Sunday, June 18, 2017

Conflicted

The longer I work at a day job, the harder it is to remember my life pre-routine. Well, not remember, exactly. More like inhabit my identity. I recall the mechanics of it just fine—traipsing around the world with my laptop, researching where to find hotels or coffee shops with the best wifi. My office was my immediate line-of-sight. This I know intellectually. I just don't feel like that person at the moment.

I put little reminders of the other me up on my walls, both in Burbank and Jersey City. One of my Otomi textiles from my extended stay in San Miguel de Allende is too big for anywhere I live right now, and so it is in a box in storage, but the other one is tall and thin—perfect for my Burbank condo.

How to hang it was trickier, and I struggled with options, finally deciding I needed to go downtown to the mega-crafts store in DTLA. It's a bit like a low-rent super-Michael's, and I reasoned it might have a tapestry hanger. I caught the #222 bus over the hill to Hollywood and Argyle—which is, according to Metro signs, Hollywood and Vine—and took the Red Line down to Pershing Square.

After lunch at my favorite crepe place, I walked over to the crafts shop.

It didn't have anything helpful, so I glanced at my phone for the nearest art supply store. Great! There was one at 7th and Mateo. I headed east on 7th Street.

I thought nothing of the first tent I saw along the sidewalk. Lots of people live in tents in Los Angeles. Disconcerting, I know, but there is a severe housing problem in LA, and I have given up trying to understand why there seems to be no public will to create more affordable housing. My theory, based only on guesswork, is due to the weather, people survive here. In New York, if this many people lived on the streets, you'd be stepping over dead bodies all the time from December to March. That probably makes the homeless issue more pressing back home. But here, people just get herded into sections of town and under highways, where they live in tents.

After a few blocks, I was surrounded by tents and homeless people. The weather was sweltering, and many people sat under trees, with their dogs or in wheelchairs.

I was conflicted. Was I in over my head in the wrong part of town? Should I not even be here? Was it okay, me essentially wandering through people's yards?

I was more and more uncomfortable by the minute. A few people greeted me, but most people stared into space on this warm day. Was this safe? I didn't know what to think. I've wandered through impoverished areas all over the world, but this was likely the starkest contrast to the surroundings, just a few blocks from gentrifying, hipster DTLA. It was appalling, and yet, I know the solutions are too complex for anyone to sort out quickly.

I was thinking about the time I ended up wandering around in Republic of Congo in the middle of the night, after the train kept getting delayed and my bag had been slashed, and feeling exactly like I had then, concluding there was nowhere to go but straight ahead and this wasn't my best-ever decision, when the tents became fewer. I was out of Skid Row as quickly as I'd entered it. I finally took my phone out of my pocket to see how many blocks more I had to walk.

Not far. Just past the Greyhound terminal.

The Greyhound terminal! This was my first look at it since...1989? I'd come in from San Francisco not long after the last big earthquake, and my friend Marc Siry had picked me up on his motorcycle. In the middle of the night. In a part of town that still looked a little sketchy now after gentrification. He'd longed joked about picking me up there, and now I could see why.

I arrived at the art supply store, picked up some wood strips, Velcro, and a staple gun, and caught the bus back to the metro. As I glided past the tents in air-conditioned comfort, I reflected on how incredibly hot people must be in them. I know it's better to have a tent than to live in the open, but all I could do about the heat and the situation was shake my head. Pity is disrespectful, and I make it a point to try to deal with people as peers, but I was having a hard time avoiding it just this once. 

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