Feb 192016
 

 

blurred crowdLast week, while in San Francisco for a writers conference, I was walking with my young daughter on Geary Street near Mason, not far from Union Square, when I noticed him: a towering, disheveled member of the city’s vast legion of homeless people, keeping pace behind me.

I deliberately altered my pace—already considerably slower than the rest of the people who were streaming past since I was holding the hand of my toddler—to let him pass. But instead of disappearing into the upstream swim of pedestrians, he slowed, too.

Angling myself to keep him in my periphery, I took him in: 6’4, solidly built, and dressed in a green zippered hoodie with bulging front pockets. With eyes that darted around as if they were tracking an invisible swarm of bees in front of his face, he mimicked my movements. When I walked on, he followed. When I slowed down, he did too. I crossed the street and sure enough, he was right there behind me. It was only when I had stopped completely—pretending to point out something of interest in a store window to my daughter—that he finally seemed to have disappeared. Believing my new unwanted friend to have slipped back into the anonymous flow of pedestrians, I stopped briefly into a Starbucks to buy my daughter a promised hot chocolate before continuing on to Union Square.

Living in Seattle, there’s nothing like a warm, cloudless California day to flush the rainy Pacific Northwest gloom from the system. There was an art fair happening in Union Square, and my daughter and I decided to camp out on the steps in the plaza and soak it all in. But we’re only there a few minutes when I felt a presence behind me. I turned around to find our stalker hovering over us. I sprang to my feet, placing myself between him and my daughter and asked him what the fuck he wanted.

“What do YOU want?” he hissed. His posture changed, and he became aggressive, the ambiguity of his intentions dissolving before my eyes. He was no longer following invisible swarming bugs but was instead focused directly on me. At one point I kicked over my coffee and he laughed sinisterly. Then, looking at my daughter, he asked me if she belonged to me. He actually used the word belong. I looked over to where two women were sitting nearby.

“Excuse me,” I called out to them. “Can you take my daughter for me?” The women only made brief eye contact with me before quickly looking away. A man walking past pretended to be oblivious to what was happening. As a former cop, I’d been in enough fights with the mentally ill and drug-addled to know that I’m outmatched. When you’re psychotic or drugged out of your gourd, the pain is muted. Reason is fleeting. And to top things off, I’d been struggling with my self-confidence all morning ever since it had been pointed out to me that oily White House hopeful and Boston Strangler-lookalike Ted Cruz owned a red-checkered button-down shirt just like the one I was wearing at the moment.

By now, my aggressor was making quick, jerky, jumpy motions toward me like he was about to hit me. He was standing in an elevated position over me and the way I saw it, I could either keep standing there and wait for him to kick me in the head, or I could act now, drag his legs out from under him before he could react and start smashing his head into the concrete.

Just as a physical attack—one way or the other—seemed inevitable, the guy abruptly stood down. As I maneuvered myself up to where he was standing, he slinked away and ran off. Within moments a uniformed Union Square security officer appeared and asked if I was okay. I explained what happened—that the guy had been stalking my daughter and I for blocks—and he took off after him.

When it was all over, I glanced around at the people who were seated nearby when all of this was happening. Whether out of guilt or out of fear, not a single one will make eye contact with me. At some point, the women I had implored to safeguard my daughter have crept away from the scene altogether when I wasn’t looking.

In every plan I was making to do great bodily harm to my would-be attacker in defense of both my daughter and myself, I failed to take the good ol’ bystander effect into consideration. I should have known that rather than have someone do me a favor by safely removing my daughter from the danger at hand, we stood a better chance of having our beating deaths idly filmed by a couple dozen people with their cell phones.

Like it has in Seattle, the lax regulatory policies on homelessness in San Francisco have created a crisis for the city. In both cities, and others like them, the drug culture, mild climate, liberal approach to social services and high cost of housing has created a favorable atmosphere for the homeless. In Seattle; a 100-acre expanse of greenbelt beneath a section of the city’s I-5 freeway known as the “Jungle” has been turned into an encampment of homelessness and crime (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/02/05/3-boys-charged-with-jungle-murders-were-collecting-moms-drug-debt-cops-say/).

Since the incident, I’ve been reading up on aggressive panhandlers and learned that I may very well have been the target of a “soft mugging”; an extortion-like tactic where a panhandler will essentially stalk and follow a target menacingly until the target pays him to go away. In all my experiences with homeless people and/or panhandlers, this guy was undoubtedly the exception, for in all the number of times I’ve been hit up for cash on by panhandlers, I’ve never been straight up menaced.homeless man

I’m not going to pretend to be ignorant to the complexity of issues that ties into homelessness in America. Arguably, better access to mental health treatment and drug abuse intervention would be a great place to start, but I’ll leave the dissection of that social issue to the experts. For this is intended as a cautionary tale.

The radioactive decay of my Flint, Michigan upbringing had no sooner reached its half-life, you might say. I dress more conservatively these days. I’m not as grumpy as I used to be. And on a few occasions, I’ve even caught myself believing that most people are inherently good. But the incident in San Francisco has derailed me from my Doodles Weaver complacency. It’s a fact: we’re a hypocritical society; one that bemoans the changing mores of social decency while being gleeful consumers of its modality. While waiting for a New York City train in 2012, 58 year-old Ki Suk Han was pushed onto the tracks of the subway by a deranged homeless man named Naeem Davis. As the train was bearing down on him, Han’s last images weren’t of helpful bystanders scrambling in vain to pull him to safety, but rather the incessant flashing of a New York Post’s photographer’s camera capturing his final moments of life (http://nypost.com/2012/12/04/suspect-confesses-in-pushing-death-of-queens-dad-in-times-square-subway-station/).

So, you see, it’s important to keep in mind that even when surrounded by throngs of friendly bystanders, you shouldn’t rely on anyone to come to your aid when you’re being pummeled to death for the five bucks you have in your wallet.

You’d be better advised to just smile for the cameras.

Nov 282015
 

Gumwall3

 

It was 1993, and the name Lorena Bobbitt single-handedly drove the sales of flower bouquets through the roof. Sultry alligator wrestler-turned-attorney general Janet Reno ordered the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian Religious Sect in Waco, Texas. And the whirring, humming automated residential housing algorithms of Michigan State University matched me up with a snag-toothed, pumpkin-headed man-child from suburban Detroit named Mark (for legal, moral and humanitarian reasons, I won’t print his last name here but I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes quite symmetrically with oh, smell…).

When I wasn’t knocking over the soda bottles of chew juice he’d left strewn about our floor, or dry-heaving from the rancid, composting piles of soiled clothes he’d leave lying out on his squalid mattress, I was flushing the gurgling mallow he’d left in the toilet or splashing away the dried toothpaste spittle from the sink basin. One night, over a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit in the study room with some other guys from our floor, Mark excused himself. When he returned, he had with him an unassuming shoebox that he set out onto the table in front of everyone. Without uttering a word, he lifted the lid, revealing a Christmas-colored, loaf-sized mound of what looked like fermented moss.

“It’s my booger brick,” he said. Quickly shoving ourselves back from the table, we listened as Mark went on to explain with listless sentimentality that what had begun innocently enough as a few, leisurely booger-wipes against a square of spare cardboard at around age twelve became a lifelong craft he would dedicate himself to building upon, one glistening little mucus-y glob at a time. To the rest of us, he may as well have displayed a severed human head and it was at that moment that I decided Mark was just off enough that I could no longer tolerate living with him and would pay the extra cash for a single room for the remainder of the year. Even though Mark was an extreme case, I pretty much decided from that point on to paint all potential roommates—no, all people, in general—with the same germ-covered brush as gross and vile…and this isn’t even accounting for those who think grossness should have some sort of redemptive artistic value.

Gumwall1

On November 10, city officials in Seattle steam-blasted the city’s Gum Wall; a 50-foot long corridor of brick in Post Alley near the city’s famed Pike Place Market. While standing impatiently in the long lines for a local improv theater to open back in 1993, tactless patrons began pressing their wads of chewed-up gum to the alley’s walls.

Proving that we live in a vast and diverse world that allows people to be idiots in entirely different ways, the trend caught on. Throngs of germy hippies from around the Pacific Northwest turned out in throngs to leave their own microbial contributions to the wall, leaving a germy, gummy glob of messages, mosaics and various slogans of the cause du jour that would ultimately stretch 50 feet long, 15 feet high, become several inches thick, and weigh a total of 2,350 lbs.

Feeling sick yet?Gumwall2

Considered among the five germiest tourist attractions of 2009 (second only to the Blarney Stone), according to TripAdvisor, it appeared as if the wall’s grody history would be effaced for good. But within hours of having been scrubbed clean, guerilla artists pressed a sugarless rendering of the Eiffel Tower into the wall in the wake of the Paris attacks.

In the popular imagination, art is one of those things that comes about as the product of a diverse range of human activities usually involving imaginative or technical skill. I guess in that sense, whether Seattle’s gum wall conveys some imaginative and workable canvass for artistic expression is still up for debate. Although, if you’re willing to buy that, then I’ve got some used toilet paper to sell you…just think of them as Rorschach imprints.

Jul 092015
 

Capture In spite of all the complaints you hear out there, Amazon’s KDP select may still be worth it. And as the title suggests, that’s for one reason – advertising.

I’ve played with ads for my books on Goodreads and Facebook, but the success has been unimpressive. Amazon, however, makes sense. Only KDP books can be part of it, so you know right there who your competition is.

So how does it work? Continue reading »

May 292014
 

tabard innWe all find ways to inspire our writing. For me, it is often a location. I am especially partial to a nice café, a local Starbucks, or a bar with a nice ambiance. Most of all I find places that inspire memories and a sense of nostalgia to be the best writing environments.

Continue reading »

Mar 192014
 

redwoodsThis year I had a wonderful time at the San Francisco Writers Conference and am committed to returning next year. It was a weekend full of great dinners, wonderful people, and amazing discussions on the power of prose. A very valuable aspect of attending these events is that you learn about other upcoming events, and one of those that I would like to share with you today is the “Women Writing in the Redwoods” writing retreat, presented by the San Francisco Writers Conference.

 You can click on the following link for the beautiful flyer, but as you wait to click, let me tell you why the retreat looks great. Continue reading »

Feb 192014
 

grenada

 

 

The man sitting across the aisle from me openly peruses a Penthouse, which, for some reason, no one seems to take note of but me. I’m cradling a coffee and watching the day gather in the east. The image of my face appears in the window, ghostlike against the blur of the rolling landscape. Every so often another train will pass in the opposite direction; the indistinct faces of other passengers flashing quickly before me like grainy celluloid images. People with identities and dreams and triumphs and losses and stories all their own who’ll appear before me in a flash then vanish forever, as I to them. Continue reading »

Feb 172014
 
Hof home of fünfundfünfzig smiles

The quaint town of Hof

In the mid-eighties, my dad traveled to Germany for a business trip. With a daughter living in Germany, he was determined to immerse himself in the culture and interact with Europeans every chance he got.

He was like a child in a candy shop. Everything was new and exciting. If he ordered something he didn’t like in a restaurant, he’d grin and pull out his little notebook, quickly jotting down the new word he learned. Now he knew what not to order. Sore feet? A great opportunity to buy some of those famous German stabile Schuhe. (Stable shoes) Continue reading »

Feb 102014
 

Flamenco PaintingThe middle-aged woman with the raccoon mascara sidles closer. Dragging from a slender cigarette, she mentions casually that she was the inspiration for Gretchen. “You know,” she says with a dusky voice that pierces the smoke in this place, “…James Michener?” She says she likes the way I play the piano before remarking on my accent. “You’re American.”

I counter that I’m Canadian.

“Oh, you sound like an American.” Continue reading »

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