moonshiner. She snatched the dollar from my gloved fingertips. “Wanna come along, Doll?” Now, I might have an apartment, but I have no need of being anyone’s booze ‘sponsor’ for the day. I am not stuck up, but partying with Hecate might be a little too wild for my blood right now. “I don’t drink, Hec. Im dry.” Hecate laughed a full bellied open mouthed gaping belch of laughter. “We could go down to my friend on Geary, they always have other shit, or knows someone.” I made my apologies, told her I was not looking for a connection, found a little more change for her, and patted the dog who was not hers, yet who thought he was hers, and left her to go see what Sutter has to offer.
Looking for Sutter, looking for love in Minnesota. Looking for relief in Washington, for hope in Dakota, for adventure in Wyoming, for relief from the fires on the coast. Looking for the last train the ferry to Canada the place on the border on the reservation that you can walk over to Canada without The Man stopping you, or at least take a canoe over the boundary waters and hope the supertroopers don’t notice. Looking for the bag. Looking for relief. Looking for love. Searching for adventure. Looking for the road. Looking for the place to stop. Looking through glasses and mirrors, and lenses trying to see what else there might be today, just in case you are still here tomorrow. Looking for the future. Looking for a pair of eyes that might look back at yours and say, you might not want me, but you got me.
She picked up the mutt that was auditioning for the part of Toto, kissed him on the top of his head, clicked her boot heels together three times, opened her black umbrella and flew off down the road.
Hecate is alright. Bit of a party animal, but she means well most of the time.
“I like your dog!” I yelled after her. As I walked up towards California I heard the faint cry back. “He is not my fucking dog!”
I hope she found what she was looking for.