Cardboard sign says "Homeless - Disabled - (& Hungrey! [sic]) - Please, Anything Helps!!"

The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strained

Since I stopped using at the beginning of this year for (I hope!) the last time, I also stopped giving any cash to people begging for money.  I mean, I’ll occasionally give (up to) one dollar and some loose change, but nothing more than that.  I know that (in my area, at least) more than 99% of the people I see begging for money are begging for drug money.  If I am no longer buying illegal drugs, to me that means that I no longer buy those drugs for ANYONE, not even indirectly.

I’ll admit that I have no problem buying a cheap beer for someone who is really dopesick or in alcohol withdrawal… I know from repeated observation of “close friends” (regular using buddies and “patna’s” I teamed up with) just how hellish and life-threatening opiate/alcohol withdrawals can be… and alcohol is legal and socially acceptable (at least for those who are “productive members of society”).  I never have a problem (if I have the means) with giving a person in need food, hydrating beverages, blankets, warm clean clothing, hygiene items, bus tickets, dog food, time spent looking up resources for them, etc.

But if I have any resources other than monetary ones, I don’t give street folk money.  If I give out money, I never give more than two dollars.  Period.  I no longer am willing to accumulate more guilt about helping anyone (including myself) destroy themselves (and everyone around them) by committing suicide by the most painful route possible.

Also, I don’t get involved.  I spend as little time as possible near them, because I know all-too-well the risk I take by getting too friendly, too comfortable, around the people with whom I used to beg and live and get high and commit crimes, day in, day out, year after year.

That being said, I made an exception.  I let myself become moderately involved with a man for the better part of an hour tonight.  On the way home from picking up arthritis supplements for my four elderly cats, I stopped at 7-Eleven to get a soft drink.  I had just lit up a cigarette, and didn’t want to put it out in the soggy excuse for an ashtray out front and waste a perfectly good super-snipe that someone not too proud to smoke someone else’s lit cancer stick, especially a near-whole one (and a Camel at that).

There were two guys out front.  The one farther away was clearly “out there” double-fisting Four-Loko’s (the current-day usually-available corner-store equivalent of Mad Dog 20/20 – 12% alcohol) and seemed likely to misunderstand my intent and either manhandle me uninvited, and/or to turn violent unexpectedly (or, rather, fairly predictably).  The closer one was clearly in severe pain – I couldn’t see his face, but even so his fetal posture and shaking-bordering-on-convulsions broadcasted pure suffering.

I thought he was dopesick, so I walked over to where he was crouched on the ground, sitting on some of his gear, hunched over his knees, shaking and quietly keening.  He had a cigarette long-ago burnt down to the butt in one hand, and an unlit rollie (hand-rolled tobacco cigarette) in the other hand.  I tried to get his attention. “Hi… Excuse me? … Sir?…” I finally touched his shoulder just firmly enough that he could feel my touch through the thick, dingy, Carhartt-knockoff he was wearing.  I couldn’t see his face, but I could see dirty blonde and gray long dreadlocks (pretty well cared for ones, now that I recall… the dreads were all the same thickness and tightly locked… that takes a fair bit of effort to maintain, especially on the street) hanging down under an oversized, lightly-stained, yellow-tan “crown” (very large rasta-style beret-like knit hat).  After the second touch, he looked up a bit.  He was gritting his teeth and tear tracks had dried in lines down his cheeks.  He was surprisingly clean-shaven, and not one of the locals I knew… I still know most everyone who lives outdoors in my neighborhood.

He didn’t make eye contact directly.  I offered him a cigarette, then noticed he wasn’t smoking the ones he had.  I asked him if he was dopesick, would he like a beer?  He shifted, hunching back over a bit, and said no, he had been passing kidney stones for he-didn’t-know-how-long, and the hospital (which is about 5 blocks away) had kicked him out, saying they couldn’t help him.  I asked him what I could get him.  It was very difficult for him to talk, he mumbled close to a whisper, his line of thought frequently derailing as his words trailed off.  After a bit I was able to hear what he was asking for – cranberry juice.  I went inside, quickly poured a Slurpee for myself (I am fairly expert, after working 7-Eleven graveyards for more than a year in my late teens), grabbed a few pocket packs of ibuprofen, a few to-go servings of honey-roasted peanuts, a 2-pack of pocket Slim-Jim’s with cheese sticks, a roll of Tums… and a double-serving bottle of Ocean Spray.

(Note: when buying food for the homeless, I buy things that are self-contained in pocket-sized single servings and/or resealable, high in protein and fat, relatively low in salt and preservatives when possible, and unlikely to be crushed when heavy things are packed in tightly and/or on top of them.  Generally, tastes among people living on the street trend toward sweet and meaty things, and things that can be chewed easily with missing and broken teeth, or with no teeth at all.  Usually that precludes crispy granola bars with and any hard or unshelled nuts that can’t be swallowed whole.  If buying anything that upsets the stomach, like aspirin, advil, or aleve, I make sure to include either food or a roll of antacids to keep their stomachs from exploding in pain, since their stomach linings are very likely to already be inflamed.)

I brought him the cranberry juice, and gave him the advil.  I suggested that he make sure he eat whenever he took the advil to help with the pain and inflammation… he started crying when he replied he didn’t have any food.  I handed over the honey peanuts, meat sticks, and Tums.  He wasn’t able to acknowledge the resources, or even to stash them so his hands weren’t full, but that wasn’t the purpose.  I just hoped he would be able to pull it together enough to help him reduce the pain a little… I tried asking him if he would let me help him stash some of it in a pocket or a bag for later, but he wasn’t able to answer, or even understand what I was asking, I think.

I wished I could have helped more, but I knew hubby was worrying about me at home, I knew he wasn’t able to accept or use any other help from me, and I knew I had pushed help on him as far as was prudent at that point.  I’m praying for a swift end to the pain, though, and that what little I was able to make available to him doesn’t end up getting stolen or lost while he’s tortured by those horrible crystallized calcium caltrops passing through his ureters.

While I don’t advocate giving street folk money, I do exhort you to pay attention to each individual you meet.  Whether it’s a simple human meeting-of-the-eyes and acknowledgement of a person’s presence in your sphere of influence, a regretful shrug followed with “good luck!” in response to a request for monetary assistance, or whether you are willing to go farther and give a person food or whatever non-tender supplies you can spare, please consider helping another person out regularly in the future.  Being human to someone, even someone heavily addicted to alcohol or hard drugs, helps them feel like life is still worth living, offers a sliver of hope to many, and (for me) reminded me that I was still human, and that I could act like one again eventually… which, hopefully, I do a better job of manifesting both outward and inward toward others and toward myself.

Thank you for reading.  Sorry I spent so much time navel-gazing instead of writing, or this post would have been much shorter.  I’ll try not to wait so long in between posts.  🙂

–Venus

Featured Photo: An edited picture of the sign I used the last time I went out to “fly a sign” (beg for money standing/sitting in one place holding a sign).  It now resides as part of a large piece of art-in-progress titled, “And No One’s Getting PHAT ‘Cept Mama Cass”.  Image (c) 2014, Venushakti Autumn Velatura. All Rights Reserved.

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Three Songs That Saved My Life

Today, celebrate three songs that are significant to you (Writing 101, Day Three: Commit to a Writing Practice).

Before starting: The exercise calls me to write for at least 15 minutes, and however long I spend writing today to be my average writing time for the rest of this month’s course’s exercises.  A lot of people have been saying on The Commons for this month’s course that they find the time passes too slowly.  Not for me.  I have, so far, found myself having to stop myself when I’ve already gone over.  I’ve heard the term “bloggorhea” (like diarrhea of the mouth, but transferred to blogs) used to describe tendencies like mine to just write endless posts about what I find interesting.  I think my challenge this month will be to find a better “economy of words,” as my friend Nancy (an acclaimed gallery artist and former high school English teacher) from my young adulthood claimed was the only real thing my writing lacked.  And here I go doing it again.  Time to just do the exercise.

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

1.  Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in C Minor, as performed by Vladimir Horowitz on a cassette tape recording made during the early 80’s.  Also called “Pathetique.”

I still have the cassette, somewhere.  The music encoded on the magnetic tape of that cassette has been fuzzed out by the noise created by having played it many too many times.  I would play its movements, then rewind, then play it again, and rewind, repeating these as often as I needed to until the tears would slow down and eventually dry up.  I was so often so lonely that I would pity myself my (total) lack of any friend my own age – all my friends were adults, who understood my plight all too well, but they couldn’t take the place of the scoffing, mocking, bullying adolescents who were my peers in school.  I often used to say, “I didn’t have friends, I had books,” growing up, but that’s not completely true.  I had Vladimir Horowitz’s fingers caressing those white and black keys, comprehending the absolute despair that overwhelmed me, soothing my pain.  No other interpretation of that sonata has sounded so right to my ears since, no other version does for me what that one did then.  I found another Horowitz version recorded a couple of decades later, but it doesn’t have the same passion, the same skill, it is a faded replica of the older one’s glory.

2.  For My Lover – Tracy Chapman

When I was 12 or 13, I was given my first CD boombox.  My dad had already started collecting CDs, cassette tapes were still sold in stores but it was clear that CDs were the wave of the future.  With that boombox, I was given the three CD’s that were my favorites of my dad’s collection: Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon,” James Taylor’s “Greatest Hits,” and Tracy Chapman’s debut album.  All three were rotated and played on repeat, but the latter was the one that spoke to my adolescence in a way the other two did not.  It was difficult picking just one song from that album – “Fast Car,” “She’s Got Her Ticket,” and “Baby Can I Hold You” were also top on the rotation of songs to get repeated on my headphones and sung along to under my breath at night, but “For My Lover” spoke to a time of great tribulation when I was 14.  I had been dating a 19-year-old, and he got me pregnant.  I miscarried soon after, but my mom (shortly after he had left town to go home to live with his parents again) went through my room, found my diary, and read the entire thing to find out what was going on in my life.  She tried to have the older boy prosecuted for statutory rape, to which I responded that I would volunteer to testify for the defense and appear in court wearing the sluttiest outfit I could find to prove that I had initiated the relationship and that he didn’t know my age until we were already involved.  I felt like I was in prison, I felt like I was being punished for my choice of lover and for protecting him and, in a way, that was true.

3. My Dad’s Gone Crazy – Eminem

This rap song starts out with the sound of someone chopping up lines on glass with a razor and then snorting something with a straw, only to follow with the sound of a toddler asking, “Daddy, what are you doing?”  The song speaks to the craziness of addiction, the anger and self-righteousness that goes along with it, the rebellion against society, and the grief at what is happening, what he is doing to himself and those who love him still in his life. ‘Nuf said.

Poetry – Crack-Ho’s Cookbook

Note: This poem is written primarily in street slang, so it probably will only confuse you or be irrelevant unless you have an interest in the urban dialect of the pacific northwest. It also speaks of numerous deviant activities, with which I became familiar in recent years. I no longer spend any time hanging out with my former street “friends” but my experiences were liminal and fairly formative in my current inner personality. I don’t dwell on it much lately, this was written during a period at the beginning of the year when I was not clean or sober in the slightest.

If you are a minor, please wait until you have some adult experience before trying to comprehend these concepts. Kids, stay kids as long as you can, some people (like me) never had that option.

Okay, disclaimer done. Read at your own risk.

Crack-Ho’s Cookbook

Ten toes down for that rusty renegade rock-bottom crown
That prehistoric hustle of hips hovering horizontally, they
Numero ocho their way above the ground.
This well-designed dawdle is a marketing ploy, out on the
Bleak blustery razor of the blade,
Saying simultaneously, “Come catch me!”
And yet, “Too pricey for your pocketbook, Loverboy.”

You can only make it here if you
Stay always somewhat out of reach.
It’s unattainable for me to stay in pocket
Me, the potentially top-dollar head doctor
Still intrinsically the same small-town whitey-whitebread reject kluck
Finding over and over that “I got you”
Equates to “I’ll bop you” time and again.

Unlike the other ho’s I was born to the trade
but not to The Blade.  I didn’t trick, didn’t have no licks, cuz
I was the trick, I was the lick.
Not for my Johns but for those damn gorilla pimps
Who take a “No, thank you” personal and so maneuvered
To be my non-consensual gigolos

Here, where a head-game
Is naught but the time of day (where no one wears a watch)

So I branched out to feed my habit
Boosted bottles and such, switched up those toes
For a few fingers – five, to be exact.
Slung a few rocks, but couldn’t stop myself
From lezzing it up for that cold, hard, White B**ch
More than a little, for
More than a little too long
But because I didn’t also fall for the Midnight Lady’s numb embraces
I was constantly inundated by my emptiness.
The street can only be home when you no longer feel your heart.