Not drunk, not disorderly, just ... lost

If you're a normal person, you wouldn't know about life in an SRO building, so I'll tell ya. SRO = single-room occupancy. Fifty years ago this was cheap but respectable housing for working-class people. Now it's a hobo hotel, run by someone named Patel. He makes an effort to keep the place livable, so the halls get vacuumed, the toilets get plungered when they're clogged, but the last major repairs were probably done before I was born. It's lowlife living.

Some of the people in my building are poor, like me, here for the cheap rent. Some are alcoholics or addicts, and they'd be homeless if this hotel closed. Some are mentally ill. That's not an insult, just a fact.

There's a mumbling man who lives on my floor — a white guy, maybe 50, always wearing filthy clothes, hurricane hair that's never combed. He's mentally ill or not-all-there. It's his natural state, I think, not alcohol or drug-induced. Not that I'm an expert, of course, but I think I can see the difference between booze and bonkers.

I only see this disheveled mumbling gentleman in the lobby or in the hallway, or when we both happen to be coming or going or in the men's room down the hall. He mumbles to himself, and only a fraction of his words ever make sense to me, and tell me I'm awful but I don't pay any attention to him. You can grow accustomed to anything, I guess. I notice him about as much as you'd notice the same wallpaper as yesterday and the year before. He's just there, that's all.

Today, though, he was sitting on the carpet outside the door to his room, and mumbling to himself. Always he mumbles, but never before have I seen him sitting on the floor.

"Are you locked out?" I said in my gentlest voice, like when you're speaking to a dog but not sure whether it's tame or vicious. He didn't look at me, just kept mumbling. I noticed a puddle under his pants.

I was unsure what to do. The front desk is staffed from 10AM-6PM, but it was already after 6, and anyway, I was on my way out. Calling 9-1-1 would bring the police, and police are the worst possible way to handle a head-case. Even the mellowest head-case, cops would arrest him, ruin his night and maybe beat him up — and I'm not sure he's the mellowest head-case. He looks fairly rugged.

Instead I slipped a note through the dropbox at the front desk, on my way out of the building. "The mumbly guy in room 306 might be locked out. He's sitting on the floor in front of his door."

Having done what I could do, I rode the subway to the Castro Station, and (super-swanky!) there were seats available on the train, so I didn't have to be a strap-hanger. A seat on the subway happens so rarely that I was looking around for my butler, Jeeves.

At Walgreens I bought some candy, and at the Castro I bought a ticket and some popcorn. Great popcorn. Not so great movie. Highbrow animation from the 1940s called Tale of the Fox, never distributed in America, and it got a rave review in The Chronicle so there I was at the movies. Maybe blame my mood or maybe I'm not highbrow enough, but it bored me to a stupor.

When I returned to the hotel, my neighbor was still sitting and mumbling on the threadbare carpet in the hallway, outside his door. "Are you locked out?" I asked him again. He mumbled, the same indecipherable non-words as before I'd asked. I tried twisting his doorknob, but it was locked, wouldn't turn.

I looked at the poor sap, felt sorry for him, thought about asking him again, "Are you locked out?" But, (a) I've already asked and my question's not getting through to him, and (b) what am I gonna do if he actually answers? I'm not inviting him into my room. Hell, no.

So I walked away. 306 isn't mumbling loud enough to keep anyone awake, and he's not hurting himself or anyone else. I entered my room, closed the door, and left him to sit in his urine overnight. It ain't pleasant but it's not my problem. That's life in the big city. I'm not my brother's keeper, and he's not my brother.

It still bothers me, though.

Is there something more I should do? Send a post card if you have any suggestions, but meanwhile … sweet dreams, mumbly guy outside of room 306. I hope you get a good night's sleep in the hallway.

From Pathetic Life #2
Friday, July 8, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


Pathetic Life 

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