Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Chinese Line

The line extended to the end of the block and halfway up Jones Street. Orange cones, spaced in intervals, ran parallel to line, delineating where people stand and where the general public walks. It was a regular occurrence to the neighborhood so people knew the drill and very few complained, even though there was good reason to.

Dressed in shades of grey and black - some homeless, most transient – they stood, referred by Social Workers, friends or given a Free Eats Chart with instructions of how to get there. They were mostly black and white: high, crazy and fucked. With a hot meal and a seat guaranteed, the line was relatively drama free.

Large men in yellow jackets with the word SECURITY in block letters across the back policed the line. With a light hand, they roamed the area. Mostly, they stood out front and accepted food donations. Their presence was mandated by nearby businesses and neighbors. It was the least they could do for permanently fucking up a block.

The yellow jackets used to be participants in the line. It’s assumed that at some point they accepted help and switched sides. With their lives back on track, they got their AA in drug counseling at City College and eventually move inside the building, into a small room where they counseled people on drug addiction. This is a generalization.

Across the street is another line. This line is much shorter and everybody is holding some sort of shopping bag. And they’re Chinese. I don’t know much about the line, except they there’s a storefront that appears to be giving out groceries. The people in the line are much older, but have the same expression on their faces. I would bet most aren’t on drugs.

Never will the two lines meet.

I’m about 30 yards east of the Chinese line. I have no affiliation to the Chinese – I don’t prefer it over the black and white line – I just happen to have business on that side.

I’m training a new driver. Wearing Red Wings from the 70s, these boots have a Tom Mcan vibe that says the wearer has reached a level of working class status that requires him to hold a clipboard rather than drive a forklift. That’s what I imagine. I liked to be called a Foreman.

I tell the new driver this: “They don’t like me, that’s good.” I talk in short, abbreviated bursts. “The more they don’t like me, the more they’ll like you. Feel free to talk shit about me; it will bond you with them. Feel free to tell me if they talk shit about me. Stand by the door until someone lets you in. Alert the person that you’re here. He’ll come out with a cart and stand by the vehicle. He’s very particular about the way you give him the food. Work something out with him. I don’t care, whatever works but don’t let him abuse you. If he’s a dick, let me know and I’ll deal with him.”

The driver stands next to the door. They let him in and he comes out a minute later. I’m in the back of the vehicle staging the food.

“How did it go,” I ask.

“Fine, I think I gave it to the right guy.”

The new driver joins me in the back of the vehicle.

A young, dour, Goth woman in black rags appears at the side door and reaches into the vehicle. I immediately spring into action: “Get out, get out, GET THE FUCK OUT.” It was the verbal equivalent of poking her with a stick. She wandered off behind the vehicle.
I told him that people in the neighborhood may try to steal food.

Walking to the curb with a pan full of Tilapia, the Goth woman was standing next to the man next to the cart. I immediately thought: Volunteer! Fuck! I mistook the Goth woman for a homeless person.

I lowered my head and put the pan on the cart. I looked at her and said, “Sorry.” I wanted to explain that I thought she was homeless or a junkie but that would’ve made things worse.

The new driver had already picked up on my mistake. I stayed in the vehicle and let him pack out the rest of the food.

On the road, the new driver said, “That woman was pissed at you.” Having already overcome the embarrassment of making an ass out of myself, I replied, “She’ll get over it. People always assume I’m homeless or a bike messenger.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Representative From Costco is Visiting Today

Within 5 seconds of exiting the car, I felt something hit my left shoulder. Something big and heavy, I thought. I looked up and noticed him standing next to me, looking crazy. He was black, 5’ 10’, black cap, disheveled, high and mentally ill. This is how I described him to the BART police dispatcher. The dispatcher asked me to clarify the style of cap; if he was drunk and how I knew he was mentally ill. In order, I told her it was a baseball hat; he didn’t smell of alcohol and that I work worked with lots of mentally ill people. She didn’t question my credentials.

His eyes had that yellow glow of somebody who had a prolonged relationship with crack. He was sweaty and waiting for me to reply. They’re always waiting for a response. It helps justifying violence. Like an idiot, I gave it to him.

“What the fuck, dude.” This was a very white response.

I continued walking, taking out my keys and putting them in between my clinched right fist. I had done a quick check of his ability to kill me and deduced I could take him. I calmed and continued to the ticket machine, violent visions filling my thoughts. He followed, his yellow eyes egging me on. I pulled out my phone, my iPhone. Not a smart move.

“Dude, get the fuck out of here or I’m calling the police.” Once again, I included dude.

“I don’t care, call Allah. I’ll kill you,” As violent as this sounds, his demeanor remained the same – the yellow eyes looking at me while we moved forward. I should’ve known that the threat of police never worked. Last time I used this tactic, the response was: “I don’t care, I’m not afraid of going back to the penitentiary.” Don’t mess with anyone who calls prison the penitentiary.

As we entered the courtyard of BART, he derailed from my path, heading east to International Blvd. The influx of people defused the situation. I continued on, keeping a close eye on him as I walked with the commuters.

Bypassing the ticket machines, I went straight to the station agent and reported the incident. While explaining what happened to the attendant, I looked toward the turnstiles and the Director of Human Resources at my work was smiling at me, shaking her head. She had witnessed the incident. Her look was one of pity and amusement. I motioned her away. This was a woman who hears all the petty and nasty shit at work, she didn’t need to get involved in my problems.

The attendant handed me a phone and I gave the dispatcher the particulars. An officer appeared and talked to me in hush tones. Before we walked the courtyard, looking for the perp, I established my credentials: “I work in the Tenderloin, so I’m pretty used to this.” He didn’t respond. This was becoming more about me than the incident. He took my name and number and sent me on my way. I was a little embarrassed that I reported such a petty crime, but I justified it by thinking I was doing a public service. Once again, it was about me.

On the train to work, I sank into the dirty, blue bench seat and revisited the incident. Indian software engineers and office workers slept, their heads moving in rhythm of the train. As innocuous as the incident was, it was embarrassing and somewhat tested my manhood. I did right by ignoring the situation, but my heart was telling me to hit him, hit him hard. I believed that hitting him would alleviate the built up anger that followed me the past 2 years. The anger of being in the TL, seeing junkies, johns, prostitutes, druggies, scumbags, scammers, holey rollers, do-gooders, entitled white people and pathetic hotel desk clerks every day; and listening to staff tell me about botched suicide attempts.
But most of all I was sick of seeing poverty, crime and drugs. My optimism was gone, and unhappiness and bad endings was omnipresent. Everybody appeared to be doing poorly; nobody thriving.
By taking my anger out on some miscreant, I believed I would reset. It was a dangerous narrative and I knew it.

As I sat down at my desk, an all-call came across the phone system: “A representative from Costco is here today to talk about membership. He’ll be at the entrance of the lunchroom. Please stop by and say hi.”

Like a slap in the face, the poor salesman from Costco inadvertently added perspective to my morning and the last 2 years. I went upstairs and looked at the salesman. I still wanted to pummel some scumbag, but for now I was glad I wasn’t behind a foldup desk talking about the advantages of a Costco membership.