A week passes and I barely notice. Watched two movies indifferently, read maybe 100 pages, and wrote nothing. What does it mean that I measure my days by how many pages I’ve read?
Sunday evening, Mari’s birthday party.
I wait for the bus, eyeing the weekly flea market in the dry cleaner’s parking lot (still open after dark). I buy a stack of party hats.
“Do you know where you got these?” I ask.
“No. I don’t,” the seller admits. “I’m sure they’re clean though.”
My bus never comes. I point at a taxi and it stops. The driver takes me to Larry’s Market on Queen Anne. I pay him and walk out onto the sidewalk. I still have a dollar change from the taxi transaction in my hand as I pass a woman selling Real Change, the homeless newspaper. I give the dollar to her, fold the Real Change up, and stick it in my pocket.
Inside I look over the beer selection. I read one of the unfamiliar labels to myself, “Gordon Biersch Märzen. I’m surprised – I know the beer but I don’t know the logo. I didn’t know that it came in bottles. So I get a six-pack.
I walk to Mari and Jon’s place. Jon offers to make me a piña colada, and I hesitate. “I’ll have a beer.” I’m disappointed in myself for breaking my streak of going with whatever comes along.
The party is small. Mari’s sister is there for awhile with her baby, some trusted people take turns holding him.
This is a theme party – it was strongly recommended that guests should wear a wig, or at least a disguise. (I’m wearing my Linus shirt, but no one notices.) There are four wigs in play. All of them belong to Mari. Later, the number of wigs will increase by two. I’m afraid to say that they all look good on me. Another guest looks like Andy Warhol no matter which wig he wears.
There are three Englishmen present – that’s just how it happened. Later, a girl from Ireland too.
Rebecca is there. I’ve only talked to her once before, that was in Paris.
S jokes that, “I drove 4,000 miles to get here.” It’s a long story
Mark’s boyfriend looks a lot like Mark.
What Jon would do:
Build a wooden yacht and sail it around the world.
Get a commercial pilot’s license.
Get a degree in some esoteric subject.
Jon drove from Wisconsin to Washington on his honeymoon. On the strength of a steak dinner, he has decided that Nebraska is the best state.
These are good people! Ok.
On Friday I went out late to rent a movie. I walked into Broadway Market and saw Robert passed out on a bench over his belongings. He looked horrible, weary, and worn out. Worse than I’ve ever seen him. I was really scared. I sat down next to him and shook him awake.
His voice was low and rough. He mentioned the security guard who’d decided to let him be and we touched briefly on the morning wake-up call he given me a couple of days before. It was cold outside and if he needed a roof over his head on one day, this was it. So I roused him and we walked over to the cash machine for hotel rent. We walked up to Dick’s for a couple of burgers and I left him there half-awake, with a burger and some cash tucked away into the plastic garbage bag that he was carrying his blanket in. He was talking to a homeless youth acquaintance of his. I wasn’t sure how he was planning to get to the hotel in Belltown.
Yesterday he appeared beside me at Vivace, looking as fresh as ever. I bought him some cofee and we sat down. He rambled on for a long time. He vaguely remembered seeing me the other day, but wasn’t sure if it had really happened.
Anyway, things are okay. We’re on good terms. Also, if I understand correctly, in recognition for his efforts to get the new mission started up, one of the missions has reserved a bit of floor space for him to sleep on whenever he needs it.
I’m poking around in the road construction debris looking for a shot. An SUV pulls up, stops in the middle of the road and a guy, 30ish, rolls down the window. “Hey, if someone is told ‘You should check out Capitol Hill’, where would they go? Is that it?” he points back down the hill, “Just Broadway?” There’s a woman in the passenger seat beside him.
I pause and try to decide the context of the hypothetical person’s hypothetical “checking out”.
“Well, you could also try 15th, or perpendicular to both Broadway and 15th, you can head down Pike and Pine.”
“Okay,” he says skeptically, “We’ll try Fifteenth. Thanks.” He drives away.
I walk back across the street and take this photo.
The phone woke me up at six in the morning. I ignored it, letting my voice mail answer. It rang again shortly after and I got up to turn off the ringer. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up and looked at my caller ID. The calls had come from my building’s intercom system. I figured it was Robert. A few days before, he’d called several times in a row from the building intercom and later from the Salvation Army. There had also been a string of messages from him while I was out the night before.
There were several messages on my voicemail, all from the last fifteen minutes. Robert was standing outside my building, effectively leaning on the doorbell. The first message was basically, “Jeff, are you there?” Followed by a couple where I could just here him moving around. He’d spent the night at a mission and everyone had been put out in the street at 4:00. It was raining. He got increasingly agitated over the next couple of messages. “I’ve been trying to contact you all week. I know you’re there.” “It’s raining and cold and I’m going to get the flu.” “I have a funny feeling that you’re mad about the hundred bucks you loaned me. Well, I’m going to leave now and I won’t bother you again until I can pay you back.” There were a few more messages, where he waited for me to pick up the phone until the intercom hung up on him.
I answered the phone on the next call and told him that I couldn’t help him today.
“I’m not here for money,” he told me, “I just need a place to rest.”
I told him that I wasn’t talking about money either and repeated that what I’d given him before wasn’t a loan.
He started to talk again, but the intercom cut him off. He probably thought that I’d hung up on him. He didn’t call back.
I guess I’ve drawn a line between my hospitality and my need for a life. Unfortunately, due to my mode of delivery, his image of me has probably (rightfully) skewed from guardian angel to selfish and careless devil. I’ve never seen him betray an ounce of bitterness or pessimism before this incident. And now, he’s probably feeling worse than ever and I turned my back on him. I hope that, the next time I run into him, he’s doing better. And I hope that he’s not too mad to even talk to me.
What is it called when you spend months boiling something over in your brain – not doing anything about it? Then one day you get up and in a flurry of activity you get that thing you were thinking of started. Based on outward appearances it might look like you’re acting on a whim, but you know better.
It turns out that Robert did have a plan, confused though it was. This morning he suddenly explained that he was eligible for a substantial discount at his hotel, if he were to take them a letter from his case worker explaining his situation.
“You mean a letter like this one?” I grabbed the confusing letter he gave me the other day. (Robert is illiterate.)
“That letter is for you. I can go to my case worker and get a letter for the hotel today.”
“I’m pretty sure that this letter was meant for the hotel.”
So he’s gone for awhile with money for a discounted room; and I have some more elbow room. There are some more stories to tell – anecdotes he told me about his background. I’d rather go along to other things (nothing specific I’m afraid), so they will have to wait for another time.
It’s cold and rainy out and I can’t exactly send Robert out – he has a cold. But I do, I send him away with a few dollars during the afternoon hours that I’m out. He’s going to the Hurricane Cafe, he tells me.
The flat grey sky and steady drizzle give no respite to my gloomy mood and sleep-deprived brain.
I have some breakfast at the increasingly cave-like Bleu Bistro. As soon as I sit down someone puts on the soundtrack to Rushmore. I blankly watch everything that’s happening outside. The chai that I drink doesn’t cut the edge off my mood either.
I run into Robert twice while I’m out and we just trade nods.
I finish reading my book at Bauhaus and head back home. I go on a cleaning binge – clear all the papers and books from the coffee table, wash dishes, and clean the bathroom.
Robert is back around five and we listen to a little NPR while I surf the net. He just sits and when the silence becomes unbearable, I suggest he see what’s on TV.
He turns on one of those Sunday evening low-budget action shows. I figure there’ll be a meeting of the minds when Enterprise comes on, but he asks, “Do you think this looks exciting?” I say it looks good and he humors me, I think.
Quarters are close. Neither of us can sneeze without the other knowing about it. I’m pretty much framing his whole day for him – when he eats, sleeps, and watches TV. He goes along with it – maybe because he has no preference, maybe because he’s trying not to step on any toes. I’d be more comfortable, I think, if it seemed like he had a plan.
Today the card collector stopped by my apartment, repeating the words over the intercom that he’d used the last time he came by, “Jeff? This is Robert. I need your help.”
He produced a letter from his Salvation Army case worker. It was brief, addressed to “To whom it may concern”. It just said that Robert is homeless and is trying to find a place to stay. There are a few prospects, but they won’t be available immediately. “He would greatly appreciate any assistance you can give him.” I was a little confused about what it was for. Was this documentation that he’s homeless? But he seemed to think that it would explain something about his visit.
I was almost hit today, right as I was stepping out of the Japanese noodle place. I was already reeling from an awkward, “We’re walking directly toward each other – should I move out of the way or should you,” encounter and I saw something falling right in front of me and splotch on the sidewalk in front of me. It was bird poop. Another missle hit the ground to the right of me; and, to the amusement of a woman waiting for the bus, I recoiled again.
I can think of two times that I’ve been hit in the head by bird poop. There’s nothing special to report about these incidents. It happened and I either had a tissue to dab the poop with, or I didn’t. But what are the chances of being hit? When I look at a sidewalk, I can get a general map of where birds have pooped in the last couple of weeks; and there doesn’t seem to be much of it in the grand scheme of things. It seems to me that the chances of being hit – even once in a lifetime – are slim. Twice – and a near miss – something odd is happening.
Then again, it’s probably better than being that park ranger with the world record for the number of times he’s been hit by lightning. Though, now that I think about it, I was shocked awake during a lightning storm once when I was a kid. At the time I really thought I’d been electrocuted (my hair was wet from a shower and my bed was directly under the breaker box). But maybe it was a dream.
So that’s two birds pooping on my head (and one near miss – “That could’ve been me!”) and one (maybe, kind of) lightning hit (okay probably not).
I tried to be creative yesterday with my dinner. I looked up the directions for baking a potato and cracked open the little box of smoked salmon I got from my sister’s in-laws for Christmas. I selected two potatoes – one long and skinny, the other short and fat – thinking there’d be a fighting chance that one would turn out okay. I put them in the oven, 45 minutes at 400 degrees. As they were finishing up, I put the salmon on a burner to grill. I thought I’d squeeze a little lemon juice on it while it was cooking, but I didn’t have any. I squeezed an orange wedge onto it instead, a picture of how it would taste crystalizing in my head. I finished both sides. The first side was a little burnt; that would be okay. The potatoes seemed a little hard, so I gave them some more time.
Well it was a disaster. The potatoes were cooked a little unevenly. No good at all. The salmon was not the delicate light texture that I’d expected. It was heavy and tasted like, well, fish stink.
I will be careful in the future to rely on my specialties, basic plain pasta or pancakes.