Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Jack Pack

The nearby Jack in the Box is a locus of traffic for local tramps. Every morning and evening I see up to half a dozen in there: munching on value menu items and sipping on coffee, reading, waiting to use one of the bathrooms, or just loitering for a bit to rest tired feet, gather the morning's addled wits, duck out of the rain, or formulate or reassess plans. For some reason, the Council of Elrond comes to mind whenever I think about it, even though that was a much more sober gathering. It's nice to have access to such a place, especially one that's closed for only five hours a day and which sells two tacos for a dollar. Management and employee reception is warmer and they're more lenient toward facility use than the handful of McDonald's are downtown — not to mention the old Carl's Junior was that went so far as to remove bathroom stall doors to discourage IV drug use. Don't get me wrong; I completely understand a fast food restaurant manager getting sick of legions of the more egregiously disgraceful and disagreeable bums repeatedly trashing the bathrooms, making the more domesticated and monied customers uncomfortable in the lobby, and aggressively panhandling outside the business doors. I suppose what this treatment really indicates is how much better the street scene is in the Northwest neighborhood than in downtown. Perhaps I ought to introduce some of my fellow Jack Pack members to you:

  • K—
    This is the guy at the Friendly House who drives me crazy with his obsession with the corruption of city hall and the police, sex offenders, and contempt for "yuppies". While we generally get along with each other and I agree with many of his views, I get sick of incessant negativity streaming out of the mouth of a person who refuses to acknowledge obvious lack of listener interest and prattles on when it would have been more considerate to get the hint and zip it. Ah, well: we homeless are all socially challenged in one way or another.
  • D—
    A former Maginot resident who has managed to successfully kick a heroin habit (thanks to methadone) and is also trying to get a grip what may be an alcohol problem emerging to replace the old drug habit, and with the help of Antabuse seems to be doing pretty well at that. He's the guy I chased the Midnight Creeper into Crack Town with in an attempt to recover his stolen backpack. A smart, funny, guy who walks with a limp and speaks with a sort of nasally East Coast-sounding drawl. He camps with a friend who is also one of the more upstanding members of the local bum community.
  • G—
    This guy's lived in the Northwest neighborhood FOREVER, or at least for the fourteen years I've lived in this town this time around. A quiet guy who keeps mostly to himself, all I've ever seen him do is push a shopping cart full of bottles and cans and drink malt liquor all day. I think he's a Vietnam vet, but I'm not sure; he's certainly old enough to be one. A good, generous guy to run into when you're out of smokes or feel like drinking with someone who is more mellow than the average street drunk.
  • S—
    This is the guy who used to stay around the corner from me when I was beneath the freeway and kitty-corner to the disbanded Maginot shopping-cart Compound. Also the guy I saw pull a bat out on someone once in a nearby meal line and sock his girl in the face one morning down in Crack Town, it's obvious he has serious anger issues and has probably had a REALLY rough life. Still, he doesn't do any serious drugs and hardly ever drinks, and is industrious, responsible, and looks out for his neighbors. His girlfriend is almost a Silent Bob to his more subdued interpretation of Jay.

Sitting in the lobby of Jack in the Box last night, chatting up all the above people while munching on cheap tacos drenched in Chipotle Tabasco® sauce, brought home to me a recent realization that the poor comprise more colorful communities than those in your average suburban enclave or hill-cresting ziggurat. Is it that security and comfort, and having settled early on into a predictable and monotonous lifestyle trajectory, makes for cookie-cutter personalities and social modalities? I suppose, but I've met a few bland drones who lived much more exciting lives than I ever conceivably could. It may have more to do with the fact that there's a lot of troubled and unstable people who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences, whereas along the cul de sacs and in the gated communities you find yourself where birds of a feather (truly) flock together and among those who have embraced the status quo. Put simply, we tend toward hard-headed independence or outright rebelliousness, are generally more screwed up, and the petri dish wherein we eke out our squalid lives gets shaken up too much to settle into a state of fractured homogeneity. While it makes for some interesting characters and conversations, it also makes for a lot of contention.

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