Even worse than the cat noises

As I write this, I’m on the second leg of a 24-hour rail and bus trip from San Diego to Crescent City for the sole purpose of retrieving the title to my car from my second storage unit. That’s where I think I left it, in any event, or hope I did. I can’t find it anywhere among the papers I have with me after three or four sweeps of their full volume, and I have a distinct memory of leaving the title in a document folder on top of some boxes in the storage unit. This memory conflicts with another distinct memory of pulling the title out of the folder and taking it south with me. Oops. When I talked to my dad this afternoon, he had to remind me that I had returned my first rental car days before I retrieved the title from my storage unit in Medford and had it with me in the second rental car for only two partial days.

My brain is scrambled like fighter jets on 9/11. Oops again, this time for historical reasons. But we don’t need to go down that rabbit hole right now when we have so much entertainment fodder waiting to enjoy us in the Finest City, if only we have the courage to steel our beams and, uh, never mind again.

San Diego gave me a parting gift this evening, the better to curse it by, while I was already en route to the Santa Fe Depot. Specifically, it managed to fuck straight to hell my efforts to do a load of laundry before I caught my train to Los Angeles. I was already running uncomfortably late out of San Ysidro, so I knew I’d have to get the laundry done in a hurry once I got downtown. The scare about the title had blindsided me at about one this afternoon, and by the time I’d convinced myself that the title was almost certainly in the storage unit and calmed down enough to pack up and leave, it was nearly six.

In the meantime, in addition to rifling through my belongings and spending over half an hour on the phone with my dad about this latest bullshit and my homelessness and so forth, I had spent probably fifteen or twenty minutes pleading with Google Maps for laundromat recommendations near the Blue Line. (Of course my internet connection crapped out on me; why wouldn’t it?) Google-fu had nothing to say about a laundromat half a mile around the corner from my motel that I had used on an earlier trip, and I was pressed enough for time that I didn’t dare haul my laundry over there to see if it was still in business. I did, however, find a laundromat downtown, just south of Horton Plaza, which was within a few blocks of at least two light rail stations and, at worst, probably an annoying but manageable walk from the Santa Fe Depot.

When I got there, I walked straight into a hellscape reminding me that I had given San Diego far too generous a benefit of the doubt. We’ve recently examined, shall we say, my laundry list of problems with San Diego. When I go out in mixed-income parts of the city, I expect to be confronted with a rich tapestry of drunks, druggies, hopelessly worn-down bums, some wiggers and hood rats if I’m unlucky, and definitely the clinically insane. #TeshTips: you don’t have to vote in a mixed-income neighborhood to live in one, although if you’re a citizen, that’s your right at least as much as it is the right of the stuck-up assholes who don’t want your kind voting in their up-and-coming project of revitalization. You, too, lives there; you, too, can come in. Since I phrased it that way, I suppose I should give thanks that I do not, as far as I know, share an electorate with Bono.

There’s always a lower, more dispiriting bottom to be discovered, and it’s probably waiting for you in San Diego. It was very much waiting for me just beyond the threshold of that laundromat. As I said, I expect Finest City to be bad. My mistake was not expecting it to be absolutely fucking awful. As someone who is not permanently alienated from off-peak travel on the VTA light rail system on account of sheer disgust, I have some credibility here, if I do say so myself. Some cholo felon may have left a bag of his rotisserie chicken bones in front of his seat, and the car may have that supermax design charm, but that’s all. Otherwise, the damn thing more or less works.

The laundromat didn’t work. At least four of the dryers were broken, and at least two of them had signs on their doors saying, “Belt Broke.” That left me trying to do laundry with less than an hour’s leeway in a joint run by fuckjobs with the combined repair and how-do-I-call-the-repairman expertise of Sam Cooke and Billy Currington. Then I discovered that I needed to break a twenty. I couldn’t spot a change machine or a vending machine for detergent, which I also needed. I tried to get change and detergent from the window between the laundromat and the attached tailor’s nook, which was brightly lit and looked open, but no one was manning the nook. It was completely empty.

At this point, an old guy with a cane hobbled towards me, mouthed something absolutely indecipherable, and pointed sternly at the cash registers in the attached bodega. It’s hard to exaggerate how badly designed this whole property was: a cluttered hole-in-the-wall shotgun shack bodega attached by a set of common doors to an even more cramped hole-in-the-wall shotgun shack laundromat with probably the tiniest folding tables I’d ever seen attached to a tailor’s nook built to medieval dimensions, a dozen feet deep but with hardly enough room to turn around.

I walked towards the cashiers in the bodega, then turned around because it felt like a lost cause. The old mute immediately mouthed at me again and pointed at the cashiers. I turned around and looked at the bodega crowd: no apparent movement in the line, even though there were two clerks at the counter and only three customers I could see waiting to check out, and I was damned if I, having wagered all of maybe a hundred fifty dollars in my lifetime and nothing in almost a year, was going to wait for some loser from the rock bottom of the black working class to buy lotto tickets from an Arab. So I hurried back into the laundromat, pulled out what I had already put in the washing machine, stuffed it into my duffelbag, and got the fuck out of that jumble of dives. On my way out, I watched some borderline homeless-looking white guy yell vaguely menacing obscenities at the old mute. I thought the white youngfellow might deck the old mute until he stormed away in a huff, deeper into the Gaslamp.

For all I know, the old mute might have been Euripides Eumendades XVI. More likely, he was just another sorry bastard who washed up in San Diego and was now spending what should have been his dotage trying desperately to piece together a living on skid row. I couldn’t tell whether he actually worked there. Maybe he just thought he did. Either way, it was a grievous misallocation of labor. Some assholes were apparently giving a couple of disorganized shopkeepers next door sole responsibility for the operation of one of the shittiest laundromats I’d ever found, and no one was there to tell laundry customers what the fuck we had to do to get our laundry going. The old mute hardly looked employable. He was not ablebodied by any reasonable standard and he was apparently completely unable to speak. He didn’t even moan or grunt. There’s no way in hell that sorry bastard was fit to work in customer service, on payroll or just because he happened to be in the neighborhood and no one else was around to explain how the laundromat worked. I’d do better running a laundromat in China with the dozen-odd words of Mandarin I know and a dictionary.

I left that shithole because leaving it was the only thing to do. I don’t often run into a situation so flagrantly wrong that I refuse to have anything to do with it at all and immediately leave, especially a situation involving only strangers. In a third-world city like San Diego, I expect fucked-up shit to go down in front of me, and I’m probably more comfortable than I should be with the dysfunction. That laundromat was beyond the fucking pale. After several fruitless efforts to figure out how the fuck to navigate that place, I decided to immediately put my foot down. No, I do not live like that. I just don’t. I read I am Charlotte Simmons, and I don’t hold with that. That is simply not something that I will allow to be a part of my life.

Good luck trying to hold the line against that fuck-you-poor-boy chaos if you’re stuck on skid row and truly indigent. Businesses like these exist because because their clientele has nowhere else to go. They prey on truly vulnerable captive markets. If you’re wondering why it might be worthwhile to give a panhandler money, this is it. A bum who’s been given a handout sufficient to buy into the Starbucks or Panera customer base is one who isn’t forced by sheer financial need to patronize seedy corner stores and walk-up chop suey and chicken joints that frankly do not deserve to stay in business. I see how these companies mistreat their customers, barking at them like guards and posting the rules on signs that belong in a prison. This happens much less at Starbucks, even to bums.

I had good reasons to be disturbed by what I saw in San Diego. Again and again I was around people who are given low justice just because they have low incomes. It’s fucking ugly.

The natural law solution is to integrate the poor into mixed-income communities, not just mixed-income neighborhoods. In elementary or middle school, I had a textbook that highlighted Hong Kong’s third-world disparity of wealth with a picture of what it described as Kowloon’s luxury highrise apartment blocks looming over a harbor full of sampans. Back then I was young and foolish enough to believe that this was un-American. I might be young still, but I ain’t stupid enough not to notice apartment buildings in San Diego whose tenants have unobstructed views of sidewalk tent encampments within one or two blocks’ walk. Some of these buildings look fairly nice, not like St. Vincent de Paul flophouses. They look inhabited by tenants who have options.

Integrating ten or twenty thousand hard cases who have been hardened to an extreme by life on the streets into a general population of millions is not a technical challenge; it’s a political challenge. There’s no technical obstacle to methodically rehousing troubled street people in socioeconomically integrated neighborhoods as they demonstrate an ability to live peaceably, or to rehousing the most erratic ones in clean, safe developments designed to minimize property damage and interpersonal violence on the part of the mentally ill. There are reasons why psych wards are traditionally placed on the ground floors of their host hospitals. Integrating homeless who aren’t all I’ma-put-this-shovel-through-your-truck-window crazy into mixed-income communities has the potential to resocialize them with healthy middle-class values, like not putting this shovel through your truck window, and the certainty of putting thousands of eyes of the broad middle class on their streets. These are vulnerable people who would be well served to have neighbors looking out for them who aren’t stone nuts, constantly on edge for their own protection, and loaded on God knows what.

Proposals like this usually end up dead on arrival because the prospective host neighbors don’t want social engineers mixing that spoonful of shit into their batch of ice cream. They are not their brothers’ keepers. They worked hard for what they own and Kwesi Millington for Sheriff.

Well, shucks. That again. I’m shocked, SHOCKED to see that here. I’m not arguing that the Muriel Boat Lift should be dumped wholesale into a new apartment complex in Torrey Pines because this diversity will benefit the pineys. I’m thinking very soberly and cautiously about how to avoid overwhelming neighborhoods with the bottom one percent and inadvertently pushing them over some tipping point into chaos and violence. The thing is, though, I’ve been spending more time than I ever would have spent woke-mindfully in neighborhoods whose majority is drawn from the same bottom one percent, with a sizable weekend minority being composed of affluent nuisance drunks from the suburbs with substance abuse problems serious enough to facilitate lots of unexplained yelling and more than occasional cat noises in public. For what it’s worth, I almost always feel safe around the Gaslamp Quarter’s street population, and the rare times that I’ve felt unsafe have not, that I recall, involved the hardest cases. If that’s how safe a neighborhood as a whole is when a clear majority of its residents have serious problems functioning normally, it’s hard to believe that the integration of people who have been ground down by life into stable parts of Mission Valley as a minority of one or two percent will make life hell for the residents who have bought their way in, let alone that their integration into well-managed housing blocks will destroy the half-gentrified neighborhoods where they’re already thick on the streets 24/7.

The CB East chick I know from mutual drunks in the Philadelphia Metroplex who moved to Pacific Beach a few weeks ago and has been posting high-volume palm strand photos on Facebook may not believe that this, too, is San Diego, but it is. I don’t see all sides of America’s Finest Shitty, but I see too many. It’s enough to make me forget what a freak show SDPD recruiting was, so it’s probably just as well that I’m making coordinated depot transfers in LA and Bakersfield tonight. The rest of you might as well take over being wokefully awake for my first home state’s third-world shit for a change. I try to be a Christian, but I don’t have the energy to be the only one.

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