(Originally published December 14, 2002)
Yesterday was the first big storm of the rainy season. It rained in sheets — cold, icy sheets — for 24 hours straight. And it’s still raining today, with 3 more days of heavy rain in the immediate forecast.
Rain is a source of dread for the street people.You can see it in their faces as they huddle under awnings and doorways; that vibe of steely resignation. And the first few storms always seem the worst, because you’re discombobulated. By the middle of the season you sort of get in sync with the rhythm of the thing. And then the last few storms of the season are the worst, because by that time you’re just sick of the whole grind and craving the sun of summer.
Last night we hung out under the porch of the Student Union building. A bedraggled band of urban campers we were, with our wet pants and wet socks and wet backpacks. Mostly we sat there, grimly, smoking our cigarettes, and smoking pot, and trying to think of something to talk about. (The talk of the day was a newspaper story about a couple that had just won the Lottery twice in one day, something like a trillion to one odds, they’d been buying $20 worth of tickets every day for the last 15 years, something like “$120,000 spent until they finally hit the jackpot, and then TWICE in one day, unbelievable!” — this is the kind of stuff the street people talk about when we’re huddled under an awning all night watching the non-stop rain pour down.)
So today, Saturday, I was feeling particularly bedraggled, because on top of everything else, the rain wiped out the Telegraph Street Fair, which is the peak of Christmas sales. So we had to pack up our vending table and our fabulous “Telegraph Street Calendar 2002” and just hope that next weekend, the last weekend before Christmas, it doesn’t rain, too, and completely wipe us out.
So I’m standing on the corner with my half-broken umbrella, in my wet, soggy clothes, and no money in my pocket. And this middle-aged, suburban housewife-looking woman comes out of this expensive store with her Christmas shopping. She’s about 35. Perfectly coiffed, every hair in place, even with the storm. And she’s got on an expensive rain jacket, and she’s got a nice plastic rain-hat on, and she’s got a big, expensive umbrella. She is PREPARED for the rain. She probably has to only brave the storm for the 30 feet it takes her to walk from the warm, dry store to her warm, dry car, and then into her warm, dry suburban home. But she’s PREPARED, man, and she’s not gonna get a single drop of icky rainwater on her warm, expensive skin. Except that she rushes off the curb to cross the street to get to her car, and she steps right in this big, huge puddle. I mean, she plunged in there almost all the way up to her knee. And I burst out laughing because it was so funny — here she’s taking every possible precaution to stay dry, and now she’s soaking wet anyway. HAW HAW (I admit I have a cruel sense of humor). And the lady hears me laughing and she turns and gives me a look, and if looks could kill, I’d be dead. But she probably figures there’s laws against suburban house-wives beating bedraggled street people to death with her expensive umbrella. So she thinks better of it and rushes off down the street, dragging her soaking-wet pant-leg behind her.
And I turn around to head up the street with a big smile on my face, and this bus goes blasting down the Ave and hits this big puddle of water and splashes it right up into my face and all over my shirt, like getting hit directly in the chest by tidal wave. And I’m sputtering and coughing and cursing. And all the people who had seen me laughing at the lady are now openly laughing at me. And, in truth, I didn’t find it nearly as funny.
But in a way it was great. Because we always get our karmic payback sooner or later; usually there’s just more of a time-lag between the karmic cause and the karmic effect. So at least I had gotten it over with.