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The Sneeze

Seattle hosted the baseball All-Star Game a few weeks ago, so the city, of course, cleared all the bum encampments within parking distance of the stadium. The sweeps were cruel but almost comical — the mayor said, “We don't do sweeps” the same day people were being swept — and now that the tourists are gone, a few thousand bums have resettled themselves near the ball park, which is also near the Jack-In-the-Box where I'd decided on lunch.

I stepped off the bus, looked around while waiting to cross the street, and oh yeah, the homeless own the neighborhood again. Nobody likes it when you say this out loud, but with a few mistakes or a spot of bad luck, it could be anyone, except the rich, of course.

Several tents were on the yellowed grass between sidewalk and street on the fast-food side, and a man sat on the curb, wearing rags and holding a bottle of not-milk. I said, “Cheers,” walking past him, but didn't linger for an answer.

* * *

Onward to a quick, greasy lunch at a stupid high price, I walked inside Jack's place, and gave my order and money to somebody in a goofy red jump suit. Then I waited, and with nothing to see out the window except a parking lot and lotsa bums, I watched the workers working.

Hey, I need a job, and I worked in fast-food 50 years ago. Maybe I could work here? I played with the idea, but the kitchen looked cramped, and I'm fat. I'd be knocking things over with my belly all day.

As I watched, an employee lifted two baskets from the hot greasy vats, onion rings in one, sorry-looking tacos in the other. Then she made a face that predicted a sneeze, but with both both of her hands occupied, she couldn't cover her mouth. She made a valiant effort to choke the sneeze back, but achoo! She'd caught most of it, and no snot visibly escaped her face.

She sneezed a second time, this time stifling it more effectively, almost completely, and then she poured the onion rings from the basket into one of their little red onion ring boxes, and slid the sorry-looking tacos into their paper sleeves. She wiped her face with her hand, reached for a paper towel, and blew her nose.

We're supposed to be disgusted by the sneeze, right? Especially since those tacos and onion rings were my lunch. Well, I considered being worried about safety and hygiene and catching the next plague, but simply couldn't get there. Humans make food, humans eat food, and sometimes humans sneeze. All you can ask is that people try not to sneeze on your food, and she'd tried.

The sneezy lady put my meal in a sack, though I'd ordered “for here” so it should've been on a tray. I didn't complain about that either, because one sack more or less isn't gonna save the rain forests. She put the bag on the counter, said my number and “Thanks,” and I took the sack to a table and ate my sorry-looking tacos and onion rings.

* * *

When I'd finished and stepped outside, a hairy shirtless Mexican gent was asleep on his side in front of the restaurant, with his rear three-fourths-exposed and coated with a slight layer of matted twigs and street debris. 

Another bum was sleeping on the cement floor of the bus shelter, which technically isn't a shelter any more because the roof has been removed, probably to deter the homeless from sleeping there. It didn't deter the sleeping guy, though.

There were more bums' tents down the street, and tents in both directions down the cross street — tents wherever there's grass, it seems, so the city will probably replace the grass with barbed wire.

When my bus was a block away, the bum asleep in the shelter stirred, and he said something to me. But I couldn't understand him, and didn't much try to. Nobody did.

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One Comment

  1. John Shultz August 27, 2023

    Ive learned quite a bit about the “residentally challanged’ by my 2 hours a day-3 days a week layover at the Walmart parking lot lake County bus depot, schmoozing with the chronically disenfranchised for 5 + years now. Lake County is a depository/sink trap for down and outers of all types,its probably the poorest county of all 58 California counties, its full of alchoholics,drug addiction, the psychologically skewed and hybridizations of all 3. Theres foul mouthed, tattooed, chain smoking grannies,calorie deficient, furtive meth addicts looking to steal your back back,enthusiastic self conversationalists (a monologue of one) frequent flier, young male felons newly released from the lakeport Correctional Facility making eager plans for further illegal activities ,Conspiracy Theorist riddled schizophrenics ready to eagerly fill you in on the latest plots, and deer in the headlights young girls wandering down the wrong path courtesy of meth or fentanyl etc. familiarities. I learned one thing: theres a mountain of questions and a paucity of “answers” about the hard paved rabbit hole of human misfortune by sitting on a bus stop bench in the Walmart parking lot bus depot and simply observing….

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