It’s June 20, and the chronically homeless have returned, out in all their unfettered glory, free of their winter coats and unencumbered by societal confines.
I say “returned”, but honestly the bulk of them have been here all along. They just look a little different in their summer ensembles. The suitcases, plastic bags, two-wheeled dollies, they’re still here. No shopping carts, though; and isn’t that a homeless mainstay, the shopping cart? Or is that just on TV, like cars squealing on dirt roads?
Do you suppose there is a hierarchy amongst the homeless, that someone with a cart is outranked by someone with a bicycle? That those with nothing but a bag and the clothes on their backs align themselves with people who have access to fishing poles and open, empty houses in neighborhoods where no one will call the police?
A lot of people in Minnesota don't encounter the homeless. They don't work downtown. Or they drive their own cars when they do.
And that brings us to the bus.
The bus is open to all, of course. There’s no membership involved, no bottle to offer for them to open the door, no sexual favors to dole out for a seat. You pays your fare and you rides the bus. It’s transportation for the masses, and this is never more glaringly apparent than when you’re seated next to someone who stinks.
I’m not talking about the high-chemical perfume-y stink of the gal I work with who drenches herself in what is either hairspray or bugspray (although the end result is the same – bug-free helmet-hair). I’m not talking about the baby in need of a change – seriously, who amongst us has not pooped their pants while riding the bus?
Nevertheless, the stench of the homeless is different.
I sat behind a homeless man on the bus on the way to work today. I’ve seen him before – he was here for the winter. I sat there, marveling at the frown-inducing sourness of him, wondering about where one sleeps when homeless, eats, showers…
Holy Hannah but it made me sad. I wanted to give him something: a new pair of socks, some hand sanitizer, a bath.
He got off downtown on the Light Rail line, heading either to the VA Hospital, the airport, or the Mall of America. I wondered what he thought about, if it was hard to be dirty much of the time or if he was past that. I wondered if he was aware of his bubble of salty staleness.
Summer’s in the air; and not all of it smells like flowers.
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