Sacramento was deserted this afternoon. The light rail system and just about every neighborhood that I saw around downtown were depopulated to the extent normal in a small college town during summer break. The normal people–the ones who are able to actually run things and keep useful eyes on the street–had fled for the hills (I’d just seen them by the thousands on my way down from Truckee), leaving behind a small, useless rump of the shifty incompetent. As Jesus pointed out, pursuant to #TeshTips, the poor we will have with us always, but in this case there was hardly a soul but the low-functioning poor.
It turned out to be a great day to smell the men’s room in Safeway from a dozen feet outside in the hallway because someone had left a gigantic pile of shit festering in one of the toilets, unflushed and not my business (heh) to flush. I ended up telling a spergy dipshit to leave me the hell alone after she wouldn’t shut up about how she had taken three pairs of socks with her because she had been thinking about going to the gym, but had missed her stop at 48th Street for Trader Joe’s but ended up getting a better deal at the Co-Op, and by the way why can’t we see the train yet when it’s due in five minutes. I hardly kept the salt out of my mouth explaining to this dumbass that the line of sight was limited by a viaduct, which should have been bloody obvious; it was only after I shooed her away that I realized how short the lines of sight are on most of the RT light rail system and what a fucking doofus this woman must have been not to have any sense of it as a regular light rail rider.
The merely crazy yelling and gesturing on the same block face as my mailbox are hardly worth mentioning in a context like today’s, but I had the displeasure of making sure that one of them didn’t have the opportunity to muscle his way into the lobby behind me, too. I didn’t really expect him to be that aggressive, but I wasn’t entirely sure, so I played it safe, hustled the fuck right in, and closed the door behind me the second I was over the threshold. It wasn’t a good time to assume that his world wouldn’t intersect with mine; probably not isn’t probable enough.
I crossed the street to get away from a group of street people who had set up camp on next to the light rail line between 30th and Alhambra, too, but that was just to spare myself a needless pain in the ass. I didn’t feel acutely threatened by them, but I also didn’t want to get dragged into bullshit with them and their pit bull. Why do these motherfuckers always have pit bulls? This crew’s particular dog looked all right, but I don’t believe for a hot second that that’s why they got it. They wanted to look badass.
I sometimes get the feeling that such people lack an awful lot more than just money. Not all poor, mind you; some are just plainly indigent and can’t catch a break. Conversely, Lord knows there are plenty of yuppie bitches who have pit bulls and cool stories about how pit bulls totally don’t have a proclivity towards anger management problems as a breed. An occasional male manifestation of the same impulse is Huntington Beach’s white riots; the guys behind that shit act practically like street urchins but have included tradesmen and at least one professional fireman. It’s a tricky thing to calibrate, but there’s something to be said for the normative broad middle class reasserting itself and ceasing to indulge public displays of aggression. Ideally, this would include police forces putting a stop to street fights and beach brawls by bodily separating the combatants and flooding the zone until they’ve reestablished unmistakable peace.
We’re nowhere fucking near any of that, in case you’ve been getting all hopeful. Instead, we’re led by a lot of people who still fancy pit bulls animals of great authenticity, not ones that ought to be pedigreed to disprove all connections to Michael Vick. Love too violate bourgeois norms that my dog won’t bite your toddler’s head off.
What bothers me about this shit isn’t so much that it endures as that I keep ending up being the only normie on the streets who’s stuck facing it. Everyone else from a halfway stable and healthy background gets the fuck out of Dodge and leaves me to navigate a human hellscape on my own. Then, when I try to report back about the horror shows that I’ve witnessed, they act like I’m blowing everything out of proportion or plumb out of my mind. That’s just not true. When I’m the only person on a block or within sight in an entire neighborhood who isn’t overtly disturbed, high, drunk, or sauntering around like a Chino yardie, there is no wider perspective. That’s the full extent of what’s happening.
I forgot earlier that a nutcase opened one of the light rail doors using the emergency exit lever, forcing the operator to walk to the back of the train and reset the door. We lost five minutes to this wacko. He seemed lucid when he apologized to the onboard security officer, even though two minutes earlier he had looked totally nuts to me, so I don’t think he was all there.
When some shit like that goes down, should I really make believe that I’m in Fair Oaks or Land Park? No. That would be stone nuts. Broadening my perspective to include the world’s fun stuff would put me at risk of ignoring emergencies unfolding in my very midst. I sleep in my car precisely to avoid this shit: sheer geography keeps it at bay from my rest areas. Peers from my native class act like I should just move somewhere nicer, but I’m pretty well priced out of that, and I don’t think it’s impertinent of me to say so; after all, I’m far from the only person who’s been fucked over by the bifurcation of the housing market into redlined gentrification zones and slumlord hell. Let’s not talk about it? No, how about let’s talk about it. How about y’all listen to someone who hasn’t been drinking the Kool-Aid for a change?
How bad am I saying that this stuff gets? For a few weeks in 2010, I was afraid that the manager of my apartment building might murder me. I’m absolutely not kidding. It was just a gut feeling, nothing that I could very well take to the police, but the guy scared the hell out of me. His name was Virgil L. Anderson, Jr., of Eureka, CA, an ex-Army Ranger who bragged about unilaterally evicting tenants. He was paranoid, possibly to a clinical extent. At one point he followed me onto the street as I was leaving the building and accosted me with questions about whether I was running a criminal enterprise in my apartment. This was how he dealt with noise complaints that other tenants had made against me. I assumed that he kept guns and ammunition in his apartment and that he had killed people in combat, and he had atrocious boundary problems (a few months later, he asked me to act in loco parentis for an adult child of his who was staying with him), so I didn’t have to extrapolate very far to imagine him committing violent crimes against me. Since he was ex-military, and also just because he hardly had a grip on himself, I twice wrote to his superiors and threatened to have him arrested the next time he got weird with me. It was totally seat-of-the-pants.
Situations like this are a lot more common than the bourgeoisie dares imagine. I swear to God and will swear before any court of law that that happened to me as I described it. That isn’t the only time I’ve lived around people who were threatening my physical safety, either; look through the archives here. And in my experience, there’s no just bouncing back from these things. Just think about how crazy it sounds to say that one felt in danger of homicide at the hands of a building manager with a clean criminal record and in the absence of explicit or fully articulable threats. This is one hell of a mess to try to explain. It takes more money than I usually have to even temporarily buy one’s way out of such a bind, but it’s an amount of money that the bourgeoisie has, either in cash or in credit. Where does that leave the lower classes? Well, I count myself extremely lucky to sleep at rest areas instead of rescue missions and to be able to afford lodging on a regular basis, so that’s one indication.
Is it worth having people think that I’m psychotic as a consequence of my airing this shit? Probably. In my case, I’ve got the full legal name and municipal e-mail address of the guy leading the comment thread campaign to accuse me of maybe having a major mental illness. Brezhnev had his dissidents institutionalized and drugged, and I don’t think I’m too far off base or Godwinian to make the comparison. The upper middle class in this country just will not fucking listen to anyone beneath its station in life. There are exceptions, but they’re mostly exceptions that prove the rule. I try to think over how to integrate the poor into something closer to a socioeconomic mainstream, with their lived experiences so dramatically different from those of the higher classes, but I hardly get anywhere. I know people who have never set foot in a laundromat; how in all hell is that divide to be bridged?
In a sense, I’m here to tell some of the rest of you who aren’t high achievers that you’re not alone. That can be construed psychotically, too, and frankly I’m starting to enjoy the idea. If it’s actually our lot, we might as well have some damn fun with it.
One of my problems is that I’ve latched onto a municipal clusterfuck as my nominal place of domicile. I was downtown today to check on my mail and my capitol plants. I lives here, Mr. O’Rourke; can I come in? As far as the light rail thing goes, I’m not about to be scared off an entire transit system just because most of its other riders basically suck. I believe in public transit and I generally enjoy public transit. Yeah, I know, Gandhi made me take the trolley, to be the change I want to see in the world and shit. And I got here on probably one of the five worst days of the year; most of the time the nice parts of Sacramento aren’t evacuated like Chernobyl.
Still, Sacramento does an amazing job of transcending its own physical beauty. There are too goddamn many yuppies here, and the some of the worst kinds. Fuck the Kings. $534 million was dumped into the downtown arena at a time when homeless encampments were floating human waste and hypodermic needles into Discovery Park every time the river rose. This town is paradise until you look a little closer. The priorities here are something out of late Imperial Rome. Darrell Steinberg doesn’t keep getting badgered about the homelessness crisis during public comment periods at city council meetings because his constituents are boors or cranks; they’re upset about a genuine crisis that no one is really addressing because, hey, look at dem ballers.
I keep hearing from various sources about how Salt Lake City has functionally eliminated chronic homelessness with its housing first program. Some of these sources are too critical to take PR copy from anyone at face value. That’s what’s happening in a Mormon cultural context. What’s happening in Sacramento, under whatever incoherent, intellectually dishonest mishmash of neoliberal talking points the local political class takes for its cultural philosophy, isn’t a hell of a lot. Much of the political class has left ministry to the homeless to Sister Karen at Loaves and Fishes. Ain’t that grand: we’ve got half a billion plus in public and private money for a new baller palace, but feeding and rehousing the hardcore indigent is the responsibility of the town nun. There are public social services around here, but half a billion in extra funds would pay for a hell of a lot more social services, even if the money were spent wastefully. That’s a tremendous misallocation regardless of the sources. I don’t want to hear a peep from anyone involved in the private sector part of that scam about being a philanthropist.
A tangential question that I have about the $223 million public portion of the construction costs that the City of Sacramento covered is what that money could have done to stave off Regional Transit fare increases or boost service levels. Luxury basketball arena money should be the bottom priority after the transit system has been unsucked, the homeless have been set up with seamless transitional housing for the asking, and probably a lot of other things that escape me at the moment. Not having bats infesting walk-up SRO’s is one. I haven’t checked in on whether that’s been cleaned up yet.
I wouldn’t have a damn thing to do with this town if it weren’t such a horticultural wonderland. Still, Napoleon, you gotta lend us the liger, man. We’re hurting over here.