Seattle Vignettes: A Prose Poem in Five Parts

  1. Dead Man on the Steps with One and a Half Legs
  2. Bag of Dimes
  3. Tattooed Hands
  4. Donuts, Needles, Jelly, and Blood
  5. S. Box of Donuts in the Rain

 *All of these vignettes are interpretations of real events I experienced in Washington State along my way to work from SeaTac to Seattle and back again during the Cascadian Winter of 2017 – 2018. ~ Author’s Forewarning

Dead Man on the Steps with One and a Half Legs
Rain poured in torrents
as dawn broke sunrise into silver and gray.
I hurried down South 176th Street in SeaTac towards the airport to catch my train to work.
Can’t be late again.
Won’t be late again.
I shall arrive early to work
to keep my job alive.
My commute is 3 hours long roundtrip.
Why do good people scatter their trash along the streets?
I passed all kinds of trash, mostly food related, as I approached the SeaTac Visitor Information Center,
also known as Seattle Southside Visitor Center.
A man lay curled upon the lower steps.

He rested upon his left side,
his head upon his left arm.
The left side of his face was turned partway down out of the rain.
A soggy bag of mystery spilled trash upon the grass
below the dangling fingers and dropped-down thumb of his left hand. The man would have to reach out for it, but the brown paper bag was already halfway ripped open.

What little skin I could see was one with the dark, wet grey of his clothes, a monochrome figure of Divine Creation bereft of connection.
His right leg was partially bent at the knee across the steps below.
Behind his ass stuck out his left leg.
Loose pants flopped empty below the stump
where his left leg had been severed above the knee.
Or was it below the knee?
The man was so contorted I couldn’t tell amidst heavy rain as I passed by as a ghost in a hurry.

The man was bundled up with his coat unbutton.
There weren’t any blankets or raincoats or tarps or umbrellas,
just layers of dirty, wet, old clothes as gloomy as the sky.

Two aluminum crutches lay helter-skelter upon the concrete landing below the steps where he tried to curl up for warmth before he surrendered to What Is So and relaxed effortlessly into the void.

Pushing uphill in the cold and the rain with one and a half legs in the middle of the night must have exhausted him.

Exhausted the man enough for him to sit down and rest before toppling over to fall across those clean, wet concrete steps.

Raindrops dropped heavy upon earth and body alike as all this water pooled to cascade down the concrete steps to seep beneath his body.

All this I saw out the corner of my eyes as I rushed downhill.
Man, that’s one passed out drunk, I thought
Then I realized he was probably dead.
I wondered briefly how this man lost his leg.
Was he a veteran long forgotten from our endless wars?
Did he pull his injured fellow soldiers to safety
until large caliber bullets shattered the bones of his leg?

Many others walked by or drove past this person.
We all kept going.
What the hell for?
I live in a competitive Capitalist system
where working class folks need money.
Or currency. The coins and dollar bills are tangible promissory representations of money’s invisible value to facilitate an exchange of products, services, and value. Whatever. Just a point of view collapsing into itself like a row of human skulls mashed in by Biblical giants.

Currency? Money? Are you aggregating value to generate capital to create wealth? Hey, are you hungry? Cold? Dead?

We’re too busy to tell the difference and too broke to invest or start up a successful enterprise. All gossip and lies. No time to even care.

But I got to work on time haunted by the memory of passing by a man passed out dead in the goddamn rain.

Later in the afternoon as I walked uphill from the SeaTac Airport
Link Light-Rail Train Station, I walked past the Visitor Information Center again. The metal and glass gleamed in the afternoon light and the shape of the building upon the knoll reminded me of temples for middle class people lost between increasingly suffocating layers of socio-economic classes grappling for power amid the chaotic divides of rank, status, power, and illusions of love.

Our star the Sun shone beyond the sky as wind pushed thru trees.
I looked left where I last saw the man relaxed in wet stillness upon those smooth concrete steps with galvanized steel railings.
For a moment I considered going up those long flight of stairs
to ask someone inside if they knew anything about the man passed out upon their steps with only one and a half legs.

Was he dead or drunk or just…sad and lonely?
For a moment I felt surprise and disgust at myself.
I wasn’t feeling well from sleep deprivation.
My belly growled with hunger.
My bladder was full of piss.
Now I needed to do more than pee, however,
so I hurried up over the hill and on home to Condotopia
to take care of myself.

Forgot all about the man passed out on the steps in the pouring down rain, the man with one and a half legs, the man of death
whom even the Grim Reaper cradled close to Death’s bones as He
Gently folded His dark cloaks around this corpse so wet and cold.

I shuddered for we all die into the past, yes, we all die,
but I shook more from the horror and the shame from simply passing by on two legs without a word.
Guilt overwhelmed my sadness to consume me as giant Ice Age glaciers mow down mountains to smother their souls beneath the ice back when even volcanos were buried.

 

Bag of Dimes
“Hey, Anybody, help! I only got 32 cents and I need to catch my bus to Bellevue!” shouted a young, anxious, white guy.

“Can someone help me? Please? I only have 32 cents.”

This was down in the Westlake bus & train tunnel near the top of the next set of stairs down into the Hum.

I was also in a goddamn hurry to catch my train.

Except this time I was hustling home from work.

Shook my head NO and muttered for the thousandth time,
“I don’t carry cash anymore,” and turned down the next stairwell.

Part way down the steps, however, I stopped.
I remembered the man with only one and a half legs passed out as if dead.

Remembered I had a bag of dimes to convert into quarters so I could do a heap of laundry back in Condotopia where I rented a room with pink walls from a Socialist whose favorite coffee cup sported the phrase, “Fuck Morning People.”

Yes, I had exactly three dollars of dimes in one small, plastic Ziploc bag and two dollars and twenty-five cents worth of nickels in another. Lugging loads of laundry back and forth between the unit I lived in to the laundry room with the heavy, locked door where a couple of hundred people laundered their clothing wore me out sometimes. Wore out my change, too.

“Hey! Wait, here!” I blurted and quickly dug my bag of dimes from my daypack. “You only needed 32 more cents, right?”

“Oh man, no,” the man replied. “I only GOT 32 cents, and I must catch my bus to Bellevue on the other side of Lake Washington.”

“Well, shit, here. Have the whole bag. Exactly three dollars of dimes in there. OK?”

He was a slender young white guy with curly hair askew. Maybe full of lies, too.

I no longer cared.

“Oh man, thanks! Thank you!” His eyes were big, he probably wondered how in the world was he gonna convert all those damn dimes into three one-dollar bills USA?

Didn’t matter.

“Hey, I was homeless once. Do whatever you need to with them,” I said, setting both of us free.

He ran backwards bursting with thanks then turn and dashed off into the maelstrom of human beings sinking underground to go home as others surged upstairs and out onto the streets of Downtown Seattle.

I hustled back down those steps as quickly as I could. The arches of my feet throbbed with quick bursts of pain.

The train pulled away as I ran up.
Damn.
But I was going home.

What kind of world is it where it’s acceptable to be late returning home, but not late for a Just-Over-Broke?

What wisdom would Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus have to say
about such matters today?

Would Adam Smith get a clue the capitalism he so admired with its invisible hands was built upon slavery fueled by a slave trade connecting four continents? Built with invasion, conquest, and genocide? When will people look beyond the atrocities of Stalin and Mao and their fanatical ilk to see how many millions and millions of human beings were maimed and slaughtered under Capitalism? With ten million in the Belgian Congo alone?

Would Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels understand their dialectical materialism arose as ideation from within the mental activity of human minds? Would they even take note of consciousness beyond the physical? Consciousness before birth and after death? Or even dare be bold enough to distinguish between religion and spirituality? Imagine what may have been different if they understood consciousness might shape our material reality as well as our perceptions of what we view today as “real?”

Sad ass devils, every last one of them.

Then again who today understands the opiate of the masses is our technology built upon the backs of industry with capital and slaves?

Heroin and smartfones,
alcohol and dumbfones,
smoke the digital electric.
Well, at least no one was forced to drink hemlock,
or eat poisoned food,
or was nailed to a cross today
up in Seattle or down south at SeaTac Airport
alongside the light-rail linky-link.
At least one was not forced to nail his brothers
to crosses upon forlorn hills.
Maybe in Bellevue, tho.

Where White Boy with only 32 cents wanted to go.

It’s all I was able to do to serve another in those moments already gone.

 

Tattooed Hands
Passengers from all over the world gathered along the light-rail from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport north into the Emerald City. A young man swooped around in dirty, baggy clothes, and we all felt cold in the morning chill. Sunrise in Winter is ice mellow.

The young guy reeked of stale cigarettes and had skeleton bones tattooed upon the tops of his hands and fingers. Down his thumb, too. Phalanges and metacarpals, all those bones, inked out in black and blue and green. Whenever he reached out to grasp anything, spidery skeletal hands glided from saggy coat sleeves as Death reaching for His sacred scythe. I looked into the blue-gray eyes of this man and saw he was living on borrowed time and deep down was struggling to do something to break free but kept getting lost. He calmly accepted what is so. We struck up a conversation.

He muttered in mangled phrases. I failed to understand his words despite my relatively new digital hearing aids. His body sung a song in a language of movement, energy, and emotion, tho. I understood the story they told in shades of melancholia darker than any dungeon after the torches burned out.

I warned him about the Fare Police in tight, blue uniforms politely and firmly pressing every human adult on board to show proof of payment. Ticket cops.

“Oh, I don’t worry about them none. I ain’t got much money, but I never pay to ride no train,” he said and laughed. I heard him this time.

“I get on anyway,” he said. “If I get caught, I get off the train at the next station. There are so many of us out here in the streets they can’t even keep track of us. They don’t know who’s coming and going. So we just come and go, you know?”

“Yeah,” I looked him in the eye with a glance down at his two skeleton hands writhing with each other as if each had a mind of its own. Blue, green, and black tattooed bones and joints opened and closed, closed and opened. Those hands had stories to tell, those tattooed hands did.

“Where ya going?” I asked.

“SODO Station,” he replied. “Gotta get off at SODO.”

“Oh, OK,” I nodded. There were, I’d heard, a clean needle exchange center and several heroin addiction treatment facilities somewhere in SODO. Lots of junkies got on and off the trains and buses in SODO.

“Problem is I fall asleep on the train,” he said “Can’t sleep well out in the streets and shit when it’s dark. Know what I mean? Been trying to get off the train at SODO, and every damn time I fall asleep aboard the train. It’s so warm inside the cars there.”

“Sounds really frustrating,” I said. “So can you pay attention and stay awake just long enough to get off at SODO?”

“Gonna try. Where the Hell is SODO anyway?”

“Right after the light-rail rolls down the ramp to street-level and straighten out. SODO comes before Stadium Station as we head north. So if you miss it, get off at Stadium. It’s not far.”

Those tattooed hands were crawling all over him as if looking for needles, syringes, spoons, cigarette lighters, and shit. Deep down inside he was a good guy, tho, even if he felt himself at war with the state and all those people with lots of money. Up close his skin was splotchy with dirt and little scratches and scabs.

“I’ll let you know when we get close to SODO,” I said.

“How can you tell?” he asked.

“The engineer announces it,” I said. “There’s a map up on the wall above the doors, and electronic bulletin board messages blinking it out for ya, too.”

Wasn’t it rather odd he didn’t know these things if he’s ridden the linky-link so many times over and over again? Did he doze off every time?

Train arrived.
We boarded.
He and I sat across the aisle from each other against our chosen windows.

Within seconds Tattooed Hands was gone from the world, fast asleep, his face against the glass, eyes shut, nose cocked up, mouth ajar. The smoky odors in his clothes were strong within the confines of the passenger car. I smelled burned, wet campfire wood odors as well as stale tobacco.

At the next stop more people boarded. One fella plopped down next to Tattooed Hands. A woman with a swoopy beehive of blonde hair and wearing a reddish-orange coat sat down next to me. I felt her thighs against mine, and I squeezed over toward the window. We smiled and nodded. She was attractive in a voluptuous way, and she engrossed herself in reading the news on her smartfone.

Oh, darn, I thought. Tattooed Hands is dead asleep over there against the far window. Now how am I gonna wake that sleep-drunk junkie up?

We rolled north. Tukwila International Boulevard. Rainier Beach. Othello. Columbia City. Mount Baker. Beacon Hill. All stations along the linky-link. Eventually we slowed down and stopped at SODO.

Tattooed Hands didn’t flinch or flutter. He remained lost and unawares within deep slumbers. Oh, damn it, Tattooed Hands guy, wake up! Nada.

“Excuse me a moment,” I said to the lady in red next to me and smiled. She smiled back and stood up to let me by.

“Oh, I’m not getting off the train, just waking him up. Thank you, tho.”

I stepped across the aisle and without a word reached out across the person sitting next Tattooed Hands but face down into his glowing smartfone. I grabbed Tattooed Hands heavy coat at his shoulder and shook him awake. He snapped alert. For a moment I feared he might inadvertently shake lice loose upon my hand…and, so what?

“We’re at SODO,” I announced. “Time to get off. Now! Quick before the train pulls away.”

“SODO?” He now appeared confused.

“Yes, SODO. Time to get off. Quickly, now!”

“SODO?” he asked again.

I nodded and returned to my seat. Then he understood.

He jumped up and mumbled out a shout sounding something like, “Thanks, Bro!” and leaped thru the passenger car doors onto the train station platform. Our train rumbled forward with its wheels squeaking along those cold, metal rails.

“That was very nice of you,” the woman sitting next to me said quietly and smiled. She appeared unruffled and moved at the same time.

“Thank you,” I said. “Don’t know him. Met him this morning. Man needs help. He asked me to make sure he got off here at SODO where there’s a clinic for heroin addicts and other drug users, I don’t know much about it. I said I would, and I did.”

“Well, that was very nice of you,” she said again as we rumbled and squeaked into the next station.

 

Donuts, Needles, Jelly, and Blood
Cold rain poured down to hammer the city, then eased into misty drizzle. Early February, rain instead of snow, and felt damp and cold.
Cascadia was again experiencing strange and unusual weather.
The planet was gripped in misery in spite of so much beauty.

Skooter and I sat engrossed over our donuts at the same Downtown Seattle Top Pot shop Barack Obama visited back when he was President of the United States of America.

We talked about trains.

We were glad to get those donuts as the shop was almost out.

“Wow, what happened to all the donuts?” I asked. “Out already?”

“Our donut truck broke down,” the guy behind the counter said.

“We only have one delivery truck today, and it’s busted. So no more donuts after those last few are gone.”

All three of us chuckled.

Skooter and I each got 2 donuts. I’d hope to get twice as many, but I didn’t wanna be greedy. Always leave enough behind to feed another, I like to say.

One of my two was a chocolate-covered Bavarian cream donut.
Skooter declared he didn’t like those, and I was glad.
Neither one of us had much money.
So I demurred from buying the last jelly donut.
Yet here we were down in the bowels of Capitalism enjoying donuts with the waters of the Salish Sea lapping against the edge of the city a few blocks down the hill.

Homeless people intermingled with tourists and locals.
Read recently Seattle now has the third largest homeless population in America, or the first if one includes surrounding satellite cities.
I don’t ever wish to go back to being even “homeless but sheltered” ever again.

Heard a ruckus at the glass and metal door.
A young man poked his head in and shouted a question over to the staff behind the counter. They responded.

I couldn’t hear well enough to understand a word spoken. Maybe the guy asked the staff if they planned to throw away any old, stale jelly donuts into the garbage or something similar. Couldn’t quite tell.

Quickly glanced behind me to the right where this big White fella leaned thru the doorway as he kept it pushed open, only to dip his head in resignation and back away.

Didn’t bother to study the man. Only saw his upper body and face before I turned back to Skooter telling me about Amtrak retiring beautiful old passenger cars to be scrapped.

We discussed the future of high-speed rail across North America,
And the future looked grim despite advances in technology.

Big Oil and big energy combines did not want to let go of control.

As Skooter and I munched donuts while talking about how much weight we both lost between discourse on the history and future of trains, a man walked before us on the other side of the large glass wall windows.

Large kid. White guy. Short brown hair. Early 20s maybe? Same fella who had moments ago leaned thru the door to ask something about donuts in the garbage. Looked as if he might’ve been a top football player back in high school back He wore a ragged, thin blue windbreaker. Humped a large, overstuffed backpack and carried a duffel in one hand.

He plodded slowly thru raindrops and pain.
His khaki pants were ripped open and torn off short.
The young man walked in bare feet upon the wet sidewalk.
He must have felt so cold and abandoned, yet desperate enough to break something if triggered. Now he simply appeared sad.

Sores covered his legs.
Junkie sores.
Abscesses from shooting up with dirty needles.
Staph infections. Strep infections. Fungus. Worms. Maggots. Who the Hell knows anymore? But mostly staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

Both of his lower legs beneath the ragged edge of his torn pants were spotted with grotesque abscess sores. Red, purple wounds with broken scabs weeping pus. A few sores were covered in large gauze bandages and held in place with tape. A large drugstore band-aid flapped from one sore on the inside of his right calf, but the man seemed numb to such things. He dealt with deeper pains.

Blood began flow freely down his leg from the big sore beneath the flapping band-aid.
Red blood.
The man stopped.
Blood dripped into raindrop puddles.
Raindrops splattered blood and water.
Pools of raindrop water turned red and were soon diluted by relentless downpours.

Other people on the sideways cringed back to walk around this man leaking blood from his sores.

Quietly, the man in the blue windbreaker lifted another barefoot as he began to walk again. He plodded and plopped thru the puddles as he left blood and raindrops in his wake. Stared straight ahead with grit and steel braced by dirty jolts of heroin.

Skooter and I stared thru the windows at the junkie in the blue jacket walking barefoot in the cold ass rain.

We stared transfixed, unable to speak of anything but trains and donuts, frozen in place, talking faster and faster to cover up our shock and despair, for what the Hell were we to do?

Go out and throw a handful of dollars and change into the wind?

Suggest he go to a church, a mosque, a synagogue, a clinic, a shelter?

What, go to the government?

Invite him home?

Give him some silver grey duct tape? Are you serious?

Skooter and I didn’t ever speak of the atrocity we witnessed, the utter, absolute failure of humanity for our fellow being.

Today was First Thursday of the Month, and entrance into SAM, the Seattle Art Museum, was free. We love art, so we wandered around in the museum studying all the many different exhibits on display.

I glanced out a window from the third floor and across the street a row of people laid down under wet blankets and tarps on the sidewalk against the buildings and beneath the leaky awnings of a boarded-up, once-famous porn theater notorious for displaying cheeky signs in large, red letters.

Eventually Skooter and I parted ways with a hug, his wet, yellow, Arc’Teryx waterproof/breathable-wind/rain shell against my wet, red, Arc’Teryx waterproof/breathable-wind/rain shell.

I made my way uphill in the rain and over to the closest light-rail station to take the train back home.

Wondered whatever happened to the man in the blue jacket dripping blood in his wake? I’ll call him Sam.

What’s the matter with us people?

 

P.S. Box of Donuts in the Rain
Before all of the above happened during this Winter of 2017 – 2018 I got off the linky-link at Pioneer Square Station to gorge myself on chocolate-covered Bavarian cream-filled donuts at yet another Top Pot. With a cup of hot, black coffee with two ice cubes cooling it down a little.

I found a table in a corner where no one could see me indulge in my gluttony. My kitchen was broken back in Condotopia, I was hungry, and I dreamed of chocolaty, cream-filled donuts. I do not often eat such unhealthy things, but today I gorged upon several of these donuts.

A well-dressed businessman came in with a homeless man wearing only socks and plastic bread bags on his feet.
Outside the rain poured down upon the streets.
The man was soaking wet, gaunt, smelly, and babbled like a child in a high-pitched voice.

“Here, come on, I’ll buy you a hot coffee and a box of donuts here,”
the white guy in the white shirt said to the guy wearing a tattered and grungy wet bathrobe over his clothes.

A security guard strode over to both of them.
“Sir,” he said quietly and firmly to the nice man with money, “He does this all the time. People buy him donuts, and they just sit out there in the rain. It’s his trick, his pain, but he means no harm otherwise. Just so you know. Because he might even forget those donuts you get him ever existed.”

“Thank you,” the man in the suit replied. “I’m going to do it anyway.”

Then he turned from the guard to the man in the wet bathrobe, and said, “Don’t worry. I still intend to buy you some donuts and a coffee. We’ll find a way to keep them dry.”

Time passed as I ate all of my donuts up, drank my coffee down, and scrolled thru the latest outrages from the news upon my smartfone. Our clowns in government were at it again!
Sigh.
I got up, wiped my sticky face and fingers with white napkins, and went outside. Had to catch the light-rail train on to work. I was early enough today to feast on donuts at the new Top Pot shop a block and a half away or so from the Pioneer Station linky-link.

Man, the rain hammered down as if the sky sought to drown us all.

Head down beneath my red hood, I scurried down the sidewalk to the stairwell entrance to those underground tunnels reeking of piss and vomit and the rage feeding the coming revolution and civil war.

I noticed a box of a dozen Top Pot donuts laying out in the pouring down rain next to the base of a lamppost. A clear plastic bag covered them. A few feet away stood the old, brain-damaged homeless man,

The one dressed in a dirty old bathrobe with bread bags and socks on his feet. He stood in the rain holding a torn flap of wet cardboard box with a sign scrawled in black ink. Couldn’t read it.

Anyone mean enough or hungry enough or desperate enough could snatch up the box of donuts and haul ass down the streets into an alleyway somewhere. The rain poured down and water poured over the top of my shoe as I stepped briefly off the sidewalk to avoid a large woman pushing a big baby carriage thru the rain. A dog was inside the baby carriage stretched out as if it was dead. Oh look, there’s a cat down in there, too. Jeeezus Frakken Kristo! Some people think such a scene is YouTube cute. Fodder for Facefoot. I did not.

I eventually caught a train to work.

All day I wondered about the box of donuts in the rain, the box of donuts left unguarded out in the pouring down rain.

I hope he ate those donuts or shared them with someone in need of hope. Oh, why did he leave those box of donuts out in the rain?

What ism will fix this horror right now?
Certainly not any solutions rooted in 18th and 19th Century political and economic terminology or 20th Century Star Trek fables.

So, what shall we all do now so as not to repeat history?

What will it take for us to turn away from vengeance, self-righteousness, hatred, greed, rage, and demands for justice?

What will it take for us to move toward acceptance, forgiveness, love, compassion, intimacy, tolerance, cooperation, and to let go of demands and expectations?
How much courage do we have left? How much more courage will you generate?

How much longer will we allow ourselves to remain bound to rules and oaths no longer in service to fulfilling our creative potential?

 

William Dudley Bass
Sunday 4 – Tuesday 6 February 2018
SeaTac/Seattle, Washington
U.S.A.
Earth
Sol

 

Copyright © 2018 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we humans establish our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.

 

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