From my Anthropology blog:
The most difficult thing to do in life is not to have something to do at all, indeed. It was my day-off yesterday, and I could not think of anything to do. I already did Spring cleaning, reading, writing, watching TV, listening to Carla Bruni's husky voice, and arguing with my dad on the phone about the Philippine economy. I had my all afternoon ready to be given up to boredom again.
Since I like to challenge myself very much, I decided to explore an inner city in Southern California by bus with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture booming on my headset. I wanted to find out if a beautiful art could help me not see the ugliness and sadness of reality. I failed or I was failed.
I stopped my ipod, pulled the string to warn the driver, and got off the bus. I saw beggars and prostitutes that I could not dismiss as just part of the passing crowds in the streets. I sat by the bus stop and observed. They surrounded me, and their noises were mostly about their woes. The beggars talked about some spare change, and the prostitutes, about their quick tricks and haggling clients.
One hungry beggar, a homeless woman leaning on a bulky garbage bag, asked me if I could give her a dollar for her already late lunch. I went to the Burger King nearby and bought her a fish sandwich, the most healthy I could find in the menu. I gave it to her, and our conversation began. She told me I was the "child of the sky."
She also told me that she grew up in Europe. I did not press further as it seemed she did not want to talk about her family and childhood. Her hallucinations and incoherence, maybe from hunger, were very beautiful to my ears. They all connected and ended up a very interesting story. If I were a surrealist writer, I would use her plot and characters.
After filling her stomach, the beggar left with the bulky black trash bag she carried like her baby. There was already an arch on her back from ageing. I felt bad because I could not force myself to hug her. Her smell, a combination of urine and rotten egg, was only tolerable from a certain distance. She also did not want to shake my hand; she had an infected wound on her thumb. She just waved and walked away into the crowd.
I also said my goodbye and went back to the bus stop ready to head home. I had to wait for another thirty minutes. While waiting, I played my ipod again without thinking I would be mugged for the gadget. Nobody dared and Tchaikovsky still failed to mask the ugly and the sad realities I saw.
When the head of the bus emerged from afar, one prostitute ran towards me to also catch it. She was a prostitute; her very short mini-skirt scandalous in daylight said so. She also flirted her way to the bus stop with her half-running and half-sashaying gait. Her high-heels were very high, and so were her red eyes. She was a blondie.
I let her get in first, and I sat across from her. She started talking to herself as soon as the bus zoomed. Even the percussions of the overture could not prevent me from reading the moving lips of the tired, skimpily-clad woman who talked and cussed. I took my headset off and listened. I believe people who cuss are worth-listening. They are those who cannot articulate their suffering well.
Her cussing was funny sometimes but mostly vulgar. She was always the victim in her stories. She condemned everyone including the passengers and the driver. It seemed our noticeable nonchalance and indifference towards her made her twice a victim. Yes, she made sense. Nobody comforted her. I was scared to even sit beside her.
She talked about her cheap clients, her unforgiving pimp who loaned her money, CIA, NASA, the church, the government, welfare checks, food stamps, etc. Her hallucinations, in my understanding, could be expressed into two words: social justice. She even blamed the government for the gloomy weather- she thought it would rain, and her street trade was ruined.
I took my notebook out and started writing about hallucinations. The moving bus did not affect my scribbling. There were hints of persistence in my hand and fingers and resignation in my rests and stops. I wished I was young and adventurous as I used to be. Maybe doing an ethnography on hallucinations could could be a dream project, where literature and anthropology could merge and both the observer and the observed could be authors.
I wondered if Asian beggars would have different stories minimalized by their shy personalities and restrictive cultures and peppered with their culture-specific notions of karma, suffering, and life. I also wondered if black prostitutes could tell me about their childhood ended too soon by domestic violence, incestuous rape, and pimping perpetrated by their own relatives.
By the time I reached home, I could only write these: "Are there hidden realities behind hallucinations expressed by the marginalized?" and a poem...
Children of the Sky
among beggars and whores,
clairvoyants of the past
and historians of the future.
their traces of stench and lavender,
their shadows hovered by pity
and stalked by lusts.
their woes and words
muted by coins and begging cans
and shouts and slaps from pimps.
what their eyes deprive them:
the crowd in the streets
and the leafless trees.
how they sit on the concrete bench
and eat the leftovers in their bags
or how they probe the dusk.
to count and catch their tears,
to turn them into pearls
and the saddest ones into rain.