Wednesday, June 28, 2017
When you google images of libraries this is what you get. Books. Quaint, huh.
It is has been a long month and here we are just past the Winter Solstice. We alternate between a week of rain and low cloud, and several days of hard frosts. It's tough out there.
In the public library (extraordinary that there are still such things!) there are indeed books, but there is noise and stress and complexity. Some people browse or study, but mostly they are using free wi fi or waiting to use the desktop computers. There is a booking system. Today I am getting graphic novels and browsing the shelves, but in stranger times I have been there for the warmth and the free wi fi. So I know what these guys are doing. They are applying for financial assistance, job hunting, or trying to get something out of the welfare system, whatever department it might be. Government is proud of being e-government. Some departments have no phone system or offices. Everything has to be done online. Not easy when you have no wi fi in your boarding house or garage, wherever it is you camp out these days. Even harder when you are homeless. No wonder the atmosphere is a bit tense. There are probably deadlines to meet. Apply for this by the end of today, or risk losing your benefit. If the computer is booked out, you have a lot to lose.
All this is probably tough on the library staff, who are not trained in crisis work or calming and de-escalation. One of them, a small plump middle aged woman, was doing just that. She said to the large young man, well, that is your choice (When I hear the word choice, I reach for my gun), if you want to behave that way, I am afraid you will have to leave. Oh come on, he replies, every time you cough everyone can fucking hear you. Well, she says, that is your choice, you will have to, now, thank you, thank you for that, yes, thank you. And she walked away.
So, that was weird and for me almost contextless, but I noted something I have considered before. It is the use of thank you. Thank you does not mean thank you. It means I am scared of you but I am obliged to be polite. It means good bye, leave now, if I am thankful for anything it is the space you leave behind. In other words, you can fuck right off. It is remarkable how we thank people for nothing, or for merely doing their jobs, or for not being there. Thank you is a term almost too diffuse for meaning.
I got my graphic novel and went to the shopping maul to read it with a coffee. A man came into the food court. He carried a sleeping back and a back pack. He was very warmly dressed. (With these guys, you ask them to take their jacket off to have a look at their wounds. They take off their jacket. And then their other jacket. And then their three sweaters and their two tee shirts and finally you have an arm to examine.) He circled the food court for a minute or two, and then he sat down at a table where there was an abandoned styrofoam container. He opened it. He ate from it. Then, he spat in it, closed it up, and left.
It was the spitting that made me wonder. It was so contemptuous. It was as if he was befouling it. Was he making sure no one else would benefit from it - that if anyone else ate from it they would be dirtied by it? I know that there can be fierce rivalries among the homeless, for resources, especially sleeping places. Was he showing some sort of inchoate contempt for the situation - the bright lit shopping maul, the plastic food, the raw injustice?
I felt slightly derealised as I drove home. Observing is not connecting. I had witnessed two incidences of behaviour I found myself working hard to explain. For a few minutes, the street scenes around me looked hyper real, drawn flat and vivid, like my graphic novel. Car lights seemed multi coloured and far too bright, alarming, urgent. Observing is not connecting. Observing is two dimensional. I had no obvious means of connecting with either of these incidences. Just left wondering.