The Tenderloin … Five Years Later

People selling stuff at UN Plaza near the Tenderloin

I am in the Tenderloin looking for D again. She’s 26 now, not 21. It feels different. For one thing, no one says they have seen her. I talked to the Drug Users Alliance, some people called Urban Alchemy, a Harm Reduction needle exchange, Larkin Street Youth Services, the Tenderloin police station, St. Anthony’s, Glide Church, the Homeless Outreach Team, and Hospitality House. No joy. People look hard at her picture and are sure they haven’t seen her.

For another thing, the beautiful runaways with gay hair and tattoos, people that I know Diana would want to hang out with, are hard to find. I see old people like me, hopping along with canes, a limbless guy being transported in a wheelchair. I see a lady with pink hair yelling in the fountain who looks like D might in ten years. I do see plenty of people standing on the sidewalk bent over in the middle, their hair dangling down, and I see people fiddling with lighters and tinfoil, as well as syringes.

For another, I’m slow. I’m so slow I blend in. In the Tenderloin there is no place to sit, and I had to sit down because my back and my hip were screaming at me and my heart was feeling like a big knuckle was pressing on it. I was trying to walk along Turk to reach the front door of the Drug Users Alliance, hidden behind a steel grate, but I gave up a few feet short and plunked myself down in a discarded black office chair in a pile of office rubbish, bins and papers. A man my age in a wheelchair asked me to help read the sign on the door (“Sunday through Wednesday 12-ish to 7, Thursday 12-ish to 6, glass given out Thursday only”). A blond man started to examine a Ding-dong wrapper in the pile of trash I had been sitting in, and the wheelchair man said, “Hey hey, get away from her stuff.” I realized he thought I had been guarding that office trash because it was all I owned.

I did see quite a few “all I own” clusters of goods on the street, guys sleeping on their backpacks with their shoes on, a sheet over them like a shroud, food on the sidewalk by their head–bananas, squash, pita bread, lemons, whatever they are giving out.

Bent over person with pile of stuff

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