Suddenly it's fall here. Pouring rain, windy, temperatures down around 50 at night. And just two weeks ago it was 95 degrees. Ah, global warming. This is the new normal.
Marathon 4 at work hasn't been so bad. My feet are numb, but the work itself hasn't been too terrible, and my two long days this past Monday and Tuesday were actually a nice break -- just enough to disrupt my routine in a good way. Tonight will be Night Number 10 out of 12, so maybe I'm just delirious by this point. Sometimes that's not a bad place to be. But sleeping in late today sure helped balance things out.
I've been pretty cheery and haven't had to raise my voice at work in a week ... but I had a real challenge in the store last night. Good thing I was in a good mood.
He came in at 10 p.m. with a hoodie over his head and a backpack on his back -- clearly he was either homeless or had been thrown out. He angrily demanded that I sell him two packs of smokes. Didn't tell me what KIND of smokes -- it took three more questions to get that information out of him.
Then he about broke our card-reader when he discovered we didn't have a chip-reader to speed up his transaction. He about tore the bottom off of the machine while trying to force it to work.
"I am SO FUCKING PISSED OFF!" he shouted.
"OK," I said, "easy, easy -- we don't have a chip reader, just slide your card down the side."
He didn't tell me if he preferred debit or credit. That took three more questions to get out of him.
Then he needed a lighter. We agreed a couple free packs of matches would be better, so he didn't have to fight with the card-slider again.
Then he left, and began circling around the building, shrieking into his cellphone. Clearly he was upset about something. But he wasn't done.
A few minutes later, he returned with an empty beer can he'd found in the parking lot.
"I want to pay for this," he said.
"You don't have to pay for that," I said. "It's empty. But thanks for picking it up for me...."
"No, I want to BUY this. Will you just SCAN IT so I can PAY you for it?!"
No point arguing. So I scanned it. And naturally, the cash register came up with the six-pack price of almost $6 after tax.
"Normally we charge 99 cents for a short can like this," I told him. "You don't have to pay me six bucks for an empty beer can. You don't have to pay me AT ALL. I'm not gonna charge you for this."
"YES YOU ARE!"
He forced $7 cash into my hand and left. And I took his money. Because there's no point arguing with a deranged person over something this silly.
I thought he'd left, but he wandered back in at ten minutes before closing and asked if there was somewhere he could sit down for a minute.
"I've been on my feet all night and my feet are burning up," he said.
So I gave him our step-stool to sit on, and he set it up back in the corner next to the soda machine. I went back to closing up the store and the next thing I knew he was trying to get water out of the soda machine.
"That machine's already closed down for the night," I told him. "If you try to get water out of it, it's going to spray everywhere."
"I just want some water," he said.
"I can fill it up for you quicker here behind the counter."
"I'll get it HERE."
"It's going to spray everywhere...."
No point arguing. He was already trying to fill an ugly-looking plastic gallon bottle with water, and it sprayed all over him and the machine and the floor.
And I sighed and went back to work.
A couple minutes later he shrieked "I just want some WATER!"
"I can fill it for you in the sink here behind the counter. Only takes a minute."
"I'll get it HERE!"
OK, no point in arguing. He got his water bottle filled and I cleaned up the spilled water after he left.
But as it got closer to midnight, I wondered if he was going to be a problem to get out of the store so I could close. It's happened before, though not in a long time.
I thought maybe he was finished, but I was wrong. I had the news playing on the radio, and maybe that set him off.
He walked over to where I was perched on the edge of the counter.
"Hey, have you seen it before?" he asked.
I wasn't sure I'd heard him right, so I turned the radio down. "What?" I asked him.
"Have you SEEN it before?"
"Seen WHAT before?"
"The MACHINE! Have you seen the MACHINE before?!"
He seemed to be referring to something outside. But there were no machines or vehicles out there. The parking lot was empty. What machine was he seeing?
"I'm not understanding you," I said. "...And I have to close this place up in about three minutes."
This deflated him. "Oh. OK." And he slowly gathered up his stuff and shambled out the door. He was no trouble at all. I told him to be careful out there, and I meant it. And I was grateful that he was no serious trouble while he was in the store.
Now this was clearly a person in distress. And there wasn't much of that distress that I could help with. Or that he seemed to WANT help with. He was already furious when he walked into the store. I sure couldn't help with THAT. All I could do was be careful with him.
But I wonder about these homeless folks -- where they come from, why they always seem to come out more when the rain starts pouring down, what kind of weirdness has messed them up so badly. I wonder why so often they seem to be guys who don't know when to shut up -- guys who've gotten into ugly fights with their Significant Others and then been tossed out. There's a lot of weird, ugly, knee-jerk behavior going on out there these days. Doesn't anybody ever relax anymore, or is everything grounds for an ugly argument?
Did you know Washington is among the Bottom 10 in the U.S. when it comes to mental-health services and funding? The feeling is that if folks who need help can deal with Reality, they should be out there dealing with it 24/7. And maybe that's why there are so many people roaming the streets here. And most of them don't seem to want any help.
Coincidentally, our famous former Regular "Bike Guy" (also homeless) met me in the parking lot when I got to work Thursday afternoon. The last time I saw him, a couple of winters back, he had a BAD case of shingles and was WAY distraught about Everything. You couldn't ask him a question without him freaking out.
After that, he disappeared. I was pretty sure he'd died. He'd refused to go to the emergency room or see a doctor at a free clinic. He refused to go to a homeless shelter. He said all they'd do was mess with him.
Yesterday, he looked WAY happier and healthier than I'd seen him in years, maybe ever. He'd moved to a town 10 miles up the road and was WAY more hopeful about his future. He agreed he'd been in bad shape, but things were MUCH better now....
But I wonder about the future for Bike Guy and that guy last night ... and even for me in five years if things go wrong. I have no idea of the challenges homeless people face every day. I have no idea what I can do to help. Most of those I've met don't seem to WANT any help.
There are no safety nets for anyone. Not really. We shouldn't kid ourselves. We never know what's going to happen. And winter's coming soon....
Happier things, now. I have a ton of new-to-me music in the house, mostly from the recent Portland trip, that I've barely had time to even sniff at. I'll be listening to and reviewing it in the near future. Artists include Hawkwind, Magma, Camel, Gong, Cat Stevens, The Strawbs, Gentle Giant, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Grateful Dead, The Go-Go's, Bob Seger, The Drifters ... and some guy named Frank Sinatra.