A little tipsy but no trouble

I don't talk much at work, at home, or even at breakfast with my family. I'm an introvert. Talking is difficult, and drains my energy.

Weirdly, though, I like talking with homeless people, and you know why? They're never going to say, "Nice weather we've been having lately." If there's a conversation, it might be poignant, might be nuts, but it won't be ordinary and it won't be dull.

Sometimes I even start the conversation. I recommend it. Just say, "Hey mister, how are you doin'?" to a homeless man, and you're probably the first non-homeless person who's said anything kind to him all day.

On Thursday I talked with a homeless guy for about ten minutes, but I didn't start the conversation. I'd just arrived at the Bukowski Bus Stop, in the heart of Seattle's skid row, and a twenty-something black man was sitting on the sidewalk, his back to the building, next to the the dumpster, behind one of the homeless shelters.

I stood at my usual spot, leaning on a lamppost, facing the oncoming buses so's I could see when mine peaks over the hill and comes bopping down the tremendously patchy potholed avenue to the stop.

"Do you have any rooms upstairs?" the man asked after I'd been leaning for a bit.

Was he talking to me? "Say what?" I said.

"Rooms, upstairs? I don't do well in the barracks."

Ah — I was wearing my plasticized work ID on a lanyard around my neck, and I'd been writing something in my notebook, the hardcover tablet I scribble into whenever there's a thought that might be worth writing about later. Lanyard + notebook + old man dressed sloppy = he thought I was on staff at one of the shelters.

"Nah, man, I'm just waiting for a bus — though if there's a room upstairs, I might be interested. I'm looking to live downtown."

"You're not homeless," he said, sizing me up the same as I'd sized him up as homeless, and we were both right. 

"Not at the moment," I said, "but tomorrow is another day. It could happen to anyone."

At that he nodded, and then launched into a story, starting with "so," as if I'd asked.

"So, it started with a warning at the airport," he said. "They gave me a written warning and took my photo and said to move along, but I didn't get outta there quick enough. Like twenty minutes later another cop came along, and he had my picture on his tablet thing, so he arrested me and took me to jail."

"Just for being at the airport?" I asked. "You didn't do anything else?"

"Eh, I was a little tipsy but I wasn't trouble. It wasn't the first time they'd warned me, but it was the first time they'd warned me that day, and fuck, I can't teleport away. Give me some time to be gone — oh, what time is it?"

I picked up my bag, wristwatch dangling from the side of it, and said, "4:58."

"Gotta get in line," he said, and stood up. 

"The shelter opens at 5?" 

"Yup. See you in a minute, probably. There usually aren't any beds," and he walked to the corner, where a dozen worn-out-looking men were already milling about.

I went back to looking for buses, because mine was due any minute. The #99 is always five minutes late, though. You can set your clock by it. I was still leaning on the pole when the homeless guy came back.

"Nothing left, as usual," he said, and we talked for a few more minutes until my bus rattled down Pothole Avenue. "Jail wasn't bad," he told me. "The guards weren't assholes, and the food was better than we get at the shelter. And nobody preached at us."

"Yeah, I'll bet there's a lot of preaching in that place," I said, pointing at the Sacred Scripture Shelter behind us.

"Nothing but," he said, "and the last few times they've let me in, the TV wasn't working. That's why the barracks ain't for me — passing the whole night with a room full of homeless men, fuck that. You ever talk to homeless people?"

I held my arms out and smiled, answering his question, and he smiled back. 

Then my bus was there, and I said, "Good luck, man," and he said thanks and waved as I climbed on. Standing room only on the bus, I grabbed a pole and watched, as the guy I'd been talking with slouched down on the sidewalk again, his back to the building, next to the the dumpster.

We hadn't traded names or anything, but I thought about him for several blocks on my ride home.

He hadn't been tipsy when we were talking, and also he wasn't trouble. He'd never asked for money, didn't seem even slightly dangerous, and he was at least as coherent as me.

My guess, from the way he said "a little tipsy," is that he's an ordinary guy with bottle vulnerability, but young enough that the real damage hasn't hit him yet. Check back in ten years.

He was totally sober on Thursday, though. Just a decent guy, down on his luck, with no place to stay. One of thousands in this city.



  1. "The #99 is always five minutes late, though. You can set your clock by it."

    I was away for a while because of life, but for lines like that I''ll always come back.

    1. Glad you're back.

      And the 5:00 #99 *is* always five minutes late. Just the facts, ma'am.


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