Friday, January 11, 2008

The Sympathy Vote

For about a month now, this homeless lady has been sleeping in our vestibule. She somehow has sussed out that when the doorman-for-show leaves at 10 PM, my building turns back into the funky pumpkin it is, was and always will be, and the homeless lady slumps in the heated little entry rectangle with her stack of suitcases-on-wheels, like a living urban lawn-jockey reminder.

The first couple of nights I asked her if she was waiting for someone. She made me feel like I was copping some superior attitude and was letting her know I belonged and she didn’t. She told me she was waiting for a bus which was maybe a plausible 3 on a scale of 10. The crosstown as I well know comes every 40 minutes in overnight hours and on frigid winter nights I am often forced to log some time in the all-night deli on Broadway comparing phone cards. Okay. Maybe she’s got some strange overnight job in a yarn shop or pet store. Kind of the cat-hoarding vibe, actually. Definitely a closet knitter.

But on the second night she was obviously napping. I offered her a bagel and she snapped out a negative. Where did I get off, anyway, patronizing, giving her a hard time? I don’t own the frigging place. Oh, but I do…at least a tiny piece of it…But not the piece she’s sleeping in, her attitude implied. Besides, I have sympathy for the homeless…especially this middle-aged woman in black with the hat and red 70’s style glasses who by night #3 is definitely giving off the subtle smell of the minimally washed. That could be me, I always think… the ‘there but for fortune’ thing. Especially in these ominous economic times where not only am I circumstantially living beyond normal means but in line to lose some of the meager opportunities we musicians never take for granted.

I did the laundry last night, and at 5 AM I went down to check. There she was, slumped over on the radiator. Our badly dressed sentinel. The night watchman. Should I rat her out? Maybe she is an angel. For this possibility alone, I’d never disturb her. Not me. Too sympathetic. The stray dog lover. The sucker who puts a coin in the cup of every con-artist with an arm out. Superstitious, I am. Lucky, in my way.

But the last few days have sucked. My bathtub is leaking into the apartment below. The zipper on my favorite jeans is broken. I have laryngitis and a brand new raging toothache in a back molar. My unbreakable titanium glasses I splurged on snapped in half at the bridge. My guitarist cancelled 2 gigs and having a qualified plumber look at the bathroom is out of the question.

So maybe this woman is like some kind of gnarly, bad-spirited presence. A street-level gargoyle with an evil eye. Maybe no one else can see her. My son saw her, though. He doesn’t have sympathy. In fact he doesn’t have any feelings except hunger and anger. He doesn’t care that Hillary Clinton cried, even though it made me feel a little better. Oprah cries, too, he informed me. Apparently women in his world are like those Betsy-Wetsy dolls we had when I was a kid. You turn them over and they cry. Or they wet. Tears have about the same rationale. The same effect on him.

He has no sympathy for the rich people beneath us because despite my pleas, he took a shower just as usual and caused more of their ceiling to cave in. Of course, they have insurance, but that won’t stop them from sending me a bill for $20,000 to repair their gilded moldings or whatever was damaged, even though they are planning a massive renovation anyway. They have sympathy only for other rich people. My son will have no sympathy for me when they serve me with this lawsuit. He will curse my cooking and the thinness of his hamburger because my food budget is eroding and prices are going up.

I hope Hillary will reward her voters and have sympathy for the struggling Americans. I hope she will have sympathy for those children of Darfur who lack the strength to play or blink. I hope she will have less sympathy for the drug company lobbyists and the healthcare companies who have no sympathy for the sick. I hope she will have no sympathy for the Bear-Stearns fixed equity sub-prime mortgage lender who has no sympathy for the homeless and will have them removed when he finds that one of them has been sleeping in his vestibule where they might leave a bedbug or germ which could contaminate his perfect children on the way to private school.

Before I go to bed tonight I’m going to try to leave an offering for Our Lady of the Vestibule. Just in case. I'll be very careful and not wake her. Something subtle, like bread or a flower. For luck. For sympathy. Maybe a Vote Obama button, pinned onto a scarf. I wonder if she’ll vote. I wonder if she had kids like mine who don’t write her or worry or thank her for all the diaper changes. A husband she nursed to his death along with all her resources. A breast cancer diagnosis. Forget my bathroom and the zipper, the taped-up glasses, the root canal and the empty wallet. I am a Democrat. From me, she has the sympathy vote. Hillary will understand.

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