Crazy Like Me

I remember the first time I saw a ” will work for food” sign.  I was in my early twenties, visiting my brother and sister in Florida, I recall riding with my sister down US Highway 19 in Holiday,  and forcing her to listen to me sing my heart out to the new Cranberries CD, No Need To Argue.  I think Brent and I were breaking up..again….and boy, did Dolores know how to help heal my broken heart! Dodododo, dodododo,dodododo,dodododo…..I remember the shock I felt at witnessing the man with his cardboard sign, followed by a deep empathy and sadness, I asked my sister about it, because I was confused.  Why would a person stand on the side of the road offering to work for food?  Why was a person standing in front af a gigantic grocery store full of food, begging for food? I don’t remember her reply, but I do recall feeling sad and broken in some way.

I haven’t been feeling moved to blog, I feel like I need to italicize and make that word bold…because….it’s a silly word, isn’t it? A made up word that deserves to be made sillier with slanting and thickening.  However, I have been writing…. its been a sort of  disorderly dumping…. all thoughts……sometimes wickedly coherent  and wise……but mostly clumsy and nonsensicle…. make it into the pages of notebooks and word documents, but no blog posts in over a week….because….I have been absorbing my environment, and I’m not sure I’m ready to share…..but I’m gonna  give it a shot. 

I’m not gonna whine about how homesick I am, ( but I am ) or blather on about my loss of identity and purpose and my ghostly invisible status. BOO! I’m not going to talk about my four dates with four different fellas in a week,  and I won’t dramatize my sailing adventure under the Golden Gate bridge, even though I really did think it was possible that my grave would be a watery one, and that my guts were going to come up and out of my body at any moment. I won’t paint a colorful picture of the Burning Man Decompression party in San Francisco;  and how I helped a doctor named Mike, who was dressed as a sexy pirate , help a young drunken fool dressed as a young drunken fool. I stopped to see if I could assist the pirate doctor man helping an intoxicated idiot who had fallen to the ground…… after drunken idiot broke his fall on a group of  innocent, naked, dancing, burners. We ended up calling security cause dumbass wasn’t able to keep his eyes open long enough to call a friend to come sit with him until he sobered up….. enough to not be considered a danger to himself or others.  And……. I’m not even going to ponder here the worrying I wasted over finding a job, or how strange and wonderful and simply RIGHT things are RIGHT NOW, even though…..it doesn’t always feel that way.

I want to talk about the crazy homeless people living in the bay area.  So many….too many, and it’s making me very uncomfortable.

I’m empathetic. I can feel what other folks are feeling; that makes me a good nurse and a good friend. It also makes it hard to watch another being suffer without doing something to help relieve that suffering.  Here in Oakland, and over there in Berkeley, and across the bridge in San Francisco, I’ve witnessed many people suffering out in the open for all the world to see. I know we are all suffering, but……when was the last time you were REALLY hungry,  or REALLY cold,  and when was the last time you didn’t have the wits to wonder if you were losing your mind…because, you had already lost it?  

It was easy in Phoenix.  I used to buy the two local homeless dudes hanging around Moon Valley an occasional hot chocolate from Starbucks ( Gary didn’t drink coffee) , sometimes a Happy Meal, and I once bought Gary a pack of Marlboro Reds anonymously, along with a goose down jacket from the goodwill. The other homeless guy was mute, or so I told myself.  Gary read the newspaper, and smiled alot, the mute guy looked like he was in mourning, and then one day I noticed that both of them were gone.  I’m not trying to illustrate my saintliness here, I’m simply sharing my limited experience with the homeless community, and my inclination to move  TOWARDS pain, not away from it. I did it because it made me feel better.  If I was hungry, I hope someone would feed me, and if I had a craving for nicotine, I would pray for a goddess to gift me with cigarettes. Maybe I was practicing the Golden Rule, Do unto others….maybe I have a fear of going crazy and  being homeless.  BTW, I DO drink coffee, and I would prefer Subway to Mcdonald’s. Thank you.

Since I’ve been here, I have seen too many homeless people; talking to themselves, yelling at invisible enemies, screaming at the top of their lungs…too many folks to count.  The other day in Berkeley, I walked past an older woman who was saying over and over again, ” I’m cold and I’m hungry”, she had holes in her shoes, and a black plastic bag was wrapped around her body. I was walking to the BART station with one of my “dates”,  and I shared with him how I felt helpless, and sort of angry about all of the homeless people I see. He kind of laughed and said he didn’t even see them anymore, but now that I mentioned it, he did hear the, “I’m cold, and I’m hungry.” He told me some story about it being Ronald Reagan’s fault…..

When I first got here, I gave out money, a buck here, a buck there, but then I realized that I couldn’t keep giving all of my bucks away.  First of all, I’m not working yet, and second of all….how much am I really helping?  I stopped giving out money, and I started giving out love in the form of prayers and reiki. I stopped making eye contact, because I had been followed a couple of times after smiling and saying hello.  But even though I stopped looking at them, I couldn’t ignore them, because…I could feel them. I think most people ignore them, and I understand, it’s overwhelming because these folks are thick.   The other day I was pulled from a nap by a schizophrenic (?) man walking around the apartment building I live in, ( I am staying with a friend in a very nice building)  he was fighting with someone, but this someone wasn’t visible.  He sounded violent, and he hung around for at least ten minutes, cursing and punching the air. At first I just prayed for him, surrounded him with light, but then I realized he wasn’t going away, I was flooding him with love, and maybe that was keeping him here, so I forced myself to ignore him, and he left…I thought I was going to have to call the police.

I’m not really frightened, I’m mostly frustrated.  Not all of these people are violent, some are friendly, and some even seem happy, like the melon lady, I call her this because she can be found most days sitting on a bench by Trader Joe’s eating some kind of  melon, the things been busted open, and she just eats it with her hands, happy as a sunflower.  She  calls me “the pretty lady.”  I still smile and say hello to her.   But then there’s the man who is almost dead. He wears all black, and he is black….he wears worn black Reebocks that are barely on his feet, and there is black grime under his long yellow fingernails, he wears a black knit cap on his black head, and he is always wrapped up in a tight black ball, hiding on the sidewalk…. He seems done.  Like he’s just had it, his life force feels weak and his spirit isn’t detectable.

He’s the one that made me do it. Well…him and all the others.

This morning I walked past him, he was hunched on the ground in front of  a gas station, and his black Reeboks weren’t even on his feet.  I walked by him and I said a prayer, and I thought to myself, ” he matters”, …..that’s just what I thought. I  also thought about buying him a cup of coffee and some breakfast, and that’s when I realized that I was at my edge. I wasn’t qualified to help him, yes, in a simple way I was, I could maybe ease his suffering for a moment, or perhaps I would only reinforce his helplessness. I sat on a bench outside and drank my Peet’s coffee, I wrote in my notebook and watched a big  shiny black beetle cross the sidewalk near my feet. The bug reminded me of the man. It looked tired and like one of it’s legs was missing, I thought, “he matters”, ……that’s just what I thought.

I spent the rest of the day cleaning and waiting for inspiration to act…I felt like I needed to act, but I didn’t know what action I needed to take, so I wrote…and I wrote, and I wrote. I wrote about how pissed off I was that no one was helping these people and how helpless I felt. And as I was writing it occurred to me that people probably are helping these people, I just didn’t know who these people were, or how they were helping, but I wanted to help them, and that would help me. One big circle of helping.  I didn’t really understand how this happened to people, I had a vague idea,…… mental illness untreated, a lack of support and resources…but what about our society makes this hell such a reality for so many people RIGHT HERE?

I wondered.  And then  after some searching and some phone calls, I wrote a letter to a  nurse practitioner at a homeless health clinic here in Oakland.  Through my search I found so many services for the homeless, it made me feel hopeful…and then…confused…why are so many still on the streets?  I briefly told my story, and offered to volunteer my nursing  and yoga services for free if they needed me, and if they didn’t need me, I asked them to direct me to a place that could  utilize my skills.

 I am totally ignorant in this area, but I need to help.  Because….I am inclined to investigate pain…my pain, your pain.  Same pain. And I am inclined to do what I can to help ease it…if I can.

  And, because…….It’s in my face and I can’t ignore it.

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One thought on “Crazy Like Me

  1. I miss seeing you around wordpress! This, by the way, is an amazing post. I read it via email after it was published and really had me thinking A LOT. Houston has a fair share of homeless but I am fortunate enough to live in an area they are seldom seen in. I’ve made it a mission, though, to now seek them out to share food or the little cash on hand I have. Making even the tiniest difference is still saying something. I hope you can find your niche!

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