I Live in a Town Where You Can’t Smell a Thing

I’ve been reading Columbine, by Dave Cullen. It was published in 2009, but I put off reading it, because I have this weird disconnect in my head when it comes to Columbine stuff. I both want to know everything, to try and understand, but whenever I think about it for long I go into my 17-year-old headspace of being confused and angry and other emotions that I don’t understand. So mostly I avoid Columbine stuff. But recently, Sue Klebold (Dylan Klebold’s mother) released a memoir, and I read that, and decided to finally read Columbine while I was on a roll, so to speak. (If you want to read other thoughts of mine on school shootings, I wrote an entry after the shooting in 2013 at Arapahoe High School here.)

So I’m reading this book. About the murderers and about the victims and what happened that day. And before and after. And something struck me.

When Cassie Bernall was 13 or 14, she went through a bad bout of depression (my word, not Cullen’s). She threatened to commit suicide, she cut herself, hit her head against walls and bathroom counters. In a journal that her parents found after she died, Cassie said, “I cannot explain in words how much I hurt. I didn’t know how to deal with this hurt, so I physically hurt myself.” Cassie’s family was(is) deeply Christian, so their method of coping with this behavior, after consulting with their minister, was to pull Cassie out of public school and put her in a private Christian school, take away the phone in her room, and basically forbid all activities that weren’t church- or youth group-related. This strategy worked, and Cassie stabilized enough that they let her return to public school when she was a freshman, to Columbine High School. She said that she wanted to bring the word of Christ into the public school.

A little over a year before the massacre at Columbine, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were arrested for theft. They broke into a parked van and stole some electronics equipment out of it. They’d gotten in trouble a few times before this, the sort of trouble that involves parents and school administrators, not the police. But getting arrested for anything when you’re 17 is a big deal in suburban white-collar Littleton, so both sets of parents took it seriously. Eric Harris’ parents, in particular, besides grounding him and taking away his computer and the usual punitive parental things, sent him to a psychiatrist who got him started on anti-depressants (both boys were sent to counseling as part of their sentencing, but Harris’ dad was apparently moving towards putting his son into therapy within days of his arrest). Both boys completed their court-ordered Diversion program, and Harris was on his full dose of antidepressants right up until his death (as shown by his autopsy).

So. These kids. All with significant emotional and/or behavioral issues. All at Columbine High School.

One family did the textbook version of “everything right.” Sent their kid to therapy, tried to get underlying causes diagnosed, let legal consequences stand. The other went with a strategy that would strike a lot of people as abusive or harmful, or, at the very least, not helpful. But two kids ended up murderers, and the other kid ended up murdered.

I’m not trying to make a broad point about either of these treatment options, if we can call them that. Eric Harris got sent to therapy, and it didn’t help him; but Dylan didn’t ever go to a therapist outside of his court-ordered counseling, but he probably had depression and was definitely suicidal (as evidenced by journals found after his death), and getting properly diagnosed and treated could have made an enormous difference to him–and, by extension, an enormous difference to the people he ended up terrorizing. Similarly, just because Cassie’s outward mood and demeanor changed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she was no longer depressed or that she wasn’t still in need of treatment besides whatever comfort she found in church. If she’d lived, she may have had a recurrence once she went off to college. She could have been faking happiness so that she could leave her house and use the telephone (I have some friends who have diagnoses of depression who think she was doing exactly that). Or, maybe she really did feel better, feel loved, feel like she was a person of value. I don’t know. I know that Leelah Alcorn, when subjected to a similar parental plan of therapy-by-Christianity, ended up killing herself by stepping out into freeway traffic. I also know that my own religious community has been a comfort to me when precious little else has. I also know that there doesn’t seem to be a reason why either of those outcomes happened. Why Cassie chose one direction and Dylan chose another.

If anything, I guess I’m making a broad point about how scary humans are, not to mention how scary it is to be one, especially when adolescence and mental illness manifest at the same time. I’m not a psychologist by any sense of the imagination. I’m also not a parent. It just seems insane, the leap of faith parents have to make. You can pretend all you want that kids are a computer, that behavior is a science, that when you input Software Program A into Port 1, it will update the drivers and your beta human will respond and improve in a predictable, quantifiable way. And that just isn’t how it works. I know that every parent knows this in a way that I don’t, but also, it seems like one of those things that’s easier to deal with if you just don’t think about it. I don’t know how you decide on a course of action when the potential consequences range from “everything fixed” to “dead kid.” I don’t know how you do that.

The scary thing, the risky thing, is that I think the strategy that has the best chance of working is anything that brings people closer. That broadens a community and brings more people in. And I’m not talking anymore just about school shooters, but anything to lessen the violence we humans seem to inflict on each other. You need to be an empathic person in order to make a commitment to not hurt people, and some people can’t be taught that no matter what, but some people (most people?) just need to be reminded. But you never know who’s who until you try, and that’s the hard part. The part where you’re asked to risk literally everything for an outcome that has no real assurance of actually happening. When you’re in a situation that your culture and your upbringing and your education and your experience with humans has not prepared you for, you have to trust a human and put your faith in them, and humans–for all the power that our religious institutions have these days–are actually really bad at having faith and trusting each other.

But what else is there to do?

Mighty Mighty Throwdown

image

On December 26th, I woke up at 3am and caught a bus to the airport. We were leaving the city and crossing the plains (Denver’s airport is east of the city) when the sun came out for the day. It didn’t seem to rise as much as shine through a place where the night sky had been rubbed thin.

After sleep-stumbling my way through security, I caught a plane to New York City. I had a four-hour layover in the City, and then I caught a Chinatown bus to Boston.* When I realized that I was going to be in NYC, I admit I purposefully timed my bus ticket so that I could a little time in Manhattan. I haven’t been back since I moved away a year and a bit ago. So I took the train in from JFK and walked from the 49th and 8th subway station to Shake Shack (which was not as good as I remember), and from there to Penn Station, where I lingered and wrote in my journal and people-watched. I was in New York for long enough to remind myself of some of the reasons why I didn’t like it–the crowds, the smelly homeless people**, the dirt generally–but also some of the reasons I liked it, and still like it, the impossibly tall buildings, the number of stories you can tell. The feeling that anything can happen here.

By the time I got on my bus to go to Boston, the sun had fallen again (it had gone down while I was camped out in Penn Station), so we drove north through Manhattan at night. The bus was completely full, and the driver had the heat on high, and everyone was uncomfortable. The guy behind me–who seemed, like most of the bus, to be a college-age kid heading back to Boston after spending Christmas in NYC–was talking to somebody on the phone, helping them process what I think was a rough Christmas with the family, and didn’t think they were doing anything worthwhile in life. I admit I listened, because he was giving good advice. “Do you have any ideas about stuff you can create that the world needs?” he asked at one point, which I think is a good thing for anyone to think about now and again.

We went uptown on Amsterdam Avenue, past all the places I knew. The store I worked at. Stores I used to shop at and places I used to run errands. Past Roosevelt Hospital, Lincoln Center. A few blocks west of Columbus Circle, but I mentally noted it as we went by. We turned east at 106th, and then resumed our northward trek on Frederick Douglass Blvd, so we didn’t really pass the Columbia neighborhood.

When it comes down to it, I always liked New York best when I’m a little bit removed from it. On a bus going through Upper West Side, or on the Q train going over the Brooklyn Bridge, or on a boat in the Hudson River looking at the Statue of Liberty on one side of me and the skyline on the other. Anything that kept me from having to face the actuality of living there.

I’ve traveled the route from New York City to Boston and back several times, though always in the winter, always past the sad spindly deciduous trees that are waiting for spring. We passed by a Metro North train making its way to New Haven. The bus driver stopped a couple times to stretch, and finally noticed how broiling we all were, and turned the heat off with an apology (and distributed bottles of water, which was lovely, though I drank sparingly of mine because I didn’t want to have to use the bus lavatory). As we drove, I started seeing snow collecting along the edges of the road. Cold in Boston, at least in the recent past.

As I got closer, I started getting text messages from friends who were already in Boston, telling me to come to the Buckminster hotel, rather than my friend’s apartment (well, I could’ve gone to my friend’s apartment, but he wouldn’t have been there, since he was at the Buck). I finally got there around 11:00pm, EST, after sixteen hours of travel. Stashed my suitcase and my backpack in someone else’s hotel room and was greeted by smiles and hugs and beer. Hung out and talked, listened while other people talked. Eventually, the friend and me (after deciding that couches at the hotel were a terrible idea) took the T back to his apartment, where I fell asleep on a couch anyway, but a larger and more comfortable one than the hotel ones. And the next morning I got to watch Doctor Who and The Daily Show while we drink coffee. And then we went back to the Buck, back to Kenmore Square, back to the madness and the hilarity. I am not always relaxed and comfortable in big crazy groups, but I spent a fair amount of time leading up to this trip reminding myself to have low expectations, and give no fucks, and loosen up, and have fun. And knowing that even if the Buck ended up being a not fun place, the concerts I was going to go to would be.

Low expectations, keeping it simple, and playing it by ear turned out to be the key. Deciding that nobody will mess with me and my ability to enjoy the Mighty Mighty Mighty Bosstones. This, for me, is the recipe to knowing how to party.

*Turns out that traveling this way, while it takes about 16 hours, saves about $250.
**I understand that this makes me a total judgmental asshole. And not all of the homeless in NYC are smelly. But homeless people in NYC reach a level of decrepitude that I’ve never seen in any other homeless population in any other city. This probably says more about NYC than it does about the homeless.

Throwdown #16, part 2

citgoOn my way put of Boston. The clouds are shining silver in the early morning sun. Most people at the Buck are probably still sleeping.

I heard “Disappearing.” I heard “Haji.” The Bosstones can still, no matter what else is going on in my head, make me forget everything and have a good time. I danced in a skanking pit (not mosh pit, since everyone was skanking, I guess it was a skanking pit). I hugged friends. I made new friends.

And I figured out something that feels so stupid and elementary, something that people have been trying to tell me for years. Since I was a kid. To say what I learned, I have to first describe some things that are not my favorite things about myself.

I’m pretty shy and introverted. I like structure and predictability. I don’t like having to talk loud (though I do, eventually, when I come out of my shell or get hyper). I don’t hardly drink, and my ability to cope with loud and unpredictable and silly drunk people can be low, especially when they’re present in large quantities. So at large drunken unstructured gatherings—which the 737 parties at the Buck are, in great measure—I’m afraid that I come across as hating fun, or being uptight, or unfriendly, because I tend to sit in the corner and check my phone instead of talking to people. And part of me doesn’t understand why people have to get so loud (because they’re drunk), or belligerent (because drunk) or sick (because drunk). Since I don’t drink enough to get drunk, and because I’m inhibited enough that I’m actively afraid of becoming disinhibited, drunken revelries have never made entire sense to me. And, like any big social group, there’s gossip and drama and people who don’t like each other and people who talk shit (and yes, I am occasionally one of those people). As an introvert, this might be the part that baffles me most. If you don’t like a person, why put up with their presence? Why make nice to them? Don’t pick a fight or anything, but why waste your energy? I don’t want to throw anybody—no, nobody—out of the 737, but Jesus H Christ, sometimes I really just wish we could behave like motherfucking adults (again, I am including myself). I try to watch myself because I know I can be a judgmental person, and this is one area where I catch myself at it a lot.

But I realized this week, this thing that Quakers have been telling me my whole life. About love and acceptance. Yes, the 737 are a bunch of drunken immature rail-hogging bastards (including me. Minus the drunkenness). But they are also generous and compassionate and patient with each other—and with me. The same guy who got belligerent with the HOB staff and thrown out of the show checked in with me when it was clear that I was on the edge of an anxiety attack in the middle of the party, and then he moved over thirty people to another room just to give me space like it was was no big thing at all. The one who smokes pot in the bathroom also gave me food and wouldn’t let me pay him back. My friend’s boyfriend, who mostly comes to be with his girlfriend, not to hang with the group or even see the band, bought me dinner and held my bag for me so I could ride the rail and not deal with coat check. The woman who has made some…questionable?…romantic choices is also the one who took me away from the party and hugged me and let me cry when I was upset about an ex. People tolerate me being the rude person texting through conversations. People pick up merch and mail things to people who couldn’t come to the show. And if I couldn’t learn to deal with the drunken madness and revelry, I would also miss all that compassion and hospitality and acceptance. Lenny Lashley is kind of a mess but he makes some beautiful goddamn music.

And yeah, I know that not all bad behavior can be overlooked in favor of a person’s better nature. But a lot can, and probably a lot more than I think possible. In my family, being accepted into a gathering—hell, being respected as a person—is predicated on not causing a ruckus. I can’t tell you how foreign and strange and liberating it is to realize that that isn’t always true. Lord knows those mad drunken bastards have been overlooking and forgiving quite a few of my own faults over all these years while I figured that out. I would be more afraid to talk about this side of myself that I don’t like if I wasn’t reasonably certain that the 737—who are fairly perceptive—hadn’t already observed it and forgiven it in me. I’m sure I’m not as good at hiding it as I like to think.

Thank you guys, so much, so much more than I can say. For accepting and forgiving me. For letting me hang out with you. For not treating me as I sometimes was tempted to treat you. You are all such beautiful, worthy people. Don’t ever change.

The Best That I Can Do.

bartcrying.jpg I don’t know if you watch The Simpsons, but there’s an episode from either the first or second season where Bart is in danger of failing the 4th grade. He has to pass a history test, or he won’t go on to 5th grade (irony being, of course, that Bart has continued on in the 4th grade for the past 25 years). And for once, he studies as hard as he can—actually falls asleep over his books—but only gets a 59/100. Mrs. Krabappel drops the graded test on his desk, and what is one of the sadder moments in all of Simpsons history, his face crumples, and he puts his head down on his desk and starts to sob.

“But Bart,” says Mrs. Krabappel, “I’d think you would be used to failing by now.”

“You don’t understand,” cries Bart, banging his head on his desk, “I tried this time. I mean, I really tried. This is the best that I can do!” And in that moment, the audience understands. Of course Bart is a troublemaker. Of course he doesn’t try. It’s so much easier to not try—it’s so much easier to handle that kind of failure—than it is to try, and not be able to do it. In the first, you may have suspicions, but you can tell yourself that of course you failed, because you didn’t try. In the second, there’s no way to protect yourself. There’s nothing to say besides this is the best that I can do. And it’s not good enough. And you have to look at your real self, not your potential self, not the self you want to be. You have to look at the self that couldn’t get it done.

I know how Bart feels, though I come at it from the other direction. I don’t remember my parents ever telling me to do well in school. I never got rewards for good grades, or even very effusive praise. It was accepted and expected that I would do well. My parents knew I was smart enough. I knew I was smart enough. So we never discussed whether I would do well. And I never really learned how to handle it when things were academically hard, because it never was (and when it was, even when I was a little kid, I knew the difference between trying and failing and not applying myself).

One of the worst things about failing at Columbia was that my ability to fulfill that expectation completely disintegrated in spite of my intelligence, not my lack of it. I was, and am, smart enough to do the academic work at Columbia. I can do the work. But it all fell to pieces anyway. My ability to think critically collapsed. My ability to read something and then recall what I’d read crumbled. My ability to assimilate information from multiple sources floundered. My ability to remember things—even completely simple things like buying food—deflated.

I choked. That’s all there is to it.

The first and most obvious sign was probably the lens essay assignment. I knew the assignment. I know what my teacher wanted. I knew I had a decent idea, the topics I wanted to address, and where I wanted the essay to end up.

And I could.
Not.
Make.
It.
Happen.

It wasn’t writer’s block. Writer’s block is when you don’t know what to do, don’t know what to write. Writer’s block is when you’re out of ideas.

What do you call it when you’re full of ideas, but all that comes out on the page is a muddle?

Usually I can at least write something, and if it’s crap, I can clean it up later. This time, I could not.

Writing is the one thing I can do. The one thing I can do, the one thing I’ve always been able to do, and do well, and now I couldn’t. I stared at my computer screen. Spread my rough draft out over a table in the library and just stared at it. I muddled with it all night. I couldn’t get it clear in my head and because of that, I could never get it clear on the page. Never before had I really understood what David McCullough had said: “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” When your thinking processes break down entirely, of course you can’t write a paper on historical revisionism and photographs of lynchings.

The paper was due in twelve hours. I couldn’t start over. I couldn’t hand in this thing that wasn’t even a rough draft. And so I stared. And I fumbled. And I cried.

I cried more later, talking to my teacher, trying to explain why my essay sucked so much, and tell him that I knew it sucked, and that I was really sorry, that I wasn’t just turning in something sucky just to finish an assignment and get a grade, but that I really, truly did not know what had happened.

It was the best that I could do. And it was nowhere near good enough.

My teacher did an extraordinary and compassionate thing. He gave me an extension—all the way to the end of the semester. He worked with me on that essay. And I finished it, and even I knew it was good. (You can read the whole thing here—trigger warning for graphic images and disturbing content.) Not the best ever, maybe, but I said what I’d set out to say, and figured out some stuff about myself in the process. And by contrast, the second essay I did for that class, in spite of being longer and more complex, came stupidly easy (and it looks like I never posted that here. I should fix that).

That wasn’t the end of me falling to pieces. And while I had this one teacher who was willing to work with me, nobody else was. To be fair, I wasn’t willing to ask. I mean, what do you say? What previous experience could I draw upon that could have taught me what to do? And what professor at an Ivy League university is prepared to hold hands with an undergrad who should be old enough to handle her shit even though she has a sad?

I don’t know what I could have done different. I did my best, and it wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t something I could just push through. I know my dad just wanted me to ride it out and survive it and get it done so it wouldn’t feel like I’d wasted two years, without truly understanding just how bad it had gotten, inside my head.

I don’t really have a conclusion or universal truth to acknowledge. Sometimes you fail, that’s all. Sometimes you fail.

Words of Wisdom

photo-1The last two years, when I was so depressed, one of the things I hated about it was how it skewed my view of reality (see this entry). How it made me think that nobody would even notice if I just evaporated. It created a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d behave as if all the things that Depression was telling me were true–and it didn’t make it true, necessarily, but it did mean that I barely even tried to go to social functions, make friends, connect with people. Being isolated made me depressed, and depression made me isolate myself.

And you tell yourself it’s not true. That Depression is lying to you. And on your okay days, you can believe it. But Depression lurks in the space behind your ears, laughing, mocking you. “I don’t lie,” he whispers, “I tell the truth. I’m smart. Look around. You have no friends, you’ve messed everything up. If anyone’s lying to themselves, it’s you. Listen to me. I’m Depression. I’m an objective observer; I know what I’m talking about. Let me list all the things that make you a terrible person, because I’ve been keeping track. I’m the only one who loves you. I’m just trying to protect you.”

“I think you’re lying to me, Depression.”

“That hurts my feelings, it really does. Why would I lie to you? I want you to know the truth.”

“Could you leave me alone for awhile?”

“Of course not. We live together. We are one. I love you. We’ll be together for always and I’ll never let anyone else have you.”

I tell Depression he lies and he just laughs and sidesteps, and though I keep saying it, I’m never quite sure if it’s true, or if it’s something I need to say whether it’s true or not (because what’s my alternative, really?).

And then I run across this blog entry, (who got it from this other one), written by an actor I haven’t followed for years. Depression lies, he says. It is the thing I have been trying to tell myself, but could never quite believe, because Depression is rampaging around, chewing up my sense of self and shitting out uncertainty all over the inside my head.

Depression lies.

And because these words come from Wil, and not  me, Depression can’t eat them. They don’t come from me, so they can bypass my logic brain, which has so very many weak spots in it right now. Some little magpie in my heart, who has been keeping very quiet so that Depression can’t find her, reaches out of the crack she’s hiding in, and grabs this pearl, and pulls it into the crack and holds it close. Maybe, she reflects, it’s the sort of thing that can grow if it’s carefully tended. Maybe she’ll plant it, if it turns out to be the sort of thing that grows. But for now, it’s enough to look at it, to hold it, to learn the taste of it. Depression lies. Maybe she puts it on a shelf and marvels at it, sees how it catches the light. Depression. Lies.

He wrote that entry almost a year ago, and I read it then, and it still feels as new and marvelous as the day he said it. Depression lies.

In June, I went to see Neil Gaiman at his Last Ever US Signing Tour(tm) at the Tattered Cover in Denver. It was the sort of day that, if I was independently wealthy, I’d do all the time: spend six hours sitting on green carpet, surrounded by books, and read, and talk to people. Listen to Famous Author talk for an hour. Wait on green carpet for another 3 hours so that you can spend 42 seconds being smiled at by Gracious Famous Author. Ride bike home. Fall asleep holding signed book like a teddy bear.

I had him sign American Gods, because it’s the first book of his I read. My Gateway Gaiman, if you will. (He also signed The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, because that’s the book he’s publicizing. I thought about telling him he really didn’t have to sign that one because I really don’t need multiple Gaiman signatures [I’m a one-signature kind of girl], but then to turn down autographs seems rude, so…)

He smiled at me. And said nice things about how battered my book was. Inside, besides my name and his, he wrote “Believe!”

He didn’t say believe in what.

But the little magpie in my heart pulled that into her hiding place too, to turn over in her hands (yes, my magpie has hands. Shut up). Believe.

Believe in gods.
Believe in yourself?
Make good art?
Believe that you can make good art.
Believe that depression lies.
Believe.

Reasons to Live

IMG_0110I was listening to an episode of Fresh Air recently wherein Terry Gross interviewed Louis CK, mostly about his TV show Louie and his recent Beacon Theatre performance. It included a clip from the TV show, depicting a confrontation between Louis and a suicidal friend of his. The friend demands that Louis give him a reason to live, if Louis is going to try and talk him out of killing himself.

“No,” says Louis, “I got my reasons to live. I worked hard to figure out what they are. I’m not just handing ’em to you. You want a reason to live? Have a drink of water and get some sleep, wake up in the morning and try again like everyone else does…You know what, it’s not your life. It’s life. Life is bigger than you.”

Most of the time, we just sort of drift through the day to day, taking care of tasks and running errands and doing the things we need to do to remain alive and fed. But it’s worth stepping back, every now and again, and evaluating just what the hell it is you think you’re doing, and why. Especially when you’re coming out of (or think you’re coming out of) a depression that paused more or less everything in your life for almost two years. One of the problems with depression is that, in trying to hard to get yourself well, you do all kinds of things not because you want to, but because you feel that you should. You no longer go to parties or concerts because you want to or because they’re fun. You go because you recognize that these activities were fun once upon a time, so clearly, to continue to do the things that you once enjoyed is good for you. And even if they no longer bring you joy–even if you end up sitting in the back of the music hall crying for reasons you don’t understand and hoping that nobody notices or tries to talk to you–certainly, staying home isn’t going to make you better. Watching entire seasons of The Biggest Loser in one go and not getting out of bed for entire days clearly isn’t good for you. Compulsively playing Solitaire on your iPod isn’t good for you. Failing to sleep and not finishing school assignments isn’t good for you. So you force yourself to do things that are good for you. Fake it till you make it, right? You can act your way out of depression, right? If you keep doing the things that you used to love to do, someday they’ll regain their magic.

Right?

I don’t want to jinx myself. I think it’s finally getting better. I have a new job (well, two new jobs, which will hopefully someday be one complete job) with people I like, that pays almost enough to live off of, and sometimes I will pause and realize I’m enjoying myself. It’s like the first deep breath you take after an asthma attack, or after holding your breath underwater for too long. Or riding my bike and realizing I’m having fun. Feeling proud of myself after I’ve ridden for 20+ miles. Do you know the last time that I felt proud of myself for something? I don’t either. And sometimes I catch myself hanging out with friends and realizing that they do, in fact, want me around.

And oddly enough, that’s enough for now. Those single breaths where I feel okay. At the end of everything, it really doesn’t take much, finding your reasons to live.

Q Line adventures

IMG_0786.JPGI’ve seen the same woman on the Q a couple times now, mostly in the early morning. She sits in one of the end seats, the ones that are only big enough for two people. She piles stuff next to her, as well as on both seats across the aisle, then falls asleep. She either genuinely sleeps through or else ignores the people who try to wake her up to move her stuff so that they can sit down.

Usually, she wakes up at some point and thinks some of her bags have gone missing, and starts accusing the black folks nearby (never white folk, only folk of color) of stealing her bags. I’m not sure why she doesn’t fall asleep with her bags closer to her (or not fall asleep on the train), or what’s even in her bags that she needs to keep such close track of them. Usually everyone on the train ignores her.

Interesting how mental illness plays out. I don’t know how valid it is to compare my experience to hers (probably not at all), but if I was going to run away, be homeless, I’d be the sort of homeless person that thinks she’s invisible–not the sort that thinks everyone cares what’s in her plastic bags (that seem to be full of other plastic bags).

I wonder what homeless people accumulated before our society started throwing out so much half-used stuff.

One morning, a woman got into the traincar, sat down, and in a dejected voice announced that she and her husband were unemployed and homeless and asked (again, dejected) if anyone could help them out. She didn’t look at anyone; she stared at a spot on the floor of the car and spoke in a monotone.

Nobody moved. In New York cattle car fashion, nobody even looked at her.

“Ladies and gentlemen I know this is difficult times but ladies and gentlemen my husband and I is homeless and can’t work and it’s hard being homeless and asking people for charity, for example ladies and gentlemen I’ve been on five trains so far this morning and we don’t have enough money yet for a place to stay tonight.”

In the ensuing silence, everyone avoided eye contact. I caught a few people who, like me, were scanning the car to see other peoples’ reactions.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she started again, and I wanted to say no, please, you’re passing the point of pathetic-but-tolerable and into the hinterlands of “annoying blubberer who is disrupting my train ride.” “Ladies and gentlemen I don’t think you know how hard it is to be homeless in this city and to ask for help and have people look at you like you’re nothing I hope you all know you’re coldhearted bastards with no compassion and that this is a very unChristian nation. Ladies and gentlemen I hope you have a very nice day but you’re all coldhearted bastards.” And with this pronouncement, the train slid into the station and she left, head held high.

Not as entertaining as the drunk homeless guy who started yelling that we all hated black people and that’s why we wouldn’t give him money, and continued ranting even after a (black) passenger told him that race was a false construct that didn’t even exist and he was just using his race as an excuse, and only got louder when another (black) passenger started scolding him for being “a drunkass nigger who needed to sit down and shut up.”