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Monday, June 20, 2011

A Brine-y Smell with Under Currents of Cat

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.

38 comments:

mybabyjohn said...

I used to think it was bad in early morning TO on the transit when the smell of garlic hung heavy in the air and hairy armpits hit you in the face. That was the 60's. It's worse now.

Sioux said...

The phrase "bubbly of salty staleness." That created an image that made me want to, uh, gag (while I simultaneously smiled, because it was a perfectly-painted image).

Too bad blog posts cannot be "scratch and sniff" stories.

Shelly said...

My nose and stomach always betray me when I'm confronted with unsavory smells. Although I don't encounter the homeless in my small hamlet, I do regularly encounter undeodorized 8th graders after a lunch period in which they've frolicked and *sweated*. For that reason, I am the wickless scented candle queen of my building.

The Jules said...

Excellent, I linked to you on my blog, because you're a bussybody, and now you prove it! Ta.

All of human life is there, innit?

Anonymous said...

Ah, life in the Metropolis! --vanilla

Leenie said...

MN Homeless must be a tough bunch to survive those winters. Hope there are some warm shelters for them. Why not shopping carts? Yes, and I thought cars always squealed their tires on dirt roads.

Pearl said...

Am trying to save my fingers (still have a little one taped to its neighbor) but THANKS, JULES! and yes, the MN homeless are a hearty breed but I suspect that many of them head south for the winter and then return in the spring. Like swallows to Capistrano. :-)

Glen said...

I might stop showering myself if random women are going to approach me on the bus and offer to bathe me!

Simply Suthern said...

Ya dont have to be homeless to stink.

jenny_o said...

Sad. Very sad.

Pat said...

One hopes the open air acts as a deodorant and the lack of hot water seals in the smells. I'm sure it bothers us more than it does the unwashed.
I'm sorry if you have to get up close and I'm sorry if they have to choose to live like this.

Cake Betch said...

I think that perhaps the homeless with shopping carts are all about proximity to a grocery or convenience store, not social status.
We live close to a handful of small stores and grocery stores that have shopping carts and I see bums in the ally and walking down the road with them all the time. Obviously they can't get their carts onto the bus, and if they leave them some other enterprising homeless person will take their cart, so they're grounded to one area after they land themselves a cart.
Also, who HASN'T pooped their pants on the bus? It's practically prime territory for that.

Douglas said...

Tis better to deal with a stinky homeless person on the bus than a co-worker who smells like one.

Ron said...

Yup...being a city dweller myself, I know exactly what you're talking about when it comes to the smells that eminate during the summer months. And not only with the homeless, but also with those urbanites who don't wear deodorant.

The thing that gets me the most, is the smell urine on the streets - OMG!!!!

"Summer’s in the air; and not all of it smells like flowers."

Yup!

mrwriteon said...

What a sad tale, truly. I couldn't imagine being chronically unclean. That, along with all the other distress of being homeless. As for being incontinent on the bus, riding on the bus sometimes makes me want to poop my pants such is my displeasure with the conveyance, but I've always refrained.

Joyful Things said...

Can you imagine not being able to clean yourself or your clothes? I know that some homeless like to be that way but I am sure most do not. It is sad for sure and I feel really helpless when I see it.

Eva Gallant said...

What a picture you paint with your words! We see and smell the homeless all at once. It is a sad portrait.

Sandra said...

As usual, great thought provoking post Pearl. It does make one wonder: what do homeless people think about? We spend so much of our day planning for the next meal, the next event, the next outfit to buy. Sort of puts that one thing we can't get into perspective.

Crystal Pistol said...

My sister (who was raised in a custom mansion on Tucson's east side) recently dated a homeless man. She found him magical and free-spirited. She dumpster-dived with him. Accepted the gifts he found her from back alleys as well as she would have accepted a diamond tennis bracelet. Her man rode about on a bicycle.

She admitted the smell left something to be desired.

I have to admit that although my parents wanted to die of shame as a result of my sister's unconventional taste in men I was sorta proud of her. Not everyone can overlook such blatant disregard for societal norms...such as soap and toothpaste...

Susan in the Boonies said...

Your post makes me sad.

Can I have a hug?

I showered!

Daisy said...

A sad post. I wonder about a society that can't provide basic needs for the most vulnerable among us. And realize that most of us could be toppled onto the street in a very short time.

Antares Cryptos said...

We marginalize them and it saddens me. No one "chooses" to live like that. I saw a homeless person the other day whom I recognized, because he sits in the park and feeds the birds.

All I could think was how thin he looks in summer clothes.

injaynesworld said...

So glad I was able to steal a few moments from the pile of work to do on my desk to pop over and read today's post. It's absolutely wonderful. You capture a character and environment so thoroughly. I love this piece. Sorry I've been absent for a week. I'll try to do better because I'm a huge fan and it's always a delight to stop by.

billy pilgrim said...

i pass by people sleeping on the street on my way to work and it is truly sad. usually a head sticking out of a sleeping bag with a ball cap nearby containing a few coins and the ever present shopping cart parked against the wall.

Clipped Wings said...

Good post, and the title is perfect.

Julia said...

yummm nothing like thawed out hobo's. Its sad and there should be so many more resources. But I know just the smell you are talking about... this is why I drive everywhere and why my ass is two sizes too big!

Mamma has spoken said...

I don't see many homeless here in the burbs. However when I was in Anchorage I saw an old couple asleep on the sidewalk. Broke my heart knowing that that's the only place they had to sleep.
Public transit, I have to say I haven't had to ride on that since college....

That Janie Girl said...

We have few homeless that I see. I know we have them, they are here in our town, but rarely do I see them. I guess they stay in the downtown area. And we have few methods of public transport.

When I do see a homeless person, it breaks my heart. I don't really know what to do.

Lazarus said...

Pearl, you should be the official spokesmodel for the Minneapolis bus system, you get more enjoyment out of that mode of transportation than anyone! (and, be honesty, you love it!!) Ralph Kramden is smiling down on you from above...

kal said...

I don't understand that whole smelly thing. Doesn't everyone enjoy a nice tub like I do? I simply could not get through my week without a nice tub at least every three days.

HermanTurnip said...

Come now, that's being a bit unfair. He's staying *ahead* of the curve. Why, in certain foreign countries his stench would be the talk of the town. High ranking dignitaries would flock to his side to ingest the intoxicating aroma which seeps from the depths of his unsightly pores. Movie stars and celebrated authors would desperately cling to his coattails for just a whiff of his exotic stench. This man is an unrecognized genius, worthy of respect from heathens such as ourselves...

...or you could sit behind him next time and covertly spray perfume on the back of his head. Either way, I'm just sayin'...

Belle said...

I remember once when my husband finally got a job and we only had a few dollars. He wouldn't get paid for two or three weeks. We had no home, my kids were visiting their father for a month. We slept in the car, we had to wash ourselves in gas station bathrooms and hope not to get caught. Hubby finally talked a motel into waiting for payment and they let us live there. But we still had no money for food - we had fifty cents left and I remember looking at the dumpster at Safeway knowing I would actually not mind that much getting some food out of it. When you are hungry and desperate your mind kinda changes. But that day my hubby asked for an advance on his check and they gave it to him. We didn't have to dumpster dive, but we would have.

River said...

I remember that smell. Standing at a checkout, serving them with the one can of baked beans and a packet of cigarettes, unable to step away, trying to breathe as shallowly as possible. There doesn't seem to be as many of them around here anymore.

the walking man said...

If the cops are pricks they take the shopping carts away because they cost the store they are from $200 bucks. And yes a homeless guy is aware of how they look and smell but when no one will let you into a bathroom to wash, I suppose there is the river but it has an undertow that may take more than your bar of ivory away.

sounds to me your city needs a few more shelters but your ex governor made that damn near impossible with the debt his dumb forget his ignorant ass pompous self left behind.

Hutch said...

Whoa - thanks for a wonderful post and what a commentary on our world. We were homeless once, but my sister took us in, we lived in her basement and it was nicer than the house we had owned. We pastored a church once that housed the homeless on the weekend - I was always fighting with the vestry to try to get them to put in showers and washers and dryers. They really only wanted to provide them a meal and a sleeping place where they came in the dark and left before light and no one really had to interact with them. We always had dinner with them on Saturday night and the Concubine would offer prayer, etc. Sigh. This is a hard world - we are required to help one another.

Jhon Baker said...

Last line is perfect. good read!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

There is a certain stale sourness that assaults one in close quarters. If it's any consolation, a person reaches peak stench and it doesn't get ANY worse after 32 days according to Mary Roach's research in "Packing for Mars." Yeah, the fun trivial crap I can remember.

Audubon Ron said...

Do you suppose we can ever go back to calling them hobos? My brother was homeless most of his life. He loved living in parks.

I asked a hobo if he had a cigarette. He yelled at me, "You tell me, DO I GOT A CIGARETTE!"