Friday, January 31, 2014

Alcohol-Enhanced Generosity

Tuesday was my seatmate at work’s last day, as well as the last day of another contractor. I know that my seatmate is particularly fond of my nearest colleague, R., the only person in my own group who is also in San Francisco, so I proposed that we take some pictures before the end of the day; I thought he’d like to have a photo to remember her by. (I’m also particularly fond of R. She is smart, kind, and a hard worker. She is an excellent person and I’m very lucky to have her. We get along exceedingly well.)

When photo time rolled around, my seatmate suggested we do it right near our cubes.

Me: “Why don’t we go outside?”

Seatmate: “You know, this is actually a working day for me.”

Me: “You can be away from your desk for five minutes. Let’s go outside! I’d like to see the natural light on your beautiful faces.”

Other contractor: “Bugwalk is right! Life is fleeting! We should seize these moments and enjoy them!”

At that, I heard my seatmate grumble under his breath, “That’s the stupidest crap I ever heard,” and we proceeded outside and the two photos are lovely.

A less good thing that happened that day was reading about a 48-year-old homeless woman, Mary Freeman, having been found dead at 15th St. and San Bruno; San Bruno is a few blocks east of Potrero. The homeless man who killed her had been apprehended and there were pictures of him but not of Mary, and so I wondered if that could be the woman with the white face and I felt sick thinking she had met such a horrible end, out there all alone.

Many years ago, we had another woman (or maybe not a woman) with a white face who was quite a mesmerizing sight. She wore a draping, filmy white dress and long white gloves, and every square inch of visible skin was coated with thick white makeup. Most times I saw her, she was drifting along the grassy center of Dolores St., like a vision from a dream.

The woman I was thinking of this week has short blond hair and is slender and radiates gentleness and sweetness. She is not plastered with makeup, but always has it smeared across her face. As I have mentioned here, she once told Carlos and me that some people think you can put eye shadow only on your eyelids, but you can actually put it all over your face. The first time we saw her was on one of our first dates, an outing to hear the poet Kay Ryan read at the Main Library. She was sitting on the sidewalk across the street, near the entrance to the BART station.

We also saw her the day we walked to the Mission Neighborhood Health Center to make an appointment to find out what had happened to Carlos’s memory, last year on February 11. I remember bending to give her some money, tears dripping on the sidewalk.

On my way home from work on Tuesday, I resolved to look carefully for her. I have only seen her about eight times over the two years, about four of them in front of La Cumbre on Valencia St., so I looked there and didn’t see her, but then I realized that she actually was there—she was there! I rushed over and asked her to tell me her name. I said, “You don’t have to tell me what it is, but I’ll tell you why I want to know: Did you hear about the homeless woman who was found dead near here? When I read that, I was worried it was you, but I don’t know your name.”

She told me her first and last names and spelled them for me, and I told her my first and last names. Because of her connection to Carlos and me, and just because I like her a lot, I
ve taken to giving her $20 every time I see her (though I admit I’m glad I don’t see her every single day), wadded up so that others won’t notice how much it is, so I did that on Tuesday, but as she peeked at it, a drunk guy happened to be passing by and saw what denomination it was, and he said, “She’s giving you twenty dollars? Then I’m giving you twenty dollars,” and he did, but he also gave her a long lecture, spit spraying in her face, telling her, “You’re a good person and I care about you, but stop using people! Stop using people!” He was larger than her, and I could sense her shrinking a bit—how awful not to have an apartment to retreat to, to be at the mercy of every such person who comes along. I finally asked him if he could give us some privacy to finish our conversation. I thanked him for his generosity and so did she; she was entirely polite to him.

She mentioned that she was on her way to work (which is really not conceivable), at which I realized it had been a faux pas to suggest that she’s homeless. I should have just said that I had read a news report about a woman, not a “homeless woman.” And I actually should have thought of a way to get her name without mentioning that someone had been murdered.
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