Sunday, December 21, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Snowy Weekend in Portland

The weathermen were right! Last weekend, we were hit with the first snow of the season. This time, the snow didn't melt upon touching the ground, as it did the last time I remember it snowing in Portland (Christmas Day...but now I forget...was it last year or the year before?). This winter has been a dismal one for skiers at Mount Hood, which lacked snow until the storm last weekend. By Tuesday, however, most of the ice and snow were gone and we were supposed to be hit with a second wave on Wednesday/Thursday. Nothing much came of that in downtown Portland, though outlying areas were affected by snow and ice. However, weathermen were predicting that the third wave would be the most severe and it would hit on Saturday.

Friday night (actually, early Saturday morning), I looked out my window and saw a wet parking lot and not even rain, so I kind of figured that the weathermen were wrong. It wasn't going to amount to much of anything, if at all. Which was fine by me, because I had a lot of errands I needed to do this weekend. The last weekend before Christmas meant that I still have some last minute Christmas shopping to do (for a meal on Christmas day for my bro and I; a few gifts left to buy; my last cards to mail out; and I wanted to stroll through the Saturday Market to see about buying something for myself before the market closes after Christmas, not to be reopened until March).

On Saturday, I woke up at 11 a.m. and looked out my window and saw a winter wonderland! Holy crap. And snow was still coming down. I walked to the post office to mail off some Christmas cards and saw that the streets were pretty empty. The snow was probably already a good 6 inches. By end of day, the news was reporting 14 inches of snow in some parts of the Portland metro area. Unbelievable! A true winter wonderland! I didn't think Portland ever got snow like this. I haven't lived in a place that got this much snow since Washington, D.C. in January 2000. What a way to end the year! In January, I got to see snow come down in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and now I get to see tons of snow hit Portland a week before Christmas. Will it last through Christmas day? I hope so.

After the post office, I headed to Starbucks to grab a chai latte and then strolled down the South Park blocks. I thought of hitting up a few stores on my errand list, but decided to head back home. On the walk back, I noticed one video store was advertising off rental DVD copies for $3 each. A "Saturday Only Sale!" Of course, who can beat DVDs for that price, so I walked in to see what was being offered and picked up three that I wanted to own but didn't want to pay full price for: Charlie Wilson's War, Lions for Lambs, and Dan in Real Life. I actually rarely buy DVDs new anymore...unless it's one of those "two-disc" special editions (which reminds me, I need to get The Dark Knight special edition). There's a music store downtown that sells used DVDs, but their price is $8.50 for most of them (I'm slowly working my way through the James Bond saga of watching them in chronological order from Netflix of those I don't like very much to buying the ones I want at the used DVD store. I'm up to Thunderball right now. I own seven Bond DVDs at the moment. Cool, huh? 007--seven DVDs).

After the video store, I reached a street corner where the streetcar was approaching. In front of me was a homeless guy struggling to push a shopping cart through the snow. He was blocking the path of the streetcar, so the impatient streetcar operator was honking the horn at him, which caused him to stop where he was to cuss her out. He kept calling her a "fucking bitch" and asked if she was from Florida. Couldn't she see that he was trying to get out of her way? He was just belligerent and angry, going off on a tirade. Then a microphone came on and the streetcar operator said: "please get out of the path of the streetcar!" Dang...I didn't know it had that capability. I admit that streetcar operators are a bit quick on the horn if any car is driving in front of them on the streetcar track, but I think streetcars have right of way.

The homeless guy just kept on ranting. He was seriously angry and went on and on about that "fucking bitch!" I got tired of hearing it, so I said to him: "it's unnecessary to speak to her that way. You were, in fact, blocking the streetcar." Oops. That did it. Then he turned his anger and profanity laced tirade on me, asking where I went to college because I should get a refund since I seem to lack any common sense. Granted, he was trying to push a shopping cart through snow (no easy task)...but on the flip side, I couldn't believe the level of his anger. I was happy all day because of the snow. The thought did come to me the reason why he might be angry. He's homeless and everything he owns is in that shopping cart he stole from Safeway. If he were to sleep in a shelter this weekend, where would he store his belongings? It's the dilemma of homeless people who still want to carry around their worldly possessions.

Even though he yelled at me, I found it incredibly easy to bounce off his negativity with a sense of compassion for his plight. As I pondered it later, why is it so easy for me to ignore his angry tirades but not my co-worker's (the one with severe emotional problems that I've written about previously)? Maybe that's my challenge. If I can deflect the anger of the homeless guy because I understood where the anger originates (his being homeless during a severe winter storm such as this), why can't I deflect the angry, abusive tirades of my co-worker (and I also understand where her anger originates...she's an unattractive, overweight woman with emotional problems and approaching 40 who will most likely never find a man to marry and is a member of a religion that preaches to her that her value in the afterlife depends upon the man she marries)? It's a challenge, I agree to that.

Last week, I had found a used copy of Marianne Williamson's Return to Love, which I had been wanting to read. I had just recently watched a lecture of hers on DVD and wanted to learn more about her ideas, which are pretty much the same ideas spoken by Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, and a whole host of other popular "self-help"/psychology/spirituality practitioners. I've heard of Marianne Williamson for years but only read one other book of hers just earlier this year (The Gift of Change). I'm truly experiencing an emotional high reading her book, now, so maybe that's why my level of compassion is higher this weekend than normal.

In the late afternoon, after checking the mail, I had planned to read a few chapters of Revolutionary Road in the lobby of the apartment, next to the gas-powered fire place. However, they turned off the gas and the family from Ethiopia was hanging out there, so we ended up visiting and talking politics. Then they told me about an incident at the apartment that happened a week or so ago, when a bunch of police cars were at my complex while I was at work.

Apparently, a resident named James (one of the few tenets I happen to see on a regular basis out and about the complex, so we always talk en route to wherever each of us happens to be going) was off his medication and started on some angry tirade in which he had threatened to kill the president of the United States. The apartment complex management called the police and it took eight police officers to subdue him. They used tasers and still couldn't knock him out! The result is that he is getting evicted at the end of the month. The Ethiopian family knows him quite well since their apartments were next door to one another. They said that they never had a problem with him or felt unsafe around him (the family has a 4 year old son who is a passionate Obama supporter and a 9 month old baby boy). They are aware that James has some kind of mental illness and gets government assistance. His rent is quite low and he makes extra money by going around collecting cans and bottles to turn in for deposit refunds.

So, the family from Ethiopia told me about how they didn't believe the "official story" from management that James was being evicted because he had threatened to kill the president, because it's ludicrous. How serious can you take a threat like that? It's not like Bush lives in Portland or ever comes here, and it's doubtful that he plans to visit during his last month in office. Also, it's known by management that James receives government assistance and is too poor to travel anywhere. The question we have is, how does that solve anything by throwing a mentally ill person out on the streets? I feel bad about the situation. James has always been friendly and pretty sharp in our conversations. I never felt unsafe around him and he never gave off an unstable vibe to me. The only problem I have in talking with him is that he sometimes reeks of alcohol and that smell always induces in me an urge to vomit. I'm just sad to see another example of a lack of compassion, where he's tossed out onto the streets to join the homeless ranks in the middle of winter. Actually, winter starts what's it going to be like in February?

It was odd to have come across two incidents of homelessness on the same snowy Saturday. It made me think of the homeless shelter in D.C. when the BYU Washington Seminar participants had one Saturday in March where we painted the hallways of the shelter. First, we had a video presentation followed by a tour. During the work part of the day, we were able to see the individual rooms that its inhabitants had. They were pretty nice little rooms, with locks. It enlightened me to the idea that homeless shelters could be a nice place, for the image I always had was an open room with cots. What shocked me about that day, though, were the attitudes of fellow BYU students. Overhearing their comments really drove home to me the basic philosophical differences between a liberal-minded person and a conservative-minded one. I remember talking about it with fellow liberals on the program.

Basically, the conservative students thought the residents had it too good. They complained about the homeless people not having to pay rent on their individual rooms. They had a problem with the freeloading aspect of it. Their question was, how can we expect these people to help themselves if they are given free room and board? My argument was to ask them, "would you want to live there?" Their answer was, "of course not!" Why begrudge a homeless person any small place of decency, where they can have a warm place to stay, and a small place to keep their belongings safe. This might not even be a permanent place for them, but a chance to rebound. How can one prepare for a job interview without any skills or a place to keep clothes neat or a way to be contacted? We, who are able to find jobs and a place to live, can be proud of the fact that we are responsible for ourselves and live the way we desire. So, why begrudge a little dignity and comfort given to homeless people? I'm totally all for homeless people having a place to stay warm and keep their belongings secure. I think it should be subsidized by the government as a sort of tithing on the federal budget.

The issue of homelessness reminds me of one experience Charles Lewis wrote about in his campaign literature or website. He said that he was never into politics as a teenager (like me). When he interned for Senator Mark Hatfield in the early 1990s, he happened to be in the office where none of the staff or Senator could see him. He overheard one staff member talk about a homeless person they saw on the street outside. Instead of making fun of homeless people, a conversation ensued about what was the best way to solve that crisis / issue. Charles said that he was cynical about politicians and people who work in government, but hearing their comments made him realize that there were people in public office who truly did care about issues and wanting to make the world a better place. That, apparently, sold him onto the idea of public service.

I had asked him if homelessness could ever be solved. There is a group in Portland dedicated to eradicating it within ten years. I don't see it as a possibility due to the fact that there are some people who like the freedom of not having a steady job or bills to pay. They love living day to day. However, I'm also of the opinion that our government is morally obligated to at least provide some shelter for anyone who is homeless regardless of the reasonings, particularly in bad weather. It's the least we can do and it's not a strain on the budget to provide this level of charity. I get angry when I see boarded up and abandoned buildings. They could easily be used as shelters for homeless people.

Anyhow, that's the thoughts I had going on in my mind yesterday as the snow came floating down. I'm still hoping that I can find my dream government job so I can be a part of solving these kinds of issues. Honestly, I belong in government. I'm not a corporate person at all. I think too many businesses are immoral, obsessed with profits at the expense of people. Thus why it has been disheartening for me to see the non-profit organization I work for acting more like a corporation than a government agency or charitable organization. But, that's a gripe for another day.

On Friday, news reported that two buses ran into a guard rail on a street above I-5 in downtown Seattle, due to ice. Because of the close proximity between Portland and Seattle, it wasn't a surprise to hear them get hit with the same winter storm that hit us. When I saw the photo above, the first thought that came to mind was: "Where is Superman or Spiderman when you need them?" It looked like a scene out of one of those movies.

I hope wherever you happen to be reading this, that you are safe and warm, having a place that keeps you out of the elements. It's definitely the one thing I can truly be grateful for. I have my own apartment to come home to every night.

Because of the ongoing snow, I decided not to go anywhere today. I wanted to walk the labyrinthe at the New Renaissance Bookshop, but the deep snow made it difficult to walk. I'm just crunching on ice. It's simply a nice day to sit at home and watch a few DVDs (though it's too late for me to watch a Thunderball / Never Say Never Again double feature).


brooklyn said...

so good to hear you happy and loving the snow. i've been craving snow ever since our trip last year to utah. a blizzard hit and we went sledding and built a snowman in it. it was beautiful!

also, i agree with your thoughts on providing a little dignity to the homeless. they usually have horrible stories in their paths that led them there.

also, since this is the second time i've heard you say this, i thought i'd make a quick doctrinal correction. a single woman can find someone and get married after she dies. there is some kind of "guarantee" that if they stay true to all the covenants, than it will all be worked out in the afterlife.

Sansego said...

I hate to disagree with you, but in the New Testament, someone asks Jesus about marriage and he said it quite clearly that "There is no marriage in heaven."

I don't believe marriage exists in the afterlife because it's not necessary. However, it is my theory about that co-worker. I may in fact be wrong, of course, but all I know is that she is seriously unhappy about something and even though she won't talk about her personal life, it has to be disheartening to her that no man is attracted to her and she is in a church that promotes eternal marriage. If she was born into a Catholic family, she'd make a perfect nun!

Sansego said...

One more thing...she would also be great in a polygamous family. She can be the sister-wife to take care of the children and the husband would most likely skip the intimacy part of the relationship with her. I know it sounds harsh, but anyone who saw her would understand immediately. She's basically what is known in older days as "an old maid." That's her lot in life, unfortunately. She's shown an unwillingness to change, so I don't think it'll happen for her.