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February 16, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 07
 
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Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
Cycles
I used to reward myself for a good day's work by letting myself walk home - this after usually walking to work and running around the whole day long, like crazy. This last walk of the day took me through the University District and some of its interesting sights/sites. (And I'd flirt a bit.) I loved to walk, which is something I dearly miss.

Could it be I revisited my early self this way? Perhaps... Though my early college years were something I had buried.

On University Way was every kind of restaurant, clothing and head shop - and skaters, skateboarders and various speeds of passers-by, bums of course (we call them "homeless"); and lots of kids begging for money, everywhere. It was, I think, the only part of town where the sale of males outnumbered the sale of females. I wonder if men knew (or remembered) what johns looked like to the average prostitute - like slobbering, flap-lipped cattle that use your body to wipe their ass...

ONCE PASSING
One day I was headed home, studying the windows and patrons, who were, naturally, studying the kids. Some of the kids were jazzed and some depressed and one girl was jostling everyone who passed her, like a rock in the human eddy, a rock whining out "spare change..."

"Not today," I was muttering as she grabbed my arm; I was past. But then she was back, hanging on me, "Why not?" Couldn't I see she really really needed it?

We used to tell ourselves at the University that these street kids lived in Bellevue, hitched over the bridge, and begging was as close to work as they'd ever come. That spare-changing was a kick for them. Maybe so... but I still thought it took a degree of guts. Myself, I'd never in my life been able to do it.

DON'T TAKE MY ADVICE
This girl had attached herself. She knew I had change to spare; she didn't have bus fare, couldn't get to the place she was sleeping tonight... hadn't eaten since yesterday afternoon, etc... Again she repeated the same line, over and over. No fare or transfers - and over again, adding two days of fast - we must've gone a block or more in tandem. And this made me mad.

"Not since day before yesterday?" I snapped. She looked wary. "You won't have to worry you'll start gaining weight," I said. I speeded up walking and after a moment she grabbed my arm again.

I was thinking of all the hustle for money that goes straight up their arms (or so I'm told). All the Colt45 and Thunderbird you find. How you'd hear that nobody was really hungry anymore - tent cities, soup kitchens, food stamps given to everybody and anybody - yet, before you could say Jonathan Swift, I was in a restaurant booth and I was sitting across from this kid, who was looking sly. And then there were two.

Clearing my head, I saw there really were two, with Friend taller and if anything, scrawnier, black hair shorn close. I said I hadn't realized I was so generous -- but was interrupted with: "Let her stay! Lady, please let her stay - she can have half of mine!"

Well, like the Brits say, in for a penny - in for a pound...

A POUND OF ONE AND SEVERAL POUNDS OF ANOTHER
"Let her order her own," I said, and I think that was the last thing they heard. They ordered pretty much everything on the menu, methodically, in earnest: mashed potatoes and gravy, meat loaf, cheeseburgers, ham and swiss, peas and corn, corned beef hash, lentil soup and various kinds of pie, cake, and ice cream. Coffee, milk and sweet drinks. Amazing!

Friend spent feverish minutes trying to stuff all of a strawberry malt into an old Coke can. She finally drank the part that wouldn't fit. Sandwiches disappeared into pockets, armpits, padded out their jackets... there was a place for everything, and everything disappeared. Bread disappeared, so did rolls. The girls ordered baskets and baskets of rolls, and both of them gleefully ordered more -- more butter, more water, coffee, Coca-Cola, and tea (they didn't drink). The staff seethed. Finally, they started to play with the dregs and that was quite enough. I announced as much.

Paying the tab, I turned just-in-time see her lifting the tip from the table (but she was saving it for me of course - thought I'd dropped it or something). I ignored her, leaving a bigger tip, and noticed the quiet. The juvenile pushing and giggling had stopped: the friend was gone, and I wanted to go myself - time to go home and walk the dog and grade some papers, maybe make a fire...

"Goodnight," I told her pointedly, as we exited onto the Ave. Time to go home to Lover, have a nightcap.

"Goodnight," she called, but then realized she wasn't talking to me, because she grabbed my arm and, very brisk, all business, said: "Where are we going now?" And I suddenly saw myself as I naturally looked to her...

I hope I never get to the place where I really believe that nobody ever does a thing for anybody else, just because it's nice.

Good luck to her, wherever she happens to be...

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