Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I'm not so great at the sleeping lately. It's too hot here. And it's too sad here. Stupid, sad, hot, Alabama days. I always feel like I've got a thick rubber band around pieces of my body. They slip around to new locations all the time. Right now they are sitting just below my rib cage and around my right hip.

I locked myself out of the house yesterday. It's my 'thing', being locked out of the house. Some people like to wear a particular color. My mom made navy blue her 'thing' for two decades. Some people only eat organic food. My little brother likes to collect tennis shoes so much that he would rather be (and therefore, he is) homeless than go without, it's his 'thing'. My little sister would rather risk a life of painful hospitalizations than swallow a pill. Most people have a 'thing'.

Like I said, my 'thing' is being locked out of the house. During times of really high stress I can do it more than once a month. That's how you can tell the real me from all other imitations. When in doubt, ask my suspected impostors how many times they have locked themselves out of their apartment in the last six months. If the number they give you is anything less than four, shoot first and ask questions later.

Yesterday, I locked myself out in the usual way. I sat down to tie my shoes and left the keys on the hall steps. In a weird way I kind of like it, being locked out. It makes me feel self-sufficient like I might finally get the opportunity to live on dandelion greens and my credit card (For some reason I never leave my purse or phone in the house). However, I do not like having to get back in. My landlord doesn't like it either. I also don't like having to walk two miles to work on day seven of a triple-digit heat wave.

Birmingham has almost no public transportation. It is kind of Birmingham's 'thing', being the city that requires a car and yet has a significant number of residents well below the poverty line. I went down to University street to wait for the DART trolley. I've seen them on the street but I've never ridden on one. Yesterday was no exception since, after 20 minutes of waiting for the non-existent trolley, I decided that I might as well melt on the move.

I crossed University by St. Vincent's so that I could have continuous sidewalk access on my journey. As I was crossing, a man came from McDonald's and ambled up to the corner. He about 40, wearing dark, crisply pressed, jeans and a tucked-in white t-shirt. While he was waiting to cross the street he began to eat a hamburger he pulled from a paper bag. He balled up the burger wrapper and dropped it on the ground at his feet. I was standing about five feet behind him. I idly considered saying something about the wrapper but didn't really have any desire to follow through with the impulse. It was too hot to hassle, already 101 F, and who cares if you drop burger wrappers at the apparent gates of hell? Good thing too because it was a long light and we had to stand there for a while. It would have been awkward to have an after-school-special exchange about littering followed by standing around on the corner. Plus, he started peeing on himself while he ate his sandwich so that would also have been a little weird too, if we had made eye contact.

A steady stream of urine was dripping from his jean cuff, pooling under one foot and then trickling down the sidewalk. It caught up the burger wrapper and pushed it out into the street before the walk signal appeared. To my surprise, I was much more freaked out that he kept eating his sandwich than that he was peeing on himself. I think I would have had to stop chewing to concentrate. He looked from side to side but if he saw me behind him I didn't catch it because I was too busy staring at his feet.

The light changed and he walked halfway into the street and then politely paused for a few cars making a right turn. I let him get ahead of me and then stayed behind him, walking as slowly as I possibly could. He didn't weave in his path and continued to pull burgers from the bag, eat them and toss the wrappers into the street. After two blocks the bag was apparently empty and that too was discarded on the sidewalk. To people driving by, I must have looked like the insane one, walking by barely putting one foot in front of the other, clutching my book bag.

He finally sat down in one of the stairwells of the project housing that lines the street. I hoped he would move on before I reached him. He was still sitting there as I drew closer. I sped up my pace to a ridiculous power walk and caught his eye as I blazed past him. I broke into a run when I hit the next crosswalk just in case he had followed me. I felt silly when I got to the other side. I was sweating and out of breath with lungs burning from the street exhaust. Silly. I'm still not sure what I envisioned, that he would grab me and pee on me? Or maybe he might demand burgers and a clean pair of jeans. What a terrible thing, to spend a hot day in pee-soaked jeans while University kids run by you on the street.

I thought about him all day. I told a few people the story. Sometimes I thought it was funny. Sometimes I thought I had been very brave. Everyone asked me if he was homeless. That seemed like a strange thing to ask.

"How would I know if he had a home?", I responded.

You can have eight pairs of $300 sneakers and be homeless. There really is no way to tell by looking at someone, you can only guess.

When I got home at the end of the day my landlord had unlocked the door for me and had left me a sweet note about it. I think he felt that the heat was punishment enough for anyone. I fixed myself a bowl of greens and ate them standing in the middle of the kitchen. Then I put a slice of cheese on a cracker and took it into the bathroom. I tried to see if I could eat it while I peed but ended up tossing it in the garbage...who wants to eat a cracker that has been in the bathroom?

My mom called and I told her about being locked out, and the pee-burger guy, and my day at work. We tried to avoid talking about my little brother and sister. Neither one of us can fathom that it got to be as bad as it was, as quickly as it did. We usually try not to talk about it but sometimes it is harder to ignore than a man at a crosswalk peeing on his own feet.

"We did what we could." we reassured each other and then neither of us slept last night.

We both realize that we won't know for some time if they will be okay. There is no way to tell by looking at someone, you can only guess.
Stupid, sad, hot, Alabama days.


Margaret said...

that's so weird! i found your blog through eartha, i work at the corer of 24th st and 8th ave (i don't work the corner, in a building, retail, anyway) there is no lack of local color in the area, but peeing, walking, littering, and eating??? who can multi-task like that?

ilymt100bkpltf said...

made me cry

Kristina said...

Hi there. Funny how people find your blog eh? I am in Puerto Rico. That is probably closer to where you are than L.A. is. So hi there from Puerto Rico!

I don't know if I can leave this comment because everything is in Spanish and I don't understand. I miss you :)