Asleep on the Steps
The twelve o’clock class was just going to start when I came downstairs from my office to check on something in the lobby. The front desk person, Faith, told me that some students had just informed her of someone sleeping on the front steps by the gate.
I stood in the lobby for a moment thinking about what I was going to do. I knew I had to go and ask this person to leave. I was the only person in the building whose responsibility it was to take care of this situation.
Who was this sleeping person? How big was he? How did the twelve o’clock class get in? Did they have to step over him? Could I just go back upstairs and continue my office work? I told Faith that we needed to call the police but first I would go and see what it all looked like.
When I walked to the end of the garden path and stood on the inside of the gate I saw a tall, burly man’s backside as he stood on the sidewalk peeing. I saw the pee. I saw his long, grayish hair. I saw his soiled clothes. His large backpack and wizardly cane were laying on the front step. I walked back to the lobby.
Again, I stood thinking. Faith was quietly standing there looking at me. I told her that I was not afraid, that I was going to ask this person to leave but that I was trying to figure out how I was going to do it without causing any harm. She offered to go with me. Feeling that I was basically responsible for everyone’s safety–including hers–I told her to yes come, but to just wait at the end of the path. As I was walking down the path I was thinking to myself, “Man, I hope this guy is not on drugs right now.”
When I got there, he was laying down, with his body draped over his pack. I could not see his face to see if he was sleeping. I said out loud, “I can’t have you sleeping on my steps.” He looked up and said “Oh?” His face looked nice enough. I said, “ people are coming in and out” and, as if to underscore my comment, someone scurried in on her way to class. I continued, “you know…It’s fear.” He understood and said, “yaa…” He was sort of sitting up now and he was silent. I said, “there is a park a few blocks away.” I gestured in the direction of the Panhandle. He nodded. I could tell he was thinking and that he wanted to say something. I stood there waiting for him to continue.
He then said, “You know the opposite of Fear is… Enlightment.”
Silence between us.
“Yes, but we don’t live in Enlightenment ,” I said, ”we just live here,” gesturing toward Divisadero Street.
He slowly stood up and walked away. For a moment I thought tears would spring uncontrollably from my eyes. Why couldn’t I just let this old hippy sleep on my steps? Why did it have to be this way? Why was the world falling apart? A million thoughts of Why? all in one moment.
And then, as if to force me back into a deeper reality, I remembered the urine and went to get a bucket of water to wash off the sidewalk.