Homeless Jones

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

san francisco

Yesterday I was walking home from the hardware store when I noticed a dude sitting on the path in the public garden behind the library next to my house. He was clearly homeless (or at least down on his luck) and seemed to be intently working on something with his hands. Then I saw him tie a rubber strap around his arm.

When I moved in here, the previous owners warned me that homeless folks often camped out in that garden, and that people sometimes did drugs in that garden. I had seen some of the needle refuse myself. But I figured all of that was just a part of big city living and it didn’t really bother me. The previous owners had a young daughter and were clearly more concerned about it.

About a year later, the library erected a large iron gate around the entire garden with large spikes. The library staff gate locked the gate at night, and the homeless were forced to move their encampments elsewhere.

But here it was early afternoon, the gate was open, and this dude was about to shoot up something right in front of me. I was kind of frozen in my tracks, fascinated, watching him thump his arm just below the wrist, trying to bring out a vein.

I positioned myself in such a way that I could see him through the gate, but if I took one step to my left, I would be hidden by the house. From that vantage point I watched as he went about his business.

Then it occurred to me that he was sitting just below the windows in my living room that look out over the garden. I had been fixing the blinds in those windows all morning, so I went inside and stepped up on the stepladder which was still standing near them.

The bottom half of those windows is frosted, so again I peeked just over the frosting so that I could see him clearly, but could quickly duck out of sight should his eyes meet mine.

He had a needle of brown liquid, which I presumed to be heroin, and I watched, simultaneously mesmerized and a little disgusted, as he tapped the needle and then stuck it into his forearm. I wasn’t disgusted at him for doing drugs, I was just a little uneasy at the sight of a needle going into someone’s arm. But I couldn’t stop watching.

Here I started to feel a new sort of queasiness. From the start of course I felt bad for the guy, but now I started to feel a little worse for invading his “privacy” in this way. As he finished with the needle, I expected (somewhat naively perhaps) that he would fall back into the grass in a rush of ecstasy. But nothing like that happened; his demeanor seemed unchanged. He darted looks left and right, and then I was amazed to see that he had a second needle of brown liquid. There seemed to be something wrong with the needle, so he grabbed another plunger and checked the needle on it, and then squeezed the contents of the faulty needle into the new one. At least I think it was new.

I was fascinated with the mechanics of the process, but I kept worrying that he would look up and see me, so I kept ducking out of sight. He started to stick the second needle into his forearm, but then he stopped and set it down on the curb next to him and started to remove his shirt. His torso was pathetically scrawny, and I felt a new rush of guilt for spying on him. Then, with his shirt half off, and his arm awkwardly twisted behind his back, he looked right up at me.

I quickly ducked behind the frosted window and then climbed down off the ladder. I felt bad, bad, bad – bad for watching him for so long, bad for owning a house, bad for not being able to help him. All that socialist shit.

Even so, I had to know if he had really seen me, so I went around to the back of the house, where there is a small storage room with windows that also look on to the library garden. I cracked the door of the room enough to see that he was still there. I watched for a few more seconds, and then closed the door and went inside. I paced around a bit, unsure of what to do with myself. Then, I climbed up on the stepladder again and looked out the livingroom window, but he was gone.

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