I spend much of my life currently swearing loudly at the news, and subsisting on a diet of anger and fear. It is not sustainable. A letter came raising my rent. I have no subsidy for the next year, and this one runs out in September. A crazed woman was rolling in the gutter and climbing under cars outside, spitting curses and threats at whoever walked by. I suppose we have a lot in common, really, the only difference is hasn’t dragged herself up to a place where her tantrums can be concealed, and I have. I had to get outside, get some air, feel some of that San Francisco fog marine layer cool my head off a little. It was the perfect kind of old fashioned San Francisco summer day that struggles to get above 60 degrees and is shrouded in that heavy mist, that even the Californian summer sun cannot penetrate. The fog has stuck around for a few days now, stubbornly coating San Francisco in a hard boiled old fashioned kind of way, and the weather is cool and dank. I got so cold I had to turn the heat on for a few minutes. This cold in July is part of why I love the City. Where else in the world can I need to turn on the heat in July and not have to worry about December either!
The homeless woman had camped outside a window a few doors up from me. As I walked home I had to pass her. She had lost her mind. She was screaming, piss running down the sidewalk, not grounded in reality, her dignity gone. A young man put down a take away food bag next to her, she screamed and chased him away before pouring the food into the gutter and scooping it from the road to her mouth with two hands. Of course there was nothing I could do to help. She was unreachable, lost, detached from the reality that others around her live in. Absolutely suffering, outcast and desperate. She needed help. Her bottles and syringes, pipes and sodden cardboard lay scattered around her like twisted offerings to a society that had failed her utterly.
I went to bed.
It was about 3am when I got woken up by a strangely strong male Irish accent shouting and being shouted back at by a high pitched female American voice. I will always call the cops if a woman is being beaten or worse outside, even if it is risky to me so I peeked outside. “I want my shiiiiiit!” she screamed, hands pounding the sidewalk. “I want my shit my shit my shit my shit, right now! You said you would get me my shit! Get my shit!” She started to growl at him menacingly, but didn’t seem to be in any danger. Too much junkie business as usual. I turned my nightlight on and pulled a book from my bedside table. There was no point laying there being kept awake, tossing and turning in bed, I might as well read, I thought.
“Yeah, but what shit do ya want, woman?” He replied. “If you don’t tell me what kind of shit you want how am I gonna get yer shit now? You think I’m a fookin’ mind reader, do ya?” To be frank, he had a point. Her reply was unhelpful at best: “My shit! My shit! I g-g-g-g-ave you my money! My shit!” I sighed. This could go on a while. The life of Jinx Beers, “Diary of an Old Dyke” was comforting and warm a read as I could have wished for, but the battle for knowledge outside was raging on noisily.
The Irishman was making a valiant and restrained effort. “You want yer money back? No problem.” She gasped. “No! I want my shit! My shit! Get my shit! You said you would get my shit!” An exasperated Irish-tinged groan floated up my to window. “By the looks of ya, I would say ya need the Heroin…but the way youse is carrying on, I’d say yer on the crack! I don’t want to get yer the wrong thing, now. Do you want smack-shit, crack-shit, meth-shit, ket-shit, coke-shit? What type, what kind of shit do you want?” Very reasonable I thought. Reasonable, clear and succinct. She started to smash her fists into the wall of my building, having a full on temper tantrum. “Youse has gone and driven away everyone that loves you, ain’t ya? Everyone that ever loved you, you made ’em all go away. You happy?” I put down the book. Amateur but heartfelt psychology from a drug connection. This was not the usual junkie shit. This was interesting. “I tell you what, you come with me to m’ man, and you can tell him what kind of shit you want? Let’s go together.” She quietened down.
It all became clear, it looked like she wanted an introduction to the higher up guy with the goods, a connection of her own, a plug, a phone number, instead of paying a little in goods or money to the man to go get her shit for her. Not quite as insane as she seemed at first. She crawled under a car, laying half underneath it, pushing her head against a wheel as if trying to push out the bad thoughts. Perhaps I was giving her too much credit. Maybe she was as incapable as she seemed. Her new friend coaxed her out. “Who are your people anyway,” he asked. “You got anyone left at all? Anyone?” By this time my curtain twitching seemed akin to a danger sport. I went back to bed, leaving the odd couple to wander downhill to meet their man, and their fates. They didn’t return. I like to think she got some help, or at least whatever she needed. I like to think she had made a friend she was not going to push away. I was ever the optimist until I decided that I really can’t stand the rest of humanity. The reality is probably somewhat darker and less comfortable.
The reality is that San Francisco does not have nearly enough psych ward beds for those that need them. People self medicate mental health issues with drugs, drug use is made into a moral issue rather than a health problem. This poor woman was in no way immoral, in no way bad, she was suffering and the expression of her suffering was noisy and bothersome, dirty and horrific for both her and others around her. I didn’t get back to sleep until 7am, and however intriguing the conversation was, I needed to be asleep. She left a huge mess outside which was cleaned up by the local neighborhood volunteers. None of it is her fault. She was clearly in need of help, medical care and assistance for her own sake and for others. The likelihood she will get this help before something kills her – whether it be ill health, living outside, or overdose, is slim to none. It benefits society as a whole to help others who need it, helping makes life better for everybody, yet we will moralize and deny the assistance that people need.
The neighborhood clean up posse do a great job with their pick-up sticks and thick plastic bags. They even wash the sidewalks down, but there are some stains upon society that can’t be washed off, and our inhumanity, cruelty and lack of empathy are stains that run all the way through and are going to need more than soapy water and trash bags to fix.
Choose empathy. Choose kindness. We think a lot about what it means to be American, and our pride in our country, perhaps that love for where we live will come a little easier if we show care for others.
Happy July 4th weekend.