An Horrific Insight

There are actually three versions of this story. The first version was my initial, gut reaction. The second was my instant reaction after obtaining more information. The third was my conclusion after some calm, pragmatic thought. Be sure and read to the very end if you want to see how quickly your point of view can be altered!

Version One:

It was your typical Pacific Northwest November night: raw, wet, cold, and basically gloomy. But I was inside, warm and safe and dry, beside a crackling fire, watching Netflix. All was right with the world, even though I was totally taking it for granted.

And then came the knock on my door. I nearly jumped out of my fuzzy pajamas. We almost never get visitors unannounced, especially in times of pandemic. Our house is relatively isolated and not close to the main street, so it takes some effort to get here. Here’s the perfect litmus test for that: There have been no Halloween trick or treaters on this front porch in decades.

It was a young man, asking for food. Not begging. Not giving an explanation or an excuse. He was just hungry and in need. He looked wet and disheveled and had nothing with him but a backpack.

My husband had him wait on the porch (safety first), and went in and made him a big sandwich. He threw an apple, a Pepsi, and a tuna snack for later into the mix. He then sent him on his way.

A wave of sadness washed over me. It was the sadness of knowing that we’d be seeing a lot more of this in the coming months. Desperate people. Cold, wet, desperate people, everywhere. And there would always be this feeling of not having done enough. There are just so many of them, and only one of me.

There’s also this sense of survivor’s guilt. I’m considered an essential worker, although I have no idea why. So my income hasn’t decreased in this pandemic. I’ve managed to stay relatively isolated and healthy, and I still have my health insurance. I suspect I’ll stay warm and dry throughout the winter. Even my dogs will get to stay warm and dry. I’m not at all accustomed to being one of the haves.

I wonder where that young man slept that night. I wonder where he’ll sleep tonight. For me, he is the leading edge of a wall of hundreds of thousands of people out there, just trying to survive. This is the wall that has been built, and it’s an ugly thing to behold.

I can’t shake the feeling that this is only the beginning. How privileged so many of us have been, secure in the knowledge that survival was likely. Now everything seems much more fragile. And a heck of a lot more scary.

Version Two:

The next day, without us even having broached the subject, some friends from 1/2 mile down the street said that the same guy came to their door that night. That time he was turned away and the theory that he was casing the neighborhood, seeing which houses don’t have men and/or dogs, for later burglary, was posited.

I was instantly furious. Had we been used? Are we now unsafe? He could see our TV through the window. I hate being taken advantage of! People suck!

Version Three:

After I had a chance to calm down and climb out from under my massive pile of righteous indignation, I realized that in both versions above, I was drawing conclusions from facts not in evidence. I will never know what that young man’s motivations were.

Was he a saint or a sinner? My most pragmatic self assumes that, like most of us, he is something in between. From that concept, a new theory has emerged for me.

It was a wet, raw, miserable night, and most criminals are lazy. If he had been casing the neighborhood, I suspect he’d have waited for better weather to do so. No one would be out in that weather without a good reason. So I suspect he was, indeed, in need.

But I also now suspect that like most panhandlers, he was hoping that if he asked for food, what he’d really get was money. Money is a much more flexible commodity. With it you can buy food you actually like. Or you can pay the rent. Or you can buy drugs or alcohol. Or you can take care of a sick child.

He did stand out on the porch and wait for the food. If he had been casing the neighborhood, that would have slowed him down. If he was hoping for money, maybe once he realized that my husband was actually fixing him food, he hoped that some actual cash would also be slipped into the bag.

The money theory makes me sad, because I feel mildly manipulated. But at least there was still a need there, whatever it may have been, and we did our best to help. I hope drugs or alcohol was not a factor. There’s no way to know.

But what’s the point of speculating, really? Our motivations were pure. If his motivations were not, that’s on him. I just hate that we live in a world where we feel the need to question and theorize. I hate that this might taint our desire to help our fellow man in the future. The bottom line is that we’ll never know the whole story.

What do you think, dear reader?

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My Most Memorable Year

On my way to work the other day, I was thinking about the fact that, ten years from now, if people are asked what their most memorable year has been, a good percentage of them are going to say 2020. That’s heartbreaking, because this year SUCKS. I’m sure most of the memories from this year won’t be happy ones. I’ll be happy to get past this year and move on, no matter what that looks like. I think that’s the scariest bit. We have no idea what the world is going to be like after this year.

Fortunately, 2020 is not my most memorable year to date. If I had to pick one, it would be 2014, because it was overflowing with the really, really bad, but ended up really, really good. It was the most pivotal year of my life.

For starters, in 2014 I went to visit my favorite aunt, Betty, in Connecticut. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time I saw her face to face. I wish you could have known her. She was amazing.

Unfortunately, while I was there, I got a phone call from the Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff’s Office telling me that they found my boyfriend dead in his truck, still clutching his asthma inhaler, in the pharmacy parking lot a few short blocks from my apartment. Upon hearing that, I instantly came down with the flu, and couldn’t hear a thing for three days, which made flying home in tears quite fun. It felt like I was ground zero at a nuclear blast, such was the devastation this caused in my life.

There was a huge family conflict over whether or not I should attend his memorial service (thank God I ignored them and went), and the taking of all his possessions (and a few of mine) by his adult children. Other than that, I really don’t remember much about those next few months, except a lot of tears, forgetting to eat, and a constant ringing in my ears. I did go to work, though. I had to. Fortunately, there can be tears in bridgetending.

Not long after that, my landlord, who lived in the other half of the house, figured out that I’d probably not be able to make the rent without my boyfriend’s assistance, and she kicked me and my two dogs out of my apartment with no notice at all. I was too devastated at the time to fight it.

Fortunately I had a place to store my stuff, but I got to experience a brief stint of homelessness there. Nothing quite like sleeping with two dogs in a crapped out Buick LeSabre to make you appreciate all the comforts of home. Then I did a bit of couch surfing and realized who my friends really were.

Finally, I found a place to rent that I could just barely afford. I hunkered down in anticipation of an existence in which I would be all alone, working a dead end job, and living paycheck to paycheck. I was resigned to my fate.

I was talking to a coworker about just that when he mentioned that there was a job opening for a bridge operator in the City of Seattle. I had never been to Seattle. I had never even been to the state of Washington in my life. I didn’t know anyone there. But man, was I ever due for a do-over. My life was going nowhere fast and I was miserable. So what the hell, I applied. What did I have to lose?

And, what the hell? They hired me. Sight unseen. Over the phone. Just like that.

Now I had to figure out how I was going to move across the continent. Fortunately, my sister and my husband not only loaned me money, but they gave me a more viable van. And for the rest, I dipped into what little savings I had, and also did a crowdfunding campaign.

That campaign was amazing and humbling. Not only did friends from decades ago come out of the woodwork, but also total strangers gave me money. Without all that generosity, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Because of that, I do my best to pay it forward every chance I get.

House hunting from a distance is not at all fun, but somehow everything fell into place (including the breaking of a lease I had only signed 2 months before) and the next thing I knew, I was driving across the country with two dogs and entirely too much stuff.

The cross country trip was amazing. (Read more about it here.) You have no idea how vast this nation is until you drive 3100 miles across it. It’s magical. I will never forget that experience.

And then, on this very day (August 24th) in 2014, I arrived in Seattle. I was scared half to death, and second guessing myself the entire time, but I was also extremely excited for this fresh start. And my life has been, despite a few false starts, an ever-increasing high ever since.

Because I came here, I’m actually making a living wage for the first time in my life. Because I came here, I published my first book. Because I came here, I bought a wonderful little house. Because I came here, I met my amazing husband-to-be and was married for the first (and only) time ever.

No one at my wedding had known me more than a year or two. That kind of smarted. But, as a dear friend says, onward and upward and into the future!

I’ve met some wonderful people here and have had too many exciting experiences to list. (You may want to check out the archives of my blog for that.) And I’m happy to say that I feel as though I’ve made an excellent life for myself.

So, yeah, 2014 beats 2020 all to hell. And because of that, life is ever so good, and I am exactly where I want to be. You just never know what’s in store for you. Truly, what a ride…

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

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A Different Kind of Class Struggle

I was driving home from work at 11:40 pm, and it was bitterly cold and raw outside. Frost, glittering beneath the street lights, was already covering the grass and the pavement. I looked forward to getting home.

Almost to my destination, I noticed a car in the dark parking lot of the city park down the street from our house. The windows were all fogged up. Someone was inside.

“Please let it be lovers,” I thought. But it was midweek, and the weather was hardly conducive to romance. The car wasn’t exactly date-worthy, either.

I went home to my warm house and my loving husband and my well-fed dogs. There was a fire in the fireplace, and warm food waiting for me. Before bed, we luxuriated in the hot tub as the freezing fog surrounded us.

As I took my hot shower and then tucked in beneath my warm comforter, belly full and feeling safe, I couldn’t get that car out of my mind. I drifted off to sleep, thinking about how lucky I am.

The next morning I woke up at 5:20 am, because on that day I work the day shift, not the swing shift as I had the night before. The fog in my head was as thick as the fog outside. I stumbled about, preparing for work, too tired to complain about my usual less than 5 hours of sleep on this day of the week.

I stepped out into the 35 degree wall of grey and wondered about that car. “Please let it be gone,” I thought, as I started the engine and cranked up the heat.

But no. There it was, still at the park. The windows were still fogged, so the occupant was still breathing, at the very least. But man, it was so cold.

How do you face the day, struggle to improve your lot in life, manage to get clean and find food, after a night like that? How do you cope? What do you do next?

What could I have done? Invite this person, this stranger, this (let’s face it) potentially mentally ill drug addict, to stay in our guest room? Is that person’s life worth my own? But what if it was a single mom with a baby who was running away from spousal abuse?

Should I have entered that dark, deserted parking lot and offered that fellow human being money or blankets or food or… something? Anything? And then, what about the next person? And the next?

What should I have done? What would have been enough? What would you do?

I hesitated to write this post. I hate to sound like a bleeding heart liberal. I hate to reveal that I did nothing, as I almost always do. I did nothing but take my white, overly-privileged butt home to my hot tub, where I wallowed in my ineffectual guilt.

The worst part about it is that I guarantee you that that’s what I’ll be doing next week, too. Yes, I’ll throw money at causes. I’ll vote. I’ll blog. But what good does that do for the thousands of people sleeping in their cars or, worse yet, on the streets, in my city each night?

Fog

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The Dancing Man

The first time I saw the dancing man, he was standing beside my car. That made me uncomfortable, because drawbridges seem to draw an unusual number of characters, and as a bridgetender I can’t really leave the tower unattended simply because I fear for my paint job. So I had to stare helplessly out the tower window and hope for the best. In other words, it was my average day at work.

I used to wonder what it was about drawbridges that attract strange people. I’ve blogged about my unique encounters before. But my latest theory is that there’s nothing special about drawbridges. These people are everywhere. It’s just that I get to be a full-time observer of them here. I look at it as my own little sociological investigation of a cross section of humanity.

Anyway, back to the dancing man. I gave him that name because of what happened next. He went to the front driver’s side corner of my car and did what I can only describe as a ritualistic dance. The steps, while rudimentary, seemed full of purpose.

But this is Seattle, so people took note but continued to walk by, letting him do his own thing. Next, he moved to the front passenger side and did the same dance. He repeated the process until he got to all four corners, and then he walked away.

I was confused. I was mesmerized. I was a little charmed. But mostly I was relieved that no damage had been done to my car.

Since then, I’ve watched the dancing man perform this ritual on at least a half dozen occasions. I’m increasingly delighted every time. I’ve chosen to view it as some sort of blessing he is bestowing upon my vehicle. Maybe I’ve avoided an accident because of this magical love bubble that he’s placed on my car. Who knows?

Recently he stopped by to get his groove on during shift change, and I pointed him out to my coworker. “I just love that guy,” I said. Apparently, mine is the only car he interacts with, but he is still a regular fixture on other shifts.

My coworker said, “See that coat he’s wearing? I gave that to him. He was walking past and he looked like he needed one, and I had an extra.”

So there you have it. The one who bestows blessings had a completely unrelated blessing bestowed upon him. I really love how the universe works sometimes.

break_dance_PNG84

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Pillows

Recently I wrote that I got to go to see the storytellers of Snap Judgment Live. One of them discussed his experiences with being homeless, and how it makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do, such as apply for demoralizing jobs. Amen, buddy. Been there.

But one of the aspects of homelessness that he brought up was something I had never even considered. You never have a pillow. You can’t get comfortable. Which means you can’t rest. Ever.

Wow. Even when I lived in a tent, I always had a pillow. I can’t imagine life without one. Pillows help you sleep, yes, but they also give you something to hug when you’re all alone, and something to cry into when you’re sad. They are comfort in material form. They are also the only acceptable things to punch when you’re frustrated. Unfortunately, like humans, they need a clean, stable environment in order to thrive, so they wouldn’t handle homelessness well.

Even in your darkest times, may you always have a pillow, dear reader.

pillow

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What I Thought America Meant

When I was little, I was taught that I lived in the greatest country in the entire world. I thought we set the best example, and that based on that example, other countries would aspire to be better, and someday the whole world would be just as wonderful as we were.

Everyone would be free. There would be no war. Every individual would have equal opportunities. The world would be one big safe, happy, teddy bear of a place. I was so proud. I felt so lucky to be an American.

To me, America meant generosity, compassion, justice, safety, equality, freedom, dedication, love, and integrity.

If you had told me back then that I’d become increasingly ashamed over time, I’d have been pretty darned disappointed. Disgusted is the word, actually. And even horrified every once in a while. (Simply because I can’t work up the energy to maintain horror for long periods.)

How must the rest of the planet view us when we say things like domestic and gang violence are no longer valid reasons for asylum? What happened to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”?

And when did we become okay with children being yanked away from their parents? Do we think those traumatized children will grow up admiring us for that? Do we think those children deserve punishment? Guilt by association?

We were supposed to be the poster child for human rights. Are we? When our president shakes hands with Kim Jong-Un, the worst human rights abuser currently alive, and says he’ll “probably have a very good relationship” with him, it doesn’t do much for that image.

I also thought we’d be the saviors of the world. But we are one of its worst polluters, biggest consumers, and we live in a culture of selfishness and waste. We can’t even hold on to our national parks, which is an embarrassment, because we were the first country to even conceive of them. The planet cries out for us to take climate change seriously, even as some of them are sinking into the sea, and instead of setting an example, we back out of the Paris Accord.

Apparently we value the profits of gun manufacturers more than the lives of our children. We allow the very worst of our law enforcement officers to become murderers without any real consequences. We step over our homeless veterans in the streets. And we don’t seem to think anyone has a right to health care.

We elected a man who brags about grabbing pussies, thinks that white supremacy is acceptable, and uses Twitter to lie without remorse. We take great strides to make it difficult to vote, but that’s probably a waste of energy when no one can seem to be bothered to do so anyway. We spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the real current events that actually impact our day to day lives.

We have become fat and bloated by our laziness and greed. We flaunt our hate. We exaggerate our fear. We demonize education and journalism. We are not who we said we would be.

I once told a cousin that America is an experiment. You’d think I had peed in his Post Toasties. How dare I say that?

Well, Cuz, do you still think we are solid as a rock, unchanging, and will last forever? Do you really think that this thing we have become has staying power, above all other regimes that have come and gone throughout history? Are we a shining example of the best of humanity? Have we reached some bright pinnacle? Should everyone want to be just like us?

I wish I could be that little girl again, with the star spangled banner eyes. I wish I was full of optimism and hope for this country’s future. I wish I still thought I was one of the good guys.

But I have to ask: Are we becoming our best selves? Because if we can’t do better than this, if we don’t want to do better than this, then there’s really no hope. And that scares me.

Flag

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Shoe Shock

Recently I was downtown, and while there, I decided to visit the Nordstrom department store. Not that I needed or wanted to buy anything. It’s just that I’d never been in one before. I figured at the very least, it would have cool Christmas decorations. So, in I went.

And I quickly discovered why I’d never been in one before. I got that feeling that I get whenever I enter a rich people’s place. It’s as if someone is going to somehow figure out that I couldn’t even afford the socks in this store, and I’ll be quickly ushered out the service entrance and left on the loading dock like yesterday’s trash.

I wandered around, praying that I wouldn’t accidentally knock something over. The bejeweled wedding dresses were gorgeous, and had no price tags. No doubt they’d cost about a half year’s pay for me. (Not that I need a wedding dress. I can’t even get a date, even when I do the asking.)

The shoes, too, were stunning. Extravagant. Works of art. The kind of things you’d never wear in the rain. I didn’t even bother looking at the prices. I did go over to what looked like a sales rack, and sure enough, accidentally dropped a shoe. When I picked it up, the price on the bottom was 768 dollars. And I had just dropped the thing. Eeep.

This is why I’d never make a good rich person. How does one buy 768 dollar shoes, have them rung up by a cashier that doesn’t earn that much in a week, and then saunter out the door, past homeless people begging on the sidewalk out front? How do you justify paying that much for a shoe, which you’ll only wear a certain amount of times before it either wears out or goes out of style or gives you bunions? It’s just not in me.

Finally, I had to get out of there because I was being overwhelmed by a tsunami of income inequality, and I was afraid I might blow my stack right there amongst the Hermes scarves. I can’t relate to this type of consumerism. It makes me sick to my stomach. I was glad to make my exit and return to the real world, where my discount shoes are the norm.

And then I passed a Coach store. Amongst their outrageously priced handbags, there were really cute change purses in the shapes of animals. They fit in the palm of my hand. And they were 85 dollars each. They were probably made in china by someone who earns a dollar a day.

There’s a special circle of hell for people who sell these unnecessary things, and for the people who buy them, or even think there’s a need for them.

The fact that stores like this can thrive in Seattle is exactly why the majority of us can’t afford to live here anymore. Then who’s going to sell you your shoes?

Shoe
This lovely shoe “only” costs $1,195.00 at Nordstrom.

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Salvator Mundi Indeed

So, yeah, this happened: Some anonymous person paid 450 million for Salvator Mundi, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci. A painting of Jesus, Savior of the World. How outraged he would have been.

To put it in context, that’s more than the annual gross domestic product of Tonga, Micronesia, Palau and Kiribati. If it were francs, that would be more than the value of all the Jewish property confiscated in France during World War II. Just one of the World Trade Center towers, if it were still standing, would weigh 450 million kilograms. The average American will earn less than 0.25 percent of that in his or her lifetime. That many years ago, the earth was seeing the first transition from vegetable to animal life.

But here’s the statistic that upsets me the most. For 1/5th of that price, we could entirely eliminate homelessness in America. Which means we could eliminate it here, and in probably a dozen third world countries as well.

Instead, some anonymous person bought a painting. 468 square inches of canvas. That’s $961,538.46 per square inch, on a planet where 795 million people are starving, 21.3 million are refugees and half of Puerto Rico is still in the dark. If there is a hell, this person should go there.

Any civilization that allows this level of income inequality is circling the drain. There is absolutely no justification for this, and I’m saying this as a person who thinks the arts should be supported. There are limits. Or there should be. When the world deteriorates to this level, we certainly could use a savior.

The only thing that would make this situation more outrageous and insane would be if it had been a painting of Jesus expelling the money changers from the temple.

Salvator Mundi

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Living in Gingerbread Houses

Now that I live farther from work, and my commute is a typical Seattle nightmare (I had no idea how spoiled I had been!) I have even more time to take flights of fancy. In today’s traffic snarl, this is where my mind went:

What would it be like if we all lived in gingerbread houses?

First of all, neighborhoods would be much more whimsical. That would be fun. And if you woke up hungry at 3 a.m. you could simply reach over and break off a piece of your window sill. But impulse control would definitely be critical to your quality of life.

People who had fallen on hard times would have problems concealing it, because they’d probably start eating their houses for pure survival. And they’d be blamed for their own diabetes.

And you’d see homeless people gnawing on your candy cane fence posts all the time. That might cause an atmosphere of vigilantism. “Hey, you! Hands off my gum drops or I’ll pelt you with life savers!”

And rich people would find a way to corner the market on gingerbread, and tax all jelly beans and pretzels. Only the upper class could get their hands on M & Ms for their roofs. The 98% would have to settle for mini marshmallows, and they sure wouldn’t keep the rain off your head for long.

Even in Candyland, with its sweet foundations, we’d manage to sink to our lowest common denominator.

gingerbread houses

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My View

A reader recently pointed out to me that this blog is called The View from a Drawbridge, but I haven’t really described my actual view in quite some time. Good point. Excellent point.

And it is kind of interesting to contemplate how my perspective on this view has changed over time.

For example, I’ve become fascinated with the office building that sits just across the ship canal from me. They have painted the walls of each office outlandish colors. Dark purple. Vivid orange. Sprite bottle green. My first thought is always, “very bad feng shui.” I wonder how the people working in those offices feel. For that matter, I wonder what they do.

I’m also really interested in the houseboats that line the south bank. That strikes me as a really fun way to live your life. I’d feel like a voyeur, except for the fact that I almost never see anyone on or around these houseboats. It’s like a big floating ghost town. If I were lucky enough to live like that, I’d be out on the balcony every chance I got. Well… maybe not in the winter, but you get the idea.

Their peace will soon be disrupted, though, because someone bought the 15,000 square foot patch of land where the Red Robin fast food place used to sit. They paid 2.8 million for it, and plan to throw up a high rise with ground level shops. No wonder I’ll never be able to afford to buy a house in this town.

I love to watch crews from the rowing club get into their racing shells. How do so many people get on such a long narrow vessel without tipping the whole thing over? But I’ve never seen any of them go for a swim. That’s pretty impressive. They don’t seem to mind getting wet, though. They often practice in the rain.

It took me all this time to discover that when the Montlake Bridge is fully open, I can see bits of it above the tree line. Cool.

And of late I’ve been observing a crow atop the bridge tower adjacent to me, as he chews on the wiring of our weather station. I’m not quite sure what to do about it. I suspect if I try to shoo him away, it will simply make him more determined.

There are a couple of homeless people that used to walk across the bridge every day, cursing and gesticulating. I haven’t seen them in a while. I hope they made it through the worst of the winter.

Also, one of the many men who walked his dog across my bridge each day now walks alone. He looks sad. I fear the worst.

I’m sick of the grey clouds. I’m looking forward to spring. Meanwhile, the hum of the traffic lulls me, provided I don’t dwell on the fact that it’s traffic. So that’s a little snapshot of my view.

University Lighting
Photo courtesy of SDOT Artist in Residence RSVR Visual Research.

University Lighting2
Photo courtesy of SDOT Artist in Residence RSVR Visual Research.

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