You can be anonymous here on the streets. People enter and leave the streets through Doors that open and close on buildings, cars and buses, reflections on windows trace their paths then blend to the others. Telephones to their ears people are stretched between two places. Sounds of engines, sirens, voices, smells of weed, popping corn, meat being cooked, garlic, coffee, surround the colors of blurring vehicles, advertising, traffic lights, so much can distract and detach others from you, your presence no matter how you look, smell, or sound becomes subtle here, your usual impact, then retraction or compassion from others dissipates and you are accepted as part of the background. This is where you can be part of the parade, normal, unseen unaffected.
I watch people, over time I see some enter the streets on what might be their first week or so, then begin to become street people, they change, its unavoidable.
A young woman maybe 20 something walks by with her sleeping bag, pillow rolled and wrapped with a bungee, bags and large purse is hanging from her arms. She say’s “pardon me” as she steps through the crowd. She is attractive with her clear skin, long brown hair, her eyes are kind, I see one red mark on her forearm, and I hope the best for her.
I’m approached by a man who has been on the streets for what looks like decades, I have seen him before, long hair matted into filth and litter ridden dreadlocks, splotchy beard, long black overcoat over a torn and dirty t shirt. He wears black sweatpants under his jeans that are at his ankles, tennis shoes, one blue, one somewhat white, no socks. He mumbles incoherently but I keep an eye lock with him, I look for someone in there and I hope I can see him. He mumbles, I wonder if he still has the ability to speak English, then he tells me “you fucking smell, your gross”. “I look down at my belly and I say, yea, I have let myself go a bit” “You need to get a job” he tells me then stumbles off.
The following week I see the girl walk up the street asking for money, she has her sleeping bag over her shoulder, no pillow no other bags, just her purse. More marks on her arm and she stumbles on the building side of the crowd.
A young black man I have been watching, he attracted my attention because he wears a scarf in all weather, he is large, over 6’2” and closing in on 350lbs. He has an unkept afro, blue jean shorts, light jacket and red tee shirt, as he walks by I can see he has tumors that look like intestines hanging from his neck. His legs and arms have medical patches and there are red blotches on his skin. He walks by, his eyes focused on something far ahead. Several weeks go by and I am driving in the morning, I arrive at 3rd and Pike. He is in a wheelchair now, I lower the ramp and bring him on, his smell is overwhelming, it’s not just body odor, his skin is rotting. He wears the same scarf where the tumors now hang down farther, his coat is gone and his shirt is filthy and torn. He has a video game in his hands and he’s bright, friendly, kid like with a huge smile as he says “damn, almost had it” ( to no one in particular) I strap in his chair and see his legs now are bloated, red, painful looking, and the smell is taking over, I hold my breath and worry about the other passengers, a woman sitting behind him discretely opens her purse and quietly sprays him with a very nice perfume. I continue up Pike Street and see the girl leaning her bare butt against a building, pants on the ground, she finishes her pee and pulls wipes out of her bag and cleans herself. Her arms are pocked with red blotches. She doesn’t have her sleeping bag, her hair is a mess and people walking by pretend not to notice.
On the streets you can an escape for for a while, it’s a place where we can lose ourselves amongst the colors, the sounds, the smells, our reflections on windows blend with others.