It’s a Sunday morning, early. The sun is out. I just bicycled past a man standing outside the van he’s living in, yell, “Freedom! Freedom!” He was surrounded by empty bottles of German beer.
I’m sitting on metal bleachers facing the third base line of a softball field. To my right, rests a homeless encampment. The current scorecard is: eight trailers or RVs, one tent, one tarp, four vans, five or six other vehicles, and five or six hauling contraptions full of shit. I use the word shit because there is no other word that so accurately describes what is stuffed in these haulers.
These bleachers are my preferred vantage point to observe the encampment and appear as if I am not observing. All I have to do is crane my neck a bit to the right, and watch life unfold or not unfold. Usually it’s the latter.
A man emerges from one of the trailers with a leashed brown dog. Next to his trailer is parked a newer, sleek, spotless, black sedan.
Is it wrong for me to sit in these bleachers, in quasi stealth, and observe this encampment, document and synthesize my observations? That I am sitting on bleachers constructed for the purpose of seating spectators to watch a game feels somewhat ironical, But then again, maybe the bleachers have discovered new purpose by seating spectators for the ongoing unraveling of American life.
It dawns on me that if I want a better view, I could get off my ass and move the bleachers to face the encampment and thus dispense with the sly peeks and glimpses, the actions of a journalistic coward, I think, but perhaps not a novelist.
I consider doing that, but look down and see the bleachers are bolted to a concrete slab.
A man covered in grime emerges from a van and heads my way. He calls out to a friend, something I can’t catch, but I think it’s call to join him. The man angles his way through a dugout onto the diamond and toward me. I watch him and he watches me with my pen and notebook. I can tell he’s checking me out. Writing in public unnerves a lot of people these days. If he asks me what I’m writing, I’ll say a poem. If he asks me about what, I’ll say bleachers. If he asks me to read it, I’ll hand it over and not worry, because nobody can read my handwriting, not even me.
I say hello and he says hello. He slides past me on his way across a field where geese are grazing.
The man with the dog returns and the dog jumps into the trailer. The man pops the trunk on his sedan and brings out a gas can. He carries it to a generator and fills the generator. He cranks it up. Power!
It occurs to me that I could bring a date here. Maybe a poet or musician, and we could observe and analyze together and maybe produce something interesting as a result. Shallow? Pretentious? Phony? Hey, at least I’m here, looking, thinking, wondering.
A park employee limes a baseball field to my left. A jogger jogs by with her dog. A man plays fetch with his two dogs.
I look at the large mounds of bark dust and chips near the encampment, recycled from fallen and pruned trees and branches, buzzed through grinding metal for order, discipline and utility. Is that a metaphor for what’s going to happen to the residents of the encampment? They’ve fallen or been pruned and need to get chopped and chipped up so they can get the hell out of the way and be put to productive use as mulch around trees and better footing for the pedestrian path.
The wooden mulch might enrich the landscape, and definitely decorate it. The potential for human mulch? Not so much. I suspect this mulch, a unique home-grown American mulch, may better serve as a warning for the sluggards, the non conformists, the apostates, the idle. Work! The chipper is coming for you. Shit, it’s already spit most of you clean through! Doesn’t it feel good being a warning? How do you dig being the decoration for the debasing party that is degrading capitalism? How do you like being the subject of a writer sitting on a bleacher taking all your degradation in like he’s watching a softball game?
What the fuck am I doing here at 7 in the morning while others prepare to attend church, where after the service, the congregation will gather in the basement and feast upon the next generation of Christian Jello salads—sliced organic persimmons instead of shredded canned carrots? Yeah, what am doing here?
What exactly were the salad days of America? What does that phrase even mean?