Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tonight's Winning Numbers

Heading to work one morning, I happened to walk pass one of the homeless folk of Downtown, as I often do. She stood in front of the 7-11 convenient store on the corner of Olive and 7th St., hunched over and leaning on the ever-present, trademark shopping cart that accompanies most "street wanderers." She had stringy, blonde hair covering her face - only you could hardly tell through the layers of dirt caked onto it, from the scalp down. She wore a collection of clothing on her back, stacked up to the black bubble jacket on top; these were also thick with dirt, the tatters and tears showing off through the ends. I grimaced as I caught sight of her bare feet: long brown toenails that came to sharp points at each end and muddy, heavily calloused soles.

The faded blue handle bar on her cart read "Rite-Aid" and on top of the enormous pile that filled it was a big, spread-open sleeping bag that reminded me of the one I used as a kid. Maybe it covered clothes, trinkets, soda cans or more sleeping bags, but it sure didn't shelter anything that would justify what was in her hands. Bent forward, elbows on shopping cart handle, she clutched a lottery scratcher ticket in one hand, as the other feverishly swept a penny back and forth on the surface, with no restraint to slow down or stop. The top of her dirty, yellowed thumbnail was covered in silver shavings and the sides of the ticket collapsed into two creases on each side from her firm grip. Her green-brown teeth looked as if they sought blood, digging deeply into a chapped and flaking lower lip while bloodshot yet concentrated eyes darted back and forth, almost keeping up the pace of the sweeping penny.

This homeless woman, caked in dirt, was spending money on lottery scratchers - not just the single one in her hand, as suggested (upon second glance) by the crumpled losings that peeked through the plastic shopping cart frame - rather than food, a pair of sandals or even a bar of soap! Was this chance encounter a sign of our force-fed hope gone out of control? Or was this a skewed reflection of our festering greed overcoming the basic needs to get by, even when living on the streets of Los Angeles covered in shit with a Rite-Aid cart as a sole lifeline?

Whichever one it may be, all I know is that my face had just been slammed into the concrete floor of cold, raw humanity.