Notes on my misadventures

Stories from the streets of the West Coast.

April 20, 1999—Hello, and welcome to another installment of "The Life of Dwayne." Also known as "Dwayne's Life." Today I woke up in a new place. It was a park in the Embarcadero area. The Embarcadero is a very interesting place. There was a farmer's market going on (they were setting up for it when I arrived) right next to the place where I went in to use the bathroom, which was in actuality a mall with shops, coffee stores, art galleries, escalators, fountains, glass, fast food stores, clothing stores (both male and female). It was sunny and warm, and I thought of going to the waterfront to see the Port of San Francisco building, but instead went to the bus station and checked the prices of some destinations; then I caught the 15 bus to the library (the Bayview-Waden branch) where I am typing this right now.

PERHAPS IT WAS the way that the gray-bearded man came upon Henry Jones lying down on the sidewalk on this particular morning that prompted the old man to kick Henry, just a little, to see if he could arouse the young man from his drunken stupor. Henry had been out the night before, hitting all the local nightspots, and being new in town he really had had a time of it.

"Hey you, wake up!" the old man said. "What?!" Henry said groggily, through the blinding haze of his hangover. The morning sun compounded the agony, brightly blazing away, searing Henry's eyes. Henry made an attempt to shade his eyes from the glare of the sun with his hand.

"You want a cup of coffee?" the old man continued.

"No," said Henry.

"Well, you can't stay here."

"Why not?"

"Because the service is going to be starting soon."

"Is this a church?" Henry asked, bleary-eyed.

"Yes," the old man replied. "It is."

"Do they have coffee inside?"

"Yeah, they have coffee after the service," the old man said.

"They don't have any right now?"

"Well, there might be some. Let me go and check."

Henry followed the old man through the front door of the church and down the stairs to the community room in the basement. There was a large metallic coffee maker and some sugar and some Coffee-mate non-dairy creamer.

Henry grabbed a styrofoam cup and let the brown liquid flow into it by holding down the black plastic handle on the tap spigot. He added some cream, and then some sugar; then he stirred it all up together, using two small plastic red and white stirrers. Steam rose from the handle of the machine as the cup filled up with hot dark coffee.

IT HAD BEEN cloudy and overcast all day. As David sat at the library's typewriter and looked out over the city, he could see the skyline of the financial district, with its tall, colorful array of buildings, and the large, puffy, white-and-gray rainclouds behind them, framing them like in an oil painting. He had just come from a number of different places, taking care of things he needed to do, and as he was riding the bus down Mission Street to the library, he couldn't help but think that since he was a white man among a population of mostly blacks and Mexicans, that he somehow might be like a savior to them, or that he was somehow predestined to be a savior of some kind, or even maybe that he was the second coming of Christ (although since he was not a Jew, this was impossible).

Maybe he was just a victim of a kind of delirium, a delirium brought on by the events of the day. Yes, that's it—the stress of the events of the day, the stress of having lost all of his belongings the night before, and of then having to replace them, one by one; and the torturous night spent outside, with no blankets; and the rain; and then the humiliating experience at the caf鮠(I don't want to bore you with the details of that, but. . . .) As the sun shone in through the windows of the dirty city bus and landed on his face and warmed his entire being, all that David could think of were the people around him—the Mexicans—and how the hell was he going to make it through this? This day. This month. This year. This life. In this city.

It all began when David Whitestone left Portland for San Francisco. One week after arriving in San Francisco, he was arrested by the SF police for walking into a market and using the restroom. The cashier, who was also the owner of the market, subjected poor David to a tirade of abusive language, and then the guy called the police. David was across the street at a coffee shop inquiring about the facilities there when the cop arrived.

The cop was a short, stocky, white female, and very butch. She was wearing those shiny black cop sunglasses, the kind that only cops wear. She said something to David, something unintelligible, and David was so frustrated and upset that he walked right out the door. The female cop followed David and he should have run, would have run, but he was carrying two bags. And the female cop grabbed the back of the straps on the bags and called for backup, and David was just standing there saying, "What have I done that was wrong?" and "I haven't done anything!" because of course he hadn't done anything wrong.

The trouble started because the cashier had been talking to someone, and David had to go really bad—so bad, in fact, that it constituted a veritable emergency. So he just walked to the back of the store, found the bathroom, and proceeded to use it. The cashier came back there and said, "You didn't ask my permission to use the bathroom! Do you go into people's houses and use their bathroom without permission? I am going to call the police! Get out of here right now!" Etc., etc., etc.

So when David was finished, he left the store, quite shaken and very upset, and went to find a pay phone because he had to call a guy about a job that he was supposed to do that day. But he was so upset and shaken by the incident at the market that he completely forgot about the phone call, and went into the coffee shop across the street and asked the cashier there if their bathroom was really out of order or if she was just saying that, because that is a common trick employed by many of the store owners and shopkeepers in the area, most of whom are foreigners and who speak little or no English whatsoever.

KELSO—I WAS in Kelso for more than a week, which was probably one week too many. I had gotten to Kelso/Longview on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, 1999. I had just come up from Portland (via city buses) after a harrowing experience with a local hospital (OHSU). They had tried to detain me after I had gone into Emergency to have my left-hand index finger looked at. They sort of accused me of being crazy, I guess. I don't know why. They started asking me questions totally unrelated to my finger.

They are assholes. They are the ones who are crazy. Or else they're just stupid—which I think might be the case. It reminded me of that movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Anyway, I made it to Longview, then I went to Kelso because that's where the Amtrak/Greyhound station was at. The first night, I went into a tavern called the Corner Tavern. It was right next to the station. There was a guy there who was drunk, who wanted to play some pool; so I played with him, and he said that I could stay at his place that night if I wanted, and that he had a friend who needed some work done the next day. He said that he would give me $15 even if I didn't lift a finger.

We went to his place, and it was filthy. He had a roommate who was passed out on the couch in the living room. The catbox was overflowing.

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