UN Plaza stays light for a long time but the light is chill. My feet and legs hurt and I need to sit on the pedestal of the statue of Bolivar like a tourist, because there aren’t many places to sit in the Tenderloin. I sit with my back to the sunset and see perspective—the lines of lightposts converge, it’s obvious.
A man sits down next to me. He sits on a sheet of cardboard that’s sitting on the pedestal like a yoga mat; that makes sense, because the concrete is cold and his butt is scrawny. The man begins bending forward in the middle, fluid, folding up like a Gumby. He is sleepy, but instead of lying down, he folds forward. There is probably a law against lying down around here, but I want him to defy it and lay down before he cracks his head on the pavement. A vial of medicine drops from his hand and skitters away on the windy bricks. He raises his head, looks at it and me, and laughs. I don’t know what about, but I laugh too, because I feel a bond with all these people I see while looking for D. His longish hair is brown, not gray, but his face is indented, caved in and squinched as with many people who have used meth. He is thin and white and young.
A young African-American man comes by and slaps him on the shoulder. “Bucky, Bucky, I’m your nigger, lay down if you need to.” Bucky continues to curl forward. The friend says, “Hey if you fall down and hurt yourself I’m going to come back and kick you in the forehead.” I point to Bucky’s medicine on the pavement (I’m too tired to go and pick it up) and the young man picks it up and puts it near Bucky on the base of the statue. I read the label, “Nits B Gone.”
I ask, “Will he be all right?”
“Yeah, yeah, he’s just high.”
Just because he’s high that makes it all right? I doubt it. That Bucky is high doesn’t mean Bucky isn’t also sick, crazy, or dying. “As long as we know what the issue is,” I say snottily, and the friend just laughs. Again and again Bucky curls almost to his feet, and then straightens up again; he neither lies down nor crashes.
I walk away towards the subway hole to check out the folks shooting up at the other end of plaza, and when I come back Bucky and his friend are both gone.
Now what is D’s issue? She has two. She is schizophrenic, she went off the rails when she was 18. She is a meth addict. And she has a third that ties the two together: she has a delusion that she is an undercover researcher working for the FBI testing meth as a cure for mental illness. If she takes meth every day for three years she will get millions of dollars, help thousands of people, and get meth legalized. I firmly believe that is what she firmly believes, and that’s why she does the things she does.
So when D goes barefoot, sleeps on the grass in front of Bill Graham auditorium, talks to herself, calls her friends whores and bitches, tells the police to arrest people, and takes meth, what is the issue? Mental illness? Drugs? Loitering? Who do you call? Police? Ambulance? They don’t care, unless she’s a danger to self or others, like right this minute, like hitting me or stabbing someone, which isn’t common so there is a low chance of anyone witnessing it. Danger to herself from dirty needles, AIDS, overdose, risk of rape doesn’t count. Social workers? She’s in the wrong county today. Or do you just say that she is making a lifestyle choice?
I describe her to many of the people I see, often the women. A lot of people aren’t sure who she is because there are a lot of homeless young white girls in this area who take meth. “Is she one-legged?” “Does she limp?” “Is she cross-eyed?” “Is she covered with tattoos?” they ask. No. Not yet. Not the last I saw her; she was 21, well-fed, and bored to death with being in the mental hospital. So far, most people I talk to have got her confused with someone else.
But in the Homeless Outreach office, I give a very handsome tattooed man one of my flyers, and he knows who she is. “I knew her last summer. I am no longer on that path. But I think she is all right. She has a knife and she doesn’t let people mess with her.”