Desolation Row

Every now and then I get a harsh look at an alternate reality and have to pause and count my blessings and give thanks for them.

In adulthood, i’ve been very lucky that except for two periods of time that were not long enough to leave much of a lasting impact, I’ve been able to live in fairly nice and quiet safe areas, and it seems as if the less fortunate are so far removed from me that it’s easy to forget they exist, except around holiday times when one considers volunteering at a food bank, or the odd highway exit where someone has up a sign asking for money, telling you why they need the money (usually a Vietnam vet or single mother/father with three children at home) and finally in conclusion the ubiquitous 'God Bless you!'

But every now and then, I end up in a different part of town for one reason or another. Today the reason was that I was searching for an ‘ethnic’ food store and a hair supply store and they just happened to be a couple miles apart in an area of town where I haven’t had to go to before.

My first clue that something was a miss was the strong scent of cigarette smoke when I got out of my car. Where I live, almost nobody smokes, and I often times forget that people still smoke in this day and age. Anyway, the scent of black and milds and Marlboros was almost stifling as I made my way to the front door of the store, upon which a white sheet of paper was taped announcing ‘WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE TO ANYONE’.

Welcome in...?

I did my shopping quickly, the entire time being very aware of the watchful if not suspicious gaze of one worker who casually patrolled the narrow aisles presumably to make sure the shoppers were only perusing the selection and deciding what to buy and not stealing...,

I left with three packages of Kanekelon ‘hair’ and headed over to the mercado to see what delicacies awaited me. To get there I drove on several neighborhood streets. The houses were not in good repair, the streets had potholes and on three different corners there were men, sitting under trees, in two instances lounging on the grass smoking and in the third just there, with a dismal countenance and staring off into the distance, a bicycle on the ground besides him.

‘Why would someone choose to live here?’ I heard myself think, then immediately felt guilty and ignorant. People have what they can afford, and not everyone is afforded or has access to the same type of life.

I was uncomfortable, and felt like a fool for my discomfort. Still, I wanted to finish up my business and leave the area as soon as possible. Then I felt even more guilty for feeling that way. 

I remembered when I was a child and lived at home that we were the disadvantaged ones, in a sense. Moving every few years trying to find some place cheaper, our yard the only one in the neighborhood with grass went uncut for months until it was so high that we couldn’t go outside and play and had to stomp down a path to the clothesline. Was it that the gasoline to put in the lawn mower was too expensive? Maybe. I remembered feeling ashamed at times, all the time, walking home from school and seeing the neighbors look at me or look away from me, 'so much of them in that house'. I remember thinking that when I got big my life would never be like this.

And I made sure so this has been the case. But when I end up in the neighborhoods where people don’t have it as good, and especially given that these people almost predominantly look like me, I feel a sadness that stays with me for days after. 

I don’t know what I’m trying to say here. Have you ever been in a situation where someone else reality made you feel conflicted, sad and guilty about everything in general.