Which, as with yesterday, involves homeless people, although, this time, more mysteriously.
Dr. M was working late that evening, leading me to fend for myself for dinner.
I had selected Café Gratitude, a trendy vegetarian restaurant a few blocks walk from my house whose “Messagey” menu items include “I Am Wonderful” (French lentil and butternut squash loaf) and “I Am Beautiful” (blackened tempeh Bolognese.) When my waitress asked if I’d like water, I replied, “Yes, please. ‘I Am Thirsty’.”
Eating alone, I had brought along a book, a biography of Andrew Jackson. (A presidential “populist” who had actually born poor.) After consuming my interesting bowl of “I Am Grateful” (shredded kale, black beans, garlic tahini, brown rice or quinoa – it kind of scares me that I can spell “quinoa” without looking it up – I paid my bill and went off to complete a nearby errand.
Two blocks away lay Gjusta, a trendy upscale bakery – which makes it two “trendies” in one story; I am a regular Mr. “Ask me, and I’ll tell you what’s ‘Happening’” – that sold crusty loaves of artisanal bread.
How do you define “artisanal bread”?
Unrefined flour, and expensive.
I come out of Café Gratitude carrying my Andrew Jackson book, I head west one block, where I turn south towards Gjusta, the ancillary outlet of Gjelina, a trendy, California-style restaurant on trendy Abbot-Kinney Boulevard in the trendy Westside community of Venice. (Hey, I am already “identified.” I might as well go “All in.”)
When I turn the corner heading for Gjusta, I am immediately confronted by the largest encampment of homeless people I have ever experienced, set up shoulder-to-shoulder along the sidewalks on both sides of the street. (To avoid any inadvertent touching of their “stuff”, I end up continuing my perambulation along the side of the actual road.)
Paraphrasing a “stage direction” I once wrote about a door bearing a dizzying number of protective locks:
“If you walk to see a lot of homeless people, take a look at this street.”
It was like “Homeless ‘Woodstock’.”
Okay, liberal guilt kicks in here. Along with a generic apprehension of “The Other.”
My First Troubling Question:
“To look, or not to look?”
Offering a “Lose-Lose” proposition.
On the one hand it’s,
“What are you looking at?”
And on the other hand it’s,
“We’re not invisible, you know.”
I decide to look straight ahead, trudging silently down the edge of the thoroughfare.
I hear music emanating from some nearby electronic device. It’s a country song I believe I know but make a conscious effort not to remember, fearing I will reflexively start singing along… and…
What if they don’t want me to?
Continuing down the street, I experience the disturbing Depression Era-like reality of two different worlds, uncomfortably intersecting.
They’re them, and I’m me.
A man with money in his wallet, going to buy an overpriced bread.
Which is exactly what I do. Along with a “muesli” cookie, because I have never tasted a muesli cookie, and because bakery smells make me susceptible to “impulse purchasing” baked goods.
I exit Gjusta totng my freshly baked Olive Loaf and munching my muesli cookie (which I can also spell without looking it up), and I start back, taking a less street-populated route home.
It is only when I secure the Olive Loaf in a (trendy) canvas container, touted for keeping artisanal breads fresh longer, that I realize I have left my Andrew Jackson book at Gjusta.
I immediately call them, and they confirm that my forgotten “Andrew Jackson” is there, left behind on the artisanal bread, irresistible cookie counter. I check how long the bakery will remain open, and then hang up.
I get an idea, which is far better than a return walk to Gjusta, or an even more harrowing return drive in the dark, imagining the headlines:
“Bad Driver Triggers Terrible Car Accident Going Back For A Book”
Dr. M will be home soon. When she does, I shall ask her to drive me over to the bakery where I will retrieve “Andrew Jackson.”
She arrives home, I ask her the favor, and she magnanimously says yes.
We head south in her car, about to cross into the street I’d walked down barely an hour before. I alert her to what she is about to experience. And as we start down that street, I look out the window...
And there is nobody there.
Nobody at all.
The two paralleling sidewalks, recently “Wall-To-Wall” with homeless humanity…
… is now entirely empty.
Where the heck did they go?
There is a logical explanation, involving a massive police “sweep” during the intervening hour, the homeless community relocated… I don’t know where. But to me, it was like this miraculous “Disappearing Act.”
“Now, you see them… Now, you don’t.”
The experience feeling, in retrospect, hallucinogenic in nature.
Making me wonder if there was some “secret ingredient” in my bowl of “I Am Grateful” wisely unlisted on the Café Gratitude menu.
Or, maybe it was personally self-induced.
I had thought I had seen them.
But what if what I had experienced was simply congenital “Bread Guilt”?