I stop when I get to the corner and turn to look in the direction of a siren. An ambulance. Across the street a man is waving his arms. For a moment I think he’s going to wave down the ambulance, but it turns out that he’s really just trying to direct traffic. He holds up one hand, palm out, toward the cars in the sidestreet. Stop. (They already have a red light.) He waves toward the southbound traffic, as if giving them permission to go. The ambulance is the only car coming from that direction. All the pedestrians cover their ears as it zips past except for the self-appointed crossing guard, who steps back up onto the sidewalk and waits for the light to change.
I’m walking up the steps from the waterfront. Two men walk out of a shop and head downstairs. At their feet is an impossibly small puppy, its tiny legs racing to keep up. The dog’s concentration is on managing the stairs, so he veers away from the group a bit. He stumbles right into my path and sits on the step in front of me, looking up through his black sheep dog style dog-bangs. I hesitate for a second. (It’s so small.) The dog doesn’t do anything, so I go around him, passing between him and his people. He follows, going up a few steps before one of his companions calls his name and he turns to rejoin the group.
A few days ago, I ran into an old coworker. He told me that he’d just lost his job. His girlfriend had too, he said, then pointed at a sad short girl standing in the doorway of the convenience store. She had a dazed expression on her face. I looked at the brace on her foot and he told me that she’d sprained her ankle. In fact, he explained, he’d hurt his foot too and that was how he lost his job. He lifted up his right foot and pointed. I followed his finger to the foot. There was no visible sign of his injury. “We both injured the same foot. How about that?”
I nodded my head sympathetically and tried to think of a quick one-liner, maybe something about not being able to run the three-legged race. It didn’t really come together though.
He asked me, “Do you have a quarter?”
“Oh sure.” I imagined that he needed to make a phone call. I fished around in my jacket pocket and pulled out all of my change – 22 cents.
“We’re broke and need beer money,” he went on. “We were able to get enough together for rent, but there’s nothing left. So we came down here to get beer and just decided, Fuck it. We’ll just spare-change.”
I had the 22 cents in my hand and he was waiting expectantly, so I handed it over. I said good-bye and good luck to both of them. His girlfriend’s eyes focused when I waved at her, and she game me a rather blank smile.
Yesterday, I was walking up the same street. As I walked past two people huddled together on a park bench, I recognized the sick looking woman from the other day. I turned to give a quick nod hello and got an eyeful. Beside her was an old man, he was mumbling into her ear, drunk or high. He hugged her with one arm and clumsily tweaking and fondling her with the other. She didn’t react at all. She just sat completely still, wearing the same expressionless smile.
I understand little of what’s going on and yet I feel like I know more than I want to.
I was leaving Broadway Market just as someone was heading inside. We went for the same door. I pushed the door open wide and squeezed past, while he maneuvered around me. He offered some parting words to the man he’d been walking with, and waved good-bye, turning toward the door. Then, while I was passing in between them, his friend yelled out, “Have a good life.” Without turning around he called back, “You too!” I wonder what led up to that – A roommate moving out of town? A student visa expiring? An intense conversation with a stranger on the bus?
It might not surprise anyone to know that there are bloggers who write things like: “Women constantly want equal rights and privledges [sic]. But when is the last time a women [sic] in your office lifted something heavy or opened the door for you? That’s why I always say women want equal rights only when it benefits them.” Or: “Little Johnny Taliban. If Cohn was still alive today this treasonist, liberal little fuck would be sharing the same fate as the Rosenbergs. I say give him the chair and throw a pound of bacon on his lap. I’m hungry damnit.” Many diverse people are attracted to weblogging.
Also, there are people on the web who have the exact same name as me.
And, there’s at least one person on the web with the same name as me who writes things a lot like what I quoted above – pretty much exactly like what I quoted above, in fact.
So I wanted to mention that I’m not him; and, as far as I know, he’s not me.
As I turned around to leave, I caught a peripheral glimpse of something moving in the water. I turned back and saw a school of enormous red fish heading in my direction at a leisurely pace, right beside the pier. (The schools of little fries that hang out near the piers always swim around aimlessly – these big guys were heading straight ahead, confident.) I followed alongside them, watching. And again, I wanted to point them out to whoever might be around.
The thin cloud break in the west was still lit up a fading gray-orange well after sunset. The shape and texture of the dark blank cloud was unreadable. No point of reference. If I hadn’t seen it before sunset, that dim chunk of negative space would have looked like a strip of cloud stretched across a starless night sky.
It was behaving strangely, which is to say that it was behaving exactly as one would expect a pigeon to act. It twisted its head around nervously, flinching two or three times. Then it stopped for a moment, stunned. It recovered its composure and flicked its neck around – more aggressively this time. It stopped and waited again, woozy. On second thought, the pigeon may have been acting strangely, it was kind of manic.
It pecked at the sidewalk a couple of times. That didn’t seem to satisfy it. It nodded its head down as far as it would go (not very far at all) and reached up with its left leg (its good one – the right foot was missing a toe) and took a quick swipe at its beak. And again – head nod, foot swipe. It planted both legs firmly on the ground and regained its balance. I could see the problem now – a little fluff of feather caught in the bird’s overbite.
It flicked its head back and forth a couple of times and I imagined that it had a crazed look in its blank orange eyes.
The Greenpeace folks work in pairs. Each pair is assigned a busy street, where the partners stand facing away from each other, a few yards apart. They wear matching green jackets or sometimes matching yellow polo shirts. Each holds a green binder under one arm. And as you walk past, the Greenpeace person who’s facing you makes eye contact and asks, “Do you have a minute for Greenpeace?” This has been the modus operandi since spring.
This afternoon though, they abandoned their usual posts and worked as a group of eight in Westlake Center. They stood in formation, staggered across the park. And they had company – eight kids in red vests, a church youth group. Off to the side, a booth with a sign that read “Prayer Station”.
They stood together, yellow uniforms on one side, red uniforms on the other, with a little intermingling of red and yellow in the middle.
To get from one side to the other, I had to zigzag through this wall of people. “Is there anyone you’d like to pray for?” “Do you have a minute for Greenpeace?”
It was kind of interesting, that’s all.
There’s a busker perched at the top of a little side set of stairs on the way down to the waterfront, a hippy. She strums her guitar distractedly. When a group of people walks past, when she sits up ridged, picks up the tempo and sings at the sky. No one can hear her; her voice is competing with the sound of traffic swooshing by on the Alaskan Way Viaduct behind her. She relaxes again and lets out a sigh when she’s sure that the last of the tourists have walked by on their way up to Pike Place. She’s feeling dejected. No one has dropped change in the guitar case that sits open beside her – up out of reach of anyone who doesn’t go out of his way to approach the singer that can’t be heard.
There are three campaigns cycled into service on an irregular schedule. One day the activists hold up signs that say, “Send dentists to jail.” Months later it’s, “Lawyers stink.” They hand out flyers that only repeat the slogans, there’s no explanation.
The third campaign is slightly less ambiguous. The signs read, “Ban these books?” and the flyers explain that school libraries aren’t required to stock a copy of the Revised Code of Washington – a complete list of Washington State’s laws.
The “activists” aren’t especially convincing. They’re aggressive enough, often holding a flyer directly out into your path so that you can’t avoid acknowledging they’re presence. But one can tell from their postures that they’re not into the campaign. They always look like they’re ready to leave. They’re people you see around a lot – on the bus, wandering around on Broadway, occasionally asking for spare change.
These campaigns have proceeded, on-and-off, for years. Recently, after declining a “Send dentists to jail,” flyer, I noticed an older man watching from a careful distance. He wore a baseball cap, oversized headphones, and had tinted glasses. He looked familiar. I made a point of looking for the older man the next several times I came across one of these demonstrations. And it seems that he’s always present, leaning against a newspaper box, hand on a bicycle. My theory is that he rounds up a few people from the street every once in awhile and pays them to pass out these meaningless flyers. It’s either an art project or a cynical, if well intentioned, attempt to generate work for down-and-outs.
I walked up and asked him about it one time. But he ignored me – just pretended I wasn’t there.
I was typing up some notes for an entry, and they came together as a haiku. I was just about ready to post it until I realized that I’d never before resorted to that here. That would be lazy. I’ll show a little restraint.