Low Flying Panic Attack

A fiery yellow and orange light nestled itself gently up against a misty rose blue sky around 4:37 a.m. The sunrise awoke me in the same manner that an eager 4-year-old who has been up all night, too excited to sleep, wakes her parents. This capricious light lit my way and led me to a deserted bus stop. My main goal that day was to explore Downtown Vancouver. Little by little, people began to gather around the stop, forming a small, then larger crowd. A woman with a broom swept the trash by people’s feet, not to draw it into the trash can, rather to draw attention to herself. To her deplorable state.

“Excuse me,” she yelled at a young woman thumbing her phone. Her tone was accompanied by a level of annoyance that comes from not being appreciated. As she jumped out of the way, a muffled “thank you” drooped out of the downward facing sweeper. She continued to sweep hunched over with her tiny broom until she arrived at the ledge of the sidewalk, between the people and the road.

“Hello! Hello, people waiting for the bus,” she proclaimed, using the cleaning instrument as a baton, “my name is Alana and I sweep the streets every day.” She swapped the broom from her right hand to her left and outstretched it to the crowd. “Would you like to make a donation today?” Most people ignored her vulnerability, her cry for help. They had all heard that one before. Like a true artist, she kept going even as her performance fell onto deaf ears. Tough crowd.

After not having any luck with mass appeal, Alana tried a more personalized approach. She went up to a woman and asked her for a “humble donation.” The woman was talking to a man and didn’t seem to appreciate Alana’s humble interruption.

“Well, you’re humble psychologically, but you’re a fucking bitch,” the woman yelled as Alana walked away from her.

“Thank you,” Alana said as she wove through the crowd of people, continuing to ask for donations.

“Thank you? Thank yourself, fucking bitch.” At first sight, I would’ve judged things all wrong. Based on each woman’s physical appearance–Alana disheveled and the other dressed in a suit–I would’ve painted Alana as completely deranged and the other woman as completely sane. Truly I tell you, as my eyes and ears bore witness, the opposite was true. Even though Alana was missing a couple of teeth, it was the other woman that was missing a couple of marbles. However, these are necessary illusions. Necessary to keep up the charade, the bizarre parade that we call “normal.”

Later that day, after having had a nice meal, I walked out of the restaurant and a young man, who looked like he’d been dragged all across town and thrashed by the pleasures of drug use, looked at me indignantly.

“What is your wetback ass lookin’ at?” he squawked. His question, although begging for an answer, seemed to be rhetorical. Well, what was my “wetback ass” looking at, indeed? I was looking at a broken man with a broken heart trying to piece his life back together by smoking pieces of meth, trying to find a method in his madness. That’s what my wetback ass was looking at. I guess that would’ve been too long of an answer to a drive-by question. The irony of it all was that he himself was Hispanic. It has been my experience that people of our own race make the best racists. Call it introspective loathing.

One of my favorite parts of traveling to different cities is checking out the local public transit. It’s an arena ripe for people watching. If extraterrestrial beings ever wanted to see true human nature, their search would only be a half hour bus ride away. On the bus, in Vancouver as in LA, people find it uncomfortable making eye or physical contact with other strangers of any kind; accidentally or deliberately. The ripe scent of armpit sweat and sweaty ass are forces that even a decent deodorant and soap cannot combat. However, I really do like people. I like looking at them. At their quirks. At the things that they themselves would find repulsive while looking in a mirror. Most look away, but I want to walk through the looking glass. I like to take a big whiff of whatever olfactory cocktail the bus has shaken for me. Allow it to stir in my lungs. It’s the scent of life. A scene from the everyday. A sense of comfort in knowing that everything around me that is happening will bring me no harm. The sound of peace. I am surrounded by my kind. My people. It’s about feeling the good in the good people of Canada. Of the world.

Bilicko, C. (2014). Interment 4 [Painting]. Acrylic on canvas, Long Beach, CA.