Pete did things, all right. Stu kicked him out a few months later for starting the same argument, putting his palms on me a different way. Not long after, maybe two or three weeks, I hurried past Pete on the BART. He was hopped up on some mess of chemicals and spouting off at the mouth about doing things, about getting things done.
“The rich get richer and the poor…we just stay poor. Can’t get no poorer, never know what that was spose to mean. Got my shirt on my back and Bukowski in my pocket. Can’t get no poorer.”
I faced the opposite direction, my back to his speech, my ears attuned to it.
“None of us can get poorer. Look at us,” he was waving his hands, I heard them, felt where this was going next. “We’re all just sittin here in our bubbles. Ignorant of this shit we in together. Not makin no eye contact, no talkin bout nothing. Ain’t knowin Dick from John. Ain’t caring bout no one but ourself. Can’t get no poorer.”
I watched in the window’s reflection: two women moved seats, a man stood behind him near the speaker button, ready to push it, to rid our bubble of this man who dared to disrupt it.
“We got too poor to love. Don’t mean we too poor to feel. Feelin like the world owes you summin. What it owe you, huh? What it owe you that it ain’t owe me? Why it owe anyone anything, huh? Why we thinkin that? That poor thinkin. Can’t get no poorer than that. Poor, poor, poor, that thinkin. It ain’t owe nothin. Got to take it. Got to get it ourself. Gotta feel it how it spose to be. Gotta help another feel it, get what I’m sayin?”
He was pacing now, more of a manic outburst than I had yet witnessed. I slumped further into my seat, praying like my grandmother prayed that he wouldn’t see me, that he wouldn’t single me out.
“Can’t feel nothing when we usin people. When we tossin bills in empty cups thinkin we did summin good. When we givin em canned food we wouldn’t feed dogs and we thinking we did good. When we steppin over em. When we walkin round em. When we fuckin em and payin em like they ain’t nothin. When we tellin em there free this, free that, but ain’t nothin free. Ain’t nothin free. All costs summin. Cost pride, cost dignity. Free cost too much, take too much. We usin em. We usin em to pat ourself on the back. That all we doin. Feel what I’m sayin? That all we do.”
The car’s discomfort was palpable now. Rich, poor, in-between. We were all joined, united against this wave of sickness, this growing nausea that results from someone putting you in your place. No one wanted to let it in; none of us wanted to feel it.
Have mercy upon us.
“Get what I’m sayin? You ain’t get it, can’t get no poorer. Got to open your mind, got to let the light in with the darkness. Can’t feel one without the other. Can’t. That’s what I sayin. Gotta help others feel, gotta help em love. Gotta feel summin, anything, before ya can love. Gotta feel pain. Not your pain, gotta feel his pain. Gotta feel her pain. Gotta feel my pain, then you feel your own. Then you know it. That’s the feelin you gotta get, that’s the one. That’s anyone. We all the same. All broke, all poor.”
I listened to his madness. His argument had changed some, had become based in emotion, in compassion, rather than economics. I lapped it up like a lost puppy in need of hydration.
“That’s what I do. That’s what I always done. I tell you so you know what you missin. What you need be feelin. If you got money or you ain’t got nothin you gotta feel. Gotta feel pain, gotta feel sadness, gotta feel poor. Gotta feel each other, then you can love. Don’t matter what you got if you don’t feel. You ignorant, you dead. Can’t feel it no more, you ain’t poor, you dead.”
Fast forward three years and I was numb. I wasn’t safe. I was numb.
-M. Ray Hall