A Conversation with an After Taste

I always smile and acknowledge people on the street–which gets me in trouble when walking past a homeless person because I am usually asked for money. And in Los Angeles, with 51,000 homeless people JUST in the city, (considered the homeless capital of the USA) the opportunity for that to happen is literally on almost every street corner. I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called: Lost Angels: Skid Row is My Home and it was particularly eye opening, and a lot of times shocking, when seeing what the city does (and does not do) to help the homeless. Like, criminalizing them in order to throw them in jail to get them off of the streets. Would you rather be free and destitute or fed and a prisoner? I think free and destitute would be my choice and the choice of many of the people they incarcerate.

I don’t mind when I am asked for money because when I refuse, the person I am speaking with often lets it go. BUT, that wasn’t the case today.

Today,  this conversation rubbed me the wrong way:

Homeless Man (in an incredibly bold voice): Care to make a contribution?

Me: [Not wanting to ignore a fellow human being but obviously in a rush, I responded without stopping] I’m sorry, but I don’t carry cash [totally the truth and I keep walking].

Man: Well could you go into Chipotle and charge me some food?

Me: [Chipotle isn’t really in the end of the month budget for me. Did he really just ask me to go into debt for him? I stop anyway, which was a mistake–guilt does that to my better judgement] Umm…what would you have?

Man: [Takes out a single cigarette and rolls it atop a fresh package of Camels] I’ll have a vegetarian burrito with black beans, pico de gallo, lett–

Me: Uh, I don’t have that much money and I’m in a bit of a rush.

Man: [Raising his voice skeptically] A burrito is only $6!

Me: [Awkwardly] I’m sorry.

I’m not sure if it’s sticking with me out of indignation that his cigarettes cost more than the burrito (although, someone could have purchased them for him), guilt from a lost opportunity to appease my moral obligation to help others, etc.

Or maybe it was the fact that he assumed I could afford his Chipotle burrito when there were other, less expensive, places in the area. Yes, I am clean and my jeans, t-shirt, and sandals are in good condition, but that doesn’t scream “money bags” to me.

I am of limited means to begin with and I obviously can’t help every time someone asks me for money/food–so how do I decide who is worthy of my attention and funds? This person didn’t have the usual piles of personal items stacked around him like most here do. That doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from being homeless, but how could I be sure he was? After all, I am under the assumption that he is, in fact, homeless. However,  Homeless Fraud is a real life thing, you guys.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one–leave them in the comments, please!

Skid Row. Photo Credit | Blogdowntown.com

Strange Encounters LA: Starbucks Bathroom Brawl

I think everyone can agree that mental healthcare in this country, heck this WORLD, isn’t where it really should be. We can rightfully assume this is because mental health hasn’t been at the forefront of American concerns over the last 100 years. It’s only now starting to morph into it’s own cause with more research, awareness, and understanding.

The following post isn’t at all meant to be incendiary; that being said, I’m going to approach this with humor (shocker) in the hopes that my readers will chill the freak out and not badger me with claims of insensitivity.

It all started when I walked into one of my two neighborhood Starbucks Coffeehouses (both are always packed, not unsurprisingly). This one is at the corner of a very well-known intersection and usually has a line stretching to the door at any given hour of the day. Its location may be ideal for some, but I personally despise it. It’s statistically impossible for me to secure a table most times I go–since I work from home often, it’s easier to focus in public without Netflix nagging me (I purposefully leave my headphones at home).

This morning, though, I walked in to one of the most beautiful sights to appear before my eyes in what could be my entire life.

HYPERBOLE!

Shining forth in the glinting sunbeams of our Solar System’s own star was a table situated in front of a gloriously large window with an electrical outlet right beside it.

An ELECTRICAL OUTLET, PEOPLE.

Do you know how prime a table like this is?! You’re more likely to successfully fish a needle out of a 50 foot haystack. While wearing a blindfold. In the snow.

Naturally, I screamed loud enough to rattle the windows and attracted more than a couple of stares from other patrons (just kidding, no screaming, at least not audibly).

I placed a book on the table to reserve my spot, ordered my white mocha and pumpkin bread, and returned to my table where I took a good ten minutes to unpack my gear and settle into what I thought would be my home for the next few hours. This ritual is not unlike that of a dog circling it’s bed 1000 times to make sure it’s just right before they plop down and begin to drool in a happy slumber.

I enabled the internet connection and had just started to respond to some pressing emails (like my subscription to mommy blogs, LEGO rewards points, etc) when she walked in.

Mussed hair, angry expression, 3 coats including a very large parka, and 4 different bags including one on wheels. She was either about to set sail on a cruise to the Arctic, or she was homeless.

She pushed her way through the crowded store and into the bathroom. Did I mention that my table was the one closest to the Whizz Palace (thank you, Leslie Knope, for that endearing moniker for the toilet room).

She brushed past me on her way in, whacking me with her coat, which I ignored because it was probably a mistake. Right?

Not 5 seconds later, I jump out of my skin when I hear this woman absolutely lambasting someone in the restroom.

That’s rude, I thought. She probably doesn’t even know the other person in there.

And then…I realized it wasn’t that kind of bathroom.

photo-8

This was a “one person at a time” bathroom and unless she had someone hiding in that suitcase, she was yelling at herself. Loudly.

At such a volume that everyone in the store began staring at each other with a look of “well this is AWKWARD” plastered all over their faces. Eventually, the people nearest the commotion settled their eyes on me as I was the one closest to the door.

Here’s where my life froze for 10 seconds. On the one hand, she could just be an unstable lady that yells at herself and causes no harm to anyone. On the flip-side, she could be an unstable serial killer, pumping herself up in the mirror to kill everyone enjoying a hot beverage in the waiting area with yours truly being the first one to knock off.

“Stop it,” my brain commanded, “she’s not going to kill you. Or is she?!”

I got up, calmly walked over to the baristas and let them know, “Hey, there’s some lady in the bathroom that doesn’t seem to be ‘all there’ yelling at herself.”

“Oh goodness,” a particularly mellow baristo (is that the male form of that position?) casually said while the girl standing next to him followed me back to the bathroom. She put her ear to the door to confirm that the lady was indeed inside and was almost blasted backward with the force of the noise from the woman holding herself captive in the bathroom. She knocked (not sure that was the best move) and received nothing in response.

“Well, we called the cops” came the Mellow Man, and each of them walked back to do their jobs. He paused for a moment, looking at me from over his shoulder and said, “you might want to move, just in case she comes out.”

It took me about 5 seconds to move all of my junk and settle into a table on the far side of the room–no ritual this time.

5 minutes later, the cops still weren’t there and the woman walked out of the bathroom, muttering loudly, and made her way to the bus stop. She boarded a bus without paying some 10 minutes later. I’m not sure if the authorities were called off, but they never did show up.

In retrospect it was kind of funny that I ran the entire gamut of emotions in that 15 minutes that woman was in the store. In the moment, though, I was genuinely afraid for my life as were the other people in the store (judging by some of the looks on their faces).

Why is this woman wandering Los Angeles by herself? Where is her family, and what can be done to help her?

I think the sad answer is ‘nothing’ which kind of put a damper to the Holiday music streaming from the speakers.

Just another reminder to be thankful for everything I have–most especially my friends, family, and sanity.