Wednesday, October 5, 2005
Second Half of Faithful Fools Street Retreat Report
thoughts: just taking a moment to collect my thoughts on where i left off...
OK, after I got done seeing Gregory (the gentleman with the one good eye who sees better than most people with two eyes, who told me the stories), I went down to perhaps the "best" food line (search for "Glide" on this page) in the neighborhood and stood in line. There were a lot of men standing in that line (almost two blocks long), and a scant few women. About 3/4ths of the people in the line were of color, and the rest were people of whiteness. I don't believe I saw any white women in the line.
The people in that line didn't talk much. Most were sober and didn't talk much, and nobody in line was smiling. A few people would argue every few minutes. I had to wait in line between 45-60 minutes. When I asked someone if the line was always that long, he explained to me that it was longer because it was near the end of the month and everybody's subsistence assistance money (a meager sum) had run out. I don't think anybody wanted to be in that line. I hadn't eaten since 7:00 that morning and it was by then 1:00, and I realized the reality of waiting in that line because it was the only source for food. I could've stepped out of that line and gone to a local restaurant and bought myself a sandwich, but for pretty much everybody else in the line, except for other Faithful Fools participants), Glide Memorial (or another food line) was the only source for lunch. Standing in that line, watching the San Fran traffic whizzing by -- people in some very fancy cars and SUVs glancing over -- I really had a sense of what it felt like to have my pride/ego stepped on. For me it was only this one day. I hate to think of the trauma of going through that experience several times a month. One man reached down into the gutter and kicked half of an apple out into traffic; it was a small, silent statement, but I saw it.
After waiting in line, the food was adequate. While waiting in line, the people who had walked out from lunch kept telling everyone to get jazzed up because it was catfish. They didn't mention that it was actually four small/medium breaded catfish nuggets. When I went to dig into what I thought was mashed potatoes with gravy, I was pretty surprised at the taste of overcooked rice with gravy instead. The rest of the tray I ate clean. I spoke with a man next to me at the table (which seemed almost taboo, talking in that lunchroom was rare, except among the volunteers, who were listening to some latin pop music, which helped the atmosphere a bit). First he'd asked me where the salt and pepper were, since there weren't any shakers on the table. I told him they were underneath the bun in little packets, then I asked him how his day was going, and he just said "Shitty." After a minute or two, I said I was sorry to hear that, and that was the end of the conversation. I didn't know what else to say and he didn't say anything else. He only ate about half of his lunch. I couldn't keep my mind from thinking in relative terms, comparing his condition with Gregory, but dared not say it aloud -- "at least you're not recently displaced from New Orleans, missing an eye, with a totally messed up leg and recently beaten with a baseball bat."
I don't know if I mentioned, but there were a few streets I was pretty nervous on as I started walking down them. One of the blocks in the vicinity of Turk and Eddy, the entire sidewalk was lined with people laying against the fence, some smoking from glass pipes, and there were people covered in blankets and wailing. Every single one of those people needed help, and it was so sad for them, and humiliating for me/us, that we couldn't just roll help up to this block so they could help their way out. To all the people who are in a state of denial saying "they could've completed high school, and gone out and gotten a job and they wouldn't be in this shape," wake up. If it weren't these 100 people laying on this block, it'd be a different 100.
The economic power in this country, in this world, even, is controlled by far too few people, who are far too swayed by the lure of more economic power. "Economic power" is another word for "money." If you've got it, you can store it up like in a big battery for reserve later (or you can offer out that power to somebody else in exchange for a usurious ratio of power return in the future). If you don't have it, you need to sputter by with personal brown-outs (or community-wide economic brown-outs in cases like the Tenderloin district). The biggest crime against all humanity is that all of this economic power has been siphoned off from the workers into those who control their destinies private power stores, where it's sitting useless, or more likely going to support corporations through stocks/investments. (A smart investor may invest where they're going to get the best financial returns, but a wise investor will invest in what they want to succeed, whether that's businesses, or specific people, or people in general (so they can go "vroooom", and not "sput, sput". Your good education helps you go "vrooom", your health, your socioeconomic status, your condition of having a home address, your heterosexual or male or white privilege (if you're lucky enough to have any of those)-- all make you go "vroom.")
Oh yes, many people who have lots of money donate much of that money to charities, but note that they have control over where it goes. Our government requires our economic power, and in cases where they are taxing us without representing the people (does your senator speak the same "language" as you? or do they represent those who are adding economic power to their campaign coffers?), they are coercing our economic power out from us to put toward whatever they want. In this decade so far, that economic power has been routed away from the people and toward business interests.
People-->Sput, sput, sputter.
Military support firms-->Vroooom!
Voice of the common man-->Sput, sput, sput...
People put in prison with poor legal counsel--> You guessed it, sput, sput.
As part of our experience, we were to look for pennies/coins around on the sidewalks and note any experiences that had happened in the temporal vicinity (see Confessions of a Penny Planter). (grrrr.... whoops, as a result of adding that anchor on the July Archive page, now it's inherited the template from September/October -- please imagine that page with the old-style "scribe" template.)
Anyway, being an expert at planting/finding pennies all around, I was shocked that in the entire experience, even while diligently looking, I was only able to find one penny, a fairly worn one from 1980. Pennies in that neighborhood don't last long on the ground.
I believe in my first post about this, I may have neglected to mention running into Chosen One, a superstoner who just by his very nature blew my mind (he looked like a train engineer or chimney sweep with relatively short hair, and low-slung blue jeans, and perhaps an army green jacket). He was pretty argumentative, and wanted me to vote for him for president next year. I asked "2008?", and he said no, next year. I had initiated my conversation with him because he was looking down at the UN Charter Preamble(http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/) on the sidewalk of the UN Plaza, so I said it's too bad that the US was betraying these values in its concrete so brazenly. He chewed me out bigtime for saying the US wasn't holding up its end of the bargain.
I also found two different spots to sit down (which was pretty rare, since most of the stairways had gates right at the bottom step. One of them, I found a place to sit on a swivelling seat in a bus shelter. There were a couple men, about 50 years old, sitting in there, talking -- one a large white (perhaps Irish Catholic) cab driver, and the other a black man who had played guitar in gigs back in the 70s, right in the neighborhood. They noticed that there were helicopters flying above the peace parade, which was going up Van Ness, and one of them said "they're probably looking for terrorists. it's so difficult for them these days. i heard on the radio that the terrorists in al-qaeda already have 10 nuclear bombs inside the United States right now, they're planning on blowing them off during Ramadan, and one of them is slated for San Francisco..." whoa, i thought, Ramadan is coming up really soon (actually started October 4th). he seemed to not be all that phased by it, but to me, i was devastated even more than by what i'd seen on the street retreat, just at the idea of it. here i am planning on being a minister, and walking these streets, to ascertain a way to make a real difference, and the idea that me and a million other people could be just blown right up because of someone's hate made me think how potentially worthless all this effort on my part is. then i started to get really mad at our federal government for doing what i (quite likely correctly) suspect is a piss-poor job of preparing FEMA and Homeland Security(tm) for this, and doing an incredibly poor job of securing and dismantling the nuclear fissile materials around the world. I heard somewhere that it would cost somewhere in the range of $100 billion or less to secure almost ALL of the world's nuclear fissile materials (here is some related info, but I can't find the article I originally read). And our government has tried to obtain our security by spending at least three times that to conquer/liberate Iraq. That is extremely sad that they apply our country's economic power in such an ill-conceived and destructive way when they could be tapping into our vast economic power toward ends that benefit both American and World citizens.
In any case, if my city gets blown up, I am hereby demanding that somebody else of similar ilk take the baton and finish my work for me....
But I digress. I looked up the cab driver's sources on the internet later, and found out that the show where he'd heard the story of the nukes in the US was a radio talk show by Michael Savage. While that certainly mitigates my fear, as that news could very well just be fear-mongering, I still hate the prospect that it could ever happen, and that our country's cowboys would then get their righteous indignation all up in their craw and retaliate. Stupid. As if they've never heard of Mutual Assured Destruction???
Well, after telling the cab driver and the guitar player that Ramadan was actually a peaceful holiday among Islam, and telling them that I sincerely wish and pray that their story about the nukes isn't true, I walked on. Then I ended up sitting on one of the few stairs with the gate a few steps up, with a man named Ira. He had eaten at Glide Memorial earlier in the day, and we spent about half an hour discussing politics and I told him I was looking to be a minister. A friend of his stopped by, and one of them asked the other if they had 50 cents, and they didn't. She did have a horrible lunch with her, consisting of something to the tune of soda, sweet tarts, and a twinkie. Ira and I saw eye to eye on so many things.
In general, much of the experience can be summed up that most of the districthad the feel of a domestic disturbance (one of which we actually did hear in our neighborhood later that night, where a woman was yelling for someone to call the police because she was bleeding), and many places smelled of urine (I did notice a man taking a whiz right behind a parked car in daylight on a busy one-way street). There were lots of destitutde prostitutes there, and lots of people selling drugs -- I don't know if I mentioned in the earlier post that about 5 people asked me if I wanted stuff, most of which I didn't even understand what they were talking about. I suppose they figured that I didn't look like a cop, and what else would a clean-looking long-haired white boy be doing in this neighborhood?
How I wish we could just fix all this. It may sound entirely naive, but I feel if somebody put that kind of economic power in my hands, I'd make sure all these troubles get solved, one by one, or in parallel. But then I don't see anybody planning to hand over the steering wheel until the bus is heading right for that steep embankment. At least one can ask -- I don't have faith in much, but I know that when the time comes, and they're ready, they'll hand it over. :|
what holds us separate?
what keeps us separated?
as we walk the streets
what still connects us?
let's make this world work,