Brimstone and sweeps

Today I have no migraine! I think I’m stabilizing.

I went out to shop for a few groceries, a stroll of eight blocks each way, and I came across a young man in a rusted wheelchair, holding a floppy sleeping bag and a heavy-laden backpack in his lap, trying ineffectively to move his chair up an incline. Feet swollen and unshod. As I gave him a push for a few blocks, he kept up a steady monologue. 

“Satan is taking souls, man, people are dying, they think it’s a virus but it’s brimstone. It’s in the water. You can smell it and taste it. Brimstone is why nobody gives a shit about other people. Everybody been drinking brimstone in the water all their lives. I been sitting at the bottom of that hill all day, and nobody offered me nothing. ‘Can I help you?’ Is that so hard to say? Nobody till you, Ma’am, so if I can do anything for you, just ask. My name’s Phil. I don’t think I can save you from the brimstone though. It blocks up the drains, it’s in the water, it’s got a smell I always recognize….” I left Phil at a corner store with a little money for some coffee and M&Ms. 

Then I passed an old man in a torn jacket using a walker and talking to people I couldn’t see, and a young man sitting in a doorway speaking a made-up language, gesticulating wildly. By the time I got to the grocery store and met this man, who calls himself AJ, I was in tears, furious that a country that bombs people with drones and fighter planes makes no provision for people with mental illness. The main story in the Street Roots I bought from AJ is about the increase in “Sweeps,” barbaric removals of unhoused people. They’re forced to “move along,” although they have nowhere to go. There’s a story about sweeps on the Street Roots website written by an unhoused woman named Bronwyn Carver. She explains, 

“Packing up your belongings (and there can be many the longer you are in one spot) becomes an undertaking of pure will. Aside from packing your life’s treasures, you need to find a new campsite. This is an arduous task in and of itself. Finding a place not seen from a street or freeway, or obstructing an entrance, being close to a school, etc. The list of places one is not allowed to be is much longer than the list of places one is allowed to be.”

On my way home, grocery bag slung over my shoulder, I passed Phil again and he waved and offered me some of his M&Ms. I said Thanks, but I can’t eat chocolate. Gives me migraines. I’m glad you have it, though. Have a good afternoon. 

“I will,” he said, “because you done something for me, even though you old. Nothing either one of us can do about the brimstone.”

Now a monsoon rain has been pounding for nearly an hour, and I think about Phil in his rusty wheelchair, his sleeping bag swelling with rainwater. I hope he found a sheltering awning.

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