"M'am?" It was a man's voice. The neatly dressed man I'd just passed. I figured he was going to ask me for directions. "Thank you for paying attention and not just walking by," he said. I'd just crossed the street from the Gold Line station at the edge of Little Tokyo. "We need your help," he went on, gesturing toward the woman a few feet away from him. I began to size them up, waiting for the pitch. They were out of gas, or had all their belongings stolen or had been stood up by a friend who was supposed to meet them and now they were stranded. These are the stories you hear when you talk to people on the street who say they need your help. "We each need $8.75 for train fare," the man said. "We spent our last dime getting to a shelter that doesn't have room for us. They're sending us on to this place," he said, pulling a card out of his shirt pocket. The card had an address on it and a phone number and a person's name. "My wife is pregnant," he went on, "and they're going to help us at this place, but we have to get there becaue the shelter we were at has used up all their transportation funds." I looked at the slight bulge beneath the woman's black cotton shirt. The couple were clean and articulate-- if a bit wild-eyed. Before heading off to my regular voluteer shift at the DWC, I'd stopped at the Bank of America and pulled out $40.00. I'd already broken one of the bills to buy my train ticket, so I had a bunch of one-dollar coins, which is what the ticket machines give you in change, and the remaining twenty. "I don't carry much cash," I said as unzipped my shoulder bag just wide enough to pull out my change pouch. "I have a bunch of coins and this twenty," I said, handing him the rumpled bill. A gold front tooth added some extra wattage to his smile.
The woman rushed forward and hugged me while I took a step back and locked one hand around the strap of my bag. After she let go of me the man opened his arms for his turn, but she grabbed him and pulled him back. "Don't you dare," she said. "She's too pretty." The man extended his hand then, and he and I shook hands. "Good luck," I said, turning to go. A pretty young woman who'd obviouly just finished crying was in my path then, pulling a cigarette out of a pack. I could see she was was down to her last two, and her hands were shaking. "Please," she said. "Do any of you have a match?" The man rustled in his shirt pocket to help her. I went on my way.
Little Tokyo and Skid Row were infused with weird electricity today. People talking to themselves at the tops of their lungs. Two young couples with baby strollers walking their babies in circles in the big empty plaza in front of the Japan America center. It was supposed to be quite chilly today, but the sun was hot if you were in a spot where it hit you directly. Maybe the manic energy was relief that yesterday's cold wind had gone away to chill the denizen's of some other city. Maybe the scent of springtime has a particular effect on Skid Row that I haven't learned about yet. Later in the day, the streets were full of cop cars when I walked out onto San Pedro St. after my shift. A helicopter was circling low like a malevolent dragonfly. When I went back across the plaza, two young guys were riding their bikes up and down the steps by the fountain, one the star of the show, the other with a camcorder filming his buddy's jerking leaps up the steps and the sailing down.
When I got off the train in my neighborhood there were three cop cars parked in front of the little bistro where I sometimes stop for a beer and a salad before walking the rest of the way home. Today's a great day to stop for a beer, I decided. Maybe people will be talking about what's going on. Phases of the moon, mercury in retrograde, solar flares, how the scent of jasmine can make people crazy. But no, if Los Angeles is in the grips of some temporary insanity, I guess I'll be the last to know.
At least I've celebrated spring--paying proper homage to the goddess of fertility by giving twenty bucks to a woman in black who may or may not have been pregnant and in need.