Lice Pariah

Crude scary lice pic.

My daughter’s camp called on Friday, telling me that I needed to drop everything and go pick her up—she had lice! It was a stressful day: it hurt to loose half a day’s pay, plus my car was in the shop, so we had to take multiple busses home, all the while  my daughter whined piteously   and scratched furtively at the bathing cap the camp gave us to cover her head. When we got home, I had to wash her down with special soap, comb the nits out, wash all of the bedding, clothes, etc., in the house.

But that wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was the stigma. My daughter was invited to a party today, and I called the boy’s grandma and explained the situation–asking if it was ok if I brought her. She said yes–but no sooner was I driving away, than I got another call saying I should pick her back up. Grandma told mom in front of the other parents–and they didn’t want her around their kids.

So I got to pick up my hurt and bewildered daughter–minutes after dropping her off at a party she had been looking forwards to for weeks.

The worst part about lice isn’t the work involved. It’s the stigma.

The whole time we were taking the bus(es) home, the only thing my daughter wanted to talk about was her lice, but I had to keep saying–“Hush, be quiet! Don’t tell anybody!”

When I picked my daughter up at camp, they asked if I had ever had lice–and I lied and said no.

I did have lice. I caught it in a holding cell in jail while lying on an orange shirt someone had left behind. When they processed me: making me strip, squat, cough, etc., I asked them to give me something for my lice. They ignored me.

I was put in a cell with three other women with an intimate knowledge of the cable schedule. One of them saw me scratching, and made a comment about dry scalps.

“No,” I said, “I have lice. I asked them to give me shampoo for it–but they didn’t.” The three women got upset, and started hollering for the guard.

The guard came–a thickset, heavy woman with a skeptical demeaner.

“You’re lucky you didn’t get your ass beat–telling everybody you had lice!” She informed me as she took me to take a shower.

They never did give me lice shampoo, just shoved me in the “come-down” cell where I lay on a thin mat on the floor surrounded by junkies moaning through the shakes of serious withdrawal. They let me out the next day.

My boyfriend and I both ended up with lice. We begged a youth center for some clothes, and my dumb-ass BF put them on before we could cage a shower from the hippy Christians. But he solved his lice anyways by shaving his head into a bouncy blond fro hawk.

I did the shampoo, but the lice came back. Finally I cured the lice. By prayer.

One night I lay in my bedroll, crying from pain with my scalp bleeding from all of the scratching, praying: “Please Goddess, I don’t want to keep killing these bugs, but I need them to go away!”

And the next day, they were gone. I never had another bite.

I never told anybody. I couldn’t stand the stigma.

 

That Time I Got Violent…

I haven’t written about my early years on the streets for a while, but this story came up last night…

Back in 1999 I was living in a 21 foot trailer in a junk yard in Ballard/Seattle with a bunch of strippers, tweakers, and alcoholics. Now, I’ve never been a violent person, but one night as I was walking in the yard with one of the strippers–who was also pregnant–the Manager of the property suddenly hauled off and decked her out of the blue. She hit the ground hard.

I grabbed him, trying to immobilize his arms from behind. The move didn’t work like I had it in my mind. Maybe it would have worked if he had resisted, but he went all limp and flaccid in my arms, staring at me with dead fish eyes. He wriggled out of my grasp and ran to his room in the warehouse with me hot on his heels. He barely squeezed in the door shutting it hard on my leather clad arm, until I had to pull out and  let the door close. I tried to kick down the door, only to be restrained by the “music producer”/pimp who lived downstairs. I almost kicked him in the balls in frustration, but managed to calm down as four or five people restrained me.

I never did find out what that incident was all about, except that the stripper said he was always peaking at her through a hole in the wall of the shower and she told him to stop (possibly forcefully). She was okay, and continued to live there, but I had to leave shortly after that.

I moved into a four-foot tall nook in the basement of a hippy house off of University Ave.  A year later I ran into the stripper’s boyfriend, and he gave us some bizarre story of her giving birth alone with him in a canyon during a flood while he was tripping on acid. He seemed fuzzy on the whereabouts and status of both his girlfriend and their child.

I’m a really non-violent person, but if you beat a woman in front of me I will fuck you up.

Date-Er…

On Valentines Day Cami texted me and we set up a date for that Thursday. (Go back to Speed Dating for the back-story)

Despite the fact that I gave her my number, Noma connected with me that evening on Facebook. (How did she find me anyways? She told me she had her ways.) We set up a date for the following Tuesday. Now that’s a great Valentines Day for a single lady, the promise of two dates with nice, sexy studs!

When Thursday came I was maybe a little too excited about my date–probably because it was much more fun to anticipate a date then worry about the test I had to take directly before-hand. Cami asked what types of food I liked, suggesting Chinese, Italian and Mexican. I hadn’t had good Mexican food in ages, so I latched on to that. That’s when I found out that she was not Native American, as I thought, but Mexican. (Or rather, she is Native American, probably, but from the South.)

When I picked her up from work we had one of those “you don’t look like I remember from the Club” moments. She was shorter than I thought, and without her fitted cap she came off as more of a tomboi than the hard stud I thought she was. The chemistry wasn’t there. She says she was drunk when we met, and I guess I liked her better with her drunk, out-going, more masculine side showing. The quiet tomboy and I didn’t seem to really click.

The food was spicy but our conversation was bland. The more she talked about the extended loving, supportive family that raised her the more self-conscious I became over my own broken home. The more she talked about helping troubled kids and street kids, the more I felt like a candidate for her social work, rather than a relationship. It was like one of those job interviews where they sell you on the job at the same time that you feel totally inadequate to fill it, and feel like they’ve reached the same conclusion. So, not a strong connection, but the Mole Verde Enchiladas were off the hook!

I consoled myself with the thought of my date on Tuesday…

Speed Dating & Dancing Part 1.5 Helping Hand

At around 11pm during my Valentines Day night out I decided to go smoke a joint. After failing to talk the tomboi into abandoning her pole-dancer watching spot to join me, I got into the incredibly long line for the coat room.

Well, I almost made it to the line. I got sidetracked talking to Cami, the Native stud, who stood by the ledge drinking a beer. Guess what she wanted to talk about? If you said the pole dancers, you winnn!I was beginning to really resent those talented sexy bitches.

Once outside I walked up a couple blocks, enjoying the cool night air on my hot skin as I sucked in the fragrant smoke of my joint.

On the way back an older black man stopped me.

“Hey, could you spare anything?” He asked me respectfully. “It’s a cold night–a hard night to be out on the streets.”

“It is.” I said, reaching for my purse. Then I realized that all I had was a ten, and I really wanted to use most of that for the rest of my evening. “I need to get some change, though.”

“I think you can get some across the street, he said, pointing to a gas station. “If you want to.”

I crossed the street, got change for my ten and went back to where he was standing.

“Here.” I gave him three dollars. “Thank you!” He replied. “It’s hard on the streets here in Boston in the Winter.”

“I know,” I replied, “That’s why I left for San Francisco.” I flashed him a peace sign.

I know that seemed like a lot of work to give someone three dollars–maybe I should have given him $5, or the whole $10. But $3 was what I felt comfortable with, and I remember how, when you’re on the streets, even a little bit of money–even a little bit of caring–can go a long way.

 

 

 

 

Where You Shit

The right, or shall we say, privilege to go the bathroom is one of the biggest things you miss on the streets. I feel so strongly about this that ten years later I stormed out of a restaurant after ordering when they didn’t have a public restroom. (When the restaurant went out of business a few weeks later after 50 years I felt vaguely guilty, as if my uneaten hamburger and negative energy were the culprit.)

Oh, going to the bathroom wasn’t such a big deal when I started on the streets in Cambridge: there was Au Bon Pain, the Garage, and that nice little church that gave out free coffee. If you had to pee at night there were a couple bushes, and us newbie girls would leave little bits of pilfered toilet paper in desultery heaps there.

It wasn’t until I hit sunny (ha ha) San Francisco that going to the bathroom became a big issue. Oh, everybody’s had the experience of having to go to the bathroom somewhere and everywhere they go it says “no public restrooms,” storming up and down the street until you beg plead or bully your way into a John. But on the streets that was every single time. Oh not every time: I became adept at peeing between cars and in bushes–peeing in a half crouch and forgoing toilet paper to drip dry. There was one very special alcove off Haight Street with some plants that I watered regularly, their big leafy branches shielding my squatting form from the public eye.

But what to do when you had to number two? If you had money you could buy some time and the restroom key at a coffee shop or restaurant. But what if you had none? What if it was late at night and everything was closed?

On one such a night I was loitering on the street with my sole possessions and a few neer’ do wells. “Where can I poop?” I asked them. I had to go so bad!

“No problem” Said the gutter punk next to me, streetlight glinting off of his spiked hat and vest. “Just go down to the park.”

Ookay. I walked with him down to the panhandle with him. There was no privacy in the well-lit, sparsely tree-d park, cars zooming by on all sides. There were also no people.

“Well, go ahead” He pointed to the skirt of a tree, right there in the open.

Feeling nervous unsure, I gamely squatted down.

“I can’t.”

“Sure you can!” He squatted a few feet away and took a big old junkie shit. To this day I can’t remember if he wiped or what he wiped with.

“No, I really can’t”

As we walked back to Height Street, him feeling much relieved and me worse than ever, he spotted a shopping cart.

“Get in! It will be a cool ride!” He then proceeded to push me on the shortest, scariest ride of my life. If you ever want to get the (proverbial) shit scared out of you, let a junky push you drunkenly up the steep, uneven streets of San Francisco.

When we got back to the doorway we had been hanging in, a guy who was only slightly sketchy offered to take me to his friend’s pad to use the bathroom.

***

Another time I found myself struggling with #2 was late at night at N Judah, the end-of-Judah, the beachy home where we slept either wrapped in tarps in the dunes, or later in sleeping bags in a garage/storage hall. Again I confided my situation to an older, more street smart compadre:

“Just poop in the bushes up on the hill.” He advised, gesturing with his scraggly beard at the steep dune that separated the beech from the street.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, sure! People do it all of the time!”

“Well, I really have to go.” So I wended my way though the scraggly paths between low lying bushes. Since it was dark and private-feeling, I was able to accomplish my mission, although I had no means to bury it once the deed was done, only covering with a used bit of toilet paper.

***

A few days later as I was hanging out in front of a coffee shop across the street I watched a fellow street person wend his way through the bushes with a bag in his hands. He came towards us dragging his foot and grimacing.

“I just went up to get my bag from where it was stashed and stepped in human shit!” He exclaimed.

“Ew that’s disgusting!” said the dread-locked girl next to me.

I–wisely–said nothing at all.

My Second Arrest

My second arrest happened one weeknight as some friends and I congregated on the otherwise empty street. It was late, and I was–unfortunately–sober, and dreading the bus ride “home” to my squat. This time I was arrested for the dastardly crime of “obstructing the sidewalk” (from ghosts, apparently) without ID. Yes friends, in San Francisco standing on the sidewalk without ID is a crime!

So one minute I’m chatting with friends in an empty storefront, and the next two cops are on my like slavering dogs wanting my ID. When I don’t have one they charge me with obstruction, ask me if I have any weapons (I say no) and cart me back to the friendly holding station, where they once again handcuff me to the chair.

A guy comes out right away and exhorts me not to sing–but its ok, I don’t really feel like singing. I sit there miserably for an hour or so until the pressure on my bladder becomes unbearable, and then holler out my request to go the bathroom. After I’ve been yelling for a while, a stocky Latina policewoman struts out and uncuffs me, leading me to the nearby bathroom. Here’s where things start to go down-hill.

So she’s standing there watching me try to pee, and I just can’t do it. I just can’t pee with this heavy bitch staring at me. So I ask her, as politely as I can, to please turn around. Well, it’s at this point it occurs to her that I haven’t been searched yet. Who knows what crazy shit she expects me to do in the moments I’m planning on using to void my bladder–so she pulls me off of the toilet, and starts searching me, only to find a pocket folding knife, a double sided dagger-style letter opener, and, once again, my box-cutter (remember this was pre 9/11).

She responded as if I had smuggled a pocket sized nuclear bomb into the precinct, or at the very least. Shock. Outrage. Horror. Holding up my letter opener she yelled “This is a felony offense! A double edged blade!”

Me: “It’s a letter opener. It’s not sharp.”

Officer: “Double-edged blades are illegal in the state of California. And this!” (holding up my folding knife) “Another illegal weapon.”

Me: “It’s a pocket knife. Under four inches.”

Officer: “We’ll see about that! You’re going down for two felonies!”

Me: “Can I at least pee first?”

My First Arrest

The first time I was arrested was for littering without ID. Picture me at 17: big boned but skinny–short hand-cut brown hair, size 8 pants with holes in the knees, a riot police vest festooned with ragged  multi-colored patches. Everything I owned on my back and a flute case over my shoulder. I was stoned out of my gourd when I made the mistake of attempting a philosophical conversation with an officer. Honestly, he probably would have arrested me anyway, but when I threw a hand-rolled cigarette butt on the cement (anti-littering to my mind–which would biodegrade first?) he saw his chance.

Turns out anything that you do in San Francisco without ID is pretty much illegal. Even if you pick up the trash instantly, it’s your word against theirs.

They took me to the station, where they went through my stuff.

“You know, this is a weapon, I could take it.” The cop found my box cutter I had tied on a string to my belt and tucked into my back pocket.

“It’ a box cutter, you can buy it in any hardware store,”   I told him scornfully. (This was pre- 9-11.) He dropped it in the brown paper bag that was becoming the new home for my possessions. Between the four pockets of my vest and the four in my pants I had a lot of stuff. A matchbook missed the bag and fluttered like a moth to the floor. Before I could grab it, The cop snatched it up.

“Groundscore!” He cried triumphantly. “See,” he said, giving me the smirk of a disobedient child, an expression I would see often from Frisco cops abusing their power, ” I know your slang.”

They handcuffed me to the chair for hours, and I occupied myself with belting out tunes: Amazing grace, Nothing Left to Loose, Mercedes Benz, Redemption Song…at one point a big black lady cop added her full throated voice to mine. Finally an officer asked me to be quiet, and I accommodated. I was tired by then, and coming down.

They took me downtown and finger printed me under a false name. Since I had given them a false birth date as well, they put me in a general pop holding cell. The holding cells in downtown Frisco are glass cages lining a big room full of cops doing paperwork. On one side was a cell crowded with men in orange jump suits.

I was put in a room with two other women, a working TV and a broken pay phone. (The pay phone seemed redundant, as all of our money was confiscated when we were booked.) In the corner a girl lay shaking on the cold bench. She had sores all over her face and the shakes real bad as she came down off junk.

The other woman was middle-aged and slightly off. She kept waving at the police and trying to get their attention. It seemed that she knew or was related to each of them in some way or other. She looked pityingly at the girl in the corner.

“I would never do heroine.” I agreed. God, that looked awful. Coming down in jail had to be hell.“I only smoke pot” she paused as I nodded my agreement, “and crack.”

The show changed on TV to Billy Grahame. No, just no. I thought. This was cruel and unusual punishment. Examining the set-up, I managed to perch on a bench and just barely reach the controls on the TV.

“You’re not supposed to do that.” The woman said as I flipped through the channels. “Can you put on Cops?”