Tuesday, July 15, 2008

city. summer.

I. I ate lunch at an outdoor table today, since the only thing better than outdoor dining in Seattle in July is, um, well, lots of things...but it's pretty darned good. Trust me.

At the table next to me was a middle-aged man, attractive in that Dick-Clark-You'll-Take-My-Youth-Elixir-Out-Of-My-Cold-Dead-Hands kind of way. He was wearing a wedding ring and got up every few minutes to take a call from a cell phone. He always came over closer to my table, turning his back on his dining companion, and spoke in hushed tones to someone named "yes, dear"--I presumed his wife.

Remaining at the table was a very young man, Asian, petite, with delicate features, a furrowed brow, and a nervous titter. His English was passable, but clearly not his first language. He was wearing a tennis visor. He looked in the opposite direction when his companion took his calls, with his fork down and his hands in his lap.

Between interruptions, the middle-aged man fawned urgently, apologetically, over the young one. He cut his food for him, cooed, and took little morsels between two fingers and fed them to him, as if to a bird.

When they were finished, the older man stood up and pointed to the hotel entrance next to the patio where we were sitting, and the young man shuffled off, looking for affirmation over his shoulder.

I wanted to hope that this was all a happy scene, but I know it wasn't.

II. After my evening walk to Lake Union, I returned home by way of a little community garden. Everything is a tangle of vines, fragrance, color, and texture right now. Raspberries hang over the fence. Lilies stick out between the pickets.

I cut through the garden on a public path, stopping to admire a particularly lovely blossom, or to squeeze a bit of lavender between my fingers to smell.

Under an overgrown rosemary jungle, I saw a book, open. Holding it was a woman, laid out on a sleeping bag. Next to her were multiple shopping bags, her shoes, several recycled jugs, and some cigarettes.

She lives there.

People like to say "those who live outdoors" instead of "the homeless" here. Supposedly it bestows dignity on the outdoor dwellers. But I think it just bestows a guilt-free pass on the rest of us.

Why, it's just like urban camping, when you put it that way...

III. Next day: I walked downtown for lunch and passed three homeless people sitting in the entrance to a building. They were having a big old time, laughing and sharing a cigarette. I looked over and smiled at them as I strode past, and the woman sitting between the two men leapt to her feet.

"Will you do something for us?"

I confess to ripping through my mental rolodex of excuses for why I was not about to give them money. She held out a disposable camera.

"Will you take a picture of us? We're best friends."

My shoulders relaxed and I smiled again, this time the awkward smile of someone pinballing between relief, guilt, and admiration. I took the plastic camera and the woman ran to crouch down between her two friends. They all slung their arms over each other and put their faces together, mugging for the moment.

"One, two, three, smile!"

I returned the camera, they thanked me, and I walked away, brow furrowed...but of course it wouldn't have made any sense at all for them to have a real camera.

Where would they keep it?

I had cauliflower and thyme soup with goat cheese crostini for lunch.

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