Such a fine line…
September 15, 2014
I’ve been working at an adorable little independent boutique grocer in Seattle. It has the high quality grocery items you’d expect to find in an upscale store, with the vibe of an old country general store. I’m surrounded by fun people who are working hard to create something awesome for the neighborhood. I’m inspired by the owner and her story as well as by the determination, skills and personalities of my coworkers. It’s been great.
My main goal when seeking employment was to be able to move to Seattle, to meet new people, to interact with other adults in real life on a regular basis, and to be part of something cool and fun. I’ve met all of those objectives. Life is good. So many people idealize the experience of being self-employed and working from home. Yes, it was fun and awesome and I definitely could make my own hours and work in my pajamas but that really got old after a few years and I needed more social interaction.
We’re in Pioneer Square, a neighborhood that’s undergoing a major identity explosion lately, a new residential building has nearly doubled the amount of people who call this place home and several new restaurants and shops have turned it into more of a destination. Two years ago, hardly any of these places were in business, the building construction had just begun. They’re building another in an adjacent lot now, right in front of the stadium.
Being surrounded by the area’s homeless is often an adventure. I know each one of them has their own story about how they came to live on the streets and I don’t envy a single one of them. Still, when a young man (under 25 I’d say) popped into the store ten minutes before closing, ranting about the laws of the Universe and banging his head on the counter, I was a little freaked out. His tone was more positive than negative, which was comforting, but still, the content was awkward because the nature of it was woowoo spirituality and the sentences never really ended: “I know times are tough right now but I have faith, I mean, I know things come around and…” Usually an ellipse stands for missing words that trail off but these sentences just ended and another one started right up. “You wouldn’t believe some of the hard times I’ve had, it’s just… And I don’t even know sometimes how things work out they just… All you gotta do is smile and know that this moment will pass because no matter… Are those peanuts?”
While my coworker was chatting with the guy, I slipped into the back to dial up the building security guard. I didn’t feel like I was in danger, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the situation turned quickly.
Plus, I had recently had a serious talk with myself about personal safety. After getting off my morning bus one day last week, I accidentally intervened in a police situation with an angry homeless man threatening to slice a cop’s throat with razorblades and I PROMISED my friend I’d never try to be a badass again. (Intervening consisted of offering the guy a cigarette and verbally sympathizing with him, encouraging him to walk away. Not superhero stuff but still, kind of dumb)
When the security officer arrived, he began to talk about the cycles of the moon and how “for some reason because of the way the planets are aligned, the craziness of people hasn’t died down.” Apparently it goes in cycles and “everything will be peaceful until all hell breaks loose and then they calm down again for a while until next time.” Normally. But this particular current planetary alignment is affecting that process, so “God only knows when this will end.”
As I offered him a drink and thanked him for coming so quickly, I had to weigh whether or not it was fair to have the uniformed person in a similar mental state as the homeless guy. Also, I wondered which of these two people I’d rather be alone in a room with. Who was dangerous? Who was safe? It was weird. I think I’m more curious about the homeless man’s life story than I am about the security guard’s philosophy of human nature. I need to read up on ways to casually engage in conversations with people on the edge without endangering myself. Has anyone written a book called “How to talk to homeless people?”