“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

An After-Dinner Stroll

I passed a corpse a few minutes ago, walking home from Pearl’s at Sixth and Market, where I had dined on a ¼  pound cheeseburger, perfectly cooked, and topped with lettuce and tomato but no onion or mayonnaise.

I had left my hotel a little over an hour before and walked first to the Main Library.  I dropped the volume of Proust that I had finished reading yesterday, a volume containing the fifth and sixth books of In Search of Lost Time, into the Book Return Box in front of the library’s closed doors.  I continued to stand at those doors for about twenty minutes more while using my handheld device to check email, since I no longer have internet access in my room and the library‘s free wireless is on 24/7.

Uncertain about where to eat with only $28 dollars in my account and no income until day after tomorrow, I wandered down Market Street until I remembered that Pearl’s was just ahead and settled on eating there.  I limited myself to a Mini-Burger to keep my tab at $6.00.  I drank the complimentary water and helped myself to five complimentary spears of the best half-sour dill pickles that I have tasted since moving back west from New York in 1990.

As I made my way up Taylor, I was undecided about whether to turn onto Eddy and walk out to Leavenworth (the most direct way home) or to walk up to O’Farrell before turning west (in order to check the prices at a Laundromat/Internet CafĂ© I had passed two days ago).  I knew that I would stop at Amigo’s Market in either case, since I wanted a small sweet for dessert so that I would feel content and fall more easily to sleep.  I knew that I could get two little bags of gummy candy for $1.50 there, and as I have said before, I try to spend my grocery money at Amigo’s because the prices are very reasonable and the countermen are kind to the point of charity.

I crossed Eddy at Taylor still unsure which route to take, but stepping onto the curb I turned west.  Half-way out the block, I noticed that the fence on my right was covered by dark green heavy plastic sheeting and remembered that the corner park that takes up that half of the block was being renovated.  I looked ahead and noticed flashing lights atop an emergency vehicle that was parked at the right hand curb, facing me and against traffic.

A street dweller just ahead of me was huddled over a very large pile of possessions that leaned against the covered fence, arranging things.  Two other men, who had approached from different directions, had stopped and were asking him something.  As I reached the men I saw that police tape was strung from the covered fence across the front grill of a parked car, cordoning off the sidewalk.  At the same moment I heard the words “dead body”, and I then took a harder look up the sidewalk, into the bright white headlights and the flashing roof lights against the glare of which I had previously been unwilling to stare.

At the corner of Jones Street, diagonally across from the SFPD Tenderloin Precinct Station and in front of the closed off entrance to the little park, I saw it lying, covered by a sheet whose yellow was deep and brilliant enough to suggest vinyl but whose folds fell stiffly,  like some kind of angular drapery, characteristic of lighter plastics similar to the kind we used to cover the swimming pool in our backyard during winter.  I turned to cross to the other side of the street as one of the men asked whether the deceased had been stabbed.  “No,” said the street dweller, “He O.D.ed.”

As I crossed the street I saw another two or three people walking along the middle of he street, heading the other way.  I heard the word “boy”, and stopped again to look at the shrouded figure with as much focus and attention as I could.  From this angle, it did look rather small, but well within the average range for an adult.  I noticed too that it lay right in front of the door to one of the sidewalk restrooms The City imported from France a decade or two ago in order to provide facilities for those living on the street.  His feet were at the door, and he lay with his head pointing away from it.  Had he died inside and been pulled to the sidewalk by emergency responders?

I was glad the he was covered, and although the intense yellow seemed jarring in circumstances where black or white would have been more appropriate, I was glad that the dead was being afforded his natural dignity.  He could lie in his death privately, without violation, as is both meet and kind.

Had I ever seen him?  Was he and he or a she or a tranny?  Had she stopped me and asked for change as I left Amigo’s?  And had I, explaining that I had only my EBT card loaded with food-stamp credits, offered a pan dulce roll, which she accepted, instead?  Had he been inching his way up the sidewalk ahead of me the night before, his bare calf below his shorts wrapped in a dirty red neckerchief to cover a cut or abscess perhaps? 

Had the overdose been one of heroin or methamphetamine?  Had it resulted in a heart attack or in a relaxation of the diaphragm so profound as to end breathing and result in suffocation?

Had it hurt?