One time, I was standing in an alley I lived in for a while, east of La Brea, north of the Jack in the Box.
I was standing with two black gentleman, two of my friends. Two of my ‘street children.’
Broken people, at the time, with great, misunderstood hearts of gold.
They are both insecure, both frequently very sweet and kind, but not always.
I don’t think anyone is always sweet or always kind.
I can’t remember why, but all three of us were standing in the middle of the alley, during the daytime. I turned around to face them, and they both had their arms crossed, heads lowered and feet set apart and were staring daggers at the end of the alley.
I said something to the effect of:
“Whoa, you guys look kind of terrifying right now! What’s up?”
One of them nodded his head towards 6th street.
“You see those people up there? They keep looking over here.”
“Uh… yeah. They’re tourists, and they’re probably looking over here because you guys honestly look like you’re about to rob them.”
I knew my friends. Knew they were not about to rob anyone.
But two black men, in those poses, glowering from that far away- I imagined what someone, maybe someone from a town like Redding – would think.
I have found over and again that my behavior is guided by my fears, my insecurities, in ways that assures them of coming true.
It is the very fact of checking to see if people are watching us that catches their attention.
Our apologies over our failings that causes people to see us in the way we are worried they will.
I had to adjust to this quite a bit when I returned to dumpstering after a long break, after I’d found peace on a deep level but before I’d reached out to my parents.
I’d always said, while on the street, that had I known what kind of loot could be found in the trash, I would have been dumpster diving long before I was on the street.
Yet, when push came to shove, when I no longer looked homeless- I suddenly felt… naked. Self-conscious.
It took quite some time, and for me, some research online, but- when I invested the time necessary to really flesh out the rules under which I was okay with dumpstering, and the reasons why I was passionate about it- now, when people walk up to ask me what I’m doing, regardless of their tone, if I am not already being acted upon by other stressors, I can smile, look them in the eye, and tell them exactly what I’m doing and why, in a way that sort of infects them with my passion.
Then – now – I am no longer as likely to tuck my tail between my legs, mumble an apology, and leave.
It is hiding that inspires suspicion in others, I think. When I look like I belong somewhere, because I’ve taken the time to think about why I’m there and am confident that I’m doing the Right Thing, for me- then…I look like I belong. Maybe because I feel more like I belong, in my own skin, then. I dunno. But it’s fun to think about!