No Place to Go
Crowbar Oct 25, 2005
Caffeine and sleep deprivation are a pleasant mixture; a delightful state of euphoria that borders between passing out and sensory overload. I stare at a cockroach that strolls along the plastic table next to me. It avoids the widening pool of drool from the comatose man who is unaware of his small table guest. I debate whether or not its time to kill, but the man has as much right to be here as the bug.
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It is four AM, I am inside Carlís Jr., an all night burger joint at the United Nations Plaza, and I have no place to go. I wish I wasnít here. I wish I was drunk and passed out in Golden Gate Park. I wish I didnít have to choose between staying outside to pursue my dreams in spoken word coffee houses or the numbing dreamless sleep that homeless shelters provide. Someone told me once to shit in my left hand and fill my right with wishes and wait to see which fills up first. So far, I seem to be knee deep in my own shit while my right hand remains empty.
My bladder swims from all the coffee I have drank. I have been here since eleven and the bathrooms closed at twelve. I managed to use it once. Carlís Jr. has one unisex bathroom to share between the drunks, crack heads, heroin junkies, hookers and the legitimate customers who just might have to use it to shit out their greasy food. The bathroom is a Dorian Gray style portrait of the depravities suffered in this place everyday. The tiles are cracked, beer bottles litter the floor, and the wooden stall, which has no door, barely stands on shaky legs like a punch drunk boxer. This bathroom has no mirror, no soap, no toilet paper, and not one inch that could be considered sanitary. I had used my boot to lift the toilet seat and tried to ignore the old black woman with a head full of dead marigolds who talked to the cracks in the corner. Leaving the restroom, I wondered if she is the tale of the first marigold; a legend of a young woman who went crazy when another won the heart of her love. I realize that I never saw her go in. I never saw her leave. I think she is still in there, waiting for her lost love.
There is an automatic toilet on Market Street and I decide to use it. Outside, I am quickly reminded why I chose this place for sanctuary as a cold wind sneaks within a thick fog cover through downtown San Francisco. I can barely see the outside restroom through the mist. On the edges of my vision, the packs of homeless who roam downtown shamble along like the living dead.
The portal to the cylindrical bathroom is closed.
I press the button and the portal swishes open as the smell of burnt Brillo quickly electrifies my nose. Inside, three shabby gaunt men with hollow eyes stare out through the dirty smoke. They are perched like buzzards over a grotesque woman who is melted into a wheel chair as her legs are uncovered purple tree trunks with open sores that ooze out her own death. I let the door shut and realize I donít have to go that bad.
With much despair, I head back into the restaurant to order another coffee. Above the glass doors, I believe they should have a sign that reads, ďAbandon all ye hope who enterĒ. This dying fast food restaurant is the gateway to Hell, a haven of constant madness, an asylum for the weak and unlucky, and tonight I have cast my lot in with this motley crew.
Behind the counter, the workers are rugged veterans of the fast food wars. They are battle hard, take no shit immigrants whose smiles arenít free, and neither is the water. ďCoffeeĒ is the only conversation. It is my fourth one, I really donít need another but it keeps the them from trying to kick me out. Sipping the black tar, I question who would want to subject their employees to this kind of abuse. I think of Nietzsche and wonder if these workers have not denned with monsters too long. I feel like Max from Where the Wild Things Are, for here there be monsters. Throughout the night, I suffer the horrors of this place. A man crawls around on the floor looking for a unknown secrets he had lost hours ago. A table full of drunk Mexicans catch a siesta while a bag lady, who looks like Lucille Ball after her face had been pecked clean of life, eats their congealed leftovers off the table. A group of young gang bangers roll a blunt while their boombox plays one indistinguishable rap melody continuously. A woman with two teeth and a black eye tries to sell me an expired bus transfer while outside the fifth fight of the night breaks out. It has been this way all night, and I have the feeling itís like this every night. The good news is that the police will be here again and the denizens here will scatter like cockroaches, while me and the real bugs will still be here because we have nowhere to go.
Why does this place exists? How much profit is there in human suffering? Is the money worth the headache and pain, the individual loss of humanity one gets from watching the unloved and unlucky stumble in and out the doors. I want to burn it to the ground and set all these lost souls free. But then I realize its cold outside, we all donít have anywhere to go. This trap is also a refuge; a late night sanctuary and solution away from violence and arrest. The only place I have to go.
Itís getting close to six now. Soon, the homeless who are booted from the night shelters will come in for warmth and a cup of coffee. The security guard decides to wake up now and clean the bathroom. Once the door is opened, the old black woman with the dead flowers steps out and mumbles past me that she is hungry. I decide to buy her a breakfast burrito, not just because her dead marigolds represent a bridge between life and death, a beacon between the darkest feelings of hurt and loneliness, but for the fact that we both survived a night in Carlís Jr.
And that horrendous bathroom.
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