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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Gauntlet 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI was having trouble with my security access card at the employee entrance the other morning. I keep my badge in an outer pocket of my backpack so I just have to wave my backpack at the security pad to unlock the doors, which are set back in an alcove. For whatever reason it wasn’t reading my badge through my backpack so I fished into my bag to retrieve it. I was clearly having a hard time trying to juggle my backpack and my bike when a young junkie wandered over and helpfully thrust his grimy, needle scarred arm at me, demanding change.

My street survival instincts are all about defusing, deflecting and doing whatever you can not to escalate a situation, since you just never know what little thing will transform your friendly neighborhood junkie into a rage zombie. Junkies consider this town, notorious for its tolerance, the land of milk and honey, but it outraged me that he was so emboldened that he thought it was all right to corner a woman in clear distress and try to intimidate money out of her. I don’t care how dopesick you are.

I stared at him in disbelief. I backed up against the door and my bike fell against my hip painfully. He moved in closer, fencing me in, and repeated himself. “Got any change.”

“No and GO AWAY,” I hissed at him like a cat.

He drew back and gave me a wounded look. "No, YOU…YOU go away." (Snap!) Thankfully someone walked by just then and he slouched off.

Maybe it's just me, but lately homeless around the city have become much more restive, their cant more aggressive and intimidating. Last week a large, muscle bound man asked me for money and I smiled and said sorry. He bowed up and glared at me and screamed, “Damn, all I’ve been getting all day are smiles!” I was taken back by the venom in his voice, so I hurried off. I was still shaken from that ugly encounter when I walked by a squatting man holding a rather uncouth cardboard sign: “NEED MONEY FOR PUSSY.” Walking the streets around the streets of this city has become a gauntlet.

I was soothing myself by looking at up paintings of Flemish master Quentin Matsys on the internet. All his paintings have incredibly sumptuous colors and mind blowing attention to detail, but even his loveliest paintings have that streak of the grotesque I find so appealing. The characters in his portraits have such striking personality, individuality and presence.

Fun fact: Matsys' sister was buried alive in the town square for reading the Bible, a capital crime at the time. (Her husband was decapitated.) Just as Jesus would have wanted them to be, I'm sure. This was during the Reformation and the Catholic church, terrified of losing control, was cracking down. I'm glad that the Catholic church has lightened up a bit since then.

Here is a nice little write up on the image pictured here, The Ill-Matched Lovers.

Comments:
I recommend pepper spray. Defense Technology is good, as is Mace brand or ASP.

Pepper spray causes extreme discomfort in the recipient, giving you, the intended victim, time to depart the scene safely and in peace. Pepper spray causes no permanent damage to the would-be assailant and it's use may cause that person to think twice before behving aggressively toward his fellow man in the future.

Be safe!
 
Thank you for your kind words and your advice about pepper spray. At least I would be on even footing with some of our homeless.
We at the library had an introduction to pepper spray the other night, after two homeless women got in a pepper spray duel right in the foyer. It drifted 40 yards to us at the reference desk. We were all choking and retching and our eyes and noses were streaming. I never want to be on the receiving end of that again!
 
If pepper spray is not available, a squirt bottle of cleaning ammonia is really affective. Note this was used by me for dogs and not humans, but probably would not cause permanent damage, and might kill a few bacteria while you are at it. It is also great for mosquito bites. Good luck 'cleaning up the city'.
 
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