Monday, March 15, 2010
My Nutty Neighbors
You may have noticed when you're walking up or down the west side of 2nd Ave. between Blanchard and Lenora people laying on the sidewalk or wandering aimlessly around or carrying on conversations with no one - almost all of them are smoking. You may assume that this is a gathering point for Belltown's homeless, but you'd be assuming wrong. Most of them are my neighbors. I've lived in the Rivoli for 20 years, and for all that time, the El Rey and its tenants have been next door. Since its renovation in 1988, it has housed people with some pretty severe mental issues. Most would generically regard them as crazy. This makes life interesting at times for many of us at the neighboring Rivoli.
First off, those living next door are like all people: some are sweethearts, others are jerks, but most are somewhere in between. Based on my experience, there is nothing ennobling about being mentally ill. I know that there are tons of movies out there about brilliant crazy people prevailing over their demons even for a brief moment and achieving great things, but I have yet to see someone from the El Rey whip out a violin and dash off Bach's Partita in B Minor or elucidate about a practical way to travel faster than light speed. Apart from being crazy, everyone seems quite ordinary. For 22 years, the El Rey staff has taken care of them, and they've done a stellar job. Most of their residents have no other place to go. For them, it's either the El Rey or the streets. Some of them have actually come from the streets. And that shows in much of their behavior, which verges on the pathological.
Everybody at the El Rey has their quirks; there's the woman who calls me "Paul." There's no persuading her otherwise. She says I look like a Paul. There's the guy who is always inviting me to his family's mansion on top of Queen Anne Hill. There's no mansion; he's a delusional schizophrenic. There's also the guy who will tell me about how God is trying to kill us all. Many, however, are not social at all. There's one fellow living there whom I've never heard speak. He's been a resident for around 15 years. I guess that's his particular quirk. All residents are harmless, non-violent and substance-free, but there are a few that do bring down the quality of life on this block, such as it is. There are a few that are tireless, relentless panhandlers. No matter how many times you walk by, you get hit up. One day a few years ago, I had lots of stuff to do and I must have walked by this one woman a dozen times. Every time, she asked for change. In the following months, the story was the same. Every single time I walked by I'd get asked. She never recognized me as a neighbor or as somebody who never gave her anything. I finally asked her to stop, as I was her neighbor and wasn't going to give her any change. She still asks to this day. Her persistence is fairly incredible and she sometimes ends up making money. What does she spend it on? Twinkies and lotto tickets. All those hours panhandling for those two things. God help us if she ever wins the lottery. There are others who patrol the garbage cans; some rifle through them occasionally, others hourly. This and the panhandling are what bring down the quality of the block; this is the same block that contains the Real Change offices. I've said it before many times: Real Change is a good neighbor. The vendors are very seldom a problem. My only gripe with the El Rey people is that they have a home, medication, care and support, but some can't shake behaving like they're homeless. Those are just the things they do. And there's nothing the El Rey staff can do about it.
Considering the issues that they have to deal with, the El Rey does a great job. Sure, their residents freak out and have psychotic breakdowns sometimes, but overall, they're kept relatively comfortable, safe, and most importantly, medicated. I would much rather have the mentally ill cared for in a place like the El Rey than having them wandering around. But there are some days when seemingly every single person walking the street is nuts, and when you walk past the El Rey, they're the nuttiest of all. So the next time you're in this part of Belltown, just know that these people, regardless of how they appear, have an entire staff that looks after them and that life for them is as good as it can get under the circumstances.
Just a note: this is my thousandth post. I honestly didn't think I'd get past a dozen. Believe me, I'm not that dedicated to any one thing. When I figure out how I stuck with this silly blog so long, I'll let you know.