A Nest of Urban Vignettes
Machines break down and stop. People break down and somehow keep going. Machines are all about function and efficiency. People are for creativity, making messes, and love.
Chaos was silent. No blaring horns from cars around me. No one reads beyond the edges of their digital screens any more. Finally stopped wondering how people sitting in cars behind me might respond or react to my bumper stickers. Nope. They’re too busy merging with their, ahem, “mobile devices” as they herd themselves into the Internet of Things. At every stop during the last few days all across the City of Seattle I’d see heads bow down and fones rise up in the postmodern autonomic digital prayers of the unconscious. Can’t even get a HONK! Not even one faint li’l bitty ol’ frickin’ honk. Then, BOOM BOOM CHOP! I had to put my 16-year old blue car in the repair shop up north on the Greenwood side of Aurora Avenue, and I met real people out on the streets in the everyday circus of madness and bliss.
She sat hunched over in the woodchips alongside the sidewalk in the shade of Gold’s Gym under a row of leafy trees with her face kinked between folded arms and knees. Her body was so scrawny the spinous processes of her lumbar and thoracic vertebrae poked out like those strange fins on a stegosaurus’s back called scutes or dinosaur dermal plates. They arched over with her spine in such a way I could almost feel the connection to her reptilian brain, but, hey, she’s a mammal, a hominin like me. We’re hominins in America. Hominins in America! The United States was and is still a quasi-fascist, pseudo-democratic oligarchy masquerading as a constitutional capitalist killer clown republic, Barack Obama was POTUS, and the Dem-Rep Duopoly self-gridlocked. Global Climate Disruption worsened, and the Great Global Depression wasn’t over at all for millions and millions of unemployed and underemployed lost people like us. She sat. I walked. She smoked. I judged. She despaired, and so did I.
A red suitcase lay loosely shut with clothes hanging out next to her. She smoked a cigarette somewhere down there under crossed arms, I could smell its acrid, stale heat, but I couldn’t see her face. I could see the crack of her ass between her shirt and her shorts. She was a young White woman with brownish, straw blond hair and all skinny and boney and all alone. I felt huge sadness and empathy. Oh, she was so alone in this world! I felt her energy as I strode around her towards the Gym. Without even trying, I could feel into her dark pool of synaptic fog just by walking by her. She felt sad, hung over, frustrated, desperate, and zonked out depressed. I could feel the ice-cold glitter of pain screwing thru her veins as the yearning for the next fix built up hot under her long sleeves.
I was in a hurry, however, as my car was in the shop, I had errands to do, and I was walking everywhere without any wheels. I wouldn’t take the bus. Nope, no bus today. Gonna walk for exercise. I stopped myself from going over to her, however, and reminded myself I have an old, bad habit of rescuing people. I am not going to rescue anyone anymore, no more drama triangles in life, and so must hold tight to my boundaries. Yes?
Hurried off into the Gym and trained hard with the weights. Slowly regaining my health after a prolonged and strange illness. Came back out after my workout with a long walk ahead of me. There she sat, more sad and desperate then ever, without looking up. She didn’t need to look up. She was primal enough to sense what was happening around her, even if her senses were warped and fragmented by too many of the wrong kind of drugs. I felt her coil without coiling and sensed the dead pulse of mutant killer kundalini. She cranked taunt as locked gears forced apart and popped as automatically defensive as a robot sentinel left behind to guard some long-abandoned ancient fortress. I stopped. She bristled and the image of her lunging at me with a dirty syringe in hand burst into my mind as real as a wild ass grizzly bear rearing up on her hind legs. I shuddered and recalled being homeless myself not all that long ago…and scared.
I quietly acknowledged the fear, both hers and mine, walked on around her and out onto Aurora Avenue, crossed the street, and headed south. Needed to get back home on the other side of Green Lake to finish a project, and then walk all the way into the bottom of Fremont to work with a healer, then trudge all the way from the Ship Canal uphill to pick up my car. Across North Seattle by foot, woo HOO! And I could see Mt. Rainier off in the distance, the downtown skyscrapers of Seattle, and the Space Needle, too!
Felt guilty as Hell afterwards for not at least saying, “Hi.”
I beat my self up for a few minutes, mentally anyway, for not greeting her, a fellow human being, a mirror reflection of some aspect of myself, as we both are of you, facets of the Oneness we all compose. We are all One, and thus must practice accepting, forgiving, and loving those we most loathe. Today, however, my fear, haste, and dark love was as Oneness decomposed.
Walked briskly south down the west side of Aurora Avenue past where I put my car in the shop. Noticed my blue car had been moved into the mechanics’ bay. Crossed the street to the electronic cheep-cheeping of a crosswalk bird. Passed a middle-aged White woman changing clothes between two wrecked cars. I averted my gaze but saw enough to note she was having a time shimmying into too-tighty-tight black tights. I heard her gasp and grunt but not from any embarrassment. She was as confident as Houdini in chains.
Protecting her privacy was an elderly Black man with shaggy silver curls. He leaned on a cane and quickly pivoted somewhat drunkenly towards me as I looked him in the eye with a smile, nodded hello, and kept going. I had a lot to do today, and was in somewhat of a hurry. My feet were as the winged sandals of Hermes!
“How you doin’?” he asked me as he nodded back.
“Doin’ well,” I replied as I stepped around him without a pause.
“Well, how YOU doing?” She chirped out with mirth, her voice as full of sunshine as this beautiful morning sky.
“Doin’ well,” I replied again without even looking back.
Traffic roared by with each car as metal cells around human nuclei.
Damn, I sounded like a zombie. Why was my heart locked up so tight? I resisted the urge to light up a smoke, tho I haven’t touched cigarettes in decades. Cigarettes. Sometimes I can’t stand them. Sometimes I want them. I marched on down the sidewalk and rounded the bend in search of…home…but not a place called home. Then realized I’d passed up the opportunity to just stop and listen. I bet they both had incredible stories to tell. Probably all as much true lies as the art of Southern gossip I was trained in. Damn. Could’ve gifted them with my listening. Instead I hurried on across town on foot from one appointment to another. To stop in the shade of desolate construction to text this vignette. Life opens into the mystery of the next moment. Time itself has no patience in its infinite stillness. Passed an overgrown lot fenced off for future reconstruction. The cluster of dense greenery filtered the air. I stopped next to clustered stalks of golden dandelions and inhaled the sweet air of spring as if starved. Forgot all about stale, acrid cigarette smoke. I move across time as an ant crosses plazas of dirt. Broken concrete shone in the beautiful morning sun.
In the afternoon as I walked back up Aurora Avenue from Lower Fremont to pick up my car, I came upon three teenage girls rambling down the sidewalk ahead of me. One had on shoes. One was barefoot. And the third wore only socks on her feet. The shoed one seemed to desire they all move swiftly, but the barefoot girl and the one wearing dirty socks complained their feet hurt too much to walk so fast. I took it all in without thinking much more than it was a heat wave day with record-breaking temperatures of 89 degrees Fahrenheit in Seattle. That’s August weather in the middle of April! Too hot this early in the Spring. I was already glowing with sunburn. Even so I was contemplating the results of my session in Fremont with an intuitive energy healer. She was a remarkable woman, this healer was, and what arose felt compelling and potentially life changing in a good way.
I noticed the trio ahead of me turn around to look back as if they just now recognized WHAT I am. I popped out of my mental la-la land. They took off scurrying and chattering all at once. Uh-Oh, I thought. I’m a man walking fast and we’re in a section of Aurora with more people in cars than on the sidewalks. They were afraid of me. I felt immense sadness, and I needed to pick up my car and pay the mechanics before they closed the shop for the day.
Eventually I walked around the three adolescent girls in what I hope was as wide a berth as I could give them without going into the street. I smiled and glanced elsewhere. They clumped together as one and I heard a babbling garble of multiple voices making what sounded to me like derogatory and accusatory statements. I couldn’t be sure as I wear hearing aids and cars would whoosh by. But their body language and vocal tones were in synch. “Ew, don’t touch me. I hope he doesn’t touch me,” I thought I heard as I passed them. Then I heard them laugh and giggle as I passed them. What the hell? Oh, well. I’m not going there, but I felt a surge of anger toward the use of false accusations to blame all men and deep sadness as why those three would do so in the first place. Too many of us men are dangerous beasts. I am, however, the father of three daughters, two of them I chose to raise as my own along with my one flesh-and-blood. Ahhh, life in the sunshine. Leaned uphill and raced up the street as quickly as I could walk without running.
Many blocks later I was north of N. 85th Street with buses and cars and trucks and pedestrians and pedestrians with dogs moving and stopping and grinding to a stop and lurching forward to move again and again to stop yet again in the shimmering heat of August in April. Walked briskly across N. 90th Street and kept charging up Aurora Avenue. I felt good. I felt healthy. I felt strong! And sunburned.
A woman dressed in long white pants, white sandals, and a white blouse strutted swiftly down the street in my direction. She had short, wavy black hair. She looked so happy and blissed out and wild-eyed as Hell. She was energetic and exuded erotic bliss and primal joy and didn’t give a druggy rip about anything except having fun. Her smile was authentic and in the moment. Took me by surprise, too. Startled me, she did. Now I was starting to feel paranoid about meeting girls and women on the street.
She marched by me and threw open her arms wide enough to give me a hug. My eyes were momentarily riveted by her tanned cleavage.
“HEY, I REALLY LIKE YOUR HAIR!” she shouted above the clash and roar of rush hour traffic.
She gave me a most inviting look with her eyes, too. They were sparkly and wild and glazed over with a mad clarity in an intoxicating kind of way. I could smell the pull of her horny, take-me-now pheromones. My goodness, all in less than seconds, too. Must be the heat! She laughed, and I felt as Odysseus before the Sirens. I gravitated toward the tall lamp post as if lashed to the mast Odysseus was once bound. Beneath my civilized exterior the beast within me wanted to mount her, to thrust into her flesh, and dominate her until I surrendered into the oblivion of a ferociously wild and sacred fuck. And the beast within was merely a metaphor for me and my divinely primal urges.
“HA HA HA!”
She laughed as loud as a one-person Carnival and barreled down the sidewalk with quick, graceful strides. I muttered some inane nerdy gibberish about “Gotta go pick up my car” and stepped away from her towards the curb and chuckled. She wasn’t moving out of anyone’s way, either.
I acknowledged her energy and the brief synapse of bioelectricity between us, and also declared anew I had no desire whatsoever to act upon such urges. Imagine if we humans were like Bonobos and humped each other multiples times a day all over creation! We’d never get anything done whatsoever except create world peace! With a lower population, too, ironically. I was, however, single-minded with masculine purpose. At least today. I must get to my car! By foot! Before closing time! Nodded, smiled, and pushed forward up the hill.
Even sort of recognized her, the black haired lady in white. She marched as one among the crowd of drifters who live along Aurora Avenue who struggle with hardships of all kinds and struggle just to live. They walked up and down Aurora as I drove to and fro or walked by the Gym windows looking at us exercisers all funny like while we worked out. They’re the kind of ramshackle souls many people disregard as “lost” or addled with drugs and alcohol and abscesses and STDs. Nope. These people out here on the streets know exactly where they are. They know with precise damnation exactly what their demons are. They can make a fist with their heart and punch you with it. They’ll forgive you quicker than God and help you find food to eat. Or kill you deader ’n Hell first and then forgive ya. They know the Dark Side of Love. They are the Dark Side of Love. Strip away the adjectives and they are simply…Love.
Finally I picked up my car. Awesome mechanics. Small family business. Bill came to $686.70. Shit. Almost $700! My 16 years old blue car needed the work, tho. Glad these mechanics were able to repair it all in one day.
“Those new brakes might stink awhile at first,” warned one of the mechanics, an enormous man with a huge, shaven head.
“No problem. I grew up on a farm so I’m used to smelling stinky stuff all the time,” I said. Everyone in the room laughed.
The inside of my car baked me like an oven. I sat inside a few minutes with the windows rolled up. It must’ve been well over a hundred degrees in there. Wow. No wonder people and pets die inside these mobile ovens of death. In a few more minutes, however, I was back on Aurora Avenue in the hellish bliss of life being lived all out moment to moment, driving in stop and go traffic with all my windows rolled down.
Oh God. There she was again. No, not the Houdini in tights lady, but the raven-haired Siren in white. She stood in the shade of a seedy motel with another person on the west side of the street near Aurora/99 and N. 85th. I was stopped in traffic lined up behind a red light. Glanced over again. We made eye contact. I grinned and nodded. Turned back and stared straight ahead. My grip tightened on the rim of the old blue steering wheel.
“HA HA HA!”
What the Hell?
“HA HA HA!”
There she was, the black haired woman in white who said she liked my hair. She squatted with knees wide and balanced upon the balls of her feet. One hand rested on her hips, and her arm was pointed straight out at me with her index finger dialing in to the Kosmic Now for all the world to see. And, my God, was she LOUD!
“HA HA HA!”
The light turned green and I drove away to get to my next meeting. I have no idea what she found so hilarious or why she kept pointing at me and hooting.
“HA HA HA!”
There was no place to hide. Not with such a long red light. She was pointing out something I clearly didn’t want to see. Was it real? Or all the fragmented gibberish of her own imagination? Then the light turned green, and I drove south.
I felt a oneness with all of these crazy people. Been homeless myself. Fell thru the cracks. Just didn’t fall all the way. Held on the edges of the cracks with my fingernails and dug myself up outa what once felt like a certain grave. Just wished I hadn’t felt so much unexpected fear, reminders of how closely I came close to falling all the way, even how close I came to dying.
“Do you really want to go live under a bridge?” my now-ex-then third wife once asked me in 2011 as she wailed in despair during Hard Times as my legs began to fade away into the darkness between edges of cracks beneath the slowly sinking weight of grief and depression. I was too nonfunctional to do anything but hold on to what I could and brace what was left with all the defiance I could muster. My depression had loomed up as a monstrous cobra except my own hands had mutated into giant fangs of venom. My depression turned into a psychic tumor seeking novel ways to kill me. Expending so much energy to hold these neuropsychological demons at bay so I could live, live, LIVE left me too exhausted to do anything but lay curled on the floor still alive. It didn’t matter to her as she was too caught up in her own terrors and dysfunctions. We’d both bent over backwards so much for the other not even the ghost of Houdini could untangle the chains and knots.
“Really, William, do you really want to go live under a fucking bridge? Wait until you hit rock bottom to start digging yourself back out into the sunshine?”
Those words of a disintegrating marriage from several years ago echoed thru the hot roar of August in April as smoke hung heavy with ghosts and phantom limbs in the wake of American Civil War cannon fire.
“Do you really want to go live under a fucking bridge?”
Hell, no. I want to live! LIVE! And I lived, too. And help people HEAL! Working with my healer therapist down in Fremont earlier in the afternoon helped clarify certain matters in my life. We must all find healthy ways to break free from the Matrix of socio-cultural conditioning and move from service-to-self to service-to-others.
Just wished I’d made time to just stop and listen to my comrades on the street. Often fools have more wisdom than kings.
Walked about nine, nine and a half, maybe ten miles today, too.
William Dudley Bass
Monday 18 April 2016,
Wednesday 4 May 2016,
Thursday 12 May 2016
Revised Wednesday 7 December
Friday 9 December 2016
NOTES: This article arose from a Facebook post that focused on one of the several events described above, the one walking past a woman struggling into her tights and then texting notes by chainlink fence. The original title was “Aurora Avenue Bliss Hell and the Dark Side of Love.”
Copyright 2016 © by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.