A full force clean up happened this morning. The city mobilized its crews. Power washing was happening at Geary and Polk. The men in sleeping bags who line the south side were gone. No one was there, it was now a vacant and wet side walk that smelled like bleach water. A few street folk stood about watching the workers transform the space.
Willow and Polk were taken over by the city too. Both sides of the alley where being treated. The deeply entrenched community on the west side of Willow was dispersed about - shuffling, standing, mumbling and looking dazed; watching the sweeping, washing and destruction of their scene. The tents and trash the lived in were gone.
Strangely the displaced did not appear disturbed by the cities actions. That is, more disturbed than their usual disturbed nature. Oddly no one was acting irate, indigent, bereft.
No one was crying. I never see people crying on these streets. I'm sure there are lots of tears shed along Polk street, but the predominant emotions regularly expressed are rage and confusion.
At dusk some of the street folks had reestablished themselves in their places. The eastern side of Willow was re-occupied by lone street losers smoking opiates, crumpled about in various states of consciousness. The west side had two tents erected. A few of the Geary folks had realigned themselves along the south side sidewalk, sitting up against the clean building getting high.
Later in the evening, under the massively glow'y full moon, Polk, Willow and Geary were in a full bloom hustle and bustle. The night felt warm and summery, perfect for cruising. Addicts, 5150's, zombies, street prostitutes, johns, and SRO loiters paced about, stumbling into the street and falling against buildings.
It appears as if some people are like water, they naturally flow to the lowest places.
Me and my coworker M. walked home together today. At Eddy and Polk a young woman - round, dirty, disheveled, red and swollen, was running towards us, looking at us and yellling, "I'm so mad!! Fuuuuuck!! I'm going to fuck you up! I want to fuck you up! Fucking want to hit you!!!". She was swinging her arms about, fighting the moment she was living through. Just as she said, "Fucking want to hit you!!!" she threw a sloppy, but clearly directed, punch at M. who ease-fully stepped aside and dodged the hit. We both moved into the street to keep a healthy distance from So Mad and continued along at our staying-alive disco pace.
Then up ahead we could see the city cleaned up the week-long street corner encampment at Ellis. A pile of debris was created on that corner by two folks with long hair that they perpetually kept draped in front of their faces. Pedestrian had to weave their way through their path of detritus littered with broken things and hunchbacked, crumpled, sleeper and picker friends whose pants rested on their knees. One morning I counted six people littered amongst the litter. Some were sleeping in the trash other were picking through it. They all seemed like rather gentle and quiet hoarders, albeit wholly obstructive. It got the point where pedestrians had to walk into the street to carry on.
Crossing Ms. Mad was a disturbing moment that quickly transitioned into a moment of cheer and hope upon seeing the corner of Ellis and Polk cleaned up. This neighborhood requires moment to moment awareness, it demands to be witnessed.
Something strong and deadly was in the drugs today.
At 9:00am I passed at least 4 people who were completely checked out. Zonked. Splayed in somnolence. Gently twitching in a dream state.
Belonging is essential. We belong on earth. We belong here, now.
I see the downtrodden street dwellers haphazardly nurturing one another, huddling together, belonging with one another.
I have long suffered from a longing to belong. To find myself in a place where i am deeply seen, understood and genuinely accepted. I think this is a very common and ancient longing amongst most humans.
It's not uncommon to feel like you don't belong to the family that raised you, or the school you were forced to go to, or the company that you work at. Sometimes you just don't feel like you belong here, now.
We / You / Me belong to this earth. This time. This moment.
And when we feel and know we don't belong somewhere we instinctually seek out a place to belong. For a swelling population of mentally broken and drug addicted loners the dirty streets of SF's blighted neighborhoods have become places of belonging.
I see groups of fentanyl smokers slumped together, tweakers picking through detritus together, odd selections of people huddling along dead zone alleyways passing lighters, fidgeting and laughing together. To be with more than your Self is the way to survive and to belong.
I have heard that the fentanyl overdose crisis is fueled by loneliness. A lot of people are dying alone on SF's streets. And I see a lot of people trying to survive, simply accepting that they belong here, now.
Me and a work mate were walking home from work together along Polk, and as we began to cross Post we see a fight break out ahead of us. Men are tussling and pushing about in the entry of an electronics shop. Then the fight spills onto the sidewalk.
There are about 5-6 bystanders holding a semi circle around the scene. We hold back, stay on the corner and keep a distance.
It's two against one. One guy swings a bag at a grubby and disheveled looking shirtless man wearing an all black oversized mens suit. Another guy waves a stick in the air at the grubby one. The scene is clear, its local shop keepers fighting off petty crime and defending their livelihood.
The grubby one quickly gives up the fight and runs into the street, looking around at the scene, he turns his back on it all and walks away.
Today was just disturbing.
An old man with no teeth gruffly mumbled something to me as he held out his hand in a "please give" gesture. I had no words for the man and returned a gesture of turned up hands that signaled I had nothing to give at the moment. He became irate with me and more loudly gruffled incomprehensible sounds towards me. I continued past him and he followed me.
He followed me to the nearest corner. Gruffly, mumbly, yelling at me and thrusting his hat at me. I asked him to please back off, I asked him again, and at the corner I told him, "You need to leave me alone and back off now!". A doughy, gentle looking man, with headphones was standing at corner and looked over nervously. The gruffly mumbler lean towards me and screamed, "Bitch!"
The light turned green and I quickly walked away. Adrenalized. Just hoping an assault would be averted. It was. I made it to the other side safe and sound, albeit a bit shaken.
I was waiting at the corner of Polk and O'Farrell for the the light to turn green when I heard a stern voice from behind me say, "Don't look at me."
Then a man walked up to my side and said again, "I'm serious, don't look at me."
I had no idea who he was talking to and out of mild curiosity and confusion I glanced over in the mans direction and he said, "I don't want to be seen."
He was wearing clean dark clothes. Nothing designer. Fresh tennis shoes, baggy sweat pants, a baseball jacket, baseball cap and a black gator covering his face.
I cooly said, "I don't want to look at you and I don't need to look at you and I know what it's like to not want to be seen.
He said, "Yeah, that's it I don't want to be seen today, it's just one of those days."
I looked down at his shoes and quickly scanned his outfit, "You're clothes look clean. You look like you are okay. It could worse, at least you're not all dirty and face down in the gutter like some of the people around here."
With a bit of indignation he said, "A few days ago I was there."
The street light changed and I got on my way. He kept pace with me and kept the conversation going. He may not want to have been, but he most certainly needed to be heard.
For the next two blocks we walked and talked about the need to feel invisible sometimes, our mutual anger at the hardships of life, the importance of accepting the normalcy of melancholy, and feeling hopelessly frustrated with those who try to tell us to "Cheer up. Look on the bright side." and other toxic positivity bologna that people try to assuage one another with.
For two grimy city blocks we waxed deep and bonded over our existential woes. A true empathic connection forged through an understanding of the human condition.
Ironically, he let me 'see' him for a moment and then he had to go, turning left on Eddy. Just then another man who didn't want to be seen crossed in front of us. He was wearing clean dark clothes. Nothing designer. Fresh tennis shoes, baggy sweat pants, a baseball jacket, baseball cap and a black gator covering his face. And then I thought, "Are these men undercover cops? Is this a new mens fashion trend? What is going on?"
Stepped out this morning, walked down Polk, and the side streets were devoid of most of the people that had built up over the past 3 weeks.
Today the city cleaned up. Streets and sidewalks were washed. A lot of tents were gone. Trash trucks and clean up crews were out and about. There weren't a bunch of near dead people lined up outside the nonprofits that try to mitigate their abject misery.
Today the streets looked tidy and actually smelled better.
Two days in a row, on my walk to work, two different street bums told me they loved me and I was beautiful. I thanked them and offered them a devotional bow. They both said, "You're welcome."
The days are getting warmer and that summertime feeling is softening peoples hearts. Hard men are pausing to share gratitude and kindness and love. May we welcome and share moments of loving kindness, however they may show up.
Mind you, living in this area, there is easily another way I could have experienced those dirty street zombies. I could have interpreted those moments as experiences of harassment and unwelcome attention, because I was also also walking through a scary, dirty, smelly dystopia.
The streets off of lower Polk are becoming filthier and more crowded everyday with drug addicts, mental asylum seekers and people who are unable to care for themselves. There's just more dog shit too.
I read the Summer of Love wasn't that much different from these times. It the Tenderloin today's Haight Ashbury (without the green space)?
About two weeks ago it appeared that SF was really making a good faith effort to clean up the streets. I commend them for trying, again and again. The city does make an effort - sometimes.
And I find it completely mind-numbingly. logic defyingly, and really fucked-up that the clean-ups only last for about a week (if that!). It doesn't take long for the alleyways and lower Polk to repopulate with broken down people getting high. People sprawled across sidewalks, unconscious, twisted and disheveled, trashed, stuff spilling from their bags and carts.
It's so obvious when another round of fentanyl is dispersed because a wake of living dead flows into the streets and drops to the ground. Last Thursday, I was walking home from work and saw people lining streets that had been previously cleared. Streets that had been held in a suspended state of magical thinking that maybe, maybe this time San Francisco was actually showing signs of improvement. Nope. The reality is a new crop of addicts arrived last Thursday. Sitting, lined up, along the grime stained, piss scented (but cleared of debris) streets falling into oblivion as they get high.
There's a man who limps around the neighborhood, and he is seriously sick. I'm going to call him Mr. Leg. He fashions himself in shorts, a t-shirt, cavas baseball cap and flip-flops - like as a surfer, or a tennis player, or disheveled prepster. He is dirty all over and his right leg is a gargantuan stiffly swollen red and purple abscess ridden mess. It looks like it will surely be amputated and/or be a major factor in his demise sooner than later. Every time I see this fellow limping across an intersection he is all smiles and positive energy (except for that leg). Go figure.
I recently saw him sitting on the sidewalk in front of Frank's Shoe Repair. A good citizen - a genuinely concerned and disturbed gentleman - was standing over him and calling for emergency services to come take care of Mr. Leg. While on hold with the operator the gentleman would say to Mr. Leg, "You can't go on like this.... This is not okay.... You need help..... "
I gave the gentleman a nod of acknowledgment and he thanked me for witnessing his good deed.
An hour later I saw Mr. Leg, limping across California street with fresh bandages on his leg. Emergency medical services came and went, and Mr. Leg had taken their handiwork and repurposed the bandages into a what appeared to be a tourniquet tied around the upper portion of his leg, all those grapefruit sized weeping accesses were uncovered and on display. And he was all smiles.
The wine bar is loud.
They like to amplify onto the street their patron's laughing, singing and boozy rants. Karaoke reverberates on the buildings, it echos through the street and wafts into the orange'y light polluted night sky. When it's karaoke night I get to hear off key, out of tune, top 40 schlock being broken down by a gaggle of slushy ladies.
Tonight there's a man on the mic, saying clever things, using comedic timing in his delivery and garnering laughter and applause from a small crowd of winos. I am grateful that he is not yelling nor singing loudly, as the ladies often do. He sounds civilized. Then again, all I can hear is his tone. For all I know his words could be ghastly.
I had alway imagined a wine bar to be a quiet, relaxed, plush and sophisticated environment. A place with soft leather, wood paneling and pleasant acoustics. Nope. Not here.
The wine bar is loud.
I moved to Frank Norris a month ago and upon arrival I started having a nagging thought, "Blog: Frank Norris Chronicles".