Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Let's Ride Ride How We Ride

The rain has finally let up, except for some lackluster midnight drizzle earlier. It even looks like we may see a few more days of mostly dry weather, but of course you never know. Sure, April showers bring May flowers; but it gets old, scrambling under cover every time the clouds darken and the wind grows skittish, to wrap a rainfly over your backpack to prevent your sleeping bag from getting soaked, as does smelling faintly like moldy bathroom tiles from the dampness that even days spent in the local library can't dry out. Alas, I won't be sunbathing in Speedos™ — I've work to do. I've been canning for the past couple days to pay for another month's locker use and to improve my overnight shelter by making it more modular and lightweight — I'm working on a two-tarp lean-to design, since a quality free-standing two-man tent would cost me around a hundred dollars and be a bit more conspicuous than I care for.

If you want to get by on the streets suffering a minimal amount of police harassment you want as small a "bumprint" as possible. After all, not even the liberals who advocate for increased social welfare spending want any of us around. The cops were buzzing all over my neighborhood Sunday and yesterday while canning downtown I saw cops rousting panhandlers, both of which presage the coming of the sweeps that begin before the tourist and festival seasons enter into full-swing. As I'm writing this down (in my composition book) I'm looking across the street at a line of shopping carts draped in tarps — around eighteen of them — standing glum sentry like a Maginot line of dereliction. And it's only April! Exactly the kind of "bumprint" you want to avoid leaving unless you enjoy being ushered from one crack in the edifice of society to the next. These guys are a lightning rod for citizen scorn and Johnny Law's ire; a morning jogger trotting past may wonder if that's where her car stereo ended up that morning she started her commute to work staring incredulously at the passenger window shimmering all over the sidewalk ... and, if I'm around when it all goes down, I'm just another miscreant.

Which brings us to a fundamental social dichotomy of homelessness: some of us "camp" whereas others of us "nest" (I prefer to call it "bumsteading"). Bumsteaders hunker down in semi-permanent villages of shopping carts and tents, usually almost buried in piles of junk reminiscent of the old Road Warrior movies. Not me: I pin my GoreTex™ coffin motel up to a chain-link fence with carabiners and rope to sleep in at night and am gone by 7:30 AM every morning, packing everything out with me and picking up whatever rubbish I may have left the night before. I may not tread as softly as a cat or lose myself instantly in grass like a snake, but I certainly can at least do things like bathe, launder my clothing, and not piss myself passed out drunk in a doorway alongside a busy street! In other words, it's both practical and dignified to act like a human being even when diminished to life as an urban coyote. I don't even see how bumsteaders go about their business during the day without grinding their teeth in anxiety over their abandoned belongings. I suppose if it looks like a pile of junk, they figure it's unlikely even a fellow tramp would steal any of it.

To be fair, though, slovenly hoarding isn't a monopoly of street people; how many people have we all known who refused to clean their cats' litter boxes even after the cats refused to use the damn thing, or who left their sinks full of dirty dishes for weeks at a time, or whose garages were a fire marshal's incendiary nightmare? It's just more noticeable when packrats and slobs live out in the open; like urinating in public or domestic disputes on a bus. Besides, while I may be predisposed toward the reticent, tidy, and Spartan, in another life I could very easily have become another two-legged draft horse in a Burnside Cadillac convoy.

I dedicate the embedded video to the assholes in blue who like to take their insecure masculinity out on those of us who can't buy off judges with slick lawyers.

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