I went to Boston to cover the Boston Freedom Rally and the after party. I attended both, the Boston Freedom Rally was a very cool huge festival that was lots of fun, and is worth checking out. The after party was up several flights of stairs, and to be honest wasn’t worth either the climb or the wait to get in. That being said, it was the events of the evening before the event that wound up stuck in my head. Gentle Readers (and the sweetest most understanding editor in the universe), here is what I wound up writing instead:
I arrived in Boston and checked into the hotel too early to go to bed, but too late for anything but “night life”. The hotel I was staying in (thanks much to my sponsors) was a nice one, and priced well above my usual travel accommodations (which in general involve some kind soul’s couch). I didn’t have a car, and my travel budget put the nix on taxis, or anything but that time honored mode of transportation “one foot in front of the other, repeat as needed”.
The air was crisp, with just enough of a chill to make walking pleasant. Near my hotel were a good half score of pubs and bars teeming with young college kids, doing the things that young college kids do in pubs and bars. Gentle Reader, as you may (or may not) know, although I have a fondness for “apple pie” (flavored moonshine) and my own homemade sweet mead (honey wine), I do not in fact drink often, and almost never to excess. I smoke daily, but usually only have one or two alcoholic drinks a year (and as an anecdotal example of why the gateway drug theory may be wrong, have never so much as tried any other illegal drug). While I would not consider myself “old”, and I enjoy conversation with all ages and walks of life, the idea of hanging out in a bar with a bunch of drunk people half my age did not in fact appeal to me as the evening’s entertainment.
So I walked. I walked past the bars and pubs, peeked past iron bars into a historic cemetery across the street, and enjoyed the people watching in the fresh air. There was a sign prohibiting taking rubbings of the tombstones. I thought to myself that if I had say in the matter, I’d like to have my marker textured in some interesting way so if someone took a rubbing it would come out nice. For those Gentle Readers not familiar with the practice of taking rubbings; you take a crayon and a sheet of paper, and put something behind the paper like a leaf, or the lettering on the tombstone. Then using the side of the crayon gently rub the crayon against the paper. The raised areas will capture more color than the sunken areas, and an interesting impression can be made this way.
Somewhat lost in my own thoughts, I stopped off at an all night market, and bought a snack with a soda to take with me back to the hotel. Since smoking was not allowed inside the establishment, I looked for a discreet location to have what I thought was going to be my last joint of the evening. I found a nice little out of the way area at the side of the hotel in an alley it shared with a couple of bars. The thing about discreet locations though, is that they tend to attract folks looking for discreet locations.
Case in point, this particular discreet location was already occupied by a homeless gal. Once I saw her, I started to move on, but she waved me over. “Just don’t sit down or they will hassle us.” Keep in mind that my “traveling clothes” include a fedora that should have been replaced about five years ago, a hoodie that is almost more patches than original material, and a variety of tie dyed and Hawaiian print shirts. My clothing style is a bit more “wear it until it is dead” and fashion sideways than fashion forward. Add my long beard, and the misunderstanding was quite understandable.
We exchanged pleasantries, and chatted for a while. She carried a bible with her, and between the pages were letters, notes, and old photos of her former life. Horses she once owned and loved, a normal enough looking house, and so on. She touched the cross around her neck often as she spoke. For instance when she complained that one of the college students who was obviously wearing a watch wouldn’t even tell her what time it was, but just darted past her shaking his head “No” like she was part of an American Untouchable caste system¸ she held it tighter when she told me how much that it hurt.
I was emotionally moved by how strong her faith was, even in the face of such hardship, and I hoped it helped her stand it. Just across the way I could see the college kids in the bars carousing, drinking, and starting off the slap and tickle portion of the evening. I hadn’t talked to her long, but long enough to know she was of at least average intelligence, was of the same age as they were, and there wasn’t anything wrong with her appearance that a hot shower and new clothes couldn’t put straight. She really wasn’t much different than they were, just didn’t have access to the same resources or support systems like family.
I gave her the snack I’d bought, and she split it with two other homeless guys that happened by. The four of us talked for a while, and then the three of them faded off into the night together.
It was an interesting glimpse into the homeless for me, and I had lots to think about. In other words, it was well time to light up. Since I now had the space to myself, I was about to pull one out, and light it when a figure appeared. This was a homeless guy a bit older than the college kids, but a bit younger than I was. I asked if he knew of a more discreet location, since this discreet location wasn’t proving to be as, well, discreet as I had originally hoped. As far as I can tell I am legal to smoke in Boston, but I’d rather not find out the wrong way that I was incorrect in that. He said we were fine where we were, and after we talked a bit I pulled out two of Rhode Island’s finest from my walking around case (rolled with some top shelf buds courtesy of my area buddies Max and Fingers). I finished mine while we talked, but he smoked his a little at a time, lighting it taking a couple of puffs, then putting it out, and repeating a little while later.
Forget torture, all it does is encourage people to say whatever they think will make it stop. I’ve found that if you just sit with folks, and smoke with them, and listen close; more times than not they will tell you things they wouldn’t tell their therapist. I won’t go into his tale of woe, suffice to say he was a guy down on his luck, with a history of being down on his luck, such as having the misfortune to be born to parents that shouldn’t be allowed around children.
We left the little spot, and he led me to a place where the bar left out the rubbish. While he talked with me, he methodically went through the can of empty bottles, looking for those that had a little liquid left in the bottom. In one he found what looked to be half a shot left in it, and the glee with which he drank it rivaled the joy I’ve seen in the faces of newlyweds. I couldn’t stop thinking; “How fucked up does this guy’s life have to be that not only does this sound like a good idea, but it is obviously one of the highlights of the day for him?” As a group of college kids came around the corner, drunk and falling over each other, I took a step away from him, instinctually distancing myself from the outlier so as not to be shunned by the herd, like there was something wrong with being seen talking to him. It was a small step, neither he nor they noticed, but I did.
I bought him a sandwich, and walked back toward the hotel, deep in thought.
I felt shame in how many resources I’d carelessly used up over the years, when this guy and people like him go without help day after day. It isn’t hard to see why some of these folks break the law just to get into the prison system. For some of them, it must be an improvement in lifestyle; at least it takes the stress out of worrying about the next meal or the next storm. It tarnishes us all that desperate citizens are allowed to get to that point.
Gentle Reader, homeless people are people, real people like you and I. They have problems, two of which are worrying about getting to eat and sleep indoors, I haven’t been homeless myself (count that blessing), but I can tell you from experience, the more nerves spent worrying about food and housing security, the fewer you have to deal with the rest of the stuff that life throws at you. I’ve never slept outside because I’ve had to, but I’ve been in situations where I have felt at the end of my rope even with a place to stay. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to have been that depressed and out on the street too.
Walking back to the hotel, I noticed a well lit smoking section for the guest. I had used another entrance and exit previously, so I hadn’t noticed it before. Since to the best of my knowledge the hotel was still very non smoking, I stopped for a quick smoke. I wanted to sort out how I felt about earlier.
The bench by the smoking section of the hotel was not entirely empty. There was a gentleman there that looked to me to be in his early twenties, and who bore more than a passing resemblance to my idea of d’Artagnan from the Three Musketeers. A charming British lad, we made small talk for a bit, and before you know it, yes, another joint was produced, and shared.
He was well mannered, polite, and claimed it was his first experience smoking weed without tobacco mixed in it. That struck me as a bit of a cultural difference, since while it is common to mix the two overseas, here in the US it is considered to be a lower quality smoke, and this gentleman was obviously not the sort to be used to lower quality anything as a general rule. Still, it seemed to rather agree with him. He was in Boston with his parents to visit Harvard. The three of them were trying to decide if he should attend Harvard here in the States, or Oxford back home. Apparently the cost difference was something on the order of $300,000 American a year or so more for Harvard, but he was still leaning towards it as he wouldn’t be bothered by his folks visiting as much. His field of study is Sanskrit, and although he didn’t have much of an idea of what he wanted to do with his degree after he earned it, I am sure he will make a fine linguist.
Although the temptation is there to draw some sort of analogy about the poor Americans and the rich British citizen that takes place in Boston practically across the street from a cemetery where patriots are buried, it really wasn’t like that at all. The homeless gal and the rich kid were both nice people, in my opinion; they’d have made a cute couple if given half a chance.