You know when you’re drinking, and you think everything is perfect? We were losing our shit last night. Everything was meant to be. In reality all we did was talk to two dudes and go home, but life just seems to make sense sometimes. The little things.
I was taking extensive notes, and Jess was inviting people to come live with her in Miami.
Walking down to Capitol Garage to meet Jess, and I run across Miguel from Food Not bombs. I tell him I’ll see him next Sunday in the park.
Meeting Jess at the bar, she recounts a story of everyday sexism from an old man at the library. Everyday sexism turned creepy and threatening, as it is want to do if you engage it and ask questions. This old man was telling her that she needed to date a woman if she wanted to be dominant in life, in relationships. And Jess collected her things, and looked Gilbert the elderly sexist dead in the eye and said, “Fuck you. How’s that for submissive?” And walked away.
Another guy tries to pick her up in the street.
“How old are you?” she asks with a frown.
“You’re too young.”
“Age is just a number, baby!” he calls after her into the distance.
And then she smiles at a old man on the side of the road, and he tries to snag her number as well.
Who are people?
I’m writing and talking on the patio bar with my hamsa necklace in my mouth. I’m sure it’s sanitary. I’ve only been wearing it for years.
“I’m in a writing mood.” I say, in between swigs of beer and coming up for air from my notebook.
“I’m in a perspiring mood. Women that don’t shave… how do you feel about that, Gilbert? He probably would have shit himself.”
Cute waiter. Smiles, smiles smiles passing between him and Jess. They are practically just gazing into one another’s eyes at this point. And she hasn’t even finished her first beer. She’s glowing.
“How much ARE the PBRs?” I ask, three beers in, with a little hesitation. Cheapest drink, making sure it’s really cheap. No shame.
“Eww. I’m perspiring like it’s my job…”
The smile is so universal. It shows acceptance.
I love Jess.
“Cheers to female genitalia! We’re dominating,” Jess announces loud enough for the elderly women to hear at the nearby table.
“If they can’t handle me, I don’t have time for them,” Jess announces, still enraged from the encounter with Gilbert. “I sense this fear in him when I start speaking up. I don’t know if he’s ever gotten this type of reaction from a woman in his life. He never knew this type of woman existed. Every woman is different, Gilbert. Welcome to the 21st century.”
“I look like a delicate flower. But I’m a ferocious African lion. A lot of bark, a lot of bite. Maybe I changed his life, maybe he’s writing a facebook status about me right now, too. Oh my god, pigs are flying. A non-submissive woman.
Jess sees a man she recognizes from the patio bar, and waves him over. He’s a man who is homeless, who rides his bike around downtown and waves hello to everyone. She sees him all over, and I have to say that I’ve never actually taken the time to remember him, if I have seen him. He is a character, though. And an absolutely beautiful person. The person that reminds you that you should go out and have drinks and meet people with a pen and paper more often. We go in to shake his hand, and he grabs both of our hands and kisses them.
“The pen is mightier than the sword, truly…”
I take this as my opportunity to explain myself and my furious note taking.
“I’m a writer… Is it okay if I write this all down?”
“You’re a writer? You see, it all works out! Of course! Let me give you my contact information…”
He is all about it. And I realize that this is generally the reaction I get from people. People love to have their stories heard, and they especially love the idea that you might be able to share their story with the world. That you care enough about them to attempt to share their story with the world.
“If I’m not making a difference, I’m making an impression. That’s how I think about it. And people like you notice me, and then I meet other people through you.”
“I see you all the time,” Jess says. “You’re a diplomat.”
Every Tuesday night he’s at City Hall, lobbying for homeless rights, and making the issue and the advocates more visible. Everyday he’s on the streets, riding his bike around and spreading the word about Loaves and Fishes and homelessness in the city. But mostly, it sounds like he just does a lot of smiling and talking to people, person to person when they’re willing to engage. He’s from the Bronx in New York, and says he beat the odds. He wasn’t supposed to live past his 20s, based on where he grew up. But he was drafted into the military, and soon he was flying over to Vietnam and away from the streets. Coming back from Vietnam, he moved to California and was homeless most of his life, raising six kids. He is still homeless now, and works for Loaves and Fishes, the homeless shelter in town. He has all the words, and all the power. A little African American man with all of his front teeth missing, but none of his spunk.
We tell him about our work with Food Not Bombs in the city, and he raises his hand for an audible round of high fives. “I went to JAIL with Food Not Bombs!”
…There’s a convention for “Dancing with the Stars” happening tonight, and all of these Botox-ed seventy year old women are filing past in tight dresses and with tight lips. They don’t want to be associated with this man that we’re talking to. They look past him, and look straight at me.
“Do you know where dancing with the stars is taking place?” Botox asks me with a frown and the panic of being late and in a new city you don’t understand or trust showing on her tight face. “Sorry, I don’t know…”
We’re sitting at the patio bar outside, and it just seems like we’re everyone’s for the talking tonight.
They file past, and we carry on talking with Emmanuel. And I think, what irony. To have a man right here who is homeless and advocating for change, and then to have these woman, with Botox frozen faces: the epitome of fear of change. They want to look the same forever. They will be scared of life and the people outside of their bubble forever.
Emmanuel continues to tell us about going to jail with Food Not Bombs. There was some convention in town at the time, and the police wanted the homeless out of the park to make the city “look nice.” And they charged FNB with not having permits, and for health reason. Emmanuel and the other volunteers continued to serve food to the hungry in protest, and soon they found themselves in handcuffs and pulling up in police cars at the Sacramento jail.
He was also arrested during Occupy in Sacramento.
“I love a good fight. Right up my alley. I ended up in the middle of all of these hot button issues. Lived on the American river for two years and wasn’t found or bothered. Military survival skills. Then I get cited for trespassing after they find out I’m there.”
“They’ve got nothing better to do, the police,” Jess comments. “It’s not like they can spend their time catching pedophiles or murderers. Not, they just have time to target people living openly and freely.
“We lived on the American river for two months, also.” I tell Emmanuel.
“Wooo–hooo, really? Birds of a feather flock together! You girls rock… Every inch of ground is owned by someone these days, nothing is free anymore. They tell me I can’t camp there, but I’ve been camping there for years. Nobody’s out there but the birds, the skunks, and me. So full of malarkey. I fought for this country to preserve it and liberate foreign countries to be free like it. I do Uncle Sam’s bidding overseas, and then I come back and get called nigger. Charged with assault for defending my honor after reacting to being demeaned.”
“Does that really still happen to you?
“Oh, all the time. Now I just ignore it. Responding with positivity or ignoring it crushes them. They are looking for a reaction out of you, and if you don’t give it to them, you’ve won. Take away the power of that being a trigger for you, you take away that button from them. Then it just looks like they are the ignorant people that they are.
The waiter is hovering behind us, unsure if he should offer Jess and I another drink.
“Annie. Annie are you okay?” Emmanuel starts dropping some Michael Jackson moves as he sings “Smooth Criminal” to remember my name. “And Jess… Justice? Justice. You’re Justice.”
This is great, because we already designated Jess the nickname of Justice back in Barrow.
“DANCE. You girls have made me so happy. You’ve given me faith in the world. The rest of the block better watch out, I’m in a good mood now and I’m ready for change.”
The Dancing With the Stars women make their second walk around the block, and ask again where they can find the Dancing with the Stars event. They are pained by their high heels, and you can see the pain radiating all the way up their bodies, to the top of their heads. To their minds. Hair fixated with gallons of hairspray and dye, ready for immortality.
“They doing laps or something?”
Emmanuel tries to help them out, and the lead Dancing Star waves a heavily jeweled hand in his face.
“We don’t need any help from you.”
He tries again, giving his speech about Loaves and Fishes that he gave us, and asking for a five dollar donation for the non profit. They mumbled in an agitated fashion and walk quickly on.
“That’s what I risked my life for in Vietnam. The right to disrespect me. I get it, they have the right to walk away. But they are caught in a little cube. If the news says something is happening in their little cube, then they are going to panic. But anything outside of that cube is not worth their time. Well, I’m going to leave you ladies to your night. Thank you for talking with me…”
“Wait!” I say, as he’s getting on his bike to take off into the Sacramento city night. “If there’s one thing you think the world needs to understand about homelessness, what do you think it is?”
Emmanuel gets off his bike, and looks at me. Then looks in the direction of the Dancing women.
“Don’t hoard it. We’re people just like them. They already know it. We want a place to belong, just like everyone else in the world. It’s not rocket science. We invade their bubble, it’s a problem. But when they invade our bubble, it’s acceptable. It’s acceptable to kick me out of my little nook on the river, but it’s not acceptable for me to help that woman with directions. We all want and need others intimately. We can’t do it all alone. But, man, ain’t nobody better than me. We’re all equal, I’m no less than her or him or you. We’re all the same. Goodnight, lovely ladies.”
After Emmanuel rides away, with the promise of talking again and connecting for an interview, our waiter walks back out.
“Sorry we’re all over the place tonight,” we say.
“No, you guys are great. Keep it up,” he says with a smile.
“What’s your name?” I ask, with the intuition that he’s got a story to share with us as well.
“Darren. What are yours?”
I don’t even know how we get into it, but we end up occupying Darren for the next hour or so about his life growing up in Hawaii. He tells us how it’s all been a culture shock for him. He moved here when he was 15, and is now 24. He’s gotten used to it, but it still blows his mind sometimes.
“I would never be standing here asking you ladies what you wanted to drink back home. It’s a much more reserved culture. We’ll treat you like family once we meet you, but we won’t approach you necessarily. For the tourists it’s different, it’s all about Western customer service. But where the people actually live, it’s all about the subtleties.”
We tell him how this reminds us of the culture of the Inupiat people in Barrow, and how we just got back from the top of the world.
“Well, shit man. We’ve got to get you guys another drink, then.”
We tell him about the absurd number of Alaskans we met who had visited Hawaii multiple times, and asked what the connection between Hawaii and Alaska was? He said that a lot of Hawaiians moved up to Seattle or Alaska, because there are lots of fishing jobs up that way. And that’s what Hawaiians do best: fish.
He tells us about how the native Hawaiian culture has swayed away from the hunter gatherer culture and has made room for the ever increasing tourist attractions. We tell him that this was our beef with Barrow— all of the outsiders coming in and making the Arctic there’s. When it wasn’t.
“It’s the same in Hawaii. You don’t see Hawaiians telling people to go away. No, it’s hospitality. Even at the expense of one’s own culture. Quiet, welcoming people. Who give so much that it slowly becomes, not theirs anymore, but something else.”
Darren also told us that if we went to parts of Hawaii that were not touristy, as non natives, we were in danger of being attacked.
“Targeting random people who are in the wrong place in Hawaii… it’s no better now than someone from California being in New Mexico. We’re all part of the US, now. And when they are threatening people in Hawaii, it’s doing nothing to stop people from threatening them when they come to the mainland USA.”
He tells us he actually moved to Hawaii when he was a little boy, but he is a native Marshallese citizen. I don’t know very much about the Marshall islands, and ask him lots of questions. He tells us how, post WWII, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US nuked a specific island of the Marshall Islands 67 times. The US took people from all of the islands, and put them on one island to do this. This complicated the unique individual culture of each island, as well as lead to radiation poisoning and effects still being seen in the people of the islands.
How did all of this come about? During the Cold War, the US looking for a place to test out their bombs of course. Initially a Japanese territory, the US took the Marshall Islands over as a territory soon after, and then the people fought for independence. Very soon after receiving independence, the US government made this nuclear deal with the new public officials. The new public officials did not have much time to practice interacting in world relations, and took the deal agreeing that, in exchange for any moralities, Marshallese citizens would have the freedom to come in and out of the US freely without any problem from now on.
I tell Darren that I’m a writer, explaining my note taking again. And he gets really excited as well. I ask him what he wants his name to be in my story, and he tells me that I’m the creator, I’ve to come up with his name. American Pie is on the radio, and the hot summer air is blowing through all of our beings. Jess and I write our contact information on a piece of paper we shove under our empty pint glasses, and give Darren a hug, inviting him on a New Orleans road trip with us next spring.
Walking out to the car, Jess and I crack ourselves up.
“People. They think we’re lez lovers who are super righteous for life. Hey, how long have I had my pants pulled up to my nipples?”
We’re a team. She makes the glowing eye contact, and I take all the notes. People eat it up.
Birds moving like sculptures through the pale blue sunset sky above our electric green trees framing our perception of the moment.
We wake up at the same time in the middle of the night.
Jess goes to the bathroom after five minutes.
“I could feel you awake…” she says as she’s peeing
“I could tell by your breathing that you were about to pee.”
Been roommates so long.
We both get up and brush our teeth after we use the bathroom at five in the morning.
“…Rachet.” Jess comments.