Park Blocks Blues

She might be beautiful, mixed race with delicate Caucasian features on a small face framed in ringlets trickling out of her tied-up hair. She’s arguing with an imaginary companion who is proving difficult, they just won’t listen; she’s making a moral argument about something. This spectacle is so common I’d wager a good half of those on the street yammering away thus are doing this: defending or arraigning something to an imaginary audience, commonly with the air of a prideful person defending himself. The homeless have an excess of pride, because pride is free. They affect a shamelessness and their station suggests they have none, but shame and pride are inextricable. False pride at least, arising in response to shame.

I confess I do the same in my head (I too have an excess of pride): imagining monologues I might have given; I’ve found myself imagining defending a given action to someone from my past–anyone who’s held any sort of influence over me. Have you? I’ve even caught myself muttering out loud once or twice. The line is too fine.

But there we were three men, strangers evenly spaced on the long wooden bench (with its inexplicable curvature inviting one into a squatting posture), placidly watching her pass before us, apparently oblivious. At first I thought she was approaching the brother with cornrows (maybe homeless maybe not, you can’t always tell), and she’s peppering her harangue with “nigger” this and “nigger” that. She passes us to set up at the end of the bench.

I try to transcribe but she goes too fast; I pick up fragments.

I don’t care…I don’t give a goddamn…there’s nothing that will change… I’m miserable today was the most miserable…and if I’m not God why are you asking me about crazy shit…and it still hasn’t stopped…In don’t even want my Dad to live I hate everyone…I will never get married…I called myself a nigger in the Starbucks [this is a refrain; she got into some sort of trouble at a Starbucks]…I’m not going to become a man I’m not changing my gender…I don’t know you…however you talk to me…here’s the thing…any pejorative disgusting [this phrase another refrain]…so I won’t ever marry…I’m not a Muslim and I”m not an immigrant…

Cornrows ambles off. The street car howls to a stop, the recorded female voice announces the destination in placid counterpoint to–for no good reason I’ll call her “Sally”. Three Women of Color painted on the side of the trolley assail me with ambiguously aggressive expressions. A contented looking pair of lesbians, salt and pepper, get on.

Sally breaks down sobbing.

…this state will never admit…I won’t get…I’m not agreeing to do anything…I don’t care…I never agreed to anything nigger no…this state won’t ever…I will never have sex I will never get married nigger…

Sally’s going faster; I’m losing most of it.

let me tell you…they never — no they don’t nigger no they don’t…really guarantees that no one will ever oh my Gawwwwd…I will never consent to have sex more than I have already consented…nigger…everything I’ve said…no nigger I’ m not even saying sorry…I want to go home I want to go home [sob] and she wants to go home tonight the second of September….so I decide to live forever like I always do I’m dying freeee….

The building across from me announces itself as home to Portland State’s graduate school as well as SCHOOL OF GENDER, RACE AND NATIONS; BLACK STUDIES; CHICANO/LATINO STUDIES; INDIGENOUS NATIONS STUDIES; WOMEN GENDER & SEXUALITY STUDIES. It’s a wonder the modest little brick building can contain it all. A group files out–notably no more sexually ambiguous than typical downtown–comes across the street near us and forms a circle.

I am not going to do anything for anyone I refuse to do anything for anyone…I will not be vegan…I’m not blind and deaf I’m not Helen Keller I’m not my sister…

Sally goes quiet.

In the lapse a pair of young women with formless bodies under formless casual clothes like frocks sit across from me. They give a start when Sally hits the ground running on resumption of her dialogue:

niiii-ger...I don’t care I’m asking you what I think…this man’s in love with me and you got a crush on me…wow…when I was homeless…I had no idea who the fuck she was…nigger no, not a gypsy like the religion this older white lady…so obviously it was never me I never…who Salvia you are so many fucking things…stop thinking you can justify every drug…I’m going sit here like Meg on Family Guy…come on nigger…oh shut up…why are you always asking her…nigger shit…fat…no I’m asking you no I’m literally what…the theory of — consent…I am a redhead a ginger…how am I having a fake ass overdose?…I don’t like saying shit like that…I knew you would never have to I never give my hideaway…

She’s got out a sheet of ruled paper and is reciting, somewhat, boilerplate about the rules of sexual consent. The new girls watch with mild interest.

…once they do that they have to reassess the language that they use…these are black women…really reading something I fucking written down…you’re not listening…

The trees spreading their skinny green long limbs against the horizontal afternoon light loom like firework blooms over, in the distance down the long narrow perspective of the park blocks, the tiny, perfect silhouette of a girl walking confidently.

Sally jumps up, looks at the two sexually ambiguous boys (two more possibly homeless–they are both residentially and sexually ambiguous) who’ve sat down between us. She looks shocked and hurt; she resembles a handsome boy holding back tears. There are holes in her jeans, scabs of mud on her knees. How exploited has she been? How much more? A homeless man, relating the latest beating he’d suffered on the street, once told me the worst thing about being a homeless person is other homeless people.

Sally sat back down as fast as she got up and started sobbing into her hands: you’re not listening nigger you’re not listening nigger you’re not listening nigger…

3 thoughts on “Park Blocks Blues

  1. There, but for the grace of God, and all that. Probably a very fine line between madness and sanity. Could just be some of us become possessed by demons through no fault of our own and sit there. passively tormented, while others actively and cunningly welcome demonic possession. I imagine women would inhabit the former camp much more often than men.

    If you’re interested in this stuff you should read this guy: https://www.738×738.com/.

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    1. The association of women with witchcraft and demons recognized this female willingness to be seduced by the irrational. Girls identifying as boys might have been chalked up to possession (of course you’d never have gotten this mania in the first place). So this honest misunderstanding of the phenomenon is far superior to our “enlightened” view, which cedes anything to and encourages possession.

      (I want to do a satire of The Exorcist: “Well, Regan’s identifying as Satan now, so…”)

      We see how manias affect girls, who can take up things like a psychosomatic twitching disorder–were such things possible back when people believed in witches and demons? Sounds like a good way to get yourself thrown in a lake as a witch.
      These superstitions were adaptations to problems we’ve now identified as oppressed identities.

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      1. Good point about witches. I hadn’t thought about that. White women today “identify” with blacks and the mad woman in your post would be in a kind of spiritual communion, like having a familiar to use in casting spells.

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