Knock, knock

Between my bus to downtown and my bus from downtown five days a week, I walk down a hill near Seattle's skid row, where there are several art galleries between the homeless shelters. For two blocks, there's basically nothing but shelters and art galleries.

Seems an odd pairing, but I never gave it much thought until one afternoon when I'd missed my bus, and stayed downtown a little later than usual. One of the galleries was holding an exhibition, and it was a scene from some sad documentary — limousines pulling up, men in tuxedos and women wearing fine gowns and high heels strolling into the gallery, where there would doubtless be champagne and caviar, while out on the sidewalk, a squalor of bums, drunks, and out-of-luckers stood and talked and watched.

The next morning, walking again to my bus stop, I noticed something else: at the biggest gallery, a sign is posted on each of three locked doors on the side of the building. Each sign says, "Please find somewhere else to smoke."

You can easily imagine the gallery's problem: Homeless people stand there and smoke, and the fumes come in and sully the art experience. You could even argue that the signs are kinder than the ordinary, "No smoking." After all, it says "Please."

Still…  It's a public sidewalk, and people smoke on the sidewalk. Bums are people, so they smoke on the sidewalk.

It's rude to smoke at a doorway, yes, but those doors are never not locked. The gallery's only entrance is around the corner. Philosophically, are doors still doors if they're always locked, and no-one ever walks through them?

Maybe I'm nuts, probably I'm nuts, but when I walk by those doors that aren't doors, which is every morning and most afternoons, the signs seem rude to me. So I knock.

I knock loudly, rap rap, every time. I don't break stride, don't wait for an answer, but passing each locked door, I knock, hard as I can. Hard enough it pains my knuckles. If there's anyone inside, they know someone's knocking.

That's a long set-up for this short vignette.

Nobody'd noticed me knocking on those ex-doors, until one morning last week, when someone laughed after I'd knocked on the second not-a-door. After I'd knocked on the third, more laughter, and, "Oh, that's perfect," someone yelled.

A bus struggled up the hill, blocking my view across the street, but when the bus had passed I saw an old homeless guy on the sidewalk, still laughing.

"That was good," he said, and still I only suspected he was talking to me, until he pointed, and waved, and shouted, "So good, man!"

I waved back, laughed, and took a bow, but my bus was coming in three minutes and I had a block to walk to catch it, so I didn't say anything. 

Haven't seen him again, but I think of that bum every morning and most afternoons, when I'm knocking on the gallery's former doors.



  1. Your tale of rich v poor reminds me of a song I wrote some 25+ years ago called All Well and Good. (As in "whenever I perish from the this world is all well and good.")

    There are pictures of ladies dancing
    Diamonds in their eyes
    Their happiness depends
    On making people like us cry

    They give us a little bread
    I say knife them in the heart
    It's not taking back the world
    But it's a start

    thank you for indulging me -- Arden

    1. I like it, and I would indulge you further, if you'd like to post a link to a recording of the song, or pop by my place and serenade me.


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