Monday, February 20, 2012

Be careful what you wish for....

Let's just get it out there. There is no pleasing me.

You have all read my various posts about Maggie being ignored or invisible to society. You've probably gagged over my gushing love of San Francisco's quirkiness. Both of those were turned a bit on their head on Saturday.

Part of San Francisco's quirkiness is the homeless population which contains far too many people with mental illness who wander the streets lost in their craziness. This is a population that sees Maggie very well and always stops to engage in conversation with her. It's fine, though a bit uncomfortable at times Saturday was definitely uncomfortable.

We decided to go to the main library to check out the selection of books for the "Visually Impaired and Print Disabled." Maggie's vision teacher arranged for her to get this book reader specifically designed for the visually impaired. It could be a great thing for Maggie but so far she has shown very little interest. It didn't help that the two books they sent were about George Washington Carver and Growing your own vegetables. I thought if we found some stories that interested Maggie she might really take to this medium and could get interested in all sorts of books.

The main library is in Civic Center. City Hall, the Civic Auditorium, the State Court building and the Asian Art Museum, all fantastic buildings surround Civic Center Plaza. It looks very stately. It is also a haven for the homeless, who have nowhere else to go. Generally the area is teeming with people because there is always something going on. Saturday was strangely quiet and the more colorful individuals, who are generally part of the background ambiance, were front and center.

First a woman in the library asked a ton of  too personal questions and sort of followed us around. She was harmless, but a bit intrusive and inappropriate. Later, a man in the audio books department told Maggie and I to watch a certain move so we could grow spiritually, emotionally, physically and mathematically(?) and every other way. OK. A close talker with strong opinions but still harmless. We were polite, but kept moving.

We decided to walk over to City Hall. As we approached there was a group of well dressed people with large bouquets of flowers waiting on the steps. They were kind of blocking the wheelchair ramp but before we asked them to move, Steve popped up the steps to see if the building was opened. It was not. I stopped pushing Maggie while Steve went to check. Big mistake.

In the moment he ran up the five steps, a woman standing with the group came bounding toward Maggie and I. I hadn't noticed her before, assuming she was part of that group. But she was not, and I dare say that group was probably relieved that we happened along to draw her attention away from them.

She was shoeless, though, curiously, she had on what appeared to be brand new socks that matched her pants perfectly. Both were bright orange. She was missing a few teeth and her bare arms, visible because she was wearing only a .tank top, were badly scarred as though she had been terribly burned at some point. She started talking to Maggie as though I wasn't there. She was squatted next to the chair holding onto Maggie's tray with her face very close to Maggie's. "Hi baby, how are you. you are beautiful. I like you." I was very uncomfortable and then she started stroking Maggie's arm. Steve bounded right back down the steps and we looked at each other sort of stricken. We don't want to be unkind, but touching is NOT ok.

The woman wasn't doing any harm but she was way past the boundary and she was kind of freaking us out, Maggie included.  I just started pushing the chair making goodbye sounds. She didn't want us to leave, telling us to slow down and where are you going.  Why are you walking away? What's your hurry?"

We just strolled along as though nothing untoward had happened. It was just a couple of minutes. I never moved from the back of the chair because I wanted to get out of there. I could not see Maggie face. When Steve came back down he was as horrified as I was that this stranger, of questionable hygiene, was touching Maggie. He told me later that Maggie was giving her the "stink eye."

 I felt sick to my stomach. It was disconcerting on so many levels. Steve and I were both bothered by this tremendously. It's so wrong that this woman has to live on the streets and it's not her fault.. She was clearly mentally ill and obviously had gone through a lot of things in her life. But it's still not ok and I didn't stop her and that bothers me tremendously.   She was not violent, but she could have been. She did not hurt Maggie, but she could have. I just stood there trying to be polite and wanting to get away as fast as I could.

After this I will not complain (for a while) about people who ignore Maggie. In fact, the next twenty people who ignore Maggie or treat her like she's invisible might just get a big kiss from me.

Because that's not inappropriate at all.


  1. That sounds really creepy and scary. I'm sorry that you had to deal with it. I understand the conflict, though -- of sympathizing and feeling concern for these desperate people and protecting your own child and instincts.

  2. This reminds me of a time when my oldest son was only a few months old. One of my acquaintances asked me what was scary.This kind of question happened fairly regularly because my childless friends saw me as a frontier pusher, that is, trying something that they had never even considered: raising a baby.

    I replied, "Other little children."

    I remember feeling quite guilty laterr for this response. Never the less, it was absolutely true. Young children carry a myriad of lively germs and have no compunction about where they spread them. I just pictured a child with a gooey nose and filthy fingers leaning right over my precious son.

    Now the irony is that my memory is that the person who asked the question was actually someone I knew who had a child about a year older than mine. And this person was a doctor, for Pete's sake.

    I should stop feeling so guilty. Surely she, of all people, understood what I was saying.


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