I’d see Dre out there in front of my apartment building hanging out in the sun with his homeboys and I’d say “Man, what ya doing out here?” and he be all cool like and slow and laugh real low and shrug his shoulders. For some reason Dre was always putting up a front and acting like he wasn’t really involved or wasn’t for sure getting high like all the rest of the cats hanging around him were. And even the time when Mikey and me were coming down in the elevator late one night and Dre got on drunk as hell breathing a brewery worth of fumes my way he still acted all aloof like it was somebody else in front of me that could barely stand up. Only it was just us three in the elevator at the time and in the end why’d he have to fake it? What the fuck did he care what I thought?
I knew he had some two bit security job at a drop in clinic over on Fell Street and though he’d been out at least a year, which for Dre was already some kinda record, he was showing all the signs that one does when they’re slowly slipping back into that old life. Late one afternoon sometime around the end of August when the summer sun begins to wane I ran into him down at the UN Plaza. He was just sitting in his rent-a-cop uniform amongst all the weathered derelicts while they drank forty ouncers and yelled their scattered conversations. He looked up at me with this expression of defeat plastered across his face as he slowly shook his head.
“Got a cigarette?”
“Don’t smoke no more.”
“Buy me a pack a smokes then!”
“Dream on holmes! You know where I come from. Same place as you!”
Today there were a few short paragraphs at the very bottom of the lefthand column on page three in the ‘B’ section of the newspaper that said:
Man choked on bag of drugs, police say
A San Francisco man who died in police custody
had swallowed and apparently choked on a bag
of crack cocaine and heroin as he struggled with
officers, police said.
The man was arrested after 6 p.m. Thursday
died about 15 minutes later on the way to the
Two Tenderloin beat officers suspected he was
selling drugs on Leavenworth Street near Turk
Street. As the officers approached, the man put
a baggie in his mouth, police said.
The man resisted and struggled as officers arrested
him. After he was handcuffed, he appeared to have
difficulty breathing. Paramedics removed a bag
that apparently obstructed his air passage, causing
asphyxiation, police said.
It went on to identify him by name and the address where he resided – one floor below me on the same side of the building above the parking lot. Of course it didn’t say that. I just happen to know that. Happen to know Dre. Happen to have seen him struggling with life. Happen to have been powerless to do a damn thing but witness his inevitable demise.
Today, the day after Thanksgiving, the nation’s out spending that hard earned dollar on all the consumer products that we as a populace are led to believe we need. Heralded as the biggest shopping day of the year it’s a consumer culture orgasmic climax to a long ago forgotten holiday concept. And yesterday, maybe even while Dre was being choked to death, I was sitting down to dinner across town at me mum’s house with a bunch a folks doing that hypocritical thankful thing. With an abundance of food in a warm atmosphere where nobody seemed too undernourished or worried or scared.
Afterwards I just happened to drive through the Tenderloin on my way home and saw a few people wandering around out in the cold doing what they normally do. Just another ordinary day hustling dope and keeping out a sight in the cuts. All pretty much strangers to me but here and there were some that I knew. Like Sasquatch with his duffle bag now almost the only person out there on Market Street as I crossed on Fifth and a bus’s headlights framed the wall that he was leaning against loitering in the cold with nowhere to go.
All the usual suspects were huddled on Stillman and Third underneath the glow of the liquor store’s sign as I parked my car and I wondered if they knew about Dre? Probably did. Not much goes down that ain’t known out on the streets a lot faster than it takes to get in the paper. Hell, most of the bullshit that goes on around here doesn’t even get reported in the news. Seems like it takes a death or two to make it worth mentioning. Seems like it only takes but a minute to forget about it too.
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Saturday, November 27th, 2004 at
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Since I stopped smoking over a year and a half ago, my sense of smell has reluctantly returned and sometimes it seems with a vengeance. Where I had gladly tread before unaware and unaffected I am now assailed with undue odorous intent. Like the urine drenched alleyways that bisect my neighborhood or the culinary indiscretions that my neighbors partake in on a daily basis. I seem plagued with sensory overload and tend to yearn for the days when I was unaware and unburdened with having to notice all these un-fragrant assaults on my inebriated nostrils.
Of course outside in the streets it is only too obvious why it reeks the way it does. The lack of adequate sidewalk toilet facilities for the populace that lives there combined with the nocturnal nightclub goers’ need to piss equals a veritable urinary onslaught on the surrounding building’s walls and crevices. And I’ve got to honestly admit that there have been times that I’ve had to go really badly, like after hours of trying to park the car, and I thought about whipping it out and having a quick splash against a stationary cop car or errant fire hydrant, but thankfully those thoughts tend to run their course and go away. Or I might a been left with another uncured insatiable vice or worse. Especially if the local police officers were to have finished pursuing the newest big butt porn magazines and came out of Jack’s liquors while I was in mid consecration on their irreverent vehicle. Then I’d be looking at more than just a slight case of indiscretion and more than likely it would be a little down time with another charge pending over at the Hall of Justice.
Lately the city, for whatever it’s worth, has started using some sort of disinfectant in the water that’s sprayed when they attempt to clean the streets that you can still smell lingering for a few hours after the street sweeping trucks have sped by – eliciting somewhat tangible memories of a gas station restroom’s disinfectant odor. Which in itself may possibly be adding to the general state of sanitary perplexity by triggering the urge to urinate in some people by confusing the issue in their minds of where it is they actually are. Like some smell association test gone foul resulting in an inadvertent release of bodily fluid as a knee jerk reaction. But I hardly think this is actually the case when I am susceptible to the vaguest of inducements with the will power of a gnat and for some reason I can keep it in my pants until I get inside. However the point still being that if the city is actually taking steps to combat this overpowering health hazard then it must really be bad. Because as a rule City Hall doesn’t do a thing unless it gets to catastrophic proportions all the while citing monetary deficits or the need to preserve the Old World charm of San Francisco’s neighborhoods.
However unfortunately in the end urine is the least of the local contamination problems that plague my embittered community: Although in most other parts of the city there is a strictly enforced “pooper scooper” law for the removal of all bowel movements disgorged from household pets, South of Market seems to have been designated a communal litter box free for all for whatever species needs to relieve themselves.
Insert: Personal sworn statement of a true first hand experience: Sunny day off from work, time for errands and I run down to the car with my mind full of places to be and things to get done. The car: Parked on Stillman alley; a quaint yet cesspoolish type environment of a side street but always a readily free parking space for one to exploit, and floating on the breeze that day was the unmistakable scent of fresh shit. “God damn its getting bad down here!” I thought and proceeded to get in my car and roll down the windows and with a mighty three and a half cylinders of raw power I peeled out into traffic on my way north to downtown. Yet even more shit smell is on the air and I’m thinking. “Maybe the sewer system is backing up again?” As I’m turning onto the green expanse of the Civic Center there’s another unmistakably strong whiff of excrement and a naïve idea materializes in my brain. “Are the city gardeners throwing manure about today making the whole city reek?” So I drop my library books into the return slot at the main library and continue on my merry way stopping for the traffic light at Van Ness and Market where the stench seems to be at its peak like an overpowering essence of phew and I have to admit. “Either I’m going insane or the entire city smells like one giant pile of turds today!” However the gas tank is on ‘E’ and I pull into the station on Market and Debouce and get out and go to the rear of my car by the gas cap and its then that I see a huge crusty diarrhea load piled onto the bumper of my car! I am totally floored! I am thunderstruck speechless! What’s more, I am thoroughly disgusted! Some miscreant has shit on my car and for the last twenty minutes or so I have paraded around town with this exposed reeking load of crap on my bumper for all to see and smell!
Ok, so first inclination is who hates me that much to defecate on my car? Not the most productive of deductions I’ll admit but it is hard not to take a pile of shit on your car somewhat personally thereby enabling the detachment of yourself enough to be objective. However on a somewhat reluctant closer examination of my neighborhood, especially Stillman Alley where I tend to always park, it is duly apparent that this is indeed the destination of choice for most of the local street people to relieve themselves. A dark quiet secluded place it is indeed and from the looks of it well used with another odd phenomenon of what appear to be blasts of bowel movements three and four feet vertically off the ground onto the walls and pilings of the overhead elevated freeway. What this is indicative of I have no idea but I think that the current subject has run its course and we need to move on in another direction like at least back inside of my apartment building while desperately urging that something be done in order to alleviate the unquestionable risk of people’s health as they are forced to either navigate or live on our city’s streets.
End of shit story – gag reflex stifled. Continue with: Smells I’d rather not indulge in/Part Two.
So of course I’ve already chronicled the noise factor in my apartment building and so it should be no surprise when I say that there is not much that impedes the odors from one apartment to another either. Not a lot of care or consideration was taken in the planning or the design of my building and when I can easily hear the phones ringing, the TV’s blaring and the tenants screaming on several floors all the time any time around me, you can only imagine what it is like when these same people go into their kitchens to feed themselves. Fortunately no one heats up dog food in the microwave like my deranged downstairs neighbor use to do directly below my former apartment’s window. But the incessant burning of swine bits and the constant use of George Foreman Grills on questionable ground lumps of mad cow sends wafting clouds of grease infused exhaust through the vents and under my door to become one with my apartment and my being! Toast, it seems, must be burnt or at least scorched, frying, especially of fish, must take place in the same rancid oil for months at a time and who knows what the woman in 495 is doing but her smoke detector is on a constant screech with her door ajar as a smoldering light blue haze hovers two feet off the ground in the hallway.
Many a night I’ll be asleep only to wake up to some sort of beef stew/hash/frying grease medley making its way up my nose as if someone is preparing dinner in my kitchen not two feet away. This mixed with the cooking of Methamphetamine in two of the apartments on the fifth floor, the constant discharge of the exhaled smoke from a million crack pipes throughout the building as well as outside on the sidewalk and the untold number of cigarette and blunt smokers in every apartment around me leaves me thinking that maybe this not smoking deal was a bad idea in the first place. For one I am not able to provide my fellow dope fiends with ‘smokes’ whenever I venture out and am asked this request about ten times in a one block radius worth of walking. Or two that it is indeed indicative of the divide I am experiencing with my neighbors as just another thing that we are no longer able to bond over. And of course finally three where ignorance is bliss and do I really want to be able to smell all these malodorous instigates rubbing up against my reawakened olfactory nerves?
Its not like I’m yearning to live in the overly expensive and better off rich people neighborhoods where its rumored that they wash the streets down with slightly deluded Channel No. 5 as a nightly routine or actually sweep the gutters once in a while. And I haven’t even touched on the new-found pleasures of noticing that once again I am inhaling diesel exhaust fumes while driving or stifling a wretch when passing the seedy come hither smell of old spilt drinks on barroom floors at seven am in the morning. Or slimy overused public restrooms in government buildings. Or sweaty folks on the back of the bus during rush hour. Or crusty overflowing dumpsters behind restaurants. Or sewer drains and steam spewing open manholes. Or…
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Sunday, November 21st, 2004 at
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Coming out of Blondies’ Pizza with a smoldering cheese slice fresh outta the oven and there was Sasquatch next to a pay phone bent over double with his face almost touching the ground. Doing that universal junkie slow motion waltz as he tried to put his jacket on and keep his hat and his lit smoke in their respective places and in his mind at least still looking somewhat cool. I had that inevitable two seconds worth of dilemma – act like I didn’t see him, which in the long run I ‘m sure we’d both prefer, or acknowledge his dope-fiend presence with a nod and be on my way. Only the pizza made the decision for me as I bit into it and why oh why do I put something that I just saw coming straight out of a burning hot oven into my mouth?
Eyes watering as the napalm infused tomato sauce and cheese topping takes several layers off the roof of my mouth, I stumble in agony over to the disheveled newspaper racks putting down my slice on the grease soaked wax paper that it was served to me on. Jesus that hurts, and I look up and like an aberration there’s Sasquatch eyes slit half in a nod scratching his nose and talking away like it ain’t nothing and we always see each other out here on Powell Street.
“Hey man, how’s it going dude? I’m doin’ really really good man! Swear to god. Things are real-ee going my way. Can’t complain though…”
Of course I’m choking here on cauterized nerve endings. We’re talking three degree internal burns minus some gums and dental work and he’s busy slurring on about how good his life is while at his feet is a tattered old duffle bag that undoubtedly holds everything that he owns and of course a good many things that he doesn’t.
“Hole up um sec, mutha fucum ott piza!” I mumble back at him and wipe my mouth with a fraying miniature napkin in a futile attempt to alleviate the carnage that’s taking place inside my mouth.
But he just keeps it up unaware. Rambling on about how great his life is. No specifics mind you to back up these seemingly bold statements. But plenty of expletives and feigned attempts at enthusiasm with beaucoup hand gestures and that non-pulsed expression surrounding pinned eyes staring out to nowhere from under the brim of his hat.
How do you tell a junkie’s lying?
His lips are moving.
If I was to stop and wipe the tears from my eyes and take a really good look around I’d probably know half of the dissolute souls that are walking by us. Though this is not my neighborhood, it’s the edge of downtown and even though I never hung out west in the Tenderloin, I still know most of the dissidents that live there. For a major metropolis San Francisco is not that large. Take the addict population and divide it by the ones still alive by the ones still using and you end up sooner or later knowing every damn hype in this city. Of course this is the hope-to-die dope fiends were talking about here, not the weekend warriors or the future mainliners coming up in the ranks of the casual partiers. But in the end we’re just talking labels amongst the food chain of the drug world and of course there’s that moniker of “Functioning Addict” but does that really describe someone who collects aluminum cans so that he can smoke crack for a few hours at night? Besides, it certainly doesn’t apply to Sasquatch who wouldn’t be caught dead picking up rubbish and furthermore, what the hell is Sasquatch still doing out here on the streets alive? I know he’s like only twenty five but there’s not an un-ruptured vein left in his body and I can see that weird skin thing of his is finally creeping onto his hands and even though he’s six feet and climbing he’s skinny as a rail looking like death reheated in a radiation leaking microwave.
“Are you gonna eat that pizza or just sit there and stare at it?”
Actually I’m thinking of smacking Sasquatch upside the head with it. But he really isn’t worth wasting a two and a half dollar slice of pizza on. And besides I’m going to eat this slice if it’s the last thing I do! Of course now I can’t taste a thing and it might as well be sizzling cardboard and I really don’t like Blondies’ pizza that much in the first place. It’s just that almost anybody’s pizza is Ok straight out of the oven and I saw them pulling the pie out as I walked by and, well, we all know the rest of the story by now.
But it’s getting late and what am I achieving here anyway? I’m only out downtown walking around because I’ve been cooped up all day in my apartment writing and doing yet another couple a loads of laundry one at a time because all the other dryers except one were broken. And what shoulda took me an hour or two turned into an all afternoon ordeal because I was busy battling it out with my neighbors over the available appliances. You’d think that with your laundry in a machine that you’d sorta be in possession of said machine. But not in my building. Soon as the dryer stops turning, whether your clothes are dry or not, if you’re not standing there waiting, then the person who is takes your clothes out and puts them on top of the machine and loads theirs in.
Consequently many of my more timid neighbors sit in the laundry room all day as their clothes go round. Which if you were to see my building’s laundry room you’d know it takes a bit of resolve to do so. I myself hate going in there to do laundry let alone to try and spend any quality time amongst the humming machines in order to guard my clothes from dryer theft while also trying to catch up on my reading.
However; attempting to eat this flambéed pizza de fromage is proving improbable if not a bit senseless and without risking more bodily harm than necessary I hand the offending ensemble of crust and grease to Sasquatch and bid him good luck and a fond farewell. Besides it’s starting to look like rain is in the air and I’m not relishing the idea of being caught in a downpour so far from home. Especially if that possibility includes being stuck under a shop’s awning in the pouring rain while Sasquatch continues to expound on the quality of his wonderful life.
But my escape is not all easy going with the sidewalk an immobile gridlock as hoards of unsuspecting tourists are still crowded around the cable car turnabout and I have to weave my way through them in order to get over to Fifth Street. But for some reason the crowd isn’t thinning as I try and push my way across Market Street. And there are sirens coming from all directions as I see the pulsing lights of the police cars erupting in the middle of the intersection.
Laying face down in the crosswalk is the body of a young man stretched out and not moving while the rain starts up and the people just stand there staring. The cops are milling about and one of them writes in a black notebook while another pair by the car laughs and looks away self-consciously as a thick trail of blood slowly seeps out of the man’s side and runs down into the sewer drain. A small package or bag is on the ground next to him and another cop reaches down to pick it up and look inside. Everything seems to be running in slow motion even the raindrops and everyone is standing there and staring and waiting it seems. But for what I don’t know. Maybe for the man to get up wipe himself off and demand his package back from the cop who is now intently fumbling with its contents.
I look up and notice the dark silhouettes of people staring down from the windows in the buildings above. And I’m getting wet, but it doesn’t feel that important right now.
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Sunday, November 14th, 2004 at
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