Monday, January 17, 2005

Whores and Publicans

Okay. Just got back from needle exchange. No, wiseass, I was not picking up fresh rigs. I do HIV testing there. And I try to be humble, and to use it to cultivate understanding and compassion, and to lessen my tendency toward judgment, and all of that good shit. When I was working at the marketing agency, it was a good way to maintain awareness of a world outside of climate-controlled buildings and fatuous yuppie bullshit. Which is actually somewhat off, as well, since the office was in the basement and the climate-control didn't work, so it was either hard-tittie cold or two rats fucking in a wool sock hot.

Anyhow, I'm trying. Like Jules, I'm trying to be the shepherd. I'm reading Daniel Goleman's "Emotional Intelligence," and I realize my critical nature has probably over-taxed prior relationships. But when a twentysomething hipster in tight emo pants with two spike belts and all the right cool band buttons wants the nurse to lance the abcess in the crook of his elbow which is swollen and pustulant and she can't because needle exchange is in a fucking parking garage, yo, and there's no running water for minor surgery... Well, is it my fault I want to slap him like a bitch? Is this what you dreamed of during silent reading in high school, bro, when you thought you were all that with your Jim Carroll books? An abcess of your own? Or the 20 year old hippie kid who's been sharing needles and wants advice on how to slam grain alcohol? Yeah, I know that's big in farm worker communities, but I'm not real sure on how to go about spiking JD, my brother.

One thing about standing in a needle exchange asking people if they want to get tested for HIV is, people volunteer information. "Just tested. Negative, thank God." That one is easy, you say "stay safe" and "take care" and it's very warm and fuzzy, in a lightweight kind of way. But you get "I already know. I'm positive." And even my boss, who's been in this way longer than I have, is befuddled as to what to say to that. "Yeah, well, try not to die, bro." Today a guy said, "I've been positive for 16 years. No medication." I mean, on the one hand, I'm happy for you--for real. You beat the odds. On the other hand, what do you want? A fucking brownie? Do you feel validated? Shit, smack can't be all that've been sharing needles under a bridge for the better part of your adult life, and you're still making it to needle exchange on the regular. Rock on, brother! Maybe that's what I should say: "Rock the fuck on, my nigga! Where can I get me some a that health food?"

My friend Kwadwo has been homeless before. He grew up in the ghetto in Detroit, people getting shot in his front yard--for real. All his friends dead or on the crack. And he's pulled himself up, Horatio Alger-wise, by the bootstraps. I've said to him things along the lines of, "Well, you never know how low you can get...I always think 'that could be me.'" You know, the armchair Buddhist's guide to putting your nose in the sick and cultivating compassion. The suburban middle class white dude's crash course in Mother Theresa. And do you know what he said? "Fuck that, man. I'll never be that fucked up. That's a fact."

This is someone, in the words of the timeless philosopher, David Lee Roth, whose "been to the edge. You know I stood and looked around. I lost a lot of friends there, baby--I got no time to mess around." His standpoint is, "compassion, fuck that. I got my own thing to take care of."

I don't know, you know? I don't know what these people have been through to take them where they are, and I know the magic incantation is "harm reduction," and I do know you can't shake sense into folks...but does that make it wrong to want to? If only sometimes? The Buddhist teaching is that everyone in this world has been your mother and father and brother and sister and son and daughter...we've been around that long. But if your daughter was banging dope in the TL, wouldn't you want to tell her the what's what? Of course, some guidance and parenting has probably fallen by the wayside by then. Jesus took the teaching to the whores and publicans (I, for one, would rather break bread with a streetwalker than a tax collector...), because he knew that was where the teaching was needed. It's like Vinny said the other day..."If I was doing the backstroke in the Bahamas, I might not have come to the Dharma."

"Suffer the children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God."--Jesus.

Suffer the children, 'cause God knows how they've suffered.

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