Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sirens At Starbucks

About a week ago I am sitting in the Starbucks in Pleasant Hill, CA (on the same site as the old Pleasant Hill Motor Movies used to be) and there was this cute 20-something girl sitting at the next table talking a mile a minute to her boyfriend. The boyfriend had earphones on and was trying to do something with his laptop... ignoring her. Some of the things the cute girl was saying were kind of weird, but I figured that stuff was some kind of in-joke between her and her boyfriend. She said some strange things about food additives and veganism, which made me think he was a vegan and she was trying to say something that would turn his attention from the laptop to her.

She was really cute, I would have paid more attention to her - but that’s what happens in relationships... you become accustomed to the other person and begin taking them for granted. (Medusa took the men who stared at her for granite). You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone...

And when some guy at another table with long hair got up to leave, the cute 20-something chatterbox started talking to him, flirting with him... right in front of her boyfriend. Then she said some odd things to the guy with long hair about how some food additives were poisons. Um, okay. This *is* the San Fran Bay Area, so there’s no shortage of hippie-types and the children and grandchildren of hippie-types. Maybe "food additives are poison" is a good pick up line up here. The long haired guy had somewhere to go, said goodbye to her and left. The whole time, her boyfriend had his nose buried in his laptop. I thought, “He’s going to lose her if he doesn’t at least pay a little attention to her.”

But a few moments later, she began talking to someone else... and saying crazy things. And I realize the guy with the headphones ignoring her was *not* her boyfriend - he was some poor guy trying to work who was being pestered by some cute 20-something mentally ill girl.

The next night I am in the same Starbucks and she is there again, pestering some other guy, and she suddenly begins screaming at the top of her lungs. The manager asks her to be quiet... then asked her to leave. The cute 20-something girl screamed that Starbucks security cameras were stealing her image and broadcasting them on You Tube... then left... for about five minutes... when she returned with more strange accusations about the Starbucks Security Camera - YouTube Conspiracy.

About the fourth or fifth time she ran into the store screaming about her stolen image, the manager called the police... and then there were sirens. They came and cuffed her and we all waited for an ambulance to take her to the county hospital’s mental ward (J Ward at Mt. Diablo Hospital). She was screaming strange things the whole time, and getting in the policemen’s faces. Weird. But she was really cute.


Last night I’m at my corner Starbucks on Ventura & Vineland, which is a homeless hangout. That corner is a main bus stop, and it is an upscale neighborhood (Britney Spears comes into that Starbucks sometimes), so homeless people can get their easily and have plenty of people to hit up for money. The homeless thing is a big problem at that Starbucks, every Starbucks I go to (which is a lot) have homeless people hanging around.

Starbucks is like a homeless shelter - they can get something to drink and snooze on the chairs and wash up in the bathrooms (which seems to take a half hour per homeless person, so I hope you have a strong bladder after drinking all of that coffee). But because of that bus stop, Ventura & Vineland seems to have more than its fair share of homeless people, and company policy seems to be to give them water and not kick them out unless they do something really over the line - like the time the homeless guy in a dirty lemon yellow track suit and 1930s aviator goggles dropped his pants and began masturbating in the middle of the Starbucks. He had done all kinds of odd things before that, but they allowed him to sit in the comfy chairs and drink ice water (that he added half and half and chocolate powder to)... I guess whipping it out and playing with it in public was over the line.

Even before the masturbation incident, customers avoided the comfy chairs because homeless people often pissed in them. Hey, why wait in line for the restroom when you can just let it go? These homeless folks are not people who lost their jobs and homes and are now on the street - these are menatlly ill people who are living on the streets. No amount of job training will help them. There's a young guy who screams and fights people, there's an old guy who screams Bible quotes at passing cars, there's the woman who has three stuffed animals clutched in her arms at all times. I feel sorry for all of these people, but buying them a coffee is not the answer - a few of them now know my name and hit me up for a coffee. I'll be hitting on Cute Barista and some homeless dude will start some crazy conversation with me and want me to buy him coffee. This will not sound good in print, but I don't want to be that crazy homeless guy's friend. Sorry.

Other homeless people take up most of the outdoor chairs. They used to smoke like crazy, but Starbucks has a new rule that bans outdoor smoking near the store. I don’t know if that rule was aimed at the homeless people or not, but they ignore it. If someone comes out and tells them they can’t smoke, they pretend to stop... then just start again. If the shopping center security guy is called (he’s always downstairs chalking your tires - the shopping center has a 2 hour parking limit, and they used to chalk my car times constantly. They actually chalk my bicycle tires, now!) the guard tells the homeless people they can’t smoke there, and the homeless people grab their chairs and move to the street. Hey, where did all of the outdoor chairs go?

The most heartbreaking homeless guy to me is this old guy who used to live in an apartment in the neighborhood. Stylish guy, always wore one of those Australian snap hats and black clothes with silver studs. He saw me writing one day, pulled up a chair, and told me he was also a pro-writer. Mentioned his big credit - an exploitation film from the 70s that I had actually seen. He’d written some other things I had never heard of, too. Anyway, I’d say hello every time I saw him at Starbucks. Then, something happened, and he was on the street. He got dirty, he began drinking with the other homeless guys on the bus bench in front of the Rite Aid, and now he’s another one of the drunk homeless guys smoking outside of Starbucks. I have bought him coffee a couple of times, but I do not give him money - he’d just spend it on booze. I don’t really know what I can do for the guy, but I wish there was someplace he could live. I suspect he's mental health is deteriorating with every half gallon of booze he drinks... and the more you hang out with crazy people, the more that seems normal.

So, last night there’s a homeless guy (not the ex-screenwriter) in one of the chairs (smoking) and he saying crazy things to anyone who passes by. He says crazy things to me. I go inside, sit down, start working... And I see through the window his buddy is trying to help him stand up, but this guy is drunk and crazy and smoking and when he gets to his feet... falls flat on his face.

And a few minutes later an ambulance siren is wailing and a bunch of paramedics are defribbing the guy a few feet from where I am sitting. After shocking him, they put him in the back of the ambulance and take him to the county hospital.


Tonight I am sitting in another Starbucks, and there is a woman I have seen in this Starbucks before who is sleeping on one of the comfy chairs. I have nicknamed her “Hot & Homeless” because she could be a model... except she looks like she’s been living on the street and she talks to herself. Because she seems to be in this Starbucks every time I’m here (which is not often) I think she kind of lives here.

Three different Starbucks, all have crazy homeless people in them. We used to have state asylums for crazy people... but all of those are gone, now. We have all kinds of mentally ill homeless people out there, and we need to do something about it. You can complain about “warehousing the mentally ill” all you want, but at least they had a roof over their heads. If it makes us feel better to call a facility a “Homeless Resort” or something, that is fine with me - but we need some sort of shelter system and some sort of mental health facility for these people. Hey, it can have a Starbucks or fake Starbucks where they can sit outside and smoke or play with themselves if they want. Even if it ends up just being warehousing without much in the way of help, it’s a roof over their heads. It’s meals, instead of ice water with half and half and sugar and chocolate powder or digging through the trash cans. Will this cost us money? Of course - but isn’t the point of a society to look out for each other? To show a little charity? Plus, you won’t have to deal with that masturbating homeless guy, who is probably just in some other Starbucks whipping it out and playing with it as I type this. Yech.

I Googled up "Homeless Shelter Charity" to find some link where people might help, but page one listed several homeless shelter charities in *England* and other parts of the UK and *animal* shelters here in the USA. Why are we more concerned with homeless animals than homeless people? What can we do *as a country* to help these people?

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Why We Write - what is your motivation for wanting to be a screenwriter?
Dinner: A burrito as big as my head at Tortas on Ventura (near Vineland in the same shopping center as Fantastic Sams). They make the best burritos I've had so far in Los Angeles... and I dare you to eat the whole thing. I was riding out in Van Nuys one day and stopped at this Mexican Mexican place (ie: from Mexico) and their burritos were greasy and small. Mexican food can be greasy, but Tortas seems to work at removing the grease. Plus, if you are friendly, they give you free chips and salsa... other places charge for that. If you live in the area, check them out! (I eat there all the time, always good.)
Pages: Well, I played with *my* cop action script a little.
Bicycle: No... but my wrist is much better, and I'm going to ride on Thursday just to see what happens.


ObiDonWan said...

Very sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, Bill. There aren't many here where I currently live, but I've certainly seen many in NYC and Boston. What was the movie with Nick Nolte as a homeless bum? Funny, but not realistic. Anyway, maybe you should put some of these experiences into a script? What's the story? A screenwriter finds himself living on the streets...

wcmartell said...

I have a script about a down and out photographer who lives with the homeless. Need to rewrite that someday.

yyyyyyyyy said...

Had an ex-girlfriend who decided to take in a bum off the street. He'd sleep in the same room as her, a huge loft, him in a futon on the floor, her in a bed suspended from the ceiling, seven feet above the floor. She didn't care that he was a stranger. She wore only T-shirts in the loft: no pants, no panties. And it drove him crazy. He'd masturbate uncontrollably in her presence. At night from the aerie of her bed, I could make him out going at it. He would make these surreally enormous porn-star strokes that made me question my own manhood. It made me wonder what she did with him when I wasn't around.

I suppose she needed someone else to ridicule. I was 15 years older than her, and completely indifferent to her frequent digs that I was too old, "too" soft, too mean.

Tim W. said...

Completely agree. I live in Vancouver, where homelessness is also a problem. It's kind of a homeless Mecca in Canada because it generally doesn't get cold enough to snow much in the winter, so living outside for most of the year is much more palatable.

Unfortunately, they've closed all the mental health facilities here, and all these people end up on the streets, which is apparently better than in an institution.

I agree that something needs to be done to help these people. If, as they say, a society is judged by how it treats it's most unfortunate, our society sucks.

odocoileus said...

If it makes us feel better to call a facility a “Homeless Resort” or something, that is fine with me - but we need some sort of shelter system and some sort of mental health facility for these people.

We should build it in Mexico, where land and labor costs are much cheaper.

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