All true stories, all conversations reconstructed as best as I can remember them. No photos; unfortunately, I’m erratic at best as a photographer and unlike the day when I created a photo essay of San Francisco’s homeless, this time none even reached the level of “weak but usable.”
One-Fifty of Methadone on the 47 Van Ness.
The aging heroin addict (50s-60s, beard and coat equally old and shabby) in the back of the 47 did most of the talking, while his young mentor or acolyte (the same but about 30 years younger) listened or asked questions.
“Oh, I’m good, I’m good, got my one-fifty of methadone an’ all I need is two bottles a’ beer an’ my life is complete. Oh, yeah, feelin’ real good, just wish I had those beers, go great with a one-fifty.”
“Hell, yeah, methadone is the thing, kid, you gotta get into a program and get cleaned up ’til they put you on methadone. Then all you need is two bottles a’ beer and bleeve me, life is so much f—— better than heroin.”
“Hey, is it true what they say, you shot Jack?” (not the actual name)
“They say you shot him up.”
“No, no, f— no, he shot himself up.”
“Where’d he get a gun?”
“Gun?! F— you talkin’ ’bout?! He-shot-himself-up. Needle. He blew up his own heart, taking heroin ‘long with some other stuff, maybe speed-”
“Zat whuh they call it? Whatev’ it was, Jack took some big f—— dose and his heart just exploded like he had planted a bomb in his chest. Just boom. Know he was 34 years old? Yeah, just 34. Family lives up north a’ here, Sacramento I think, they claimed the body and they gave him a good Christian burial. No burning him up, they gave him a good Christian burial, buried him in the earth good and proper.”
At which point my stop arrived.
So They Can Get Him Incinerated Proper.
I think that he thought that he looked like a professional fundraiser. African-American, about my age, hair shaved close, with a badge holder that was supposed to hold a picture ID but instead held a torn piece of white paper covered with illegible scribbles. He stood in front of the main entrance to City Hall following anyone who walked past. Instead of a clipboard with an ID, newspaper articles, pamphlets, and the like, he clutched a thin 8.5×11 notepad so tightly that it had crumpled in his strong grip. More illegible scribbles there.
“Hey, man, wait up for me, I’m collecting money for Joe Trainor (also not his real name), who got killed on Paul Avenue the other day and I’m collecting money so they can get him incinerated, Joe got killed on Paul Avenue last night and his family needs money so they can burn him up right, so please give me some money for Joe Trainor, he got murdered on Paul Avenue two days ago, and I want your address and phone number so we can send you a proper thank you, or email if you want, so can you give some money for Joe so his family can incinerate him? I’ll need your phone and address, too.” And so on and so on and so on.
I finally shook him off at about the same time an African-American woman about half his age approached him with a scowl bigger than her face, and I did not know that was possible.
“What the f— are you doing?! Do you have any idea what you sound like?!”
Bravery Unseen. Literally.
And I mean I literally could not see her. She stood surrounded by five people, the shortest of whom was a full head taller. I could only see a shock of blond hair. This group stood in front of the main entrance to the Superior Court building at Polk and Fulton. The five crowded her so tightly as if that would silence her, but her voice stood at least three taller than them.
“You! You’re his father! When was the last time you saw your son?! When?! Do you ever see him? No! You don’t! You don’t have the time, because you’re always shooting up! And you two! You two call yourselves grandparents! Do you really care about your grandson? Your so-called grandson?! Do you ever visit? Do you ever send money? Do you ever send food or care packages?? No! You don’t! I’m the one who loves him! I’m the one who puts a roof over his head! I’m the one who feeds him, clothes him, sends him to school, and does her d— best to keep him outta trouble so he doesn’t grow up to be like his so-called father, or you, or you, or you, or you! I’m the only one who loves him! Me!”
Nothing could intimidate her.
The sheriffs had their eyes on this group, and I had to return to work from my lunch hour, so I kept on moving.
I wish I knew the whole story.
I don’t know their side of the story–she didn’t give them space to speak. We can’t assume that she told the truth about what sounded like an ugly custody battle. We don’t know the others are not better providers. Or perhaps worst of all, she might have had the right on her side, but they might have had the law on theirs.
My Therapist Says My Anger Doesn’t Propel Me.
He stood next to me on the 43 Masonic and hung onto one of the overhead straps for standing passengers as he vented into his cell phone. Brown crewcut, about four inches shorter than me, I’d guess late twenties, small mustache, pseudo-camoflage pattern cargo pants, white sleeveless muscle shirt, complete with the muscles to justify wearing one of those, and Doc Martens boots.
And my oh my, did he ever vent.
“You won’t believe this s— that she tells me. My therapist says my anger doesn’t propel me, doesn’t move my life forward, yeah, s— like that, my anger doesn’t move my life forward it holds me back, and it takes me everything I have to keep from saying listen, b—-, I got good f—— reasons for anger, I mean do you ever listen to anything I say, anything, don’t you get it by now, I mean, f— man, I don’t get the point of this court-ordered s— if all I get is this therapist who uses words like ‘propel,’ I mean, come on, ‘propel?!'”
A second for a deep breath.
“I mean like the last session, you know what the last thing she says to me is? She says, ‘Remember. Propel!’ Yeah, f—— propel again, sometimes I just want to say something that will scare and I mean scare that b—- just to see how she reacts, maybe I can make her pee in her panties, you know?
Another deep breath.
“Nah, I’m just kidding, I don’t want to scare her at all, you know what I really want to do? Do you know? I know I’m her last appointment of the day. I want to say to her someday that I want to comeback that afternoon, three o’clock, for a massage. No, no, no! I don’t her to give me a massage, I want to give her a foot massage, nah she doesn’t look so hot, but she always wears skirts and open-toed shoes, and she crosses her legs right over left during the sessions, and for the entire fifty minutes she will bounce her right foot at me and I just stare at that foot while she uses words like ‘propel’ and all I can think about is how much I want to massage her feet, h— no, I don’t want to f— her, she is totally not hot, but those toes, man, someday I will ask her if I can give her a foot massage just to see how she reacts, I just want her feet, that’s all I want, her feet are-so-fine.”
“And no more of this ‘propel’ s—.”
My stop arrived and I disembarked, thinking that perhaps his court-ordered therapist should be a man.
Vonn Scott Bair